Joining The Literacy Club: The #WritingRocks Summary

613SRCG6MPL._AC_US218_This month’s #WritingRocks chat focused on contemporary psycholinguist Frank Smith’s ‘Joining the Literacy Club’.  HUGE thanks to everyone who contributed to the whirlwind of practical suggestions on how to join the literacy club, in the spirit of Frank Smith, including the ‘lurkers’ who we know learn so much from being a part of this online #writingforpleasure club.

Just to let you know, you can now view the entire #WritingRocks 2019 schedule here. Our next #WritingRocks chat is at 8pm [GMT] on Wednesday 15th May for all things Donald H Graves.Come and join us!

Contributions last month were made by:

@ARDALJONES @sirmobbsalot @one_to_read @WinterImagines @sirmobbsalot ‏ @yvo3 Apr 18 @BeeHendry ‏ @____miss_k  @simonegoward @gigglebubble1@MrsSmanwar ‏ @reading_realm  @MissHCritchley @Rosemarycalm  @waynebarberuk  ‏ @BookSuperhero2 @curlystevereed @katehitchings1

If you would like to read the Frank Smith chat in its entirety on Twitter or focus on one particular area of the discussion, you can access each section by clicking on the hyperlinked question numbers in the subheadings below.  Otherwise, here’s a summary of our discussion:

What do children learn about writing when they aren’t given any ‘formal’ instruction?

  • Simply that they are still able to write! It’s not about everything having to be taught to them; they have their own voice + set of skills even from very young ages too. If there’s too much formal teaching then writing soon becomes paint by numbers…and dull.
  • It gives them some breathing space away from all the constraints. Freedom to let what they are imaging/ thinking just come out. Writing just for the joy of writing!
  • I think they learn what writing can be for them. That they can take their time. They learn how to abandon a piece if they don’t like it. How to write about things that have moved them. They also learn how they write best. They develop their own methods that suit them
  • I wrote for myself recently about a library I knew when very, very small. It taught me a lot about my memories. Writing seems to focus the memory and feelings very strongly.
  • It gives children the chance to experiment with and use everything they have learnt recently. Giving them a great stimulus and the freedom to write can unshackle some children and help produce excellent work. Others find it harder but still have chance to experiment Liked
  • I like “experiment” here. Trialing … testing out … important stages of the process for any writer.
  • It also inspires / encourages. Had some amazing pieces of homework my young writers took it upon themselves to create at home. Incredible!
  • I’m going to answer this one with a question. What do you think would happen if your children came into class every day and were invited to write? They had an abundance of writing time every day for the whole year…*you’re still there and can give instruction.
  • Can they write about anything? Well exactly. What do you think? Would you have to set some boundaries? Give some suggestions over the course of the year? Would you choose those boundaries together as a class? Would you have to make suggestions to the whole class or just to individuals?
  • I think in the right environment writing opportunities would come up all the time and everyone would see writing is something to do to express your feelings and thoughts. “Right environment” is the hard bit. Very hard.
  • Such a great point. Would be so interesting to unpick who really controls ‘the environment’. Because if it was just the teacher, this would be wholly possible and doable. But I suspect in this, and many, instance(s) that maybe the teacher is not in complete control of their environment.
  • Of course. There are so many different minds in one class, all of them just waiting to be shown their voice. How does that happen if “the teacher” just gives them their own one to copy??! (One of my most passionate beliefs!)
  • That children themselves are the authors of what they write, so hearing their own individual personality through reading their writing is important!
  • I think children are able to explore their own ideas without worrying about whether it’s ‘wrong’. An art teacher looked into why children stop drawing by Y6 and one of the results was that they believed their drawings had to look a certain way. Something to think about.
  • Explore own writing voice. Receiving a response to their writing and identifying themselves why the reader responded the way they did, will give them new tools with which to develop that voice further, make it more appropriate and accurate for the type of writing.
  • That it can be playful and the aim can be whatever they wish, be it to enjoy writing about something they love, to entertain, or inform. They learn to find their own voice.
  • I kept a diary as a child and learnt it was a wonderful way to explore my feelings, get things off my chest, make sense of difficult times, be creative and colourful, play around with words, review the films I loved, alter my handwriting until I found a style I liked.
  • My daughter does this now and she loves writing. Her handwriting changes depending on her mood.
  • When I’ve watched EYFS children writing where the tools are there but they aren’t directly prompted, I see children writing to communicate, as roleplay adult life or for the pleasure of recording an internal monologue. It’s always a positive experience. We could learn so much from the EYFS in my view!
  • I hear you! I’ve spent the majority of my career in Year 6 but am privileged to have had an insight to the teaching of writing from the (not quite) beginning to Yr6 in a number of primary as lit sub lead and AST.
  • I’m an UP/LS trained teacher (KS2/KS3). Having taught in a variety of EYFS classes over the last couple of years, I agree whole heart

