Reading lesson: A Seven Letter Word by Kim Slater

Home learning focus

Using the novel A Seven Letter Word you will learn about explaining impressions of characters, building tension and writing as a character.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos of actor and TV presenter Stephen Fry reading extracts from the book

  • three activities


Watch actor and TV presenter Stephen Fry read an extract from A Seven Letter Word.

As you watch, think about the following:

  • What do you know about people who have stutters?

  • Why do you think Finlay wants this journal to be ‘UNCENSORED’?

  • This book is called A Seven Letter Word. What do you think about the title of the book now?

Stephen Fry reads an extract from 'A Seven Letter Word' by Kim Slater

Now watch Stephen read another extract from A Seven Letter Word and think about the following:

  • What do you understand by the term ‘mob’?

  • How do you think Finlay should react?

  • Why do the kids who do not know Finlay laugh?

Stephen fry reads an extract from 'A Seven Letter Word' by Kim Slater


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

Activity 1

Extract 1

Context: Finlay is writing in his journal to his Mum.

See, I’m a different lad to the one you left behind.

I can see OK, can hear perfectly fine and I can write really well. But the thing is, I can’t speak. It’s not just the odd word any more.

I’m a st-st-stutterer.

STUTTER [7] – that’s one seven-letter word I wish didn’t exist, fifty points extra or not.

Hilarious, isn’t it?

It’s like the word is there in my mouth, fully formed, and then, just as it’s ready to leave my lips . . . POP! It ricochets and bounces around my gob.

Except it’s not funny at all, because there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

Worst of all, people think I’m totally and utterly stupid. I mean, speaking is the most natural thing in the world to do. And that’s the hardest thing to take, I suppose, because I want to be bright and clever and ARTICULATE [12]. Like you.

I’m not telling you this to make you feel bad, Mum, honest.

You see, I’ve made my mind up to write anything I want to down here. My journal letters to you will be UNCENSORED [13]. If I’m going to write the truth, it’s the only way.

Finlay's mother vanished two years ago. And ever since then his stutter has worsened. Bullied at school and ignored by his father, the only way to get the words out is by writing long letters to his mum and playing Scrabble online. Finlay is befriended by an online Scrabble player called Alex. Could this be his mother? Or something more sinister? Published by Macmillan Children's Books.

Write a paragraph to explain how the author, Kim Slater, creates a life-like and believable character in this opening chapter.

Think about the following questions:

  • Consider the way this extract is written – in the first person. How does this impact on you as the reader?

  • Finlay confides in the reader by revealing that he has a stutter. How does this impact on you as the reader?

  • We feel close to Finlay, like he is talking directly to us. how does Kim Slater do this?

You might want to use these answer stems.

The writer uses ............................................

This shows that ............................................

The writer makes the reader feel ............................................ because ............................................

As a reader, ............................................

Activity 2

Extract 2

My rucksack feels heavy and uncomfortable on my back. There are four thick library books in there, all overdue. I’m just debating whether to start walking to the next bus stop when I hear his voice behind me.


There’s a pounding of feet as Oliver Haywood and his mob approach the bus stop.

I don’t realise I’ve stopped breathing until I start to feel a bit dizzy. I take in a gulp of air but I don’t turn around. They’ve never caught the bus from this stop before, it’s like they’ve come here just to start on me.

Oliver calls out again, louder this time.
‘F-flipping heck, it’s F-Finlay.’

They ignore the queue and walk straight to the front to gather round me. They all wear their ties done loose with sloppy knots and Oliver has a swirly design shaved into one side of his hair. He’s got this concerned look on his face.

‘You OK, F-Finlay? It m-must be fl-flaming f-freezing, stood here.’

Everybody laughs. Even the other kids who hardly know me.

'This is really serious,’ Oliver says, in a worried voice. ‘It looks like F-Finlay M-McIntosh has turned deaf, as well as dumb.'

In extract 2, the writer builds tension by using a mixture of description and dialogue. The dialogue used conveys the characters and also moves the plot on.

Complete the tables below by choosing examples of description and dialogue that build tension within this extract.

There is one table looking at dialogue and one looking at description. The first example in each table has been completed for you.


ExampleExplain how this builds tension
‘I take in a gulp of air but I don’t turn around.’Oliver Haywood is creeping up behind Finlay, teasing him by calling his name in this way. Finlay is too scared to turn round.


ExampleExplain how this builds tension
‘my rucksack feels heavy and uncomfortable’This shows that Finlay is vulnerable – if he needs to run, it will be difficult as his bag is so heavy.

Activity 3

Re-read both of the extracts.

In the first extract, Finlay is writing in his journal and we hear his ‘voice’.

In the second extract, the author is writing about Finlay,

Imagine that you are writing a section of Finlay’s journal describing what happened.

Remember to write in the first person and use extract 1 as a guide so that you get Finlay’s style of writing.

Aim to write three paragraphs.

There's more to learn

Bitesize Daily lessons
KS3 English
Macmillan Children's Books