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Day 37 - Big Cats (creative ideas for home schooling)

For anyone new to this blog, the idea is simple - each day my boys (Joshua - 9 and Archie - 8) choose a stimulus that drives the learning. We hope that you enjoy the blog and can take some inspiration from what we love doing - making learning as engaging as possible!


Big Cats

This was a request from one of our readers and what a stunning choice it is. Big cats are simply beautiful. Beautiful to look at...beautiful to listen to...beautiful to describe. What is even more intriguing is discovering their similarities and differences - some things I never knew.

Today, we have focussed on bringing these marvellous beasts to life through close attention to detail. We hope that we have done them justice.



  • Spine poetry

  • Using the senses

  • Figurative techniquesThe Task:

For those of you that are unfamiliar with spine poetry, I believe that it is one of the greatest tools for vocabulary generation and language development. Children are too quick to look beyond the detail. What we need to teach them is how to slow down and look for the detail. A spine poem encourages them to look at key features in isolation and build the description.

To explain this in more detail, I will talk through my model.

When you look at the black panther, list the things worth describing. These may include:

  • eyes

  • teeth

  • fur

  • ears

  • paws

  • body

  • growl

Then, explore some of these in turn, pushing for the vocabulary to describe and extend meaning. The trick is to become the thing you are describing and not overthink it.

A little while ago, I was fortunate to observe Pie Corbett teach my Year 6 class. In the session, he showed the children how to hook the reader in with a simple word: 'Listen'. It is amazing the effect this has on a reader, immediately demanding attention and silence. I have used this many times since that day and am always amazed with the outcome. Here is my model. I have underlined the key elements to indicate the focus or 'the spine' of the poem.

The Black Leopard


a satanic growl

rips through the silence.

Like a python, poised to attack,

a menacing hiss

suppresses serenity.

Basilisk blades unsheathe

the devil's warning.

Sour lemon eyes glare,

swearing malicious intent.

Poised. Prepared.

A perfect predator.

© Jamie Thomas 2020

I also talked to the boys about performing poetry, using your voice to bring the words to life and thinking about the pace and where pauses have significant impact. Here is my model.

I have now used this technique with the boys on numerous occasions. As a result, their confidence with language has developed immeasurably. Here are their creations, based on big cats of their choice.

The Black Panther by Archie

Listen, a blood-curdling growl

explodes through the night sky.

Like a King Cobra ready to attack,

a hiss, full of sneaky secrets

shatters the silence.

Beaked teeth pierce and rip.

Emerald eyes stare, daring you to fight.

Its paws, ready to pounce.

The Sabre-toothed Tiger by Joshua

Listen, an almighty crunching of bones.

Helpless yelps echo.

Vampire teeth as sharp as blades.

Eyes as hot as the boiling sun stare,

glaring at shaking scavengers.

Spider-webbed whiskers quake.

Its rough fur stands to attention

like an army of soldiers.


If you are enjoying this blog, please do share it and spread the word. Thank you to all of you who have got in touch and shared some of the outcomes from what you have tried - we love to hear from you.

Do tune in tomorrow for:


My thanks to Pie Corbett, Julia Strong and the Talk for Writing team for inspiring many of the ideas explored in this blog.

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