That there doesn’t always have to be time constraints, success criteria, rules or (dare I say it) purpose! Writing is at its most profound and moving when it is personal, not necessarily for others.

  • Do you mean an enforced purpose? I think even a desire to write for pleasure is a purpose to write.
  • Yes, when we tell them who they need to write for and how they need to make them feel every time, we rob them of the chance to express themselves on the page.

What might children think writing means from the kinds of activities we set? 

  • I think children MUST see that writing should be a result of some urge to write, whoever it’s “for”. “I want to write about my dogs / my birthday / happiness / anything that MOVES ME”. That doesn’t come from a teacher generated set of activities. It must be encouraged too.
  • I would like to think … a developing thought which is continuously evolving in every way. A thought which may differ to someone else’s but which is entirely valid all the same.
  • In reality – handwriting needing to be joined, over-used description, shoe-horning of tick lists. I think for a lot of children writing means being scared and stressed. Children feel there are so many components and they need to tick many boxes. I always harp on about this but writing is an act of courage at the best of times, but with all the tick boxing it’s scarier!
  • Especially because of the use of toolkits in schools. They are a fab resource for self-assessment but do make it about ticking the box. Does it matter if a child doesn’t use fronted adverbials if their writing is moving?
  • Absolutely! They feel like they have to and they shouldn’t feel like they have to. It becomes forced sentence construction.
  • I think it all comes back to writing as a reader. Children who read enough will know where/when those ‘tick box’ items are appropriate and meaningful in their own work.
  • (At our worst) That they need an example because they won’t know. That writing must be neat from the off. That they need vocabulary to be given to them. That they must write short amounts because otherwise there will be too many mistakes.
  • (At our worst) That a child’s voice or choice of subject isn’t relevant or worthy. They are incapable of choosing a purpose and audience for themselves. I need to plan their writing for them. I need to check that their writing is ‘correct’.
  • Because of the curriculum / framework / published scheme, I think children see writing as simply a ‘present your competency’ task. We ask children just focus on the things that need to be presented. If the framework is used too explicitly (like a checklist) then children use it just like a checklist. E.g. Let’s find those; in sentence number 7!  Which is so far away from authentic writerly behaviour.
  • Basically, at our worst children learn that we don’t trust them to be able to write well.
  • I do fear that children think that writing is something which shows how much they know… including SPAG. Even when we give them a purpose we are still designing the task for them. Perhaps we should allow them to choose the task and purpose.
  • That writing is formulaic. That your ideas are valued less than your punctuation skills. That there is a ‘right’ answer but they really don’t know what it is. Our recent free writing books the children published also showed it can mean the exact opposite to this. These free writing books had the most profound impact on writing compared to anything else that we’ve ever done. The children each wrote and published a story of their own creation with no direct interference from us. They are being entered into a writing competition.  Children who are usually disengaged from writing wrote pages, they took their work home to complete, they shared with each other and genuinely enjoyed reading each other’s work.
  • Yes! I had this too! At my old school, we experimented with allowing children to take their writing books to and from school and their interest and commitment to their writing went through the ROOF! So pleased to hear this is happening where you are too!
  • I think many of us think we don’t value presentation over content but I think many of us do this more than we know, or care to admit.
  • I fear that children think writing means silence, when it’s a chance for them to raise their voices, boring when it can excite/frighten/intrigue and stun, and static and stagnant when it can open the doors to other worlds.

