“All Children Can Write”: A Tribute To Donald Graves

All Children Can Write

Donald Graves: 1930 – 2010

The following article by Donald Graves (written in 1985), considered by many to be the “father” of the process approach to writing, is a classic piece on the need for a change in the way writing has typically been taught in schools. This article helped spark the movement now known as ‘The Writer’s Workshop’ or ‘Process Writing’ approach and has influenced our modern interpretation called ‘Real-World Literacy‘.

This article is excellent because Graves discusses the challenges and needs of students, clearly lays out how teachers can establish a community of writers and the writing process, and provides examples of teachers and students working together.

Donald H. Graves University of New Hampshire Learning Disabilities Focus, 1985

Many children who have learning disabilities are poor writers. They equate their struggles with handwriting, spelling, and language conventions with a lack of ideas and information worth sharing. The writing-process approach to teaching first emphasizes what children know, then the conventions that will help them share their meaning with others in the class. This approach has led to major breakthroughs for young writers, particularly those who have learning problems.

This article reexamines writing as communication for oneself and for other audiences. This process occurs in classrooms where children see how teachers demonstrate their own learning in the midst of a highly structured environment.

Four essentials to a successful writing-process program are described: the adequate provision of time (at least 4 days per week), child choice of writing topic, response to child meaning, and the establishment of a community of learners.

Continued success in teaching writing depends on teacher’s work with their own writing. Study programs, as well as additional reading materials, are suggested.

I stood at the side of Ms. Richards’ third grade classroom watching the children write. We were at the beginning of our 2-year National Institute of Education study of children’s composing processes. The school had diagnosed two of the children in Ms. Richards’ room as having severe visual-motor problems. They were not hard to find.

Both leaned over their papers, their elbows crooked at right angles to their bodies to protect the appearance of their papers. I walked over to take a closer look at one of the two children’s papers. Billy’s paper was smudged, wrinkled, letters blackened; in several instances, his paper was thinned and blackened still more where he had gone through several spelling trials on the same work. The more serious aspect of Billy’s writing profile was not his visual-motor difficulty, the appearance of his paper, or his numerous misspellings. Billy was a self-diagnosed poor writer. He connected his writing problems with a lack of worthwhile ideas and experiences. In addition, he was well-versed in what he couldn’t do.

Billy had been in a separate program emphasizing visual-motor skills, letter formation, and various fine-motor tasks. No question, using a pencil was painful and arduous for him. Teachers complained that Billy rarely completed his work and was constantly behind the others, though he seemed to be articulate. Billy’s program was skill-based, disconnected from meaning, and filled with positive reinforcement about his ability to form letters on good days. There was not attempt to connect his writing with the communication of ideas.

Children with learning disabilities often work on skills in isolation, disconnected from learning itself, and therefore disconnected from themselves as persons. Therefore, like Billy, though their skills may improve slightly in isolation, the children do not perceive the function of the skill. Worse, they do not see the skill as a means to show what they know. Skills work merely supplies additional evidence for the misconception that they are less intelligent than other children.

Billy was in a classroom that stressed writing as a process. This meant the children received help from the time they chose a topic to the time they completed their final work. Ms. Richards played the believing game, starting with what Billy knew, particularly his experiences. In fact, Billy’s breakthrough as a writer came when his teacher discovered his interest in and knowledge of gardening. As Ms. Richards helped him to teach her about this subject, she learned how to plant, cultivate, water, fertilize, and provide special care for certain varieties of tomatoes. Although Billy wrote more slowly than the other children, he became lost in his subject, forgot about his poor spelling and handwriting, ceased to cover his paper, and wrote a piece filled with solid information about gardening. Once Billy connected writing with knowing-his knowing- it was then possible to work with his visual motor and spelling problems, but as incidental to communicating information.

Ms. Richards is now one of the thousands of teachers who teach writing as a process in the United States and the English speaking world. New research and publications, university courses, and numerous summer institutes, are now helping teachers and administrators to find out for themselves what students can do when they focus on the meaning of their writing. Much of the focus of these institutes and courses is on the teachers’ own writings: most of us had to rediscover the power of writing for ourselves before we could learn to hear what these young writers had to teach us.

Although writing-process work helps all writers, it seems to be particularly successful with people who see themselves as disenfranchised from literacy. I place in this group learners like Billy who have diagnosed learning disabilities and the accompanying “I-don’t-know-anything” syndrome.

The writing-process approach to teaching focuses on children’s ideas and helps children teach the teacher or other children in the class what they know, with emphasis first given to ideas and clarifying. This is the first experience many children have with other humans who work hard to point to what they know, instead of what is lacking in the message. Small wonder then that the writing process works best with the disenfranchised, who become a bit giddy at the prospect of seeing their words on paper affecting the thinking of others.

Understanding writing as communication is the heart of teaching the writing process. This article will first focus on the nature of writing, look in greater detail at research on the writing process itself, examine two principles in teaching writing, and then describe four basics in establishing a writing program. It also has a brief section on further reading and recommendations for summer programs for people interested in continuing their study of the writing process.

What Is Writing?

Writing is a medium with which people communicate with themselves and with others at other places and times. When I write, I write to learn what I know because I don’t know fully what I mean until I order the words on paper. Then I see … and know. Writers’ first attempts to make sense are crude, rough approximations of what they mean. Writing makes sense of things for oneself, then for others.

Children can share their writing with others by reading aloud, by chatting with friends while writing, or (in more permanent form) by publishing. Billy found that writing carried a different authority from spoken words. When he took the gardening piece out in December, he found that words written in September could be savored 3 months later. Furthermore, when he read the published books of other children in his room, he began to realize that his book on gardening was read by others when he wasn’t present.

Written language is different from oral language. When Billy speaks, he reinforces his meaning by repeating words and phrases. Unlike when he writes, an audience is present; when the audience wanders or indicates disagreement, he changes his message with words, hand signals, facial expressions, and body posture. This is the luxury of oral discourse. “Error,” adjustment, and experimentation are an expected part of oral discourse.

There is a different tradition surrounding most teaching of writing. Only one attempt, one draft is allowed to communicate full meaning (without an audience response). Red-lined first drafts are the norm; we blanch at any misspellings or crudely formed letters.

Still worse, writing has been used as a form of punishment: “Write your misspelled worry 25 times.” (This is called reinforcement of visual-memory systems.); “Write one hundred times, I will not chew gum in school”‘, “Write a 300 word composition on how you will improve your attitude toward school.” Most teachers teaching in 1985 were bathed in the punishment syndrome when they were learning to write. Small wonder that most of us subtly communicate writing as a form of punishment. We have known no other model of teaching.

The Writing Process

When children use a meaning-centered approach to writing, they compose in idiosyncratic ways. Each child’s approach to composing is different from the next. Some draw first, write two words, and in 10 minutes or less announce, “I’m done.” Others draw after writing or do not write at all; instead, they speak with a neighbor about what they will write. Some stare out the window or at the blank page and write slowly after 20 minutes of reflection. At some point in their development, writers believe one picture and two words beneath the drawing contain an entire story. In the writer’s mind, the story is complete; members of the audience shake their heads and try to work from drawing to text and back to understand the author’s intent.

Such idiosyncratic approaches by children seem capricious to outsiders, confusing to children, and bewildering to us as teachers. We intervene with story starters to “get them going,” produce pictures as stimuli for writing, and consult language arts texts for language activities. The texts provide “systematic” approaches, often through the teaching of the sentence, advance to two sentences, and finally development of the paragraph. Our detailed observation of young children writing shows they simply don’t learn that way. Rather, they write three sentences in one in their first year, not understanding where one sentence ends and the other begins. Studies of children’s understanding and use of sentences show they don’t acquire full sentence sense until much later (about fifth grade).

The most pernicious aspect of teacher interventions is that children begin to learn early on that others need to supply topics because they come to the page with nothing in their heads. A focus on skills and form to the exclusion of child initiated meaning further confirms their lack of fit with the writing process.

Prepared materials seek to reduce the stress and the uncertainty that writers face when they encounter the blank page. But the attempt to produce certainty through standardization by-passes the opportunity for child growth. There is good reason to expect tension when a child first writes.

When writers write, they face themselves on the blank page. That clean white piece of paper is like a mirror. When I put words on the page, I construct an image of myself on that whiteness. I may not like my spelling, handwriting, choice of words, aesthetics, or general cleanliness of the page. Until I can begin to capture what I want to say, I have to be willing to accept imperfection and ambiguity. If I arrive at the blank page with a writing history filled with problems, I am already predisposed to run from what I see. I try to hide my paper, throw it away, or mumble to myself, “This is stupid.” But with every dangerous, demanding situation, there is an opportunity to learn. Teachers who follow and accompany children as they compose help them to deal with what they see on the page. The reason writing helps children with learning disabilities is that they do far more than learn to write: They learn to come to terms with a new image of themselves as thinkers-thinkers with a message to convey to the world.

