Grandma Bird / Before Reading / /

Sail Away

Developing descriptive language and visualisation.

Lesson length: 1 session

Lesson from Grandma Bird series

Text potential

  • Inference opportunities: Prediction


  • English
  • Reading

Strategies used

  • Visualisation


Visualisation supports prediction, as well as elaborative inferences. Asking children to think about the content of the front cover illustration before it is revealed will prompt ideas about the possible content.

Teacher’s note: be aware that some children will not be able to visualise imagery. Recent research indicates that a condition called aphantasia prohibits visualisation in some humans.


  • Distribute copies of Grandma Bird, at least one between two.
  • Paper and pencils for visualisation activity.


Distribute the paper and pencils.

Before sharing the front cover of the book, verbally describe the illustration to build up a picture in the children’s heads. For example, ‘I can see a small sailing boat with one mast (pole) with a sail blowing in the wind. An old lady is standing at the back of the boat, steering it with a rudder. The lady is wearing a cardigan, and she has a headscarf tied under her chin. A small boy is standing at the prow (the front) of the boat, pointing forwards. He is wearing a knitted hat, a striped t-shirt and a raincoat. Fluffy clouds can be seen in the sky, and there are lots of seabirds flying around the boat….’ etc.

Ask the children to sketch the images in their minds-eye from your description.  

Reveal the book jacket image and ask the children to compare it with the pictures that they have drawn.

The crucial part of this activity is to identify the vocabulary with which the children were unfamiliar. Some potentially unfamiliar words have been boldened, but children’s vocabularies will vary.

Explicitly introduce the vocabulary.  Provide opportunities for children to hear the words frequently and see them written down and encourage them to use them in discussion and their writing.

Variation: Alternatively, ask the children to work in pairs. Distribute copies of the front cover image to half the class and ask them to describe the picture to their partners. Identify where specific vocabulary can be taught to help the children describe more accurately.

Final reflection

Revisit the front cover. Identify where misunderstandings occurred and which aspects of the picture could be described more clearly. 

Key vocabulary

mast, prow, rudder, sail


Nikki Gamble

Nikki Gamble
Director, Just Imagine
Nikki has worked extensively in schools across the UK and internationally. She is the author of Exploring Children’s Literature (4th edit) (2019) and co-author of Guiding Readers (2016) which was awarded the UKLA Academic Book of the Year Award 2017. Nikki is KS2 reading advisor and series consultant for Oxford University Press and content creator for the Oxford School Improvement and Oxford Owl websites. Nikki is Associate Consultant at the University of London, Institute of Education and Honorary Fellow at the University of Winchester

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Sam Keeley

Formerly a teacher and local authority advisory teacher, Sam now works with Just Imagine as an English consultant and manager of the year 6 Reading Gladiators programme.

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