And a couple of points for further reflection:

  • Frank Smith advocates that children engage in ‘enterprises’. An enterprise is when a group gets together to undertake writing for a shared purpose. No one has to ask, “Why are we doing this?”‘ What is your experience of this in the teaching of writing?

Where do we think writers acquire their knowledge about writing? And does this match what we do in class?

  • A classroom / home environment where talk is encouraged, language modelled with interest and excitement, stories are shared and books are given a high status. I have witnessed story time / book sharing / storytelling be replaced with interventions.
  • HARD FACTS Giving children ample time to read enhances their writing children writing about the texts they’ve chosen to read significantly enhances their comprehension The more children are given an opportunity to write; the more their reading comprehension improves. (Graham et al 2018)
  • So how in practice do you get them to write about what they choose to read without making reading for pleasure more of a chore for some?
  • The best place to start is reading time leading into personal writing time. Over time, the two begin to merge. It takes time but it’s just the most wonderful thing to witness once it begins to happen.
  • Invite them to squirrel away any great writing they liked as they read in their notebooks. Tell them what you’re planning to teach them about soon (e.g. dialogue) and invite them to collect good examples from their reading.
  • We had magpie books in my last placement – LOVED having children stop me in whole class reading saying “Miss, can I put that bit in my magpie book??”
  • Aren’t they such a good idea? I’d love to use them at the moment but I’m not sure what it would look like in a Yr 2 class with mostly beginner / emerging EAL children?
  • Although they’d have a different kind of ownership (collective?), you could adapt the model where children record on a ‘magpie wall’ using post its on the run. Children could take responsibility for making A4 display cards with images and/or in the context of sentences etc?
  • I think this would be most powerful if children worked towards being explicit about why they have chosen the word / phrase / sentence – i.e. the impact it had on them as a reader; explaining how the author made them feel / think / understand something using language.
  • Love this because you could also have target words for the young ones to recognise and point out if they see them again in any reading / writing!
  • I love the way that admitting ourselves and the children into the literacy club encourages us to problem solve, innovate and adapt strategies so they are most relevant to our different need as writers. This is a fundamental part of being a community of writers.
  • I’ve also seen this kind of scaffold support EYFS children’s talk during free flow. In fact I was only able to access the children’s conversation at their level by referencing some of the vocab – in this case pictures and photographs the teacher had displayed at their height.
  • Mine collect in their own little books their words, phrases, figurative language from reading, discussion, etc. Then they refer to them and transfer any to share on classroom wall those relevant to current writing. Great for discussing suitability of language for purpose / effect.
  • Reading, reading and more reading. Lots of modelling and lots of chance to talk. All of these things are very easy to implement in the classroom and lead to fantastic writing when implemented well!
  • Storytime is sacred. I really hope that reading aloud starts to become the right for every child in school ages 5-18.
  • The best place to start is reading time leading into personal writing time. Over time, the two begin to merge. It takes time but it’s just the most wonderful thing to witness once it begins to happen.
  • Give them time to write any personal responses they are having to class read-alouds including poems, picture books, local news or magazines articles Model how personal responses to your reading can lead to great writing ideas ‘dabbling’ in your notebook as you read
  • I think from their reading is obvious but more and more I think it’s from their speaking. Speech is the most immediate way to communicate. I think a vibrant speaking class is the key to great writing.
  • Absolutely, children with poor oracy struggle immensely with writing.
  • Giving time for talking, researching content (so important. How can they write about something they don’t know much about), sharing, magpieing, collaborating. All of these develop understanding and most importantly confidence!
  • Tell you a good one to try. Invite them to write about something / anything where they already have loads of content knowledge. It’s always amazing. You take that extra burden off their shoulders and they can focus on their writing.
  • Linking to EAL learners (just finished an essay about it sorry!) this allows for all knowledge to be valued and all children to be experts regardless of culture, identity or status in the classroom. Fab idea all around!
  • You may find this article interesting reading on this.
  • All my best writers are my best readers. I think engagement with reading underpins engagement with writing – they want to try out all the lovely ideas they have in their head! Liked
  • More children need to learn from writer-teachers! Teachers who happen to write & writers who happen to teach. Without it, they don’t learn about writing in an authentic way. @tcraftofwriting @NWPUK @TeresaCremin would definitely have thoughts on this.
  • So powerful. Write alongside the children and ask them advice as you go. I bring writing in from home to share. I dressed as one of my characters, asked them in role to help me develop her. One of the best things I did. Children need to see teachers as writers.
  • Being well read certainly supports this but I don’t think is the be all and end all. Teachers modelling is very powerful and commentating as they do. Being a real writer. Joining in. Enthusiastic sharing of children’s writing. Giving purpose for the writing.
  • I think writers acquire their knowledge through reading, through conversations and observing the world around them. I think we do try to link our teaching to these areas but don’t allow the children experiences/observations to shine through.
  • I just spent some time today thinking about all the things that had directly influenced one piece of writing that my daughter has done, and there was many and some quite unexpected.
  • The bit about offering books relevant to the kind of writer they currently want to be is interesting. So many clues about listening, tailoring books, how children’s writing ambitions will change and responding to that. Writing being as individual as reading.
  • That bit caught my interest too. At the moment I’m thinking about how children often like books that adults don’t like or rate, and then the books that adults like win all the big prizes, and get recommended to children but it’s not what children want to read (or write).
  • I like the awards which are voted for by their intended readers like the @FCBGNews Children’s Book Award or the Laugh Out Loud Book Award (the #Lollies2020) run by @scholasticuk @MichaelRosenYes
  • I work with SEN learners whom have a massive block when it comes to writing. I tend to go down the route of what does it matter what they write. Just get them writing. I use story cards, story strips, Lego figures, pictures … Anything

