Bits of history

Kevin Harcombe on ways to use a tale that spans the generations


THE PATCHWORK QUILT. by Valerie Flourney and Jerry Pinkney. Puffin Pounds 5.99. Picture storybook for fluent readers.

The Patchwork Quilt is an unusual and touching story about a year in the life of a family. The story is centred on Grandma and her efforts to complete her "masterpiece" - a patchwork quilt made up of family memories. It is warm and colourful, but never mawkish.



* Read the book aloud and let the children enjoy the words and pictures. Though the main characters are three generations of women, there are some nice vignettes of men.

* On the first reading, stop after Grandma falls ill and ask the class to record their initial impressions of the book and its characters and predict possible resolutions.

* After a reading (or two) see if the children can retell the story aloud in their own words, using the illustrations as prompts.

* Look at the first page of text and discuss how the setting and the characters are established. What are the components of a good opening?

* List the alternatives to "said" that are used by the author in reported speech. The children should then incorporate some of these in their own extended writing.

* Describe a character in just five words. Ask pupils to guess which one it is.

* Write a script for a play based on the story or a section of it. Include production notes.


In groups of five ask the children to create the picture described on that opening page. Freeze it. "Hot seat" the children in their roles - ask them their name, what they are doing, how they are feeling, what they think of the other characters.

The children can write their own character descriptions and histories on a postcard and pin them to a board. For drama it's fine to stray some distance from the text; for literacy hour work it's preferable to stick to it closely.


The story moves through the four seasons: Vivaldi's concertos are accessible and will be new to the class. Ask the group to draw whatever pictures come into their head while they listen to it. There are no right or wrong interpretations here: the title The Four Seasons was dreamt up after the first performance.

Using tuned and untuned percussion, pupils can compose a theme of their own for each season, write it as a score, perform it themselves (with a conductor) and then see if another group can perform it accurately using the written score. Experiment with different tempos. Try using it as incidental music in a reading of the story by pupils and put the tape in the book corner.


* Find out why we have seasons. Relate the seasons to life cycles.

* How do different religions mark the passing of the seasons?


* Grandma's quilt is made up of material which holds special memories. Children can bring in their own precious objects.

* Make a time line by pegging photographs of children over the years to a washing line. Include teacher's own photographic history (dodgy hairstyles, fashion mistakes).


Using fabric crayons or dyes, each child can personalise a piece of fabric to be sewn into a class "quilt".


* How many different ways can 10cm squares be cut exactly in half to give two complete shapes? Results make a good display.

* Brainstorm vocabulary related to time: season, afternoon, second, yesterday, before, after, and so on.

* Estimate, using standard units, the hours of darkness in December compared to June and the time per week you spend sleeping or eating.

* Ask the children if they have lived more or fewer than 3,650 days. Estimate, then calculate, their ages in monthsdayshoursseconds.

Kevin Harcombe is head of Orchard Lea junior school, Fareham, Hants

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