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

Teachers as Writers

So, it all started with a question in a school hall on a Teacher Day not so far from here.
“How many of you consider yourselves readers?” Up shot the hands, nearly everyone, nothing unusual there.

“How many of your consider yourselves writers?” Few hands and an uncomfortable silence.  It’s stark, in a room full of teachers: less than a handful consider themselves writers.

Listening in to the ensuing conversation, they do write.  One writes a diary “Yes, but it isn’t really writing is it?  It’s for me”  Yes, it is writing.  You are a writer.  “Is texting writing?” Yes, it is writing, scroll through mine and my best friends messages and it’s a story of our days and important events.  We then went on to a writing activity and I began, in analogue form, this blog.  So, reader, here’s your question;

“Are you a writer?”

Let’s start with this past week, write a list of everything you have written.  For me it’s a blog post, texts, emails, to do list, shopping list, menu plan, Facebook updatestweets, have I missed anything?  I probably write more now than I ever have!  And so do you, you are a writer, we all are, sometimes it’s about perception.  Do we perceive these activities to be valuable writing activities?  They are writing to inform (e.g. Facebook), to entertain (e.g. twitter), to persuade (e.g. emails).

It is important that the children see these things, see us as writers but first you need to acknowledge that you are a writer.  Over on Facebook, when I asked about writing, Hannah from BookHappy said this “There’s writing (the everyday kind) and ‘writing’ the high quality stuff that we aspire to but find it difficult to achieve.” You may not write perfect prose and elegant verse but you are a writer.  Louise Dobson said “I have an unpublished children’s ‘book’ in my bottom drawer! Keep wondering whether to re-edit and try again. I try to write when my classes are writing and I share what I’ve written. This is very important I think that the children see you as a writer…”  we agree, and Louise, that book, it’s a book, not a ‘book’.  What an amazing thing to have done.  Miranda said “I love to write and I find it very therapeutic. I have a recurring dream, just as I’m drifting off to sleep, that I’m writing an article for a newspaper. The language is very eloquent and opinionated! I regularly dream about writing articles about the stock market- I don’t know anything about economics so I don’t know what’s going on there!”

So we teachers are writing, but not everyone, so here are a few ideas for how you could gently begin to write and encourage your class to write and if you have any other ideas pop them on a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.

Teachers as Writers, a few ideas (you don’t need to do them all!  Pick one you think you could do).

1) Class blog, write a class blog to communicate with parents and children. This has real advantages, gives the children and you a real life purpose and keep parents informed and may even get them joining in!  Try to ask a question at the end of the blog to draw responses too.
2) Write when the children write; make the deal.  For example, during guided writing could you sit with the group and write, model asking them for support when you get stuck and model good practice.
3) Write a round robin story one line at a time, using flip chart paper or a wallpaper roll, put up a starting sentence, the children can add a sentence at a time, anyone can join in, but as a teacher, make sure you add a sentence to it every day, it could grow all year if you did it on a wallpaper roll!
4) Make a big thing of writing, tell them when you are writing a note, making a list, don’t hide the everyday writing away.
5) Model writing, not just in English, do you model writing in science, history, geography?
6) Give children pieces of your writing as models, or to edit and deconstruct.
7) Start a class diary that you and the children can contribute to.

8) Send the class postcards from everywhere you visit even if it’s just for the day, it doesn’t take long and also gives you a conversation point.
9) Start a notice board so that children can contribute notes about exciting events or things they want to tell the class.
10) Value the writing that you do, be confident and write.

Further detail and information:

Writing is Primary – Useful research document looking at supporting teachers writing to support pupils

Teachers as Writers: Learning together – Research document

Writing West Midlands – A useful organisation to get writers into school and for encouraging teachers as writers

We have some links with Theatre Absolute and are currently looking at a joint venture to put on Writing Gyms for teachers, keep an eye on the VLE, Facebook and Twitter for details.

