At Whitehall Park School we use Talk for Writing as our approach to teaching English, this strategy fits in extremely well with our thematic curriculum approach. Children are immersed in the chosen text and explore language, characters, setting and structure through role play, story maps, recounts and original adaptations.
Texts are carefully selected to ensure they not only complement the half terms theme, but also add to it; this could be by giving the class extra information allowing the pupils knowledge and understanding of the subject to deepen or looking at a new text genre, enabling the children to become more familiar with a new writing style.
We have always used drama and opportunities for public speaking to enhance children’s abilities to express themselves and this continues to be a priority at our school. All children take part in termly class assemblies and there are regular performances and presentations by children to their peers in groups, pairs or as individuals, these cover a wide range of topics and are often based on their curriculum termly theme and their home learning.
Children are encouraged to develop their understanding of reading from early phonics skills to higher order reasoning, where they can make inferences and understand the impact of author intent. Attractive reading areas, shared reviews and provision of book lists are among some of the strategies used to promote enjoyment and a love of reading.
The Talk for Writing approach has been developed by Pie Corbett who says, “