Teaching with ‘The Lost Words’

The Lost Words is a beautiful book created by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris. It contains not poems, but spells to conjure back certain words which have been ‘lost’.

The first thing worth noting about this spell book is how alluring it is. I felt enticed into immersing myself in the spells and illustrations immediately. You could quite easily lose yourself for days by: soaking in every inch of detail, finding the hidden meanings of the spells and decoding the kennings.

After consuming everything this glorious hardback had to offer, I knew my main aim was to ensure I provided the children in my class the opportunity to love it as much as I did.

The Premise

The premise behind the book is to bring natural words back into the Oxford Junior Dictionary. These words, such as adder, newt and otter, have been removed and replaced by more modern words like keyboard. If you haven’t heard of the plight of these natural words, please take a look at the Guardian article detailing the situation.

Here is how my week panned out…


Read. Read. Read.

It was extremely important for me that the first day was predominantly just reading, interpreting and falling in love with the spells.

I spent some time talking to the children about the creators (Rob and Jackie), the idea behind the spell book and the potential implications for future generations if these words are lost forever. We had comments like, “But that’s not fair?!” when discussing how future generations may never hear these words again. It was imperative that the children got behind the cause, as I was sure this would be vital for successful spell-making.

To support the interpretation of the spells, I used the John Muir Trust’s Explorer’s Guide to The Lost Words, as this contains an abundance of fantastic questions and activities to support teachers.

The ‘wonder words’ are provided by the explorer’s guide, and are words that children will need to understand to get the true meaning of the spells.

I used Collins COBUILD (something I’ve tweeted about before, recommended to me by Mr Phillips) to allow the children to get a better understanding of the ‘wonder words’, spells and the kennings that Robert employs so well.

I then used the different questions prescribed by the explorer’s guide, again, eliciting a greater understanding of the spells.

This first lesson was all about discussing the meaning of the spells and relishing in their beauty.


More reading. Links. Plan.

I read more of the spells to the children and discussed some of the language used again, before making links to other books and the real world.

We were reading The Dark Wild by Piers Torday at the time and, for those who have read The Last Wild trilogy, there are immediate links to be made. I alluded to us being like Kester, as we were trying to save these ‘wild’, or natural, words.

A picture book this could be linked to is ‘The Promise’. This is about how a young person, living in a cruel and broken city, who is trusted with something that could change the world. Simon Smith shared this book during his Primary Rocks workshop, so thank you Simon!

During this week, there was heart-breaking news about Sudan, the last male northern white Rhino, who had died in Kenya. This sad event served as another rallying cry for the children. Many of them had watched the programme about Sudan’s life and had imagined if the word rhinoceros was also removed from the junior dictionary, then Sudan would have died in vain.

Using the iPads, the children worked in pairs to plan their own lost word spell. I gave them a choice of seven different lost words: buttercup, mistletoe, raven, leopard, pelican, cygnet, or panther. These are not in The Lost Words spell book, but are examples of other words that have been removed.

I created a simple plan, that allowed the children to get enough information to create their own spells. Click on the link if you’d like to download it.


Modelling. Conjuring.

I wanted to write my own spell, partly so I could see what the children would have to be able to do (allowing me to create the planning sheet), but also so I could get a piece of the action!

My attempt (it should read ‘vindicated of’ not ‘for’

Using my spell, and Paper 53, we broke down the make-up of it, discussed the kennings and how I used the planning sheet effectively.

I then gave the children the rest of the lesson to draft their own spell (around 45 minutes). I tried to stress to the children that their spell didn’t have to follow a rhyming pattern, or rhyme at all, it was just important that it flowed when read aloud. We also discussed how could deploy the ‘show, don’t tell’ techniques we’ve been developing this year.


Conjuring. Stencils. Backgrounds.

Spells conjured, it was now time to write them up and display them in such a way that represented their artistry.

I asked my LSA to find some sepia-coloured paper to print for the children to choose from. She also printed as many of Jackie’s exquisite illustrations. The children would choose one of these to act as the border for their spell.

I also asked the children to bring in any stencils they had at home. These were used, with a metallic Sharpie, to create the acrostic letters of the spells and the title.

Now, I may be slightly biased as they are my class, but I was so impressed by what they produced. Here are a selection of them:

We then used Seesaw to share them with family members. The children used the record voice function to read their spells aloud.


This is by no means a definitive guide to teaching with The Lost Words, more just an example of what worked for me. I’d love to hear from you if you have also taught using The Lost Words and did something differently!

Something that I’ve not gone into detail about is how I used Pie Corbett’s Jumpstart Poetry book for different games at the start of each lesson. These helped the children to start to play with words and become creative before the main part of the lesson.

Many thanks to both Rob and Jackie, who very kindly provided lots of feedback for the children. This gave them more of an audience (how amazing to have your spells read by the creators of the book!) and even more purpose for writing their spells, not that this was really needed as they were so riled up anyway!

As always, if you have any questions, please get in touch with me, either on here or on Twitter.

7 thoughts on “Teaching with ‘The Lost Words’

  1. Katy P

    What a fabulous week you and your class must have had. Thank you for sharing this. As a teacher of busines English to adults I sometimes lose sight of how beautiful our language is and how it can be made to come alive by those who are passionate about it. I have this book. I love this book and I loved reading about how it can be shared.


  2. Cathy Young

    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. I bought this beautiful book a while ago and have been waiting for the right opportunity to use it with my class. I have had a lovely afternoon (PPA) planning a unit of work based on this for next half term. Your blog has been an enormous help.


  3. Andy

    All great stuff, how about a thanks to your LSA too ?
    I’m bias as I am one and we all know how much teachers need the support of a good LSA in these demanding times. 😁


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