Grandma Bird / Before Reading / /

What’s in a Name?

Using prior knowledge to think about character names and associations.

Lesson length: 30 minutes / 1 session

Lesson from Grandma Bird series

Strategies used

  • Background Knowledge


The Grandma in Grandma Bird behaves in a different way to stereotypical grannies in stories. She lives alone on an island, where birds are the only other inhabitants. Living on an island means that she has to look after herself and be content with her own company. 

This lesson invites the children to make links by thinking about their own grandparents, or perhaps older people that they are close to, if they do not know their grandparents. By focusing on name choice, they begin to make predictions about Grandma Bird.


  • Have available a large sheet of sugar paper to draw on.
Teacher note: a list of grandma words has been prepared for you to refer to, if appropriate. You will notice that many words look or sound similar.


Write the word Grandma on the board or a large sheet of paper. Check the children can read it.

Harvest from the children different words that are used to describe a female grandparent. For example, gran, granny nanny, nonno, daadi, naani, anneanne, babaanne. There is a great diversity in the names that children call their grandparents. This lesson provides an excellent opportunity to talk about the different names used in a range of cultures. Children can identify some of the similarities and differences.

After sharing the children’s examples, ask whether both sets of grandparents are given the same name. In some cultures, such as Turkish,  a maternal grandmother is distinguished from a paternal grandmother by name.

Invite the children to talk about their grandmothers and their qualities. 

Record their ideas to refer back to later.

Now share the title of the book covering up the word ‘Bird’.

  • What do you think Grandma’s name will be?
  • Reveal the B. Have you changed your mind? What do you think her name might be now?
  • Reveal the rest of the word and ask for the children’s responses.
  • Did you expect the name Grandma Bird, or did it surprise you?

In pairs, ask the children to describe the way they imagine Grandma Bird. Does her name conjure up pictures in your mind?

Once pairs have shared ideas, they can draw their own sketches then compare their drawings.

Final reflection

Some possible prompts:

Do you think that Bird is Grandma’s surname or nickname/pet name? (Clarify the meaning of nickname, if needed).

In the Katie Morag stories (also set on an island), the two grandmothers are called Grandma Mainland and Grannie Island. Their names describe where they live. 

  • Do any of your grandparents have nicknames?

Make explicit the point that nicknames should only be used kindly. We sometimes use the term ‘pet name’ to describe a name that we give to someone about whom we care.

Key vocabulary

nickname, pet name


Katie Morag and the Two Grannies by Mairi Hedderwick

Published by Random House. Authored by Mairi Hedderwick. Illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick.

A wonderful series of books exploring life for the eponymous heroine, living on the tiny island of Struay. Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers is perfect for comparing grandmothers.


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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