Magazine article NATE Classroom

In the Company of Wolves

Magazine article NATE Classroom

In the Company of Wolves

Article excerpt


How many stories about wolves could you name? This was a question I posed at the start of a workshop I ran at the NATE conference this year. There are the obvious links to some of our oldest traditional tales such as Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. Then legends from classical times such as Romulus and Remus, modern classics such as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, up to more recent retellings, Wolf Brother by Michele Paver and haunting contemporary picture books such as Wolves in the Wall by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, The Wolf by Margaret Barbelet and Janet Tanner, and the delightful and ironic Wolves by Emily Gravett.

For centuries universal myths, legends and stories about these animals can be found across cultures. Listening to the response to my question, two things became obvious, first that wolves are present in many well known stories (see bibliography at the end) and second, that they often get a bad press! Most of the stories we remembered inevitably portrayed wolves as predatory, scary and frightening beasts. However not all stories about wolves take on this negative viewpoint and the fact remains that these amazing pack animals hold mystical and fascinating qualities worth investigating. (See Jani Howker's book Walk with a Wolf beautifully illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies.)

Taking books and poems where wolves are featured was the theme of some oral work undertaken recently in a Y3 primary classroom. I hoped to introduce ways into stories and poems both known and new that were motivating and interactive and where group discussion and activity were central to the learning.

New framework: Speaking and Listening The revised primary framework for literacy at last recognises the crucial element that speaking and listening make in English teaching. The four strands related to this mode--1. Speaking 2. Listening and responding 3. Group discussion and interaction 4. Drama--provide the most logical starting points for exploring stories, poems etc. and the teaching sequences and strategies I describe can be flexibly planned for different age groups.

What follows is a description of how I worked with one of the texts, where the objectives were achieving quality speaking and listening through interactive strategies. The outcomes would be totally 'oral.' The activities explained here would be completely transferable to other stories with wolves or without!

Ways in

I began with a short picture book by Ann Turnbull, The Last Wolf.' Coincidentally, this story was used in the KS1 SATs in 2000 and Patrice Baldwin and Kate Fleming have also used this story in their recent publication Teaching Literacy through Drama (Routledge Falmer, 2003).

Before sharing the story with the class, I selected three extracts from the text and presented these to groups for discussion. I was careful not to give away the title of the story as I wanted group members to be as open-minded as possible with their interpretations.

Three extracts from The Last Wolf by Ann Turnbull

   'The people hated wolves. They said the wolves
   killed their sheep and frightened children with
   their howling at night. So they killed wolves
   whenever they saw them.'

   'He paced up and down, up and down the length
   of his cage, and his eyes were wild. The King
   wanted the wolf to be content.
   "Give him the best food," he said.'
   He sent venison and veal from the royal table. But
   still the wolf paced up and down, up and down,
   and still his eyes were wild.'

   'The King was in despair. He remembered how
   the wolves once howled in the moonlight, howling
   on all the hills. He held out his arms to the moon
   and begged,
   "Help me to save Grey Wolf."'

As a focus for discussion I asked the following questions:

* What kind of story could this be?

* Where might it be set? …

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