Teaching Writing- Two Basic Principles

After 12 years of working with writing research and the teaching of writing, I have found two principles essential for effective teaching of writing:

  1. The teacher teaches most by showing how he/she learns, and
  2. the teacher provides a highly structured classroom.

The best demonstration of how teachers learn is through their gathering of information from the children. They place the children in the position of teaching them what they know, usually through conferences. “Now you say that you have to be careful how deep you plant lettuce, Billy. Can you tell me more about that? And do you think the precise depth should be in your piece for the other children? Will they want to know that?” Billy’s teacher has shown him how she learns and how he should learn to listen to questions he soon will be able to ask himself.

Ms. Richards, Billy’s teacher, has a basic lifestyle of learning from everyone. Whether seated next to someone on a plane, in the teachers’ room, or talking informally with children, she wants to be taught; in a lifetime she has learned how important it is to help others to teach her. People leave Ms. Richards’ presence surprised they knew so much about their subjects.

Ms. Richards’ classroom is a highly structured, predictable classroom. Children who learn to exercise choice and responsibility can function only in a structured room. Furthermore, the up-and-down nature of the writing process itself demands a carefully defined room. Predictability means that writing occurs daily, at set times, with the teacher moving in the midst of the children, listening to their intentions, worries, and concerns. They know she will be nearby attending to their work. She rarely addresses the entire class during writing time. She works hard to establish a studio atmosphere. Predictability also means she won’t solve problems for them. Rather, she asks how they might approach the problem. She listens, clarifies their intentions and their problems, and moves on.

Children learn to take responsibility not only for their topics, content of their drafts, and final copy, but also for carrying out classroom decisions. A structured classroom requires an organized teacher who has set the room up to run itself. The teacher has already made a list of the things to be done to help the room function. From September through June, he/she gradually passes on those duties to the children. Attendance, caring for room plants and animals, room cleanliness, lunch lines, desk supervision, and cleaning are but a few examples of these delegations. When room structure and routine do not function well, the teacher and students plan together for the best way to make it function more smoothly. Ms. Richards’ room is based on extensive preparation in room design and knowledge of materials, the children, and the process by which they learn to take responsibility.

Teachers who function well in teaching the writing process are interested in what children have to teach them. Writing-process teaching is responsive, demanding teaching that helps children solve problems in the writing process and in the classroom.

Carrying Out A Writing-Process Program

I am often asked, “What are the essentials to strong writing programs?” Although the list could be extensive, I think that if teachers understand the following four components, their writing programs will serve the children well. These components are adequate provision of time, child choice of topic, responsive teaching, and the establishment of a classroom community, a community that has learned to help itself.

Time

Our data show that children need to write a minimum of 4 days a week to see any appreciable change in the quality of their writing. It takes that amount of writing to contribute to their personal development as learners. Unless children write at least 4 days a week, they won’t like it. Once-a-week writing (the national average is about 1 day in 8) merely reminds them they can’t write; they never write often enough to listen to their writing. Worse, the teacher simply has no access to the children. He/she has to scurry madly around the room trying to reach each child. With little access to the children, the teacher can’t help them take responsibility, solve problems for them, or listen to their responses and questions. The very important connection between speaking and writing is lost.

Although teaching writing 4 to 5 times a week helps the teacher, it helps the children even more. When children write on a daily basis, we find they write when they aren’t writing. Children get into their subjects, thinking about their texts and topics when they are riding on buses, lying in bed, watching television, reading books, or taking trips. When they write regularly, papers accumulate. There is visible evidence they know and are growing. They gain experience in choosing topics and very soon have more topics to write about than class time can accommodate. Children with learning problems need even more time. They need to listen to themselves with help from the teacher. In summary, regular writing helps:

  1. Children choose topics,
  2. Children listen to their pieces and revise,
  3. Children help each other,
  4. Teachers listen to child texts,
  5. Skills develop in the context of child pieces,
  6. Teachers to have greater access to children.

Topic Choice

The most important thing children can learn is what they know and how they know it. Topic choice, a subject the child is aware that they know something about, is at the heart of success in writing. Billy struggled with handwriting and spelling and equated those problems with not knowing topics to write about. When his teacher helped him to discover his knowledge and interest in gardening, he began to write, first haltingly, then with greater flow. He was open to help with spelling and handwriting when he knew he had something to say. Skills are important; learning disabilities cannot be ignored, but neither can teachers or researchers forget that writing exists to communicate with self and others.

“How can I get the child to write? Do you have any good motivators?” are frequent questions asked of me in workshops. The word get embraces the problem. There are thousands of “motivators” on the market in the form of story starters, paragraph starters, computer software, animated figures, picture starters, and exciting “sure-fire” interest getters. We forget that children are very sophisticated consumers of motivators from Saturday morning television alone. Worse, motivators teach the child that the best stimulus comes from the outside. Writing actually demands dozens of motivators during the course of composing, but they are motivators that can only be supplied by the writer himself. All children have important experiences and interests they can learn to tap through writing. If children are to become independent learners, we have to help them know what they know; this process begins with helping children to choose their own topics.

Very young children, ages 5 through 7, have very little difficulty choosing topics, especially if they write every day. As children grow older and experience the early effects of audience, even under favorable learning conditions, they begin to doubt what they know. From that point on, all writers go through a kind of doubting game about the texts they produce. They learn to read better and are more aware of the discrepancy between their texts and their actual intentions. If, however, overly severe, doubting teachers are added to the internal doubts of the child, writing becomes still more difficult.

If children write every day and share their writing, we find they use each other as the chief stimulus for topic selection. If teachers write with their children, demonstrating the origin of their topics, and surround the children with literature, topic selection is even easier.

Topic selection is helped through daily journal writing where children take 10 minutes to record their thoughts. Teachers may also give 5- to 10-minute writing assignments, such as: “Write about how you think our room could be improved” just following a discussion about how the room could be improved with the entire class or “That upsets you? Well, blast away on paper with the first thoughts that come to mind. But write it for you; if you feel like showing it to me, okay.” The teacher finds many occasions where it is useful to record thoughts and opinions on paper. Each of these approaches demonstrates what writing is for, as well as helping the children to have access to what they know and think.

Response

People write to share, whether with themselves or others. Writers need audiences to respond to their messages. The response confirms for the writer that the text fits his/her intentions. First, the teacher provides an active audience for the writer by confirming what he/she understands in the text and then by asking a few clarifying questions. Second, the teacher helps the entire class to learn the same procedure during group share time. Each writing period ends with two or three children sharing their pieces with the group while the group follows the discipline of first pointing to what is in the text, then asking questions to learn more about the author’s subject. All of these responses, whether by the teacher or the other children, are geared to help writers learn to listen to their own texts.

While the children are writing, Billy’s teacher moves around the room, responding to their work in progress. Here is an interchange Ms. Richards had with Billy about his piece “My Garden.” (The child’s text is presented, followed by the conference with the teacher.)

My Grdan

I help my Dad with the grdan ferstyou have to dig it up an than you rake an get the racks out of it. Than you make ros an you haveto be cerfull to make it deep enuff so the letis will come up.

Ms. Richards first receives the piece by saying what she understands about what Billy has written. She may also have him read the writing aloud to her:

Ms. Richards: You’ve been working hard, Billy. I see that you work with your dad on your garden. You know just what you do; you dig it up, rake it to get the rocks out, and then you have to be careful how deep you plant things. Did I get that right?

Billy: Yup.

Ms. Richards: Well, I was wondering, Billy. You say that the lettuce has to be planted deep enough so the lettuce will come up. Could you tell me more about that? I haven’t planted a garden for a long time.

Billy: Well, If you plant it too deep, it won’t come up. Lettuce is just near the top.

Ms. Richards: Oh, I see and did you plant some other things in your garden?

Billy: Yup, carrots, beans, turnips (I hate ’em), spinach (that, too) beets, and tomatoes; I like tomatoes.

Ms. Richards: That’s quite a garden, Billy. And what will you be writing here next?

Billy: You have to water it once you plant it.

Ms. Richards: Then you already know what you’ll be doing, don’t you.

There are many problems with Billy’s text: misspelled words, run on sentences, missing capitalizations, and incomplete information. But Billy has just started writing his piece. Therefore, Ms. Richards works on word flow, helping Billy to know that he knows something about his subject and that he has a clear understanding of what he will do next. Later, when his piece is finished, she will choose one skill to teach within the context of his topic. Above all, she works hard to help Billy teach her about his subject, to keep control of the topic in his hands, no matter how uncertain Billy might feel about his subject.

Notice that Ms. Richards has spent no more than a minute and a half in response. She then moves to other children while responding in the same manner, receiving a text and asking questions. As she moves to different children in other parts of the room (she does not move in rotation or down rows; the movement appears to be random), the other children can hear that the teacher expects them to help her with what they know. Lengthy responses tend to take the writing away from the child. For example, if Ms. Richards were to say, “I had a garden once, Billy. I planted all kinds of things too: I planted cabbages, those same turnips, yellow beans, pole beans, and corn. Yes, It’s hard work,” she’d be identifying with Billy’s garden and the hard work that goes into it, but she’s now the informant. Such sharing should come only when his piece is completed and his authorship of this piece established.

