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This month The Learning Lady is sharing her work with practitioners, using the Emily Gravett book Dogs as inspiration. At first practitioners wondered if this might be too simple and lack scope for development. However, as it became clear that the children in question had little (if any) experience of  actual dogs in their real lives, this was actually the ideal text to choose. As ever, it was the children who brought everything to this project to make it extra special (along with some furry visitors and some new additions to the classrooms courtesy of IKEA)!dog 2

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Introducing ‘Dogs’

The fun began with a shared reading experience, where the children had lots of opportunities to spot and talk about similarities and differences between the dogs. This is a great book for extending vocabulary in relation to opposites. Words like “stroppy” and “bald” were new to some of the children, so this was a great way to introduce this new vocabulary in context.

Talking Around The Text

As a follow up,  we used a set of Google images of different dogs (these would be the ones we would use all week). They were printed out and laminated as cards because, as you’ll see, they got plenty of use during Dogs week, and beyond!

We wanted the children to talk about the dogs at length before doing any reading or writing themselves and these were a great discussion starter. Pictures were chosen which we knew would instantly fascinate, interest and appeal to the humour of the children. It turned out that the Chihuahua was a real favourite with the girls, whilst the boys generally preferred the Bull Dog and Dalmatian!

Dog 5

“At our school we have been creating lots of opportunities for the children to vote for different things as part of our work on developing British Values. We held a secret poll where the children could go into a quiet space and pick their favourite dog picture from a set of six. Each dog in the selection had a corresponding colour of multi-link cube. When a favourite had been chosen, (and we had to keep reminding the children they were only allowed to choose one), the corresponding cube was added to a secret bag by each child, ready for counting by the whole class later. This was an excellent application of maths as we were able to sort, count and compare amounts in a meaningful way and there really was something for everybody. It always really interests me to observe how the children react when their secret choice isn’t the winner!!”  EYFS Practitioner

Talk was used in creating high quality observational paintings of the dogs. This reinforced the language of similarities, differences and opposites as we talked together about the colours we’d need, the size of brush, shapes of features and where they would go. This was as much about developing the key language of the project as a creative exercise and required an adult’s presence for quality of results. Some practitioners did need reassuring that this was going to have an impact on the quality of reading and writing later.

Dog 6

“I’m really guilty of ‘getting on’ with the nitty gritty of reading, writing and maths with the children and letting them ‘get on’ on their own with things like the painting. Spending time with the children in this way just reminded me how much they needed it and how much I loved doing something different with them. The results in terms of quality of language and painting really amazed me and it actually provided me with a good opportunity to make some quality, worthwhile observations of dialogue” EYFS Leader

Playing Around The Text

The next day real dog number 1 arrived!! He caused excitement, terror, hilarity and interest in the classroom all at the same time! He was a beautiful Labrador, and was as big as some of the smallest children. In groups the children got to stroke and pat the dog, up close and personal! Some were initially timid but grew in bravery as the afternoon went on. This real experience was worth every second because what happened next was priceless…..

dog 15

The children began taking the dogs theme into their play, first by making collars for the IKEA dogs we’d provided in the home corner, then for themselves!! This enabled the adults to demonstrate measuring, making and writing for a purpose and with an initial demonstration, this activity went viral!!!

Many of the boys then ‘became’ dogs or dog handlers! Using maths sequencing resources to make ever more elaborate leads, first to control 1 dog, then two. by the end of the week, they were inventing multi dog walking leads, with long lengths for good dogs and short lengths for the dogs who needed to by kept close. Inventiveness equal only to that observed on Dragon’s Den!!

Dog 3

Reading Around The Text

Learning Lady Top Tip

Before this activity, practitioners were asked to group children according to phonic ability and confidence in reading. This was critical to the success of the activity. Where less impact was evident, it was due to a miss-match of word (phonemes) to children. Make sure there’s challenge in the reading but just the right amount.


