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.
I love teaching writing. It’s one of my favourite things and I’ve always found it to be the thing I enjoy most and have a real enthusiasm for. Hopefully this comes across in my teaching – I often find myself getting really into modelling story openings, or creating illustrations that match what we’ve written about, or jumping around the classroom in celebration as children use amazing words in their writing (seriously). It’s fun to teach.
Having said that, I’ve found 2nd person and present tense are two areas within writing that I’ve not really touched on… until now.
If you read my last blog post, you’ll know I’ve recently visited the Kelvingrove art gallery and museum in Glasgow. If you hadn’t, you’ll know now.
Whilst I was there, we spotted some stone carvings which were really interesting. The museum had no idea what they would’ve been used for and this got me thinking. I wondered why someone would spend so long making something so resilient look so good (and I imagine they’d looked better). Were they something special? Maybe something to do with a currency?
When we got back to school, following the half term break, I showed the children the picture below, explaining what they were and why I thought they were so interesting. We had a big discussion about what we thought with some interesting ideas. Some of the class agreed with me, suggesting that they’re currency. Some thought they were something to do with a pagan religion long ago. Some used their imagination and thought that they were pots to put poison in, or objects that were lit on fire using tar before being launched at an enemy.
As part of our INSET at the beginning of term I was lucky enough to have a little subject knowledge booster about the terminology used in the English curriculum, particularly thinking about the SPaG tests. For me, it was interesting and enjoyable. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and language, and already knew lots of the stuff we were being told from an A-Level in English Language – it was more of a refresh. It did make me chuckle how many terms were being used throughout the syllabus, but I was more or less happy with them.
I imagine there were some people in the room that weren’t so happy. That’s not to say that I know more than them; just that English language was a focused study area of mine for two years. I’m sure the maths experts in the room would be 100% more confident when it’s their turn for an INSET… And I’d find it challenging.
In fact, I know there were some people in the room that found the sheer amount of terms mind-boggling. And I can understand why. Determiners, prepositions, conjunctions and connectives, adverbs, inverted commas, subordinate clauses and all the rest of it – it’s a potential minefield of terms. Terms that we’re supposed to be passing on to 10 year-olds in preparation for a test. Terms that, maybe, we’re not totally confident using as teachers. Terms that, maybe we’ve not heard before.
Individual fan cards for guided reading. I created something very similar last year and they were part of my guided reading carousel (one group used them to answer a question based on their own reading book). They’re all tied in to the assessment focus which makes using children’s answers as part of assessment easier. They’re colour coded so that the children know they’re different (they don’t need to know about assessment focus) and that they’re supposed to pick a different colour each time so that there’s a good breadth of evidence spanning across different AFs.
This year, I also added a little extra detail to the questions. I found that some of them were a little too vague last year and the kids struggled with understanding what they meant… which wasn’t great considering they should be working individually with these.
I’ve also added numbers. This should make it easier to assess the different answers without having to decipher which question has been answered.
You can download them on TES (in PDF format or word) here.
I’m sure I’ve blogged about this before but I can’t express how pleased I am with the class’ progression in writing over this year – the above picture is a short extract of a piece written by a year 4. I’ve been looking for that ‘magical’ thing that bumps up the style and ability of children’s writing and (putting my neck on the line here) I think I’ve found it!
We’ve worked really hard all year on three things:
- Sentence structure and demarcation.
This first term has contained a real push, in our class, towards improving literacy. We’ve been working on descriptive writing in particular and I can confidently say everyone in the class has made some real progress. Recently, I’ve been encouraging the class to ask themselves “why am I even writing this?”
Purpose plays such a huge part in being able to write particular text types and mastering purpose means that features can easily be distinguished, and then used. Getting the kids to think about what they’re writing, and why they’re writing it in the first place, has made this much easier.
What’s better is I’ve not been sugar-coating any of the process and the children have reacted very well to this. Literacy ‘units’ (although we’re not using a particular scheme) follow a general set of steps:
- Introduce the type of writing (description, recount, persuade etc.)
- Figure out why anyone would write like this (what’s the point?)
- List the things in the writing.
- Practice using those things in different text types (so, for persuasion, we used advertisements, speeches, plain writing and letters).
Throughout these steps I’ve used words like purpose and features and the children now know exactly what they mean and can confidently pick texts apart.
Once the children figured out that the features were the things being put into success criteria they began to talk about the features they needed to write an effective piece for a particular purpose; showing an understanding that writing changes and being able to tell anyone why it does so!
This has got to be a better process than simply teaching children what’s needed for particular text types and trying to get them to remember.