Charlotte Reed –  Primary English Consultant and Writer

With thanks for contributions to this blog by the Head and Staff of Richard Lee Primary School Coventry, Hannah, Louise and Miranda for their contributions via Facebook.

Great lies to tell small children

“When I was young, Weetabix came in eight different shapes.”
“Before they can fight, superheroes have to pick out all the noises their punches and kicks will make.”
“One in ten fish are afraid of water.”

Andy Riley’s book, Great Lies to Tell Small Kids has long been a favourite of mine.  Now I know that lying to children is wrong, but sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s rather productive!  However, it isn’t this book that inspired this post, but the answers to a question on our Facebook page, “What scenarios have you used to generate great enthusiasm and brilliant persuasive writing?”

And that’s where the lies, lies and damned lies began, all in the name of improving writing!  So thanks all for your suggestions and ideas, we’re sharing them here for everyone:

Great lies to tell children Persuasive writing prompts:

  • Bookworms – The Reading Shack  – Last year I “sent ” a memo to our year 6 classes saying that the governors had decided to introduce a tie and shirt to the school uniform instead of the polo shirts we currently have, effective for all pupils from the next half term. The memo said the “governors” believed that standards of attainment would improve if children were dressed more formally. It was printed out on headed paper. The children were indignant and off their own back wanted to reply to the governors which was really convenient because we just happened to be practising our persuasive letter writing ( what’s the chance of that, eh?) They wrote some very well thought out and persuasive letters. I was rumbled by a few pupils but managed to get the task done before confessing.

Clare Taylor –  We started by using Cinderella (as they all knew the story) so we could debate and persuade the stepmother to let Cinders go to the ball. From that we wrote a persuasive letter to the headteacher asking for a party as a reward for hard work – they were really good. We finished the unit of work with a link to our cross curriculuar topic of Coventry, by making persuasive leaflets.

Rémi Gonthier – Tell the class that an exciting forthcoming trip has been cancelled by the headteacher or somebody else and then encourage them to write a letter.

Jessica Owens – A ‘letter’ arrived from the council telling the children that the school field was about to have a by-pass built over it. Discussion and issues ranged from fears for wildlife to “where will we have sports day?!”

Louise Dobson – I saw one of the shopping channels recently and thought that they are a really good example of persuasive language. Children could watch some extracts and then create their own item to sell (a magnificent cleaning tool or jewellery, or whatever). Then they could demonstrate it and ‘sell’ it shopping channel style.  Also, I remember a course where they encouraged us to write persuasion creatively. I wrote as the sea tempting a child to paddle in it. Children could write in role as: the super sleek car trying to persuade the customer to buy it, or the sun trying to persuade the crocus to flower…’feel my warmth across your soft cheeks…’ cheesy but fun!

Paula Lathan –  I sent a letter to our head asking him to ban playtimes. Children had to write to him to persuade him to keep playtimes. We put them in envelopes and walked to the post box to post them. Our head then replied to each and every one.

Chloe Whittall  – I Wanna Iguana (also on you tube) is a great book for persuasive writing. My class read this then wrote letters to their parents requesting things like a holiday to the Bahamas. We also walked to the post box and sent the letters to their parents (year 6 class).

  • Bernadette O’Rourke  – Banning junk food – was great as the horse meat scandal was all over the media and we linked it with processed food

  • Clair Coupe – I once taught a lesson where I made a mock letter from the head. The letter said how he was going to have to cancel anything Christmas related due to us having so much to fit in during the last 2 weeks of term.  It worked really well and all the children got involved.

Please do add any other ideas you have in comments, with grateful thanks to those shared here by our Facebookers

Charlotte Reed – Primary English Consultant and teller of white lies to children

Let me take you by the hand…

This story, like some of the best in this blog, starts in the seventies. So let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London…..As a child my Dad would sing this song while playing the guitar until, before I could read words or music, I could sing it off by heart alongside him. Music is in my heart, it was planted there by Dad. And for me music is a story, because Dad is a folk loving, twelve bar blues playing man. The songs he sung told tales. Ok, so it put me right off London for a while, but the poetry of a folk song has always stayed with me.  The haunting lyrics (teaching metaphor, anyone?) of Annie’s Song:

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean

Lyrics I know like the back of my hand, ingrained through years of singing with Dad.

