Blue John

Published by Barrington Stoke. Authored by Berlie Doherty. Illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis.

Recommended for: Year 3.

Suggested length of study: 2 - 3 weeks.

Download the full scheme of work

Why the book was selected

Beautifully wrought poetic language and with universal themes to discuss, this is both a challenge and a delight for year 3 readers.

Links to National Curriculum in England

This sequence of work covers the following elements of the English National Curriculum for years 3 and 4:


  • develop positive attitudes to reading, and an understanding of what they read, by:
    • listening to and discussing a wide range of fiction, in this instance, a short story by multi-award-winning author, Berlie Doherty
    • reading books that are structured in different ways and reading for a range of purposes
    • using dictionaries to check the meaning of words that they have read
    • increasing their familiarity with a wide range of books, including myths and legends, and retelling some of these orally
    • identifying themes and conventions in a wide range of books
    • discussing words and phrases that capture the reader’s interest and imagination
  • understand what they read, in books they can read independently, by:
    • checking that the text makes sense to them, discussing their understanding, and explaining the meaning of words in context
    • asking questions to improve their understanding of a text
    • drawing inferences such as inferring characters’ feelings, thoughts and motives from their actions, and justifying inferences with evidence
    • predicting what might happen from details stated and implied
    • identifying main ideas drawn from more than 1 paragraph and summarising these
    • identifying how language, structure, and presentation contribute to meaning
  • participate in discussion about both books that are read to them and those they can read for themselves, taking turns and listening to what others say


Take One Book focuses on develop depth of reading comprehension. However, the writing opportunities in this sequence afford the opportunity to develop elements of the Writing Programme of Study.

About the author

Berlie Doherty is the author of many highly regarded, prizewinning books.  She has written picture book texts like the wonderfully evocative Jinnie’s Ghost, illustrated by Jane Ray. Her fiction for young readers includes Willa and Old Miss Annie and The Peak Farm series. Perhaps Berlie’s most well-known book for primary aged children is Street Child, which is often used as a class novel and to teach about working children’s lives in the Victorian era. Berlie lives on the edge of the Peak District and the influence of the local environment can often be detected in her writing.

About the illustrator

Alexandria Neonakis is from Nova Scotia, Canada. She works as a concept artist for a games development company as well as illustrating children’s books.

A note about lessons

Our lessons are organised as meaningful chunks of learning. Most of them will fit a standard 45 minute to 60 minute session. However, some of them are shorter and others will run for a series of linked sessions. It is anticipated that you will not teach all the lessons. Select those that suit the needs of your class and add them to your personalised plans.

Text potential

Lessons for this book

Before Reading


Deep Down in Blue John’s Cave

Creating an immersive hook to provoke interest in the story.


Caves and Caverns

Building background knowledge and introducing vocabulary about the geology of caves.

During Reading

First Encounters


Reading and responding to the first section of the story.

Pages 3-9

Visualising the World of Ice

Visualising a setting and reflecting on the use of descriptive language.

Required reading: 3


Close Reading of illustration to locate details.

Pages 12-21

Sounds From the Outside World

Using the text to make inferences about Blue John’s thoughts and feelings.

Required reading: 25


Conducting a Think Aloud to develop comprehension skills.

Pages 25-33


Making inferences about a character’s actions.

Pages 37-47


Using improvisation to explore nuances in character.

Pages 51-61


Reading closely to find clues that make links across the text.

Pages 65-76

Digging Deeper

‘Stalactites grew like twisted coral’

Introducing similes using ‘like’ as a comparison and discussing their effects.

Pages 12-21

‘As the sea is drawn by the moon’

Introducing similes using ‘as’ for comparison and discussing their effects.

Pages 25-28

The Promise!

Exploring the concept of ‘promise’ using Conscience Alley.

Required reading: Whole book

Wriggling and clambering; dancing and skipping

Exploring contrasting movements and the effect created through verb choice.

Required reading: 20, 46

After Reading

Review and Reflect

Retelling the Story!

Ideintifying key moments to prepare to retell the story.

Required reading: Whole book

Light and Dark

Finding patterns of light and dark and considering the positive and negative connotations.

Required reading: Whole book

Writing Opportunities

Class poem from chapter titles

Using the chapter titles to write a poem.

What Happens Next?

Writing an alternative ending using the ‘What if...?’ question.

Dear Blue John, Dear Queen of Darkness

Writing a letter to explain a personal point of view.

Wider Learning Opportunities

Light and Dark in Art

Investigating art techniques for creating light and dark.


Joe and the Dragonosaurus

Published by Barrington Stoke Ltd. Authored by Berlie Doherty.

Why not read another book by the same author?


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A wordless picture book about curiosity and exploration.

The Dark

Published by Hachette Children's Group. Authored by Lemony Snicket. Illustrated by Jon Klassen.

Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo but mostly it spends its time in the basement. It doesn’t visit Laszlo in his room. Until one night it does . . . An empowering story about conquering a fear of the dark.


Published by Chronicle Books. Authored by Suzy Lee.

A dark attic. A light bulb. And one imaginative little girl. A great wordless book for exploring light and dark.


Published by Chronicle Books. Authored by Lizi Boyd.

Inside a tent it’s cozy. But what is going on outside? Is it dark? Is it scary? Not if you have your trusty flashlight! Told solely through images and using a spare yet dramatic palette, artist Lizi Boyd has crafted a masterful exploration of night, nature, and art. Both lyrical and humorous, this visual poem-like the flashlight beam itself-reveals that there is magic in the darkness.

The Pebbles on the Beach

Published by Faber & Faber. Authored by Clarence Ellis.

A superb spotters guide to the different types of pebbles that you can find on the beach.

A Pebble in My Pocket

Published by Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd. Authored by Meredith Hooper. Illustrated by Chris Coady.

This award winning book is also one of the Take One Book selections and would be a good complement to follow this unit on Blue John.

Fact sheet about the formation of rocks from the Geological Society

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Video about Blue John

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