After questioning, modelling is one of the most useful pedagogical tools available to teachers. In this post we delve into our satchels and explore ways we can improve the modelling of writing; so that it is both fun and effective.
Playing silly teacher
Children love it when grown-ups get things wrong. This technique requires a little bit of amateur dramatics, in that you’ll need to over play your mistakes but it is worth the performance – if only to see the pride of the children in ‘catching you out’. Delight your Y1 class by forgetting full-stops, capital letters and finger-spaces; start all of your sentences in the same way in Y2; try joining all clauses with ‘and’ in Y3… The feedback you get from the class will give you a brilliant idea about their current levels of understanding.
Use your assessment knowledge to help you target your modelled writing at the specific needs of your class. There’s no point modelling fronted adverbials when they’re still struggling to join clauses with a subordinating connective. It’s all about keeping it really simple and making sure that you model what you want to see in their next piece of independent work; and that what you’re doing will move them on as a writer.
Balancing the scales
Create a balance between creativity and secretarial skills. Children need to know about grammar and punctuation, without either their writing makes little sense. But modelled writing needs to be more than an explanation of technicalities. It also needs to explore creative language and literary techniques.
Words and Pictures
Most literacy units of work are inspired by texts. Rightly so. Good quality texts provide children with a model of ‘What A Good One Looks Like’ (WAGOLL) which can be used to compose their own texts. Pictures though, can also stimulate writing opportunities. We have lots here. Vary the types of pictures that you use so that sometimes you’re capturing a conversation, sometimes describing a scene and sometimes creating a character.
Finding the wood for the trees
Model what you want them to do. Being distracted by connectives, punctuation, vocabulary, openers, handwriting, powerful verbs, interesting adjectives and so on can confuse the purpose of your writing session. Focus your modelling on one objective. Make sure this is vocalised to the children, ensure it is part of their success criteria and try to park all those other on-going aspects of writing.
Modelled writing…Right now I’ve got a little voice in my head. It’s telling me how to write compose each section, It’s telling me which words to use and how to build construct my sentences. It’s my writer’s voice. It takes time for children to hear their writer’s voice, so we have to model it for them switch it on for them through the pedagogical technique of modelling. The most important tool you have for modelled writing is your voice. Use it to explain what you are doing, to correct your own choices and to ask the children for their opinions. Modeling your thought processes is one of the most powerful aspects of modelled writing.
Beginnings, middles and ends
Which parts of children’s narratives are generally the weakest? I’d hazard a guess that it’s not the opening. The children’s stories that I’ve read usually start well and gradually run out of steam up to the point where they go home for tea, or wake up and realise it was all a dream, THE END. Target your modelling to the parts of narrative your children find hard. This way you should be able to scaffold their understanding of how to write those trickier parts of a story.
Prepare before the session. I ALWAYS have a version of what I want to write. I jot my ideas on a post-it note or on the back of my lesson plan. I don’t stick to it religiously. I do go with suggestions made by the children so that they feel some ownership of the text. And actually, they quite often come up with much better ideas than mine.
Be a really big cheat
Some teachers I’ve worked with are so nervous about modelling writing that they’ve dodged doing it lest they be exposed by their pupils as a poor writer. I’ve got a really cunning trick here. ‘Borrow’ an extract from a text. As long as it enables you to teach the feature of writing you are focussing on, and you’re prepared to make amendments suggested by the children what’s the harm? Modelled writing is all about the exploration of writing through talk.
Much is made of who is working harder in any lesson. It should be the children. The 80:20 principle is a good guideline but don’t get overly mathematical about it! In a 60 minute lesson the children need to active for about 50 minutes. Whilst this does mean that your modelled writing should be brief it doesn’t mean you do 10-12 minutes of talking whilst the children sit and listen. Build in opportunities for them to discuss word choices with a talk partner, to compose possible sentences and to formulate success criteria to take back and use in their own work. By doing this you move your modelled writing from demonstration to shared composition which is far more empowering for the children.
Let us know if you have any top tips for modelled writing. If you enjoyed this post you may find this post about the use of visual images useful.
Rachel Clarke, Primary English Consultant