Ms. Richards’ statement is specific. When she receives Billy’s text, she uses the actual words he has composed on the page. All writers need to know their words (the actual words on the page) affect other people. Notice that very little praise is given to Billy in this type of response. Instead, the listener, Ms. Richards, points with interest to the words; they are strong enough for her to understand and to remember them. The use of specifics, rather than the exclusive use of praise, is a fundamental issue in helping Billy to maintain control of his piece, as well as to take more responsibility for his text.

Establish A Community Of Writers

Writing is a social act. If social actions are to work, then the establishment of a community is essential. A highly predictable classroom is required if children are to learn to take responsibility and become a community of learners who help each other. Writing is an unpredictable act requiring predictable classrooms both in structure and response.

Children with learning disabilities often have histories of emotional problems. Many have become isolated and feel very little sense of community. They themselves may produce unpredictable classrooms. Their histories in taking responsibility are equally strewn with failure. Notions of choice and responsibility are threatening and require careful work on a broad front. The following ingredients help to build a structured, predictable community of more independent writers.

  1. Write daily, at the same time if possible, for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  2. Work to establish each child’s topical turf, an area of expertise for each writer.
  3. Collect writing in folders so that writers can see the accumulation of what they know. Papers do not go home; rather, the collected work is present in class for student, teacher, parent, and administrator to examine. Some writing is published in hardcover or some more durable form.
  4. Provide a predictable pattern of teacher participation by sharing your own writing, moving in the midst of students during writing time, and responding in predictable structure to your students’ writing.
  5. End each writing time with children responding to each other’s writing in a predictable format: receiving, questioning.
  6. Set up classroom routines in which you examine the entire day to see which responsibilities can be delegated to the children. Solve room problems in discussion. The group learns to negotiate, whether in working with a draft or solving a classroom problem.
  7. Continually point to the responsibilities assumed by the group, as well as the specifics of what they know.

The writing classroom is a structured, predictable room in which children learn to make decisions. The external structure is geared to produce a confident, internal thinking framework within which children learn what they know and develop their own Initiative.

Continuing Education Of Professionals

Most teachers have been drawn into process work because they have seen significant personal growth by their students with learning problems. Students who lacked confidence and initiative and were disenfranchised from literacy learn to write, share their writing with others, and take charge of their own learning. Although some teachers may wish to start work on the writing process based on this article, I suggest additional reading and work with their own writing.

The single most important help to teachers who work with young writers is work with the teacher’s own writing. Both the National Writing Project and our work here at the University of New Hampshire stress work with the teacher’s own writing. Thus teachers become acquainted with writing from the inside by actually doing it themselves. It would be unheard of for a piano teacher, a ceramicist, or an artist working with water colors to teach someone their craft without practising it themselves. Most of us have had little instruction in learning the craft of writing. We’ve written term papers, letter, and proposals, but we haven’t worked with someone who has helped us to know what we know, then showed us how that knowledge is increased through the writing process.

Final Reflection

Before children go to school, their urge to express is relentless. They learn to speak and to carry messages from one person to another. They burst into their homes to tell what just happened outside. They compose in blocks, play games, mark on sidewalks, and play with pencils or crayons. For most children, early audiences are receptive: adults struggle to make sense of the child’s early attempts to communicate.

When children enter school, their urge to express is still present. A few enter already scarred from attempts to communicate with others. But the urge to be, to make a mark on the universe, has not left them. As children grow older and spend more time in school, many become still more disenchanted with writing. They can’t keep up with the rest of the class and equate their struggles with handwriting, spelling, and early conventions as evidence that their ideas are unacceptable and that they are less intelligent than others. Even for these children, the urge to express, to make worthwhile contributions, to express a meaning that affects others, does not go away.

The most critical factor for children with learning disabilities is the meaning-making question. Teachers need to first believe they know important information, then work overtime to confirm for the child the importance of that information. The children see their teachers write; they see and hear them struggle for meaning on an easel or overhead projector as they compose before them. The children become apprentices to the use of words.

When children write, they make mistakes on the road to communicating their messages. The teacher’s first response is to the meaning. Before a piece is completed, the teacher chooses one skill that will enhance the meaning of the piece still further. From the beginning, the teacher works to build a strong history for writers through collections of all their work, some publishing, and the writers’ effective sharing with other members of the class.

Most teaching of writing is pointed toward the eradication of error, the mastery of minute, meaningless components that make little sense to the child. Small wonder. Most language arts texts, workbooks, computer software, and reams of behavioral objectives are directed toward the “easy” control of components that will show more specific growth. Although some growth may be evident on components, rarely does it result in the child’s use of writing as a tool for learning and enjoyment. Make no mistake, component skills are important; if children do not learn to spell or use a pencil to get words on paper, they won’t use writing for learning any more than the other children drilled on component skills. The writing-process approach simply stresses meaning first, and then skills in the context of meaning. Learning how to respond to meaning and to understand what teachers need to see in texts takes much preparation.

The writing process places high demands on the teacher. The room is carefully designed for developing student independence: Decisions are discussed, responsibilities assigned and assumed. Routines are carefully established with writing becoming a very important part of the room’s predictability. Initially, response to the child’s writing is predictable with receiving of the child’s text, followed by questions of clarification, and the child’s next step in the writing process.

Teachers who use the writing process to greatest advantage spend time working with their own writing. They read and become involved in many of the National Institutes that are helping teachers use writing as a tool for their own learning. Soon they find their students’ learning careers change as well.

If you’ve enjoyed this article and the wise words of Donald Graves, we highly recommend that you purchase his fantastic book Writing: Teachers & Children At Work

You can also watch him being interviewed here:

Article adapted from: http://www.ldonline.org/article/6204

Teaching The Writing Process Is The Best Way To Improve Children’s Writing.

 The Writing Process

Research clearly states that teaching children the writing process in an explicit way is the best way to improve their writing outcomes. So how is this done? As we have discussed briefly here, Frank Smith describes the two roles involved in writing as being: the author and the secretary.

The Author

When children are in author mode they are concerned with generating ideas, organising thoughts, and arranging selected words and sentences appropriately and effectively.

The Secretary

When in the secretary mode, the child is more concerned with the transcription of the writing (e.g. using correct spelling, capitalisation, handwriting and punctuation).

Process Writing – The Writing Workshop – Real World Literacy

The Real-World Literacy approach recognises the importance of both the author and secretary roles. In our approach, children nearly always choose their own topics, write for real audiences and purposes. It is this motivation which makes children want to develop the skills needed to write effectively, conventionally and creatively.

This Process Writing approach originated from the work of Donald Graves and has been moved forward and exemplified by The Writing Workshop model popularised by Nancie Atwell.

Here is a beautiful interview with the master, the legend, the original writer-teacher, Donald Graves:

The Real-World Literacy approach emphasizes writing fluency, including techniques that improve a student’s ability to get words down on paper. It promotes frequent writing in contexts that are meaningful and authentic to the children. The intended reader is emphasized as both peers and teachers provide feedback, either in writing or in Pupil Conferences.

Our approach encourages the use of the students’ or your own writing as mentor texts for the teaching of composition and conventions. In the process approach, a teacher cannot teach writing without use of a student’s or their own writing. Research consistently shows this to be vital in terms of children’s writing process.

The stages of the writing process are:

  1. Generating ideas,
  2. Planning,
  3. Vomit drafting,
  4. Revising,
  5. Editing,
  6. Publishing.

Due to the nature of writing, children quickly learn and can be taught that these stages may overlap.

  • In the generating ideas stage, students consider what will interest, motivate and stimulate them and their readers.
  • In the planning stage, students plan and organise their writing (e.g., brainstorming, drawing or boxing-up).
  • During the Vomit Drafting stage, students create drafts of their writing pieces -potentially many.
  • In the revising stage, (the often forgotten stage) teachers encourage their student writers to make substantial improvements to the piece (i.e., thinking about the reader, using certain linguistic and grammatical features and genre-features). Peers and others often provide feedback to the author during this stage.
  • The apprentice writers in your class then assume the secretary role during the editing stage, focusing on correcting mechanical errors such as punctuation, spelling, and capitalisation.
  • The publishing stage can take many forms ranging from: contributing to the class library, entering writing competitions and sending it through the post to other interested and relevant readers.

Again, students may progress through the stages linearly or they may return to
previous ones (e.g., even after “publishing,” a piece could go through revision again), alternating between the author and secretary roles fluidly, and, through our Real-World Literacy approach, independently.

I’m sure you already do most, if not all, of these stages in your classroom but research shows that actually taking time out of lessons to teach aspects of the writing process is the way of improving your children’s writing outcomes significantly.

