#WritingRocks Summary: The Tidy House

This is the June’s #WritingRocks chat summary on the topic of The Tidy House by Carolyn Steedman. Enjoy!

Thank you to Nicola at the @TheWritingWeb as always for her great work and commitment to organising and sharing these #WritingRocks chats.

To find out more about #WritingRocks, you can read more about our schedule -> here.

The Tidy House first came out in 1982. The book The Tidy House was written as a group effort by Carla, Lindie and Melissa, three 8 year old schoolgirls in East London who their teacher, Carolyn Steedman taped. In her book Carolyn discusses the children’s writing processes and motivations for writing what they wrote.


  • I thought this was interesting: ‘We need to look for what the writing does for the writer’. I think as teachers, we don’t do this enough. We don’t consider what’s in it for them. We don’t give them time to find an idea that’s going to *move* them to write.
  • It was interesting that by having a desire and intent to their writing. Because they were *moved* to write, there was a desire from the children to ‘reach out beyond the borders of ease and competence’. They wanted to push their development as writers forward.
  • I think it is cathartic, though I can’t always be sure whether it is consciously being used for this purpose or not. Sometimes in a conference I pick up on this feeling even if it is not always articulated.
  • This BBC Bitesize article articulates this well.
  • I’m totally struggling with instilling an interest in writing and will to write in my year 5 class while balancing the needs of having to teach the curriculum objectives…
    • Talk to a writer?
    • Get the pupils investigating a writer. Set up a whole school project around an author, or book. I saw a whole term whole school (Primary) project on The Tempest!
    • What are the essential ingredients for a good story? Jeopardy? Dilemma? Anxiety? Engagement of sympathy from the reader? Or what?
    • Some writing is spontaneous, free and quick. Some is slow, considered and reshaped. It’s not one or the other. It can be both or either.
    • Some writing is spontaneous, free and quick. Some is slow, considered and reshaped. It’s not one or the other. It can be both or either.
    • Provide a wide range of books, comics and graphic novels and non-fiction. They have time every day to browse, choose and read. What are writing-rich situations? Hot-seating freeze frames of key moments in stories, or poems? Writing letters to characters in stories. Thinking up prequels/sequels to stories/poems they like; doing improvs based on stories, then writing them up as plays; take a story and offer: change setting or time-frame or characters or create a sub-plot; read poems and say ‘we could write a poem like that!’
    • Do ‘daydream writing’. Daydream for a minute. Do dash it down writing for a minute. See if we can shape it through repeating bits or words or creating a chorus. Use paintings or music to make up stories, plays or poems.
    • Find the story the class have lined the most and investigate e.g. the first page: how did the writer grab you? What pages made you desperate to read more? How did the writer do that? Why did you care what happened next? How did the writer get you to care about the characters?
    • What does it feel like to be sorry for a character? To hate or despise or be afraid of or laugh at a character? How does your favourite writer get you to feel that? Can you imitate any of that in your writing?
    • What stories have you read where you’ve been really surprised or amazed? Why? How? What was it about the story that surprised or amazed you? Could you write something that amazed or surprised? How about scary? What is scary in a story? How do we do scary? Or funny?
    • Create a whole school culture of writing. Have staff meetings to discuss what you each think is good writing and what produces it, nourishes it, sustains it?
    • Keep getting writers of many different kinds into the school: local journo, poet, someone who has to write publicity stuff for the council, parent-writers. Get these people to talk to small groups and get them to do a workshop based on the work they do.
    • Some writing is spontaneous, free and quick. Some is slow, considered and reshaped. It’s not one or the other. It can be both or either.
    • What happens if you start with a problem? Everyone think of a problem for … a dog, or a giant, or a swimmer or a mouse, a class of children, or an alien or a very poor person or a tree … etc. How does she, he, it, they solve the problem? Who helps? Who hinders?
    • Who tells the story! ‘I’ or an invisible teller? Who is this teller? What can the teller see? What does the teller know?
    • Can I also add to this excellent list, the use of dramatic and other imaginary contexts for writing – children love them! especially after an engaging dramatic context that will inspire and drive the writing.
  • Ross and Phil from @lit4pleasure would love to help. Other teachers who are successfully managing to do both really successfully are @SadiePhillips @TobiasHayden and @one_to_read – I’m sure they can give you some tips!
  • Ross and Phil are amazing experts. Take a look at their Real World Literacy stuff!
  • I’ve found that children are ‘moved’ to write to: – teach other people stuff they know a lot about – entertain people (usually their peers) – to persuade or make an argument – paint with words (including be silly and playful) – reflect – make a record of something/not forget
  • Definitely to entertain … my class are obsessed with making comics to sell to each other.
  • What motivates children to write? I think primarily it’s the urge to make sense of the experiences they have.
  • Yes, I think you are right. I have only begun to view writing through the prism of agency in recent years and now feel this is fundamental to the process. I would add I have noticed children are motivated to write to entertain both themselves and each other.
  • I wonder how often “entertaining each other” is seen as a valid and central part of a child’s writing development in schools. I’m sure it’s there, but as much as is needed…?
  • I think it can be easy to assume what children are interested in sharing. I’m often surprised by some of the blogging contributions on #TheWritingWeb and learn so much, too. I think the best course of action is to ask them.