Can anything be done for children who don’t want to join the literacy club?

  • Surely literacy clubs should be accessible to all learners, the “low mark” learners should be the target audience. Imagine putting on an art club and saying you can only come if you can draw well!
  • I think it takes time to find the children’s passions or to help them to find their own passions. To give them the confidence to put words to paper, to be heard when they don’t feel they quite fit in … maybe they think their ‘drawing’ is wrong.
  • A journal article about multilingual learners writing at primary level talked about the importance of giving writing context and making it meaningful in their lives e.g. if they want to write about getting chicken & chips from KFC we should let them.
  • It’s what writing is about. @PhilipPullman said this in a lecture around 15-20 years ago. Never forgotten what he said about a child in his class writing about his greyhounds. Stayed with me my whole teaching career. He’s totally right. Thanks Philip.
  • Here’s another good thing: a few of @PhilipPullman’s books started life as plays he wrote for his school. Count Karlstein was one. How amazing would that have been to be in the first performance of one of them???!
  • That would be so cool; I’d tell everyone new I met!

And a couple of points for further reflection:

  • Children learn from what the other members of the literacy club do and a lot of learning is vicarious.So how does being a writing role-model impact your classroom practice?
  • Frank Smith, writing in 1988, asked: ‘What will computers do for language and thought?’How does the use of technology impact the writing process for children?

As always, massive thanks to Phil and Ross at @lit4pleasure for their invaluable support and encouragement before, during and after the event.

If you are interested in learning more about how Frank Smith’s research can inform your classroom practice, there’s loads to choose from:



  • (1983) Essays into Literacy: Selected Papers and Some Afterthoughts. Heinemann. ISBN978-0-435-08205-5.
  • (1987) Joining the Literacy Club: Further Essays into Education. Heinemann. ISBN978-0-435-08456-1.
  • (1995) Between Hope and Havoc: Essays into Human Learning and Education. Heinemann. ISBN978-0-435-08857-6.
  • (2004) Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read. Routledge. ISBN978-0-8058-4712-3.


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