This is because newly acquired learning in writing can only ever be maintained and developed if children connect it with regular free-writing opportunities. If new writing skills are given the chance to be reinforced in a variety of genres and situations, increased application and transformation of these new writing skills is likely. This basically means regularly teaching an aspect of the writing process and then allowing children to apply and use it in their (regular) writing time. This forms the basis of Real World Literacy.

Each stage of the writing process gives teachers an opportunity to implement instruction that will increase the likelihood of excellent writing outcomes.

Consider this: according to Baer (1999), “no one learns a generalised lesson unless a generalised lesson is taught“. For example, a student who successfully writes a short-story in October may not maintain that ability through June – not without deliberate efforts to provide opportunities for regular practice. This is why our Genre-Booklets are so important.

Genre-Booklets

These are booklets which children take from the class library whenever they want to and which show them how to write in a specific genre. All children are given time to practise writing in these common and popular genres every week. As a result, their ability to write them well and independently increases vastly.

Building into your classroom strategies for promoting generalised outcomes such as this is what Real-World Literacy is all about. It provides children with specific strategies for generalisation and application of all the skills a writer needs. They can be used quickly, often, independently, at school or at home and for pleasure. We have built these strategies into each stage of the writing process: generating ideas, vomit drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

Some of which we have already shared on this blog:

Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction & Improvements In Our Children’s Writing.

The Self-Regulated Strategy Development model can help teachers incorporate self-regulatory training into their writing pedagogy.

Many children struggle to coordinate the multiple cognitive and self-regulatory demands
of the writing process. Below we describe how the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model of instruction, which combines the explicit teaching of writing strategies with instruction in self-regulatory skills has been used in our classroom this year to great effect.

Self-regulation can be learned:

  • by being taught directly through instruction,
  • through repeated practice,
  • indirectly through sheer experience and observation of others.

What Has Been Given ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction’ In Our Writing Classroom This Year:

  • Generating Ideas (using the 10-Ideas Sheet)
  • Boxing-Up (using our Genre-Booklets)
  • Vomit Drafting (Using our Vomit Draft rules – checking for ‘unsure’ spellings, punctuation and ‘sticky bits’),
  • Revision Tips Sheet (using certain grammatical or linguistic features)
  • Editing Checklist (proof-reading for spellings, capitalisation and other punctuation)
  • Publishing (using  The Cursive Script Examplar)

How The ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction’ Was Delivered

  • Discuss It (explain why authors use these techniques)
  • Model It (show them how it is done)
  • Support It (through Pupil-Conferencing)
  • Independent Performance (give children the resources to carry it out on their own for the whole year)
  • ‘Held’ understanding – adapt these resources in future year groups to make children’s transitions even easier. E.g. have ‘Boxing-Ups’, ‘The Vomit Draft Rules’, ‘Revision Tips Sheets’, ‘Editing Checklists’ and ‘Cursive Script Exemplars’ for every year group.

As a result of setting up these resources, the children can now see a piece of writing through from generating an original idea all the way to publish – completely independently. They will attend to all aspects of composition and transcription in the process.

If you have liked what you have read here and would like to read more about our approach to writing which we call ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow the link here. If you’d like to view our Genre-Booklets, you can follow this link.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

References:

Teaching The Writing Process:

  • Atwell, N., (2015), In the middle USA: Heinemann
  • Bloodgood, J., (2002) Quintilian: A classical educator speaks to the writing process In Reading Research and Instruction, 42:1, 30-43
  • Calkins, L. (1998) The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Casey, M., & Hemenway, S. I. (2001). Structure and Freedom: Achieving a Balanced Writing Curriculum.The English Journal, 90(6), 68
  • Gardner, P (2011) The Reluctant Writer in the Primary Classroom: an investigation of mind mapping and other pre-writing strategies to overcome reluctance. Bedford: The Bedford Charity
  • Graham, S., & Sandmel, K. (2011). The Process Writing Approach: A Meta-analysi In The Journal of Educational Research, 104(6), 396-407
  • Graves, D., (2003), 20th Ed, Writing: Teachers & Children At WorkUSA: Heinemann
  • Jasmine, J., & Weiner, W. (2007). The Effects of Writing Workshop on Abilities of First Grade Students to Become Confident and Independent Writers In Early Childhood Education Journal Early Childhood, 35(2), 131-139
  • Levitt, R., Kramer-Vida, L., Palumbo, A., & Kelly, S. P. (2014). Professional Development: A Skills Approach to a Writing Workshop In.The New Educator, 10(3), 248-264.
  • McQuitty, V., (2014) Process-Oriented Writing Instruction in Elementary Classrooms Evidence of Effective Practices from the Research Literature In Writing & Pedagogy6.3 467-495
  • Porcaro, J. J., & Johnson, K. G. (2003). Building a Whole-Language Writing Program In Kappa Delta Pi Record, 39(2), 74-79.
  • Taylor, M. M. (2000). Nancie Atwell’s “In the Middle” and the Ongoing Transformation of the Writing Workshop In The English Journal, 90(1), 46.
  • Tompkins, G. E. (2011). Teaching writing: Balancing process and product. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Writing As A Craft – Writing Everyday

  • Gee, J. P. (2008) A sociocultural perspective on opportunity to learn In P. Moss, D. Pulin, J. P. Gee, E. Haertel and L. Young (eds) Assessment, Equity, and Opportunity to Learn (pp.76-108) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • National Commission on Writing (2003) The Neglected R: The Need For A Writing Revolution America’s Schools & Colleges
  • Rogoff, B., Moore, L., Najafi, B., Dexter, A., Correa-Chavez, M. and Solis, J. (2007) Children’s development of cultural repertoires through participation in everyday routines and practices In J. E. Grusec and P. D. Hastings (eds) Handbook of Socialization: Theory & Research (pp.490-515) New York: Guildford Press
  • Tomasello, M. (2003) Constructing a Language: A usage-based Theory of Language Acquisition Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Tomasello, M. (2006) Acquiring linguistic constructions In R.S Siegler & D. Kuhn (eds), Handbook of Child Psychology: Cognitive Development (pp. 255-298) New York: Wiley

What The Research Says: The 13 Most Effective Ways To Improve Children’s Writing.

The Most Effective Practices For Teaching Writing

This article is based on the work of Graham & Perin (2007), The DfE (2012) and other influential research. In the case of Graham & Perin (2007), their meta-analysis comes from the largest collection of writing research ever pooled. It analysed all contemporary research into the teaching of writing and looked for significant patterning. You can find a more formal summary of how their and the DfE’s findings marry together to create these 13 strategies at the bottom of this article. This is what research analysis concluded:

1. Provide opportunities for students to experience the complete writing process:

The most important finding was the clear evidence that the explicit teaching of The Writing Process is the best way to improve children’s writing outcomes. Using our Real-World Literacy approach alongside our Genre-Booklets, can allow the children in your class to take part in regular high-quality ‘free-writing’ sessions where they will do some of their most profound and accelerated learning.

2. All students can and should write:

Just like with reading, the more students write the better they get. And by the way, the more they write, the better they read. Therefore we suggest you create a classroom library where the children can donate the books they’ve read – you can supplement this with local or school library books. Make sure to include non-fiction and poetry for the children to read regularly. For more details on how to set up a rich classroom library, visit our blog-post here.

3. Help students find real purposes to write and real audiences to reach:

Through our Real-World Literacy approach, children are taught that all their writing has a purpose and that they are  learning to write just like the authors they read do and how to write like real writers do outside our school walls. Publishing is a vital part of the writing process.

4. Help students exercise choice, take ownership, and assume responsibility:

Through our Real-World Literacy approach, children are taught how authors generate ideas. They no longer have to try and negotiate topics they have limited experience or knowledge of. Instead, they are confident before they begin to write because they have something in mind they are attached to and care about. To learn about teaching children to generate their own ideas, see our post here.

5. Help students get started:

Again, many children struggle with topic selection – show them prewriting techniques that unleash their thinking. This can be done through our Genre-Booklets which provide children with a Boxing-Up plan for each of their favourite Genres. It also provides them with exemplar texts written by us and children. We have also introduced ‘Writing Tricks Books‘ which we will discuss in another blog post soon.

6. Confer with individual students on their writing:

  • Pupil-Conferencing is your golden differentiation opportunity — brief 1:1 moments that are goal-oriented and richly instructional. You can read about how to conduct them in a systematic way here.

7. Guide students as they draft and revise:

Undertaking ‘Writing Study’ & Functional Grammar Lessons through our Real-World Literacy approach allows you to model how to revise things. Teaching a Writing Process which includes ‘Vomit Drafting‘ and then a revision stage helps children write their best work.

8. Model for kids how you write a text:

  • As part of introducing our Genre-Booklets to the children, we will write a couple of examplar texts using the Booklet’s advice and Boxing-Up sheet. This is not only helpful as a teaching resource but also when it comes to giving writing advice through Pupil-Conferencing and teaching Writing-Study.

9. Teach grammar and mechanics in the context of actual writing:

10. Provide a classroom context of shared learning:

  • Peer collaboration, not peer critique! Students need a safe, not critical, place to take risks and try things that drive their growth as writers. That’s why we allow the children to publish their of authentic pieces into the class library. This is also an excellent way to practice their handwriting – again, for a real purpose.

