Progression in Non-fiction texts

In a rare turn of events, I have rediscovered my long-neglected blog and decided to share my thoughts with those of you even mildly interested in hearing them.

I’ve been busy. I mean really busy. I’ve been working in schools, writing teaching materials and all too often chasing my tail as I try to catch up with myself. I’m not complaining. Having a lot to do is the dream position for those of us who are self-employed. And I’ve loved all the opportunities that have come my way since taking my online sabbatical. But it’s time to get back on the web and start sharing the fruits of my labours. Because I’ve made a thing. And I think it’s a thing a few of you might like. In fact, I think it’s a thing that might prove rather useful in your school.

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The teaching cup-cake challenge

the teaching cup cake challenge

A short blog in which I offer a cake: fondant ratio as a metaphor for good teaching.

the teaching cup cake challenge

Fairy cakes

Back in the day the sky was more blue, children played out in the street, and small individual sponge-based treats were known as fairy cakes; a nice name evocative of mythical creatures and a sprinkling of magic. Nowadays, the skies are remain blue, children still play out but also have an abundance of electronic distractions; and small cakes are somewhat larger and less imaginatively called cup-cakes. I have nothing against cup-cakes but as a fan of sponge I feel that the cake: fondant ratio of the cup-cake has shifted to the detriment of the core ingredient – cake. There is nothing wrong with fondant topping and I certainly have nothing against the addition of decoration. It’s simply that I prefer the old-fashioned fairy cake balance of mostly cake with a little topping.

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Writing moderation – weights and measures


With the moderation season now in full flow, we’ve collated a few bits of advice to help you get through it as unscathed as possible.

Weights and measures

Writing moderation is the school assessment system’s version of Weights and Measures. It’s a system where producers – you, bring your product – the children’s writing, to be weighed, measured and scrutinised by your peers. It’s the way that we maintain ‘the standard’ and use an agreed set of criteria by which we can grade that produce.

Comparing apples and pears

We’ve encountered a few writing moderation meetings where teachers haven’t sorted their produce prior to the meeting. Instead they’ve come with oats mixed with corn, apples mixed with pears and have then used the meeting for their peers to sort out their produce for them. This isn’t moderation. Writing moderation is where you come to the meeting having already decided on the level at which each child is working so that your colleagues can then act like the scales and yardsticks of the assessment system. To make the most of moderation make your judgements before coming to the meeting.

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Autumn term round-up


As December comes racing to an end we’ve decided to look back on some of our most popular blogs in our autumn term round-up.

Writing is always a popular theme on the Primary English website and this autumn term has been no different. Our article on modelled writing proved hugely popular in schools and has been read by hundreds of visitors to our website. This has also been the case with our more recent article on ways to create better writers.

The most popular search term bringing visitors to the Primary English website is guided reading. We know that it concerns hundreds of teachers around the country so this term we brought you two posts about guided reading. One about moving guided reading from good to great and improving reading comprehension with PEE. Do keep visiting us as during the new year we will be adding to our articles about guided reading with a particular look at guided reading in KS1.

We’ve looked at leadership twice this term. Once to look at updates to the Ofsted framework and secondly at how to use the DODD acronym to organise your subject leadership activities. One of our most popular posts of the term was the one we wrote about vocabulary and how to provide quality opportunities to teach vocabulary in the primary classroom.

It’s been a busy few weeks and we’re now looking forward to a good rest before starting again in the new year.

Rachel and Charlotte – Directors: Primary English Education Consultancy Limited


Creating better writers


We’re all striving to improve the quality of writing done by the children in our care. In this short post we outline five techniques to help children become better writers.

Better writers – know the purpose and audience

Do your children struggle to find the correct level of formality in their writing? Are they able to switch between the extremes of their playground voice and their posh hat voice? Exposure to texts which model these extremes (and the many points in-between) is important. Before getting children to write, spend some time establishing the purpose and audience of the writing. Help them to think about:

  • What the text is for?
  • What should it achieve?
  • Who is it aimed at?

By doing this you should help them to produce better writing which meets the need of the task.

Better writers – define the conventions of the writing

This is all about the form of the writing. Depending on the level of the children, knowing the form of writing may involve some of the following:

How should it be organised?

Does it need time conjunctions so that it is chronological or logical conjunctions to describe a process?

Which tense should be used?

Use the past tense for recounts “Yesterday we went on a trip”, the present tense can be used for some reports “Squirrels are found in many parks and gardens”.

Does the text require the active or passive voice?

Active “We added salt to the water”, passive “some salt was added to the water”

Are there ‘stock phrases’ associated with the form?

Dear sir,,,yours faithfully” in letter writing

Better writers – have teachers who model writing a text

You are the expert in your classroom. Model writing a sample text with the children. Our post on modelled writing gives 10 easy tips to support modelling writing.

Better writers – are involved in shared writing

Get the children to join in with your composition. As an example, “What would be the best word here? Why do you think I’ve started this sentence with ‘he’ rather than the characters name? Can you finish this sentence for me?

Better writers – have access to models, images and scaffolding

In our fuss-free phonics post we talked about the need for a supportive environment. If children are to achieve better writing they need a rich environment supportive of the text-type they are aiming to produce. This could include:

  • key words on display
  • text-types structures, such as those from Sue Palmer
  • writing frames to support the form of the text
  • success criteria which identify the elements they should include.

