Teachwire Logo

Primary Teaching Ideas and Book Activities for Michael Morpurgo Month

Celebrate the master storyteller this February by focusing on these themes and activity ideas...

  • Primary Teaching Ideas and Book Activities for Michael Morpurgo Month

For generations of teachers, myself included, Michael Morpurgo’s books are an integral part of school life.

As a child, I remember listening with baited breath as our headteacher read Friend or Foe aloud in assembly. He was sure to always stop on a cliffhanger so we’d have to wait a whole week to find out what happened next.

In my first year teaching, I adopted the same approach with Kensuke’s Kingdom, my class howling when we had to stop each day at home time.

During his 40-year career, Sir Michael Morpurgo has served as Children’s Laureate and written 150 books (selling 35 million copies worldwide), touching the lives of many readers.

The scope of his influence is once again being recognised in February with the return of Michael Morpurgo Month, which celebrates the author and his work.

This year sees four distinct themes in Morpurgo’s literature come to the fore, all of which feature below, along with suggested books and classroom activities for any school wishing to take part in the event – or enjoy the richness of his stories at any time of the year.

Theme 1 | natural world

Through the Farms for City Children charity (run with his wife Clare), Michael Morpurgo has worked tirelessly to give children an experience of the natural world.

While the reach of the charity has been huge, the number of children who have visited the charity’s farms pales in contrast to the number who have been transported there through Michael’s books.

Kensuke’s Kingdom

This story of adventure, survival and friendship is a staple of the KS2 classroom. As well as being a masterclass in evocative descriptive writing, it provides an excellent opportunity for teaching narrative point of view.

Retelling the same scene from the perspectives of both Michael (the stranded boy) and Kensuke (the inhabitant of the island) can help children to explore how different characters see the same situation and how this can be communicated by a skilful writer.

Running Wild

In this tale of the unlikely friendship between Will and Oona the elephant, Michael Morpurgo captures the setting of the Indonesian rainforest to perfection.

Reading as a class and imagining what it would be like to be there, before looking carefully at how the author describes the setting, can support children’s own development as writers.

The class can then choose another setting – the desert, the tundra – and use the same techniques to create the feeling of being there.

Theme 2 | animal adventures

Across the many books Michael Morpurgo has written over the years, animals and their relationships with humans have provided a recurring theme. Children often have a strong affinity with animals, making these books perfect for use in the classroom.

The Butterfly Lion

A magical story that spans many decades, this book provides a motivating and memorable way of teaching children to control shifts in time in their own writing. Listen to the story and think about how the author moves from one period to another.

Children can then use some of the techniques themselves, perhaps writing stories that move from the present to the past and back again, or trying out some of the adverbials of time in their own writing.

The Fox and the Ghost King

Bringing together history, nature (and football!), this short story is a perfect book to read aloud to older KS1 children. Beautifully illustrated by Michael Foreman, it’s packed with rich vocabulary for children to explore.

Asking pupils to think about some of the words that younger children might find challenging and then writing a glossary to help them understand the book will help them reflect on their own comprehension and to practise communicating the meaning of words.

Pupils could then be challenged to use the word in their own writing.

Theme 3 | tales retold

Over his writing career, Michael Morpurgo has retold many classic stories for the children of today, including Hansel and Gretel, Toto and the Pied Piper.

He also put his knowledge of stories to good use as editor for Greatest Stories, a series of books written by other well-loved children’s authors retelling stories from the past.

Michael Morpurgo’s own retellings provide teachers with a great way of introducing children to tales that still resonate today.

Arthur, High King of Britain

This is a beautifully constructed story-within-a-story. When a boy awakens after being stranded on a sandbank, he finds himself confronted by the legendary King Arthur himself, who proceeds to tell his story.

As well as terrific writing, this book gives older children the chance to explore narrative structure, using the device of a character telling another story.

Pupils could try to write their own story-within-a-story, based on another myth or legend they know.

Pinocchio by Pinocchio

A delightful version of the much-loved story, this version is told by the puppet himself. ‘The truth is I’m not just a puppet, I’m more than just bits of wood and string. I’m me. So I thought it was about time that I, Pinocchio, told you my story…’

This text can provide a great model for first-person writing, with children inventing new adventures for Pinocchio or retelling another familiar story with themselves in the role of the protagonist.

Theme 4 | times of war

Walk into any primary school library and you’re likely to come across some of Michael Morpurgo’s books set in wartime: Why the Whales Came, Private Peaceful and certainly War Horse.

Sharing these as a class book or encouraging children to read them independently can be a great way of allowing pupils to find out about the fascinating history of Europe, while building an understanding of the very human costs of conflict.

Friend or Foe

Evacuated to Devon during WWII, David and Tucky have their lives changed and preconceptions challenged when a German bomber crashes nearby.

A quick search online leads you to a BBC radio play of the story that is free to listen to, which makes this a valuable text for comparing play scripts and prose, and how the same story can be told in different ways.

Children can then choose scenes from the book and adapt them for performance.

Flamingo Boy

The powerful story of an autistic boy set in WWII, this story provides an excellent opportunity for children to research the background to a work of fiction.

While listening to the story, groups of children could be given different topics from the books to research: the Camargue, the occupation of France during WWII, flamingos, carousels.

As well as practising their research skills, the new knowledge they will build will give them a connection and deeper understanding of the book.

Michael Morpurgo has long been a powerful advocate of reading aloud to children, famously saying:

“Let there be half an hour of storytime at the end of the day in primary schools up and down the country. Make this the half hour they all long for, that they don’t want to be over. Let the children go home dreaming of the story, reliving it, wondering.”

While they have many uses for teaching English, perhaps this is the best way to make use of Michael Morpurgo’s wonderful books in the classroom: simply read them aloud.

No learning objective, no follow-up questions, no writing activity, just the chance to listen, imagine and be swept away to another world.

What better way to recognise this master storyteller this February?

James Clements is a former primary teacher and now works as an education writer and researcher, visiting schools all over the country to try and find out what makes great English teaching.

Sign up here for your free Brilliant Teacher Box Set

Get 8 KS3/4 maths lessons with expert teaching techniques

Find out more here >