11. Use writing to support learning throughout the curriculum: 

  • Our Genre-Booklets also cover the real writing done by authors in other fields. Teach children how to write like real scientists, historians & geographers do.

12. Use evaluation constructively and efficiently:

13. Lead students to learn the craft of writing:

  • Setting up your classroom so that children have access to all aspects of The Writing Process is at the heart of our Real-World Literacy approach. Children have access to our Genre-Booklets via the classroom library – these include a Boxing-Up suggesting what to include and how to paragraph their piece. We then have our Revision Tips Sheet which shows the children how they can improve their work and finally we have our Proof-Reading Sheets which show children how to make their work ‘reader-ready’ for publication.

***

If you have liked what you have read here and would like to read more about our approach to writing which we call ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow the link here. If you’d like to view our Genre-Booklets, you can follow this link.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

Summary Findings From Graham & Perin (2007)

Intervention Effect Size

(The numbers below show the significance of each intervention on writing outcomes).

Teaching The Writing Process

This includes meeting with, teaching and encouraging children to plan & revise their own writing. It’s also about sharing how to approach the writing process. This is one of the two most effective ways for improving writing and is embedded in our approach.

.82
Summarization Instruction

Encouraging individual writing in class along-side shared goal-setting for subsequent pieces, self-assessment by the child and face-to-face assessment with the teacher. This constitutes the second most effective intervention in terms of writing progress. Our approach has such an intervention running through it.

.82
Collaborative Writing

This includes teachers developing arrangements where children can meet with a teacher or peers to discuss their writing. Such shared writing instruction is seen in Writing Study, Genre-Booklet lessons and Pupil Conferencing.

.75
Using Genre Features

This includes giving children the features and tools of a specific genre piece that they can work through systematically, as seen in our Genre-Booklets and Functional Grammar Lessons.

.70
Sentence Combining

This is the specific teaching and modelling of the functional use of compound and complex sentences. This as recommended in our Functional Grammar Lessons.

.50
Process Writing

Extended opportunities for free-writing, writing for real audiences, children choosing their own writing-topics, high levels of pupil and teacher interaction and a supportive learning environment.

.46
Pre-Writing Planning

Setting aside time and space for children to generate ideas and come up with potential writing topics.

.32
Providing Exemplars

Providing children with example texts in a genre. Real-World Literacy includes using genre-booklets and shared writing.

.32
Formal Grammar Teaching

This intervention, the study of traditional school grammar, yielded a negative result. This approach involves the explicit and systematic teaching of grammar without application to real writing or looking into the functional aspects of the use of grammar.

-.32

Summary Findings From The DfE (2012)

The following table lists approaches that have been found to be effective in the teaching of writing by research and reviews of international evidence (What Works Clearinghouse, 2012; Gillespie and Graham, 2010; Andrews et al, 2009; Santangelo and Olinghouse, 2009). (DfE, 2012, p.12)

Teach pupils the writing process

  • Teach pupils strategies/tools for the various components of the writing process such as : generating ideas, planning, drafting, sharing, evaluating, revising and editing; summarising; sentence combining.
  • Gradually shift responsibility from the teacher to the pupil so that they become independent writers.
  • Guide pupils to choose and use suitable writing strategies.
  • Encourage pupils to be flexible when using the different writing components.
  • Engage them in pre-writing activities where they can access what they already know.
This supports our recommendation for daily process writing sessions.
Teach pupils to write for a variety of purposes

  • Help pupils understand they can write in different genres.
  • Develop pupils’ concept of what is ‘audience’
  • Teach pupils explicitly how to use the features of good writing and provide them with models of good writing.
  • Teach pupils techniques for writing effectively for different purposes.
This supports our advocacy of genre-study lessons and Genre-Booklets.
Teach pupils to become fluent with sentence construction

  • When teaching spelling, connect it with writing construction.
  • Teach pupils to construct sentences for fluency, meaning and style.
This supports our recommendation for Functional Grammar Sessions.
Set specific goals to pupils and foster inquiry skills

  • Goals should be created by the teacher and the pupils themselves together (and reviewed by the teacher). These goals can include adding more ideas to a paper or including specific features of a writing genre.
  • Encourage self-motivation e.g. by personal target-setting.
  • Give pupils a writing task which involves the use of inquiry skills e.g. exploring their own ideas and interests.
This supports our advocacy for student choice in terms of writing subjects as well as Pupil Conferencing, editing, target setting and publishing.
Provide daily time to write

  • Pupils should be given at least 30 minutes per day to write in their first year in primary school.
  • Teachers can make links with other subjects.
This supports our recommendation for process writing, where children write, for a sustained period, everyday. It also supports our suggestion that foundation subjects can influence children’s writing choices during literacy times. Finally, it supports our ideas around subject-specific Genre-Booklets.
Create an engaged community of writers

  • Teachers could model their writing in front of pupils, and share real examples with them.
  • Give pupils opportunities to choose the topics they write about.
  • Encourage collaborative writing.
  • Use verbal feedback to inform writing work.
  • Ensure that pupils give and receive constructive feedback throughout the writing process.
  • Publish pupils’ writing and reach for external audiences
This fully endorses our whole approach including; Genre-Booklets, genre study and Functional Grammar Lessons, process writing and the regular publishing of children’s pieces.

In particular, we believe this fully supports writing conferencing as a legitimate means of informing children about their work, giving constructive feedback and the setting of targets without necessarily having to rely on written-feedback.

Functional Grammar Lessons

By [functional] grammar teaching the researchers referred to:

  • Introducing grammatical constructions and terminology at a point which is relevant to the focus of learning.
  • The emphasis is on effects and constructing meanings, not on the feature or terminology itself.
  • The learning objective is to open up a ‘repertoire of possibilities’, not to teach about correct ways of writing.
Most of the research to date has focused on the explicit teaching of grammatical features. A randomised controlled study was conducted in UK and aimed to explore the effect of [functional] grammar teaching on pupils’ writing development.

Findings from the study were promising, showing a significant positive effect for pupils in the intervention group, taught in lessons using the said principles. They scored higher in the writing tests compared with pupils in the comparison group.

DfE (2012) What is the research evidence on writing? Education Standards Research Team, Department for Education: London

Is The Trick In The Publishing? Reflecting On Why The Children Are Writing With Such Care & Attention.

Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Publishing: It’s The Key To High-Quality Independent Writing

As part of our independent writers blog series, we’ve been reflecting on why the children in our class write the way they do.

We recently asked the children why they take so much care over the editing of their pieces – particularly their spellings and it was interesting to hear their responses.

  • More people will read your work.
  • Improves my work for the people who read it.
  • I don’t do it for you – I do it for my readers.
  • I want my reader to read it all.
  • I want everyone in the class to understand it.

Then one of our students said this:

  • If I know it’s not going into the class-library, I wouldn’t bother to edit it so well.

Then the children started reflecting on how writing was taught to them in their previous years:

  • We were writing for nothing.
  • I would have been better if we’d been able to publish.
  • We couldn’t do anything with our writing.
  • We did neat copies but no one saw them.
  • I didn’t know what publishing was.

I then asked who would still edit their work carefully if they knew it wasn’t going to be published. Only 5/33 said they would. The reasons why they still would were that it would ‘help them for the future’ (as opposed to the present!) or that they would do it for their own sense of satisfaction. Worryingly though were the 28/33  that said they wouldn’t bother to edit so well. 25/33 said that they edited well because they knew their friends would be reading it. Perhaps this is why you’re not getting the writing outcomes you want from the children in your class?

Interestingly, 30/33 of my class wished they had been taught to proof-read, edit and publish earlier than year 5.

31/33 of my pupils believed it was important for their writing development that they be allowed to publish work into the class book stock. Only 2/33 said they didn’t mind if their work stayed within their literacy books alone.

We didn’t touch on the impact publishing must also have on their desire to compose great pieces, but if one takes the view that children generally consider editing to be the least enjoyable and interesting part of writing and yet they have such a conscientious attitude towards it when they are allowed to publish – then we can reasonably assume that publishing makes a massive difference to children’s writing outcomes more generally too.

So if you want your children to write with a bit more care and attention, you should consider allowing them to regularly publish their writing into your class library.

In our class, we have anthologies for the different genres the children tend to write in – these include:

  1. Flash-Fiction,
  2. Memoir,
  3. Poems,
  4. Information Texts,
  5. Book Reviews,
  6.  Match Reports.

You can read more about how we get the children to edit their work by going here.

To find out more about our approach to teaching writing, which we call ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow this link.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

How To Have Children Writing Independent ‘Assessable’ Pieces Every Day.

The political hot-potato in terms of writing at the moment is independent writing. We have decided the tackle this subject head on by producing a mini-series of blog posts about how we have managed to create a writing community within our classroom which allows children to write independently every day.

