When young children appreciate for the first time that they can communicate in written form, it is an extremely exciting discovery. We aim to harness this excitement, providing opportunities throughout the learning environment to encourage writing through play and writing for a purpose. Having initially been taught to form each letter in their phonics sessions, pupils will have a range of opportunities to practice handwriting movements, shapes and letters, until these become natural flowing movements.
Children will to supported to use their growing knowledge of sounds and the corresponding letters to encode words for others to read. Initially, their writing will be words, labels and captions, but rapidly they develop the ability to string whole phrases and sentences together. A particular favourite in our Lower School classrooms is a Story-telling chair, where children may sit as the author to share their writing with the class, reading it aloud for their peers to enjoy.
At Churchill, we have recently started to use the Talk4Writing programme to direct our teaching of writing. Talk4Writing supports the learning of a bank of well-known stories and other repetitive narrative structures. This is learnt through creative, enriching and fulfilling lessons, which centre around three stages. These are 'imitate', 'innovate' and 'invent.
The three stages are detailed below in greater detail.
Throughout these three stages, our aim is to make sure that all children:
The Three Stages
Stage 1: Imitation
Each imitate stage begins with a ‘cold task,’ which requires the children to write a piece of work in the chosen genre or text type. This allows them to have a first attempt at the writing, so that they can show their prior knowledge and have something to reflect upon at the end of the unit.
A typical Talk 4 Writing unit then begins with a range of activities based around the new unit, helping the children to become familiar with the text. The children will read as a reader and as a writer, gaining understanding of both the features and narrative. New language and features are discussed and identified in the text. This allows the children to magpie new vocabulary and practice using the features and think about the key ingredients that help to build the text.
The text is internalised by two key activities – story/text mapping and actions. We use these to orally re-tell the story. Story/text maps are a series of images drawn to retell the text, with the punctuation and key vocabulary included; actions are where the children all perform the text verbally with actions to each word or phrase. Both of these assist the children in acquiring new language, understanding its meaning and seeing the pattern and structure of the text more clearly. By bringing the text to life, the children learn expression and phrasing and begin to visualise how the words are used and why.
The imitation stage ends by boxing up the original text, which helps the children to analyse what makes the text work. In this way, the children can start to co-construct a toolkit for this genre or text type so that they can form a concrete structure of the text in their minds.
Stage 2: Innovation
Once the text has been learnt by all children, they are ready to start innovating on the pattern of the text. Throughout this stage, there are still many opportunities to develop their new skills and understanding. Younger writers will adapt the original text/story map to orally rehearse and discuss their changes. Further up the school, children use their boxed-up plans in order to make changes against what they have written in the imitation stage. This allows children to see how you can innovate on an exemplar text and select words, phrases and sentences that really work.
The teacher guides children through the writing process, modelling through ‘shared writing.’ This is where the children can all get involved with giving ideas and making suggestions for how the text could be innovated. During their first few years in school, this is done through substitution of the original story map, whereas as they move through Key Stage 2, the children explore other ways of innovating a text, such as genre switching, alternative endings and sequels.
An important part of this process is to provide the children with a clear understanding of how to craft a text. They use what they have identified as features from the shared text and have developed through their imitation. They can also now see how the reviewing and editing process is carried out by a writer.
Stage 3: Invention
In the final stage, the learning is then passed over to the children and they can plan and write their own text, using the features as their toolkit and the shared text and innovation as an example of what a successful text should look like. By this point, the pattern of the text will be internalised, they will have gained new language and understood new sentence types and will be thoroughly prepared to have a go at creating their own text.
Some children will choose to stick quite closely to the original text, thinking of a new way of innovating independently, whilst others are now given the freedom to write in the given genre or text type, but using their creativity and initiative.
The process comes to a close with a ‘hot task.’ This is where the children can put everything that they have learnt into a final piece of writing in this genre or text type. They can then review and edit their own work, reflecting upon how to improve it and personalise it.
Finally, they can assess whether they have achieved, comparing their cold and hot write tasks, identifying where they have used the new features and where they have improved their understanding of the text type and their writing.
Extended writing opportunities are also planned in weekly through our Friday BIG WRITE, to help teachers assess children's progress and build their stamina for writing at length. In addition, we aim to provide cross-curricular writing opportunities wherever possible.