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Ordinary Jack

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By Helen Cresswell

This is the opening extract from a classic humorous novel written in the 1970s by the late author, Helen Cresswell. It is taken from the first of a series that focuses on the Bagthorpe family. Its realistic family theme allows children to identify with Jack and his desire to shine within his talented family.

These teachers’ notes accompany the PRINT ONLY guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS for ages 9 to 11 March 2008

Before reading

  • Ask the children to describe a typical family. Who might they expect to be in the extended family? Discuss different types of families, including ones with absent parents and step-families.
  • Explain that this story, written in the 1970s by Helen Cresswell, is the first in a series of books about the Bagthorpe family. Can the class think of other books written in series about a family or group of people?
  • Discuss the main character in a favourite book. It is often a boy or a girl of the reader’s age, who has to deal with situations while interacting with their family. Talk about how this allows the reader to identify with the characters and situations they find themselves in. Make a note of any books of this type read and recommended by the class.

During reading

  • Having read the first five paragraphs, discuss how the author establishes viewpoint. What techniques does she use? Analyse the use of tenses and pronouns.
  • How are we told how Jack is feeling, and what he is thinking, throughout the extract? List feelings portrayed – eg, envy, resentment, jealousy.
  • The author includes many figurative phrases – eg, a second string to his bow, the devil take the consequences. Guess meanings and clarify them.
  • Check understanding of unusual vocabulary – eg, eclipsed, prodigiously, diligence.
  • Explain that the author uses a variety of punctuation, including complex use of inverted commas (eg, double quotation marks within dialogue). Point out the use of apostrophes within the dialogue to indicate contraction.
  • Highlight the use of dialogue conventions, including synonyms for ‘said’ and sentence structure within direct speech sections. (See Poster 2 How to write dialogue in Literacy Time PLUS for Ages 9 to 11 March 2008.)

Previous learning

From work in Y4, children should be able to: deduce reasons for behaviour from actions; use settings and characterisation to engage readers’ interest; show imagination through language used to create emphasis, humour, atmosphere and suspense. They should already be reading favourite authors/genres extensively.

Further reading

The Bagthorpes – Ordinary Jack by Helen Cresswell (OUP, ISBN 978 01927 53991).

Responding to the text

  • Ask the children to explain Jack’s dilemma. Is he right to feel inferior to the rest of this family? Do his siblings have a right to be superior?
  • Have the children ever felt in a similar situation to Jack? What effect does that have on self-esteem? What advice would they give Jack?
  • How does the author create suspense at the end of the extract? What might Uncle Parker’s suggestion be?

Key learning outcomes:

  • To use dialogic talk and drama strategies to explore themes and issues;
  • To use evidence from a text to explain ideas;
  • To explore how writers use comic and dramatic effects;
  • To use prediction, visualization and empathy to explore meaning;
  • To write own stories;
  • To use/punctuate direct speech.

Links to writing

  • Write a letter from Jack to an ‘agony aunt’ explaining his predicament and asking for advice. Ask a partner to write a reply from the agony aunt.
  • Adapt some of the dialogue as a playscript.
  • Re-write some of the dialogue as reported speech.
  • Produce a storyboard or comic strip of the opening paragraphs at the swimming pool, including speech marks and thought bubbles to show what the characters are saying and thinking.

Follow-up activities

  • Invite a group to re-enact the dialogue between Jack and the rest of the characters.
  • Use the internet to find out more about Helen Cresswell and the rest of the Bagthorpe series.
  • Hotseat a child in the role of Jack to find out his feelings.

Using the activity sheets

  • Use the activity sheet below to explore the vocabulary and figurative language used in the extract.
  • Use the SAT-style exercise activity sheet to plan and write the next events of the story (Uncle Parker’s suggestion and suggested consequences). Do this as a timed piece in line with the timings of a SAT shorter writing task.



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