These  tips aren’t a quick fix. Producing better writers requires a consistent approach where these elements are woven together over time. By being explicit about what you want, by sharing quality examples of what you’re looking for and by modelling the writing process you should be successful in helping your children become better writers.

Rachel Clarke – Director Primary English Education Consultancy



Christmas writing opportunities



Creating writing opportunities at Christmas time

Once we are in December, Santa’s presence is in every classroom whether we like it or not! He helps us with classroom management, “You don’t want to be on the naughty list do you?”; his impending visit causes the post box to overflow with cards; and reception’s dulcet tones ring out ‘Little Donkey’. There’s no escaping it –  The big man is on his way!

Using real life writing opportunities is a great way to get children writing at any time of the year but at Christmas, the writing opportunities can be magical. Here we look at taking advantage of the big man’s visit to inspire some festive writing.

10 Christmas Writing Opportunities:

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Halloween Teaching Resources



Looking for Halloween teaching resources?

Look no further…love it or hate it, Halloween is nearly here and these days it’s becoming big business. Go to any supermarket and you will find all manner of spooky props, costumes and sweets! Actually, pop in just after Halloween and you can pick up some great thrifty props or Halloween teaching resources when they reduce them –  great for that spooky story writing unit you have coming up!

How can we help you?

Last year I wrote a blog post about some of my most favourite spooky stories  which are just great books, great story telling and great for all year round thrills and chills.

What’s new?

This year we have re-developed our spooky stories Pinterest board to become the ‘Spooky Stories and Resources’ board so that as well as spooky books you will now also find spooky images, art and craft ideas too.

If you don’t observe Halloween as a school, worry not. Our Halloween teacher resources are still for you as they fit into adventure stories, spooky stories and stories with a twist in the tale.

So, if you want to spook up your teaching this Autumn, look no further, our Halloween teacher resources are here to help!

Charlotte Reed – Primary English Consultant


Modelled Writing


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.

Next steps

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.

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One Stop Writing Shop


Some of you may have been following us a while, some of you more recently and we thought it might be useful to reflect on a few of our most searched for and read posts.

This selection relates to the teaching of writing:

Writing is a tricky subject, we know. It is searched for a lot on our blog. One reason is that we don’t always see ourselves as writers so we have written about Teachers as Writers to support you. Just a few thoughts to get your ideas flowing.

As a team we love to use visual images as a starting point or a really good picture book, so here are some ideas to start you off.

Need teaching ideas for persuasive writing? Something to get the children motivated? We can help with that!

Getting your GaPS in a twist? Need to grapple grammar?

There’s lots more too! Just search writing and have a look.

The Primary English Team


Stimulating the creative writing process


What have you thought about today? Have you thought about putting the bins out? Have you pondered whether your kids will ever learn to empty the dishwasher? Perhaps you’ve wonder whether you should write in pen or pencil?

They’re all pretty mundane thoughts. Our lives are full of these minutiae, yet we don’t often stand back and reflect on them.

Looking within yourself; to your thoughts and ideas is what we need to do as writers. Bringing three things you’ve thought about today and writing them as sentences is a simple way to unlock the writing process. It really doesn’t matter how ordinary the thoughts are: the extra-ordinary can only stand out because it exists in a sea of the mundane.

Unlocking the writing process by looking within was an idea introduced to us by Chris O’Connell, writer with Theatre Absolute. As was this lovely activity for creating dialogue as a community of writers.

Gather the students (or your colleagues) in a circle and pass everyone a piece of paper and a pencil. Ask each person to write one word on their piece of paper: preferably a rich, descriptive word such as ‘aspiration’. Ask everyone to place their word in the middle of the circle and then take out a different word; a bit like a ‘lucky dip’. Take turns to read the words aloud. Now ask everyone to think of a line of dialogue which includes their word. Perhaps something like, “My aspirations have all been taken away from me,” write these on the paper and again read them aloud.

The next step in the process is to assign everyone to groups of four. Once there task them with creating new pieces of drama with the four pieces of dialogue. Don’t let them add dialogue, but get amongst them and support them in finding some logic from the four sentences. They may want to form a monologue, they may prefer to have four characters. Creating a scenario may help them to unite the disparate sentences to create a whole.

Allow the actors time to rehearse and then stage each performance. What you’ll probably find is that sense can be made of the sentences but not so much through the words as through changes in intonation, pauses and the style of delivery. It may well be that through narrating some lines and switching to live action with others that sense is made of the otherwise nonsensical. Enjoy each performance for what it is but do take time to stand back and evaluate how it was that the writer-actors achieved their finished piece.

Creative writing activities such as these show that interesting writing can grown from the smallest and most simple of seeds. So, next time your students say they can’t think of anything to write. Start with the simple. Maybe a single word that can become a play, or three things they thought about that morning; maybe even 3 things they’ve changed their mind about. Whatever it is, start with them, with their own experiences and because, whilst we may not have all been to a creepy castle most of us have wondered whether we have time for another cup of tea…whether we should go to bed yet…what happens to the light inside the fridge when the door’s closed…if the sun will ever come out this summer…how the stripes get inside the tube of toothpaste…

To find out how Theatre Absolute could help you and your students get more from writing, storytelling and drama click here.

Rachel Clarke, Primary English Consultant