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Write on! Using visual writing prompts

write on

With the half term holiday drawing to a close we know that teachers everywhere are reaching for their lesson planning materials and racking their brains for active and creative ways of teaching their classes. This blog post demonstrates the use of visual writing prompts and offers a few tips and ideas about how to get the most out of young writers.

I was recently asked to model some writing lessons in one of our local schools. Seizing the opportunity, I set to work planning lessons that the teachers would be able to replicate. Lessons in which the children would be actively writing from beginning to end. Here is a brief resume of one of those lessons.

I started with an image. Finding images can be time-consuming which is why we’ve been collating Visual Story Starters over on Pinterest. I asked the children to look at the image and write five things, on their mini-whiteboards, that they could see and they’d like to write about. I took suggestions from the children and recorded them on the flip chart. Once I had plenty of suggestions I chose five and wrote them as a vertical list in the middle of the flip chart.






Now, using some of the vocabulary suggested by the children I worked on the first line, making sure that I modelled putting vocabulary both before and after the word ‘lanterns’.

E.g. Golden, glowing lanterns lead the way.

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Voyage and Return: To boldly go and come back again

If I were to say that in my opinion Star Trek and Alice in Wonderland tell the same story, what would you say? Would you protest that with one being a mid 20th century science fiction T.V. serial and the other being a 19th century children’s fantasy novel I must have lost my marbles? To a point I would agree with you. They’re different genres and they use different media to tell their tales. However, the underlying structure of both stories is, in my opinion, the same. In both stories our heroes start in familiar settings, they take a voyage into an unknown world and then return.

Let’s start with Star Trek. Every week Captain Kirk and his intrepid crew course through one of the lesser-known galaxies of the universe from their inter-galactic home – the SS Enterprise. They come across a planet and, through the use of teleportation, make a journey across space to investigate this new land. Whilst there, they encounter other life-forms, make friends and enemies, face peril and in the nick of time transport back to the safety of their spaceship. Once back in the familiar setting of the SS Enterprise the episode ends, ready for a repeat-run next week.

The familiarity of this structure pervades many of the stories that we know. Christopher Booker calls it Voyage and Return. Its use in children’s stories is widespread and offers a useful base on which young writers can structure their own work. First though, they need a few examples from stories they may know…

Maurice Sedak’s picture book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is a modern classic which introduces the youngest of readers to the idea of Voyage and Return. The action begins at home, where naughty Max is sent to bed without any supper. Overnight his room transforms into a forest and Max makes a voyage across time to the land of the Wild Things. Here he tames the monsters, becomes their king and has lots of fun. He begins to miss home and smells some good food, so travels back home and eats his supper.

In a similar way the 1970’s children’s animated series Mr Benn (animated by David McKee) saw the eponymous Mr Benn take a weekly trip down Festive Road to the costume shop. Once there he would choose a costume, try it on in the fitting room and step into a fantasy world where he made friends, faced peril and was whisked back to the safety of the costume shop when ‘the shop keeper appeared’. Just like Captain Kirk, Mr Benn would return to the costume shop week after week for another journey from the familiar into the unknown.

In his book The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker, lists the children’s classics of: The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe as examples of Voyage and Return stories. If we take Alice as an example, the story begins in the familiar setting of a family afternoon by the river. Alice then sees the White Rabbit and follows him down his burrow. At the bottom she opens a door which takes her on a voyage into the strange world of Wonderland. Here she makes friends and enemies and narrowly escapes peril – this time in the shape of the Queen of Hearts to return to the warmth of her family.

