Reading lesson: To Be a Cat by Matt Haig

Home learning focus

Using the novel To Be a Cat you will learn about selecting key pieces of information from a text and evaluating the text while giving a personal opinion.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos of Rugby player Maro Itoje reading extracts from the book

  • three activities


Matt Haig uses a lot of dialogue (direct speech where a character is talking) within this extract. Watch the extract read by Maro Itoje. Whilst watching, think about what job the dialogue is doing.

Is the dialogue:

  • telling us more about a character?
  • moving the story on?
Maro Itoje reads an extract from To Be a Cat by Matt Haig

Now watch Maro Itoje read a second extract. Whilst watching:

  • think about the impressions that you get as a reader and look for evidence that supports it
  • think about how you could write the next chapter in the same style as Matt Haig.
Maro Itoje reads an extract from To Be a Cat by Matt Haig


You may need paper and a pen or pencil for some of these activities.

Activity 1

Extract 1

That was very odd, you falling asleep like that,’ his mum commented. ‘I think we might need to take you to hospital to get you checked out.’

‘I’m all right now. I think I’m feeling better.’

But then, while he sat on the sofa watching TV with his mum, his arms started itching and he began to rub them.

‘Barney, don’t do that. You’ll make them sore,’ Mum said, switching from polar bears to a quiz show.

‘I can’t help it.’ He unbuttoned one of his cuffs, rolled up the sleeve and started to scratch the skin directly. ‘They’re so itchy.’

As he scratched he saw one, then two, then three thick black hairs on his right arm. They were pure jet-black, way darker than his normal mousy mid-brown hair colour, and were arranged like points in a neat line just below his wrist.

‘Mum, look – these hairs.’

‘Oh yes, you’re turning into a man. Well, now that you’re nearly a teenager you’ll be starting to get hairy all over the place.’

‘But they’re weird. They’re black. I don’t have black hair. And they weren’t there yesterday. They weren’t even there this afternoon. I don’t want to turn into a man that quickly.’

She wasn’t listening. She was too busy looking at his forehead. ‘What is it?’ Barney asked her. ‘Oh dear, I’ll just get the tweezers,’ she said, before disappearing up to her bedroom. Meanwhile, Barney went to look in the hallway mirror to see what the matter was. There, right in the middle of his forehead, was another thick black hair.

In the book, Weedy Barney Willow was is picked on by horrible Gavin Needle and the evil headteacher Miss Whipmire, he dreams of being a cat as things would be easier. To Be a Cat is published by Puffin.

Learn to explain how dialogue can convey character and move the action on

  • Using Extract 1, point to, highlight or underline any dialogue (direct speech, what a character is saying). Say it aloud and use expression to show how the character is feeling when you are saying the words.

Think about the relationship between the writer (Matt Haig) and the reader (you).

  • Which examples of dialogue had an impact on you?
  • When you read the extract, which dialogue struck a chord with you as the reader?
  • Think about how successful the dialogue is.

Make a table like the one below, write down the dialogue that you liked or found interesting. In the next column, write about how this helps you to understand the character or moves the action along (or both!). In the third column, explain what this combination shows to you, the reader.

Example of dialogueConvey character or move on the actionImpact on the reader
“Mum, look- these hairs.”Both – tells us about how Barney feels and makes Mum look.The punctuation in this dialogue shows us how Barney speaks. He pauses at the comma and the dash. This is to show how nervous and scared he is. It is short too, showing Barney has no words - he is in shock!

Activity 2

Extract 2

This was his bed. This was his room. But everything had grown beyond all possibility.

The wardrobe was the size of a house. The bedside lamp peered down at him like some strange armless robot. The door was miles away. And the school uniform which hung over his chair belonged to a giant.

Next he saw something which made even less sense.

His hands, or his feet – he couldn’t tell which – were entirely covered with hair. And they were fingerless. Toeless. He turned his head to see what he had only felt so far. A tail. Curled into a quivering kind of question mark, as though the rest of his body was a query wanting an answer.

It was impossible.

He was still Barney. His ‘Barney-ness’ was still there in his head, his mind still the same bulging suitcase of memories and emotions. But at the same time he already knew he wasn’t him at all. He was something else. Something so impossible that he thought this had to be a dream, like the one he’d had about his father.

He blinked, and then blinked some more. No. There was no doubt about it. He was awake.

Indeed, he was as awake as he had ever been. So, to his horror, he had to believe what his eyes were telling him, and what the black hair and the tail and the paws were telling him. And what they were telling him was this: he may have gone to bed human, but he had woken up unquestionably, unmistakably, unimaginably cat.

Can you explain where your impressions of the story come from?

  • Re-read this extract and think about what impressions you get of Barney’s room (from his new perspective).
  • When you are thinking of your ‘impression’ keep it very simple. You only need one or two words.
  • Then, find the evidence in the text that supports what you think.

Record your work in a table like this:

Impression Of Barney’s RoomEvidence From The Text
Scary‘The bedside lamp peered down on him like some strange armless robot.’

Activity 3

Try writing in the style of Matt Haig

Re-read both extracts and think about Matt Haig’s style as an author using these questions.

  • What is his relationship with his reader like? (For example, he lets us in to the narrative and trusts us).
  • What is his style? (For example, he uses dialogue and he uses description).
  • What type of vocabulary does he use? (For example, he uses relevant vocabulary and it is not too challenging).
  • What do you think will happen in the next chapter?

Think about these headings and challenge yourself to write the next chapter, use these five points to start you off.

  1. How will your chapter start?
  2. Will you end the chapter on a cliff hanger?
  3. Which character(s) will be in your chapter?
  4. Will there be any dialogue and what job will it do?
  5. What impact do you want to have on your reader and how do you want them to feel at the end of your chapter?

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