We will cover all sorts of strategies we use to allow children to write high-quality assessed pieces independently. Some of them we have already discussed and you can find them here:

Writing

This particular post will talk about The Writing Process and how the explicit teaching of it is the most effective way to improve children’s independent writing attainment (Graham & Perin, 2007).

It would be good to start off by stating that writing involves both composition and transcription.

Frank Smith, (1982) in his book Writing & The Writer, uses the analogy of a writer and her secretary. This helps visualise the different processes that have to take place when one is writing alone. Remember, this is also what children have to negotiate when writing too.

The writer (composition) has to attend to the following:

  • Generating ideas,
  • Turning thoughts, opinions, feelings into words/sentences.
  • Use of grammar for function,
  • Word and tone choice,
  • Keeping cohesion,
  • Thinking of the purpose of the text,
  • Keeping the reader in mind throughout.

The secretary (transcription) has to attend to the following:

  • Physical effort of writing,
  • Handwriting,
  • Spelling,
  • Capitalisation,
  • Punctuation,
  • Paragraphs,
  • How it will look (including multi-modality).

Frank Smith begins by talking about composing and transcription as if they were performed by two different people. This is simply to allow the reader to see the two broad aspects of writing separately. It is important to remember that we place this burden on children alone when we ask them to write in the classroom. However, consider this for a moment: Teachers often place further cognitive workload upon children. This can include:

So when they are writing, children have to attend to all of the above and often at the same time. To help the children in our class, at the beginning of the year, we decided to separate the writing process for them and teach each stage explicitly. We call this our Real-World Literacy approach. We taught them how to attend to all the compositional aspects of writing – through what we call:

  • Generating Ideas,
  • Boxing Up,
  • Vomit Drafting and
  • The ‘Revision’ Stage.

We then taught them how to attend to the transcriptional aspects of writing:

  • Proofreading,
  • Editing,
  • Publishing.

I do a kind of pre-draft – what I call a ‘vomit-out’ – Calvin Trillin

Untitled

This is because when children are asked to attend to the aspects of composition and transcription at the same time they both interfere with each other. What would be a collaboration between two people (the writer and the secretary) becomes an unnecessary yet profound conflict for children.

Let’s be clear:

when children are learning to write, composition and transcription can interfere with each other. The more attention you give to one, the more the other is likely to suffer. The problem is essentially a competition for attention.

If thoughts are coming too fast, then the quality of children’s handwriting, spelling or punctuation is likely to decline. If we concentrate on the transcription, the inserting of linguistic features or the appearance of what we write, then composition will be affected; children are likely to produce impeccable nonsense. To avoid either of these occurring, we separate the two processes for the children.

The rule in our class is simple: composition and transcription must be separated and transcription must come last. Revising and editing are as important in our class as writing. Interestingly, as the year has progressed, we have noted that as the children have got better at composition, the less attention on transcription has been required by them at the end.

The children are now able to characterise themselves and their preferred writing process. We have the following types of writers in our class.

  1. The Vomitters

The most popular writing process. These children like to get their ideas down on paper and spend most of their time revising it and getting it ‘reader ready’ through proof reading and publishing.

2. The Paragraph Pilers

The second most popular process. These children like to vomit a paragraph, clean it up by revising it and editing it before they move on to the next part in their writing.

3. Sentence Stackers

The least popular process. These are children who vomit a sentence and attend to the transcription immediately afterwards.

Interestingly, there are also The Planners and the Discovers. These are children who either plan the writing to the absolute detail before going on to draft or else I have the Discovers who resist planning as much as possible and like to see where their writing will take them (with varying success).

Whatever process the children feel works best for them, at the end of the process all the children will publish a piece of interesting, neat and grammatically correct writing. Their edited drafts will show evidence that they have attended to spellings, provided evidence of certain linguistic features and punctuated fully. Their final published copy will also show they have attended to their handwriting in a focused way.

I think it is fair to say that the current state of writing-assessment is far from perfect. So how can we ensure that we at least assess children’s writing in a humane way? In our classroom, we currently undertake it in a low-stakes way where children are simply allowed to write through the writing process organically; at their own pace – producing a variety of pieces independently for pleasure.

The popular alternative currently employed in schools is the giving out of a writing stimulus and then given limited time and a high-stakes pressured environment in which to complete it. I know, as an adult, which way I’d rather be asked to write.

Incidentally, we should make clear that we are not advocating that every piece is assessed formally but it is comforting to know as a teacher that I have a whole raft of varied and interesting writing from which I can find evidence of good independent writing being undertaken.

To find out more about our approach to teaching writing, which we are calling ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow this link.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

Children Writing Memoir : A Great Literacy Topic.

As you may have read here, this half term we focused on the teaching of memoir.

In our first week we discussed the genre using our genre-booklets and this created a buzz for the rest of the project. Focusing on the genre and why people write memoir allowed the generating of ideas to happen fairly quickly.

We used around three techniques for generating memoir ideas. These included:

  1. Questions for memoirists – Children answer questions to jog their memories for potential memoir ideas (see our article about memoir writing).
  2. Using the ‘Michael Rosen’ effect. This is where children can take an otherwise ordinary moment and make it extraordinary. This can be an alternative to memoir writing for children who would much rather not write about anything overly heartfelt or emotive – which we can occasionally come across.
  3. Creating an Ideas Heart and allow children to add to it throughout the year.This includes: What makes me happy, angry, scared or upsetlists.

The children are well aware of these techniques which published authors often use to generate original writing ideas.

Here are some of the topics the children chose to write about:

  • Meeting a new pet for the first time,
  • Moments from holidays,
  • The birth of siblings,
  • Learning to do something new for the first time,
  • The death of a loved one – including pets,
  • Family separations,
  • Meeting distant relatives for the first time,
  • Special times spent with family,
  • Meeting a hero,
  • Taking part in sporting competitions,
  • Injuries!

Because we asked children to focus on just a small moment in time – what we call a ‘pebble moment’ (taken from Nancie Atwell’s book In The Middle) the drafting of these pieces came very quickly for the children. We suspect that this was also due to the fact that the children were writing on a topic in which they felt an expert. 

Our writing-study lessons were a real success. We focused on how the children can use narrative devices to improve their memoirs. During the revision stage, we again used the genre-booklets and the children looked for opportunities to explore in more detail the following:

  • Strong openings,
  • Setting description,
  • Character development,
  • Poetic and figurative language to describe,
  • Interesting endings which carry a message for the reader.

Again, we believe the children were able to take on this kind of linguistic burden due to the fact they were writing about a topic they were sure of. They could see where, when and how to use these devices in their pieces to good effect.

Our functional-grammar study was based on the use of time-openers and paragraphing as a means to move time forward and expanded-noun phrases to provide additional details for the reader.

Below, we are pleased to share a variety of different memoirs from across the year group. These were produce by children in year 5 (9-10 years old).

If you have liked what you have read here and would like to read more about our approach to writing which we call ‘Real-Word Literacy’, you can follow the link here. If you’d like to view our Genre-Booklets, you can follow this link.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

As always, thank you for reading and we hope you enjoy the memoirs:

***

Long Time, No See

As I sat in my car, I leant my head back and closed my eyes as tight as I could. I let my mixed feelings wash over me. Scared, excited, shy but most of all happiness. All these feelings pointed to my half-brother Edward, who I was going to see today for the first time in three years.

The car halted so fast my stomach almost flew out of my mouth. I was shocked out of my thoughts and back to real life.

I was tingling all over when I stepped out of the car. From one look up I noticed the day had turned around – just like my feelings. The day had changed from dark and gloomy with clouds of worry fogging up my mind to bright, blue skies with and hint of sunshine. But still (even with a hopeful feeling in my heart) a small cloud was just not shifting from mind. I jumped down into the mud. My shoes splatted but I was only concentrating on keeping my head down for as long as I could (without being noticed). My cheeks felt like they were at melting point and my legs were shaking like jelly.

When I couldn’t keep my head down any longer, I slowly but surely tilted it up. My younger brother (Joe) had rushed up to Edward and was confidently babbling away and squeezing him to death.  I could not quite hear what he was saying but I was sure that I would not be able to speak to Edward that easily. Joe has always been care-free and confident like that.

Edward was taller than I had ever imagined and he cast a long shadow over the front garden. He had a small but noticeable beard and a sleeve of tattoos down one arm.

He lifted his gaze over Joe and caught my eye. I wanted to rush back into the car and hide there forever but there was something drawing me towards him. Joe finally let go and went to talk to my dad – who was standing in the doorway behind Edward.

Suddenly, I did something very unexpected. I rushed up to Edward and squeezed him till I was sure he would burst. I felt comfortable in his arms like all I had had to do was hug him and it was possible everything would have been ok. I looked into his eyes and smiled “Hello Edward,” I said shyly. He stared straight back into mine and grinned till his face almost split. “Hello Emma,” he replied. I released him and grabbed his hand, dragging him inside for many more adventures together.

I’ve learnt that you have to grab the moments while they last and make the most of them. I hope you do too.