  • Sentence cards to match the ability of each group
  • A whiteboard with single words written on  to match those in the sentences: (it, is, a, for some phonic Phase 2 groups) (this, is, a, for other phonic Phase 3 groups) prewritten before the activity
  • Dog picture cards (to match the sentence cards being used)
  • 2 bags (Feely bags, old gift bags or similar). Place all of the sentence cards in one bag.


  1. Model the reading process using the words on the whiteboard to match the ability of the group. Point to each letter as the children join in with saying each sound, blending the sounds to read the whole word all together. Also practise reading ‘it is a  … ‘ in a sentence.
  2. Explain that the children are going to play a game, matching the familiar pictures of the dogs (used earlier in the week) with sentence cards, using the words they have just practised.
  3. Orally rehearse sentences to go with each of the pictures for the game. Look at each card and say either ‘it is a…. ‘ or ‘This is a ….’ before putting each picture card into the empty bag.
  4. Play begins as the first child takes a card from the sentence bag and reads it to the group. Expect the children to read the sentences on the sentence cards independently.
  5. Play continues with the same child taking a picture out of the picture card bag. The group must decide together whether the picture and the sentence match or not. If the answer is ‘yes’ the player gets to keep the pair of cards and play continues. If the answer is ‘no’, the cards are returned to the respective bags and play continues.
  6. Carry on until all pairs of sentences and pictures have been matched. Look, listen and note as each child reads. Look out for confidence, phoneme recognition, blending with fluency and a good understanding of the words in correspondence with the pictures. Turn taking and ability to play a game are also good things to look out for here!

The most able children also read by Pearson’s Bug Club

‘Jack gets a pet’

Dog 4

“Group sizes varied depending on the children and, because this is a less formal method of ‘guided reading’ , it was a game which could be picked up and played anywhere in the room, at any time. Some of the children enjoyed the game so much they played in on their own for the whole afternoon one day!” EYFS Practitioner

dog 10

Writing Around The Text


  • Dog picture cards (to match the sentence cards used in the previous activities )
  • Writing prompt cards for visual reminders of the tricky words / phonemes they might need to use.
  • Paper for recording- ready form a class book
  • Whiteboards and dry wipe pens


  1. Explain that the children are going to make a display about their favourite dogs, to go with the paintings they made earlier.
  2. Remind the children of the dogs by orally rehearsing (again) the sentences to go with each picture card. For example “It is a mad dog” , “It is a big dog”, “This is a long dog with spots” .
  3. Model the writing process demonstrating  ‘ It is a…… ‘, ‘This is a….’ Show the children how to write. Ask the children to help by orally segmenting as you write and writing the occasional letter in the air.Some practitioners may prefer to do this as a whole class shared session first.
  4. Give each child something to record on,  explaining that the information needs to be clear so that everybody else in the school will be able to read it on the display.
  5. Expect the children to choose their own picture card and orally rehearse their own sentence before beginning. Support them in attempting to write as appropriate. Provide feedback and encourage improvements as required.

dog 8


Support children who find this a challenge by writing in a collaborative way with all of the children drawing and writing about the same dog at the same time. Carefully support the writing, one letter / sound word at a time with the children writing all together. Use even larger paper if children are less physically developed.

Challenge more able children by using pictures with scope for using more complicated phonemes or longer words associated with them. These children should be expected to apply their phonic knowledge and skills by adding further details. For example, ‘It has got a tail and a green collar. It is brown with lots of spots’.

dog 14

Can the children…

  • Maintain attention and concentrate? With support?
  • Follow the simple instructions of the activity? With support?
  • Write all of the letters and the sounds that they make? With support?
  • Orally segment all of the words? With support?
  • Segment to spell the words and sentences? With support?
  • Complete sentences writing independently? With support?

The week ended with another surprise! Visitor number two, a totally contrasting, but equally lovable Chihuahua called Ted! Just what memories in a Reception  Class are made of!

For more examples of the lovely writing completed by the children during the ‘Dogs’ project, sign up for my E News and there will be some more examples in the next edition!

Why not have a go at this easy but totally rewarding project and don’t forget to let The Learning Lady know how you got on!

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