  • Bit early to talk formally about the conclusions from our ‘What is it #WritingForPleasure teachers do that makes the difference?’ research but this was the strongest principle across all the participants. They all allowed a huge amount of talk. Children were encouraged to talk about the content of their pieces. Talked about their writing processes. Shared good techniques, tips, tricks and strategies that helped them write. They were able to teach each other. The teachers all engaged in talk with the children as they wrote too.
  • I liked the way the story was written in collaboration. The children listened to each other’s reading of portions of the text, adjusted their own contributions and produced a story by three people and not just a collection of linked narratives.
  • Different versions of the same scene were produced on three occasions. This does not necessarily demonstrate a lack of control over their narrative structure, but rather their deep interest in the subject matter of these scenes.
  • It was really affirming to hear the importance for the girls that they be in a constant stage of composition. ‘talking in class, talking on the playground – at dinner time & whilst walking to and from school’. Their writing was always on their mind and on their lips.
  • This was the biggy for me: Classroom organisation enables children to rely not only on their teacher, but on each other for advice, support, information and comment. I certainly saw that in @TobiasHayden & @one_to_read ‘s classes.
  • This week I trawled out an old paper store I’d had in my cupboard. Turned it into a writing station. They go and get paper/materials as they want for their own books this week. I know they respect it: it’s still organised three days later! AND I found two of them tidying it!
    • Looking after their writing community and their writers’ workshop! This is a beautiful thing.
  • I try and create a dialogic, almost conversational atmosphere when discussing my writing with the children with an emphasis on the classroom being a democratic space. I think this sets the tone for supportive conversations among each other.
  • A writer-teacher modelling how writers will sit and talk about writing. This is a beautiful thing. You are a superstar.
  • I’ve been encouraging the children to ask for their own feedback from others: what do they want the others to help with…? The comments from children are always really very encouraging. I’ve not heard a “I didn’t like this” or similar.
  • It’s wonderful when a child has clearly internalized a piece of writerly advice you’ve given them and they pass it on to another child – and pass it off as their own. Children teaching children useful techniques, tips, tricks, secrets and strategies.
  • I’m still reeling from the incredible feedback I had from a pupil on a poem I wrote ! It changed my whole view of feedback.
  • Magpieing from each other and from books is also fab.
  • Lots of talk and sharing work are so important.
  • I explained the difference between form and function then ask children to give two comments: one on how interesting the read is as a reader; then a second comment on any editorial points.
  • For younger children, set up a safe sharing space where they can choose if they share and how to develop confidence and enjoyment. They might take questions around the work. Build from there.
  • When the children write they know that they are free to move around the classroom…this allows them to be supportive, share ideas and advice with each other about their writing without input from me! For me this promotes independence and ownership everyone is a winner!


  • In modelling as a #ReadingTeacher I regularly tell my class I cry at bits in books. Or stop in a class readaloud and say “woah! That is an amazing bit of writing”. We need to do that too all the time with children’s writing. “You made me cry”…“This piece really excited me!”…
  • It’s my impression that this is a far more powerful use of literature than traditional book planning or novel study. This is what I would call a really good Writing Study lesson.
  • I think in KS1 & EYFS we have a real opportunity to let children discover how their speech, play & drawings can be recorded (through writing) & made visible. This is really exciting, when children discover this. We should take more advantage of this fact.
  • That their words can echo around the globe and through the ages reverberating in the minds of readers as yet unknown. That those words can move someone so much with their uniqueness that an emotional impression is stamped on their consciousness forever. Too poetic?
  • I’m thinking here of the idea that you can write something and leave it somewhere for someone to find. On the bus, in the doctor’s surgery etc. Perfect strangers can discover something about you without even knowing who you are. There is a kind of anonymity in that.
  • Children’s poetry is stunning. They have a much more intense and raw connection with their senses than adults. They find ways to describe those connections using language that is obscure at times to adults but which seems to makes sense to each other. I’m always struck by that. And they don’t use that language in speech but it flows out in writing.
  • That at some point in their lives, either as a child or an adult, their written words will have an impact on another person. Whether it’s through writing about fear, hopes or life stories…words resonate.
  • I thought this was interesting. It was something the participants of our #WritingForPleasure research did universally.
  • ‘I often said that in the first draft they did not need to worry about spelling, or capital letter and full stops. All that could be dealt with later, when the final copy was made’.
  • I must say this. Reading ‘The Tidy House’ really showed that ‘working-class’ children are utterly capable of writing profound and significant things about their lives. They are not culturally deprived as some will try to make out.
  • Both @SadiePhillips & @TobiasHayden are able to prove this fact time and time again. They have worked in challenging circumstances and never do they assume that their children haven’t got important things to say.
  • It is a very damaging mindset in my view to assume that this is ever true. The banking concept of education laid bare: empty, experience-less vessels.


  • Waiting to be given a context to write about. No! Need to see children’s lives as rich sources of inspiration teachers!
  • The thing I find most interesting about children’s writing processes is… …they are all DIFFERENT. So why can’t we allow more freedom in writing and not insist on one “model” or “scheme” for writing?
  • Research is clear on this. If you only ever teach the children in your school one writing process and if you teach them that this must be done in a linear way – you are on to a MASSIVE loser. Lots of writing potential going right down the drain. Not good in any way.
  • In terms of related outcomes, I love sharing in their growing confidence as writers and their sense of achievement
  • By engaging with the personal processes, I learn more about what is possible and what tips and tricks I can pass on. For example, when writing free verse poetry yesterday, two children jotted down some random stream of consciousness thoughts.
  • They then drew lines around these words picking one (the word was ‘travelling’) because the shape reminded them of a crocodile. I thought they might write a poem about a travelling crocodile.
  • In fact, this produced the idea for a poem called ‘The Reptile House’ which they then wrote and shared. Remarkable.
  • For me personally it’s delving into their imagination and creativity…you never know what you are going to get!!
  • I will be there! In regards what I love in children’s writing, it’s the insight into their worlds, and what I learn from the experiences they have had and write about.





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