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Everest - Thursday


English - Comprehension


The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Johnson

This book is the biography of Katherine Johnson who grew up to be one of the most important people in the history of space travel, in an era of racial prejudice. As a child, Katherine loved maths but at that time schools were segregated where she lived. As an African American, she had to complete her education a long way from her home.

The first extract describes Katherine's work with NASA, the American Space Agency.

The second extract recounts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’ first steps on the Moon and how Katherine Johnson was working through the complicated maths.

 Read  extract 1 from The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Johnson. Think about the following:

  • Have you ever heard of Katherine Johnson before?

  • Can you work out what her job was?

  • Who or what is NASA?


1955 was a big year - for Katherine and the rest of the world. But at the time she didn’t know that it was going to change her life forever. On 29th July 1955 the USA told the world that it was going to launch artificial satellites into space to orbit the Earth. This was massive news!

Only four days later the USSR announced that it too was going to launch satellites into space in the near future. Relations between the two countries grew more than a little tense. This started what is called the space race, which properly kicked off two years later. On 4th October 1957 the USSR launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth. It orbited the Earth for three weeks until its batteries eventually ran out, but it kept going for another two months before tumbling down into the Earth’s atmosphere. It burst into flames, crashing down to Earth as a fireball close to where it was first launched.

Next, the Russians set their sights on sending a human into space, and the man for the job was called Yuri Gagarin. Before he could take on this huge once-in-a-lifetime mission, he had to train for years. Meanwhile, the American government wasn’t too happy that the Russians had aced the Sputnik mission, so they kept trying to prove that they were bigger, better and stronger than the USSR. However, America had some catching up to do, and fast. While governments fought and experts paced up and down wondering what to do next, Katherine was working away at the maths needed to get people to and from space. Not long after the launch of Sputnik, Katherine published a document that made it clear that America was ready to have a go at space travel. To make it even clearer, NACA became NASA on 29th July 1958. Now the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, it became a space agency with a mission to send people into Earth’s orbit and beyond.


Now read extract 2 from the book and think about the following:

  • Who was John Glenn?

  • What did Katherine achieve?

  • What moment of history is described here?

Extract 2 

Katherine soon met a man named John Glenn, who was to make his journey to space in a rocket called Friendship 7. By this point Katherine had already proved that she was a master of numbers, so John knew he could trust her completely. While he trained, Katherine worked hard calculating how to get him into space and back home again.

As he was to become the first American to orbit the Earth and Katherine was to become the woman who would get him there, they both had very important work to do.

1962 came and Friendship 7 was ready and waiting to be fired into Earth’s orbit. The mission was huge, and more than a little nerve-racking for everyone involved. NASA had lots of different experts watching John during his mission to make sure that he was safe.

Back on Earth, Katherine was running the show. There was a lot of pressure on them both! But John trusted Katherine, believing in her amazing ability to move numbers around in her brain. Before boarding the rocket, he said: ‘Get the girl, check the numbers. If the numbers are good, then I’m ready to go.’

Katherine’s calculations got the rest of the Mercury Seven into space too, but she wasn’t finished yet.

The success of John Glenn’s mission was a huge victory for the USA. The space race with the USSR was heating up. Ambitions now soared much higher than the Earth’s orbit, and Katherine started work on a project that would be the highlight of her career at NASA - Apollo 11, the moon landing of 1969.

Katherine had been researching the maths that it would take to get people to the moon, and with every breakthrough she made, the idea became more of a reality. Finally, in 1969, the time came. Apollo 11 was the mission that carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to space, and on to the moon.

The astronauts were launched in a rocket called Saturn V from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 16th July 1969. And by ten o’clock in the morning the three men were circling around the Earth. At a time when most Americans were having breakfast, three humans were on their way to the moon for the first time!

In 1969 history was made when the first humans stepped on the moon. Back on earth, one woman was running the numbers that ensured they got there and back in one piece. That woman was Katherine Johnson. Published by Puffin Books.


Activity 1



  1. Return to the beginning of Extract 1 and summarise what is happening in the text.

  2. Try to write eight different phrases or clauses to summarise the plot.

You can choose where in the extract to pause and write a summary.

Challenge yourself by using a maximum of six words for each phrase or clause.

You can take the phrases or clauses directly from the extract or you can write them in your own words.

Here is an example to start you off:

  • Wow! 1955! Wow!


Activity 2



Read Extract 2 again.

In the extract, the writer, Devika Jina, tells us:

‘At a time when most Americans were having breakfast, three humans were on their way to the moon for the first time.’

Write a short paragraph to explain why you think the writer states this.

Think about the following:

  • Consider why the writer would make this comparison.

  • What is the impact of this comparison on the reader?


Activity 3



Read both extracts again.

Your challenge is to write a magazine article about Katherine Johnson.

Think about the following:

  • Choose who the audience of your article will be as this will determine the tone of the article. Is it for younger children, your peers or for a scientific magazine for university students?

  • Remember a magazine article is different to a newspaper report. You need to think about the purpose of the article - are you explaining or informing?

  • Choose a heading for your article - you might want to use alliteration or a play on language. Be creative - you want your audience to know what your article is about from the heading.


History - Ancient Egypt

The Ancient Egyptians

The Ancient Egyptian civilisation began 5,000 years ago when people started building villages next to the River Nile in north-east Africa. It lasted for around 3,000 years.

The river was an important source of water in a hot and dry desert landscape. It enabled the ancient Egyptians to grow lots of crops like wheat, barley, fruit and vegetables. They also grew flax to make clothes and papyrus to make paper.

The Ancient Egyptians were experts at farming and construction because they were very inventive. They invented a solar calendar (a calendar based on the sun) and a writing system called hieroglyphs.

The Ancient Egyptians were ruled by kings and queens called pharaohs. Religion was an important part of their civilization. They worshiped over 2,000 gods and goddesses

The Ancient Egyptians also believed in a never-ending afterlife. They thought it was more important than their life on Earth, so they spent a lot of time planning for their death.

The Ancient Egyptians preserved the bodies of important people through mummification. They built special tombs to be buried in, which they filled with all their favourite things. Some pharaohs built their tombs in the shape of giant pyramids.

Watch this film to find out more about the Ancient Egyptian pyramids. 

The Ancient Egyptians lived a long time ago but we know a lot about them.

The pyramids are still standing and their survival is one of the reasons we are able to understand how Ancient Egyptians lived.

Watch this short film to find out more about why we have such good knowledge of the Ancient Egyptians.


Activity 1


Try this quiz on the everyday life of ancient Egyptians.

Activity 2



Download our pyramid treasure tomb template. Together follow our step-by-step guide to make your own pyramid.