I was first introduced to the concept of ‘Big Writes’ on a teaching placement in my third year of university. I know it comes with some pre-set ideas and that you’re usually supposed to follow some sort of regular format, but I’m just not that kind of person. I like to mix and match ideas and do what I think will work for the age range I teach. So, what I call a big write might not actually be what the original concept was. What I tend to think of as a big write is a 45 minute session where the children do nothing but write. Achy fingers at the ready.
For anyone, a solid 45 minutes of writing might be a long time. I know that if I had to sit and write something out by hand for a full 45 minutes I might find myself staring out of the window at the 35 minute mark, if not before. Unless it was something I was super interested in.
And that’s the first thing I’ll look for when planning a big write. Something interesting that the kids will fall in love with. Fingers crossed, if I get this right, they’ll not even notice that they’ve been writing for such a long time. Our first big write session of the year went great. As we’re looking at space this term, ‘La Luna’ is a fab fit. It’s actually something I stumbled upon whilst searching through Now TV over the summer holidays, but the Literacy Shed is usually my go to source for video hooks. My efforts weren’t wasted; a few of the kids commented: “did you choose this because we’re learning about space this term?” Nothing by coincidence.
A couple of watches of the first 3 minutes, a bit of brainstorming of descriptive phrases and sentences as a class, and we were ready to start writing. The thought behind only showing the first 3 minutes is firstly so that we don’t use up a whole 12 minutes of a lesson by watching the whole film through twice; and because it gives those quicker writers the opportunity to finish off the story using their own ideas once they’ve finished writing the opening – I’m pretty sure that counts towards inference skills.
The next thing is music. Apparently, using music helps to stimulate creativity (although I’ve never actually seen the research for this). I know that music with words can be distracting though – from first hand experience, singing along (badly) takes my attention. So, this goes on. 4 hours of vocal-less relaxation music. Not only is this supposed to help the kids, it’s also great because it keeps the noise in the classroom down. If it’s on just quiet enough, the children automatically drop their voices so that they can hear the music. I’m not one for a silent classroom – I’d sooner have plenty of on-topic discussion – but it’s not helpful for children to be chatting away so loudly that the rest of the class is distracted.
Once the kids drop their voices, I begin handing out electric candles. They were super cheap from B&M so I bought enough that each child can have their own. I start handing them out to the children who are focusing, saying something along the lines of “great effort so far, here’s your candle since you’re focusing.” Stifling my smug chuckles, I spot the rest of the table glance at the candle before busying away with their writing. Once all the kids have got a candle, I draw the blinds and switch off the lights. The new set of year 3s I’ve gained, who haven’t done this before, seemed to particularly enjoy this bit. We’ve got a window without a blind so there’s always plenty of light to see what’s going on, but the atmosphere of the room changes dramatically when the lights are out and each book is lit up mostly by a candle. This tweet from the school account shows how it works.
Inevitably, the volume in the classroom eventually begins to rise. Like I said, 45 minutes is an awfully long time and the children want to chat. Once a few begin, a few more have to speak a little louder to be able to hear each other and, before you know it, a few kids are more focused on their conversation. That’s the time to strike. Notice these kids and ask them: “how’s it going? Is it time for a bit of brain mist?” Ooooh! What’s that? Well, it’s a super expensive patented liquid which is guaranteed to help concentration. It’s available from all good teacher supermarkets where we buy all of our other magical equipment, of course.
Mr Cranium’s patented brain mist is kept in a squirty bottle. Like the ones you’d use to spray the surfaces in your kitchen, except it’s been bought brand new (obviously). When the kids need a breather, a few sprays of brain mist sends the class into a lively frenzy of giggles, gasps and the occasional scream. Being a little bit daft for a minute or two gives the kids that outburst time to get rid of their focus, have a break and a bit of a rest. I’ve managed to convince a few of the kids (especially the younger ones) that brain mist really does help with concentration and shortly after their hands are back to writing again and the break has given use enough time for the volume to drop back to less than the music. Rinse and repeat as many times as needed to keep the kids on focus. Oh, and if any of the kids mention that it’s “just water”, I announce how disappointed I would be if it is after paying £12 for such a tiny bottle!
At the end, a bit of self-assessment and watching the end of the video to find out actually what happened is in order. And that’s a ‘write by candlelight’.