After taking part in discussions on The Boy at the Back of Class I knew this was a text that I would love to do with my year 4s. Although slightly younger than the Year 5/6 recommended age range, reading the text I knew that it was accessible to the majority of the cohort and with such a powerful story and relevance in today’s society, knew it was something we should cover.
As a Talk for Writing school, I first introduced the book in our writing lesson, the hook being an abandoned bag with pictures of refugees and important items. We made predictions from this and the book cover and thought about if we had to leave our homes, what would we take? How would we fit it in one bag?
Using a specifically written text based on when Ahmet first arrives in class, written from the other children’s perspectives, we talked about what this is like when new children arrive- what do we usually do? How do we usually welcome them? We then ‘innovated’ this to writing from Ahmet’s perspective. The children got thinking about how they would feel to be new (some using their own recent experience of joining our class); how different would school be to someone from another country; what if you didn’t speak the language. They began to relate and sympathise with the characters, with some even saying that they loved the story as it was realistic and more like their lives- they could imagine being some of the characters.
In our reading lessons, the children became, much like the characters in the book, obsessed with finding out Ahmet’s story and who was the woman in the red scarf? Why was he in isolation? A lot of the children began to relate to the main character- a few were shocked to discover she was a girl who loved playing football, enjoyed Tintin and was friends with a boy. The children started to hate the bully and the teacher on his side and began to fall in love with the text and the characters.
We were also beginning to link the story to The Journey by Francesca Sanna and start to think about why people might flee, where they would go and the feelings and emotions associated with this.
We were really getting into the book and then COVID-19 struck and there were no more pomegranates to try, no more dealing with bullies and no more visits and letters to the Queen. We were planning on given children the chance to try pomegranates, an exotic and unfamiliar fruit that the children were excited to see and try. We were going to learn more about refugee camps and learn more about the real-life journeys children take in the world but unfortunately, we couldn’t. Next year, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a core text in our Year 4 curriculum, we’ve ordered copies for the Year 5 classrooms and will be using it in Year 5 guided reading group work- pomegranates will return!