Familiarity with the structure of Voyage and Return provides comfort for young readers. If well-loved characters venture into dangerous new lands, somewhere at the back of the readers’ mind is the reassuring grain of knowledge that no matter what threat they face, they will overcome it to return to their original setting. Building on this familiarity to create their own stories though has potential for the development of their personal writing.

The great Pie Corbett urges teachers to teach their pupils to become literary magpies; collectors of literary features, vocabulary and ideas. By using his ‘boxing-up’ technique children can very easily create their own Voyage and Return stories where a character starts in a familiar setting, takes a voyage to a new world, encounters some people in the new place before returning to their own setting.

One final characteristic of many of these Voyage and Return stories is the role of a portal in shifting the narrative from the familiar world to the new setting. In Star Trek the new world is accessed via the Transporter; in The Wizard of Oz it is the tornado; Alice enters Wonderland through the door and the Pevensy children enter Narnia through a wardrobe. Doors are the most pervasive means of shifting the setting in a Voyage and Return story and so should be repeatedly explored as a narrative technique with children. Images of doors, supported by shared and modelled writing, provide children with experience of describing what may lie behind them and ultimately build their confidence in creating stories where characters voyage into a new world.

Other Voyage and Return Stories:

The Tunnel – Anthony Browne

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Subtle Knife –  Phillip Pullman

The Phoenix and the Carpet – E Nesbitt

The Polar Express – Chris Van Allsburg


The Goonies

I’d have been unable to write this blog post without reading Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots and thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in stories and the role they play in our world.

KS3 and KS4 teachers interested in the application of Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots should visit Bill Boyd: The Literacy Adviser’s Blog

Rachel Clarke,  Director: Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

Rachel has written a further story structure post about Journeys and Quests, which can be found here.

Orginally published on LoveToReadToMyClass.Wordpress.Com 29th October, 2012.

Looking for a big resource in a small book…?


Hands up who remembers Child Ed. How about Junior Ed? You know, those magazines kept on the shelf in the staffroom, jealously guarded by the teacher in charge of resources, tea money and organising the Christmas do. If, after promising faithfully to put them back in the correct magazine file in strict month order, you were lucky enough to be able to read them, they were always full of good stuff – teaching ideas, posters, advice and resource suggestions. No doubt some of you still have a pile of them somewhere…

So good news! This month saw the launch of a new bi-monthly magazine, Springboard Stories, which aims to fill the gap where Child Ed was. We were asked to contribute to the first edition by suggesting some of our favourite and most useful resources, in less than 50 words. Cue lots of discussion. We came up with the following:

  • Looking for a big resource in a small book? Pie Corbett’s Jumpstart books for 7 – 11 years are essential for every teachers’ toolkit. Packed with ideas, they cover learning-led word, sentence and text activities; and can be used for warm-ups or main lessons, They’re interactive, fun and adaptable for FS and KS1.

  • Sue Palmer’s Skeleton’s for Writing are indispensable for non-fiction across the curriculum. Relevant from YR-Y6 these visual aids for writing support children in creating non-fiction texts which meet the needs of their audience.

  • Social bookmarking site Pinterest is a tool enabling teachers to curate their own online resource collections. Fast to create, these visual collections save web pages for sharing with others or for supporting children with topic research. Check out our collections on Pinterest.

  • Looking to add breadth to your Guided Reading resources?  Look no further than Collins Big Cat! These books are lovely – written by top authors, with attractive illustrations and photographs, suggestions for Guided Reading sessions and reader response activities. Ready book-banded, the range contains 50% non-fiction and 50% fiction.

  • The Harris Burdick Mysteries, an intriguing book with a mystery at the start. We won’t spoil it! The book contains 12 pictures, titles and captions which inspire children to write their own tales. Great for KS2. It’s interesting to see the different directions the same start can take when giving children choice within a structure.

What would your 50 word suggestion be? Let us know and we could add it to our Resources for Teachers Pinterest board.

Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

Originally published on LoveToReadToMyClass.Wordpress.Com 13th September 2012.