 By Emma London (9-Years Old)

***

The Day My Life Changed!

I have been waiting for months for this to come.

My baby brothers were finally born. When I woke up, I was at my nan’s house. I asked my granddad why I was here? At 7oclock in the morning, my nan got home to pick me and my sister up, to get us to the hospital. I was thrilled and rushed out of the house. I was the first to get in the car. I was buzzing with excitement!

When we got there, I unplugged my seatbelt,   got out of the car and ZOOMED through the hospital doors. My nan shouted “Calm down!”

I shouted back at her “I can’t! I feel like I’m going to EXPLODE!” – even though I couldn’t.  After that, we got into the lift and went to floor 4 where my mum was. I heard babies crying; nurses and doctors talking loudly. My mum looked so tied. I hugged her like no one else could. My dad asked us if we wanted to go and see our new baby  brothers. They were in separate rooms because my brother Leo was born dead but 7 minutes later he started to breathe again. He was the same size as my shoulder to my elbow. He had a little bit of golden hair as if it was popcorn .He had long eye lashes like spider legs. I couldn’t really see that much of him because he had tubes and face masks on him everywhere. Next, we went to see Lee Junior. He was a bit bigger than Leo. He had soft silky skin and bright blue eyes that sparkled when I glared at him. I leant over and smelt him because I love that baby type of smell. They both were so adorable and very precious.  I  really wanted to hold them but we weren’t allowed. I carefully stroked their tiny little faces. I wanted to take them home today but they were born a month early and were really poorly.

You see, this is a story of how  Lee Junior was a hero .When they were in my mum’s tummy, Leo’s cord was in a tight knot and stopped him breathing. However, Lee Junior, incredibly saw what was happening  and broke my mum’s water and now Leo and Lee Junior are in safe hands with the doctors and the nurses. Two weeks later, I went to Matilda’s house and when I came home, there they were, laying there asleep, on the sofa!

And now we are a proper family.

By Tina Westley (9 years old)

***

Superglue

I was desperately sitting in front of the incubator watching the duck eggs. Although I knew they weren’t ready to hatch, I still sat there waiting.

One afternoon, when I came back from school, my dad told me one of the duck eggs had started hatching. I was so excited until… I found out it was about two or three weeks early.  My parents had to superglue it together. We all thought it wouldn’t hatch but we were wrong. We all knew that if it hatched the duck lurking inside would be called superglue.

Soon, the ducks started poking their tiny, orange beaks out of their little turquoise house. First to hatch was an adorable little male duck, who we called Gamima (at the time we thought he was a female). The second one to hatch was small compared to Gamima. We called her Daffy. Over the course of the next few days, the other eggs started to hatch – all of them except Superglue.

Finally, his egg started to form a lightning bolt across the top and a small beak pecked its way through the shell. As soon as I laid my eyes on him I knew he was my favourite. In some way he was the most special. He was a small pile of adorable, yellow fluff and I loved him dearly.

Soon, I and the rest of my family were allowed to hold the ducks. It was the most amazing experience I had ever had. They had the beautiful shape and were too soft to describe! They closed their eyes when you stroked them and leant their head to my body. As I stroked their head, I felt their soft skull beneath their warm feathery skin. They were so light they could fall over if a light breeze hit them. Their tiny webbed feet griped to my relaxed fingers.

That weekend it was time for the ducks to have their first adventure outside. It was a beautiful, hot summer’s day and the blazing sun shone over our garden. Daisies had started sprouting from the grass and apples were hanging from our small apple tree. The ducks were all so happy. After an hour outside, it was time for the ducks to go back into the house. My dad scooped up six of the ducks and took them inside. The only one left was superglue who was wandering around in the garden. Me, my mum and my brother were watching him. The minute we turned our backs away, there was the sound of a faint quacking and a fox running. A fox had superglue in his mouth. When my dad tried to catch the fox, it ran out of the garden and disappeared.

Superglue was gone forever.

 By Emma Goodheart (10 years old)

***

The Best Match Ever!

This was it. Me and my dad were walking up Wembley Way, to see the FA Cup Final. Man United vs Crystal Palace.

I could smell pork being cooked in the back of a van. It was about 3:00 PM and the sun was shining bright over the unmistakable arch of Wembley Stadium. Me and my dad always like to make score predictions before matches we see. My dad thought 3-0 Crystal Palace and I thought 1-0 United. People were chanting their team’s songs and were drinking a lot of beer. I could see a few people fighting which was not very good. But we’d finally got passed security and were now walking up the steps.

Me and my Dad support United so we were both buzzing with excitement. When we got to the final step, we could see the green pitch popping out at us. We walked to our seats and sat down. I was ready.

After 70 minutes of very boring football, Crystal Palace scored. The other side of the stadium roared with excitement. It was as if the flood lights were shining on the Crystal Palace fans and players. On our side it was as quiet as a pin dropping on a big, fluffy rug. “Oh no,” I quietly said to my dad (who had his head in his hands).

It was now the 80th minute and the United fans were losing hope. Just as people started to leave, United scored! All of us screamed with joy and jumped into the air. “Cooomme onnn!” shouted my Dad (who didn’t have his head in his hands anymore). My head was filled with thoughts such as: we’ve brought it back and can we win the cup?

Ten minutes later, the ref blew the final whistle and the score was 1-1. Every single person in Wembley knew that there was another 30 minutes for a winning goal. I was extremely excited and extremely scared because I knew that the next half hour would decide whether today was the best day of my life – or the worst…

It was now the 20th minute of extra time and there were still no more goals but United were on an attack! Wayne Rooney was running down the left wing with the whole United team in the penalty area. Rooney got to the bi-line and crossed the ball into the area, the ball spun in the air and immediately bounced off Delany’s knee. The attack had stopped. Or had it? The ball was flying in the air and fell to Jesse Lingard. He took an ambitious first-time volley. The ball, which was going as fast as a falcon swooping down at its prey, went right into the top left-hand corner of the net! It was the winning goal!

Me and my Dad jumped up in the air and were hugging each other. Even a man, who was in the stand above, was hugging us both!

That is why the 21st of May 2016 was the best day of my life and the best football match I’ve ever been to.

By Freddie Levine (10 years old)

***

The Day I Met My Hero

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet your hero?

Dad, who was a great rugby player, knew they were in town. My hero in Hastings. For that reason, we went on a hunt, a hunt for Owen Farrell, who was my idol, and the whole England Rugby Team. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my brother’s eye, he saw an England Rugby Tracksuit. In desperation he shouted “They are over there!”

“This would change my life forever” I thought as we walked up the stone steps to the Jurys Inn. I tentatively crept up the stone steps and pushed open the great glass doors.

The Jurys Inn was packed with huge windows and was amongst the seafront. The windows opened up to the wavy, blue sea. The sun was shining in the sky like a shooting star flying in the night sky. The inside was huge with a bar the size of a Porsche, and had multiple rooms around it. There were stairs either side of us and there was lots of bustling people around gossiping. I was shy to the touch. My heart was beating like a buzzard’s wing

I kept looking backwards and forwards waiting. For the special arrival. But would he ever come? I thought. My stomach turning inside me like a washing machine.

Then, out of nowhere, a 6’3 man came in. His hair elevated in the air like a plane trying to thread through clouds. Owen Farrell was wearing an England tracksuit and was with George Ford (another professional rugby player).

“It’s OWEN FARRELL!” I exclaimed to my dad. Before I realised, I was asking him for a picture and signature with my brother. As my Dad took the picture, I thought “I’m not seeing him through tiny pixels.” That moment was precious to me.
Finally, to top the day off, I got him and only him, to sign my new England rugby shirt. Not wanting to go, my Mum and Dad forced me to leave. We went into Donatello’s for dinner that night and well, I was defiantly not taking my jumper off…

By Tom Stock (9 years old)

***

Sprinkles On The Moon

Have you ever wondered how ice-cream tastes at midnight?

Well, one warm night in the summer holidays, me and my family went out for a walk until my dad had an idea that changed the whole day!

There we were at Jojo’s. One step blew our minds. There was a variety of different flavours spread across the room, my mum looking at the melon flavour, me and my brother Luis scanning the room for unusual flavours like Kinder Bueno, water melon and even peanut butter! Finally, we all chose our flavours. I chose strawberry, Luis lemon sorbet, my cousin Kleo Kinder Bueno, my mum finally chose melon and my dad vanilla.

We all stepped out still amazed, and we made our way down to the seafront. On the way there, Kleo randomly said in Albanian. “Do you know why I chose Kinder Bueno?”

“Why?” My dad replied.

“Because in Italy, all the ice-cream shops do it.” He finished. When we got there, my dad went down to the sea and shouted. “The sea has at least risen by a metre!” Me and Luis sharply looked at the sea and we saw that it was slowly overlapping itself like dark baby horses in a race for victory. We both raised our eyebrows amazed. We were staring at the stars –it was like the moon was a spotlight shining down at us-tongues against ice-cream like iron to a magnet. Drunk men frequently shouting at nearby pubs, the cool, relaxing breeze gently touching our faces. Ice-creams’ melting and growing by the minute and frozen flakes refreshing our bodies. All this until my mum suggested that it was getting late and we should start walking to the car that was parked more than a mile from where we were.

Our dad told us that we had to get going until I asked, “Can we get seconds?”…

By Agim Sinani (9 years old)

***

Lost Cat

“Harry has died,” Mum said to me in a mournful voice in the morning. But who is Harry and how had he died? Let’s go back to the night it happened.

It was a cold evening, the moon was bright and cars bustled past each other in a mess of grimy bonnets and gleaming headlights. It seemed a perfectly normal evening and houses squatted low on the street.

I was playing in my room having an enjoyable time when someone shouted “Something is wrong with Harry,” (Harry was our cat and seventeen by now. With fluffy paws and a warm coat, our family loved him). I went downstairs to see what was up.

Fred. who was my brother, knelt by Harry who was tottering around as if blind. “What’s wrong?” I asked with curiosity. “Harry doesn’t seem to notice me,” said my brother “Harry, Harry”.

Mum and Dad came down -worried looks on their faces. “He has gone blind,” said Dad and my heart ached as if someone were squeezing its juices out. “It might be diabetes,” said Mum (that sounded bad). “Try feeding him,” suggested someone.

Immediately, Harry turned up his nose at the food placed in front of him. He let out a mournful meow. He needed the vets. Terrified, Harry got into his basket. Dad hauled him into the car. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I stroked Harry one last time. Dad stamped on the pedal and I watched the car pull out into the road and speed into the night. That was my last glimpse of Harry.

In the morning, there was silence. The trees stood high, leaves on their branches. The sun seemed dim as if a life had been lost. I dragged myself downstairs and we are now back at the beginning with mum delivering the terrible news.

Later that day, I saw Harry’s bed, wishing he was still in it. That was when my precious Harry was lost…

By George Newman (10 years old)

***

Saying Goodbye!

I slowly trudged out of my house. The house I would never again laugh in; never again cry in. The house I would never again eat in; never again sleep in. Mum heaved our suitcases out of the house and into the Grandpa`s van. My eyes started watering.

It was a rainy day, as there is always horrible weather in Manchester. We lived on a street with a dead end. Our house was on the right side at the end of the road next to the tall cobble wall. My cousins lived opposite us. I took once last glance at the house I loved, but would never see again.

I didn’t understand why this was happening (as I was only 3 and a half) but I knew what was happening, “Mum, why do we have to leave Dad?” I pleaded, hoping she would change her mind of leaving Dad and stay with him “Because we are.” Mum said sharply. I turned around, Dad was at the front door. I ran across the gravely path and into Dad`s arms.” Do you promise you will write to me?” I asked Dad. “Promise.” He replied

It felt as if my heart broke in two like a piece of paper being torn to shreds. I was trying to hold my sadness in, but it just came all over me. My sadness gushed out of me and I burst into tears. I squeezed Dad tight. Why does it have to be like this? I thought.

“Come on Aleena, get in the van” Mum called. I scooted over to her, and I clambered into the van. I shut the door. I looked out the window and I saw Dad waving. I could faintly hear his voice saying “Goodbye!”. As his voice died away, so did my hope. Would I ever see him again, I thought to myself.

By Aleena Koraishi (9 years old)

The Sea Of Writing Ideas: 10 Ways We Got Children Choosing Their Own Topics.

The Sea Of Writing Ideas

Writing ideas.

When you write, ideas crazily spill from your head, tumble down your arm, into your pen and out along the crisp, white page. To us, the only way to see ideas is scribbling them down – but ideas are more than just words on a page.They are colourful, squirming, squiggly things that slide and slip through the nooks and crannies of your brain. Some of them crash against the walls of your head in roaring waves. Others come more slowly – each droplet of water a letter. 

Once you gain control of the sea – the droplets make out your idea.

– Year 5 Child.

Research clearly shows that if children get to choose their topics, this strongly influences their enjoyment of writing and therefore the progress they make. Children may need initially to generate a whole raft of topics and ideas that they feel they could write about.

So, as part of our writing pedagogy Real-World Literacy, at the beginning of the year we have children filling in an ‘Ideas Heart’. It is also advantageous for a teacher to write down what topics children consider themselves to be an expert in. Get children to collect on paper the people, places, games, hobbies and interests they know well as well as the things they love and care about in their lives.

We believe in this concept because when children write about what they already know, they already have the information at their fingertips. This allows them to think about how to write it instead of having to concentrate on what it is they are being asked to write.

It is often the case that a teacher will use a book studied by the whole class as a stimulus for writing. We believe that such an approach can be restricting, especially if children are not motivated by the content of the book. In our view, surely, it is more logical that children be allowed to draw on their own reading of: picture books, novels and poetry from the class/school library or from home. Always bear in mind that:

what children write reflects the nature and quality of their reading,’ (CLPE, 2012) p.35.

You as teacher-writer should share your own Ideas Heart with the class. How you approach idea-generation should also be discussed during Writing Study sessions. This is discussed in a lot more detail in our Real-World Literacy document. To view this document, please go here.

We must stress at this point that we are in no way advocating the withdrawal of the teacher’s assistance when children are choosing a theme. There are many ways of supporting children to generate their own ideas, in the form of:

  1. Creating an Ideas Heart and allow children to add to it throughout the year.
  2. Asking themselves ‘What if..?’ questions
    • Roald Dahl famously came up with the idea for Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by simply writing this what if… question ‘What if a crazy man ran a chocolate factory?
  3. Generating ‘When I was little…’ or Imagine a day when…’ statements
  4. What makes me happy, angry, scared or upsetlists
  5. Donald Murray said ‘problems make good subjects.’ What itch needs scratching list – a list of issues that need solving, correcting, explaining or exploring. Topics that make you curious, furious or confused.
  6. Questions for memoirists – Children answer questions to jog their memories for potential memoir ideas (see our article about memoir writing).
  7. Using the ‘Michael Rosen’ effect. This is where children can take an otherwise ordinary moment and make it extraordinary. This can be an alternative to memoir writing for children who would much rather not write about anything overly heartfelt or emotive – which we can occasionally come across.
  8. Create a ‘Where Poetry Hides’ list. This is where children run around their house looking for objects they could write about. (see our Poetry genre-booklet).
  9. Deciding to use ideas from the books they have chosen and read. To aid them we teach them to note the theme, setting and characters from two different books they have enjoyed, and look to create something new from that.
    • Writing fan fiction using something from the book they are reading/have read.
    • Writing inspired by poems – taking a poem they like from the class-book-stock and using it to write their own poem.
  10. Deciding for themselves to use the topics from our foundation subjects in any way they wish including creating genre-hybrids.

Use of these strategies facilitates children’s choice of writing topic. No longer do you have to fear that some children will have nothing to write about.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

If you like the sound of this type of teaching, you can read our document Real-World Literacy by click here. 

For research conducted on the theme of ‘topic choice’, please see the references below:

    • Bearne, E., Marsh, J., (2007) Literacy & Social Inclusion London: Trentham Books
    • Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity, London, Taylor and Francis.
    • Canagarajah, S. (2004) ‘Subversive identities, pedagogical safe houses and critical learning’ in Norton, B. and Toohey, K. (eds) Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
    • Cremin, T., (2011) Writing Voices: Creating Communities Of Writers London: Routledge
    • Feiler, L., et al (2007) Improving Primary Literacy: Linking Home & School London: Routledge
    • Flint, A. S., & Laman, T. T. (2012). Where Poems Hide: Finding Reflective, Critical Spaces Inside Writing Workshop In Theory Into Practice, 51(1), 12-19.
    • Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. & Amanti, C. (eds) (2005) Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classroom, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
    • Graham, L., Johnson, A., (2012) Children’s Writing Journals London: UKLA
    • Graham, S., Berninger, V., & Fan, W. (2007). The structural relationship between writing attitude and writing achievement in first and third grade students In Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32(3), 516-536
    • Gregory, E., Arju, T., Jessel, J., Kenner, C. and Ruby, M. (2007) ‘Snow White in different guises: interlingual and intercultural exchanges between grandparents and young children at home in East London’, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, vol. 7, no. 5, pp. 5–25.
    • Guerra, J. C. (2008). Cultivating transcultural citizenship: A writing across communities model In Language Arts, 85(4), 296–304.
    • Gutiérrez, K. (2008) ‘Developing a sociocritical literacy in the Third Space’, Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 148–64.
    • Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
    • Maybin. J. (2006) Children’s Voices: Talk, Knowledge & Identity London: Palgrave
    • Morpurgo, M., (2016) Such Stuff: A Story-Makers Inspiration London: Walker
    • Rosen, M., (2016) What is poetry? The essential guide to reading and writing poetry. London: Walker Books
    • Smith, Clint. (2016) The danger of silence Available Online: [http://www.ted.com/talks/clint_smith_the_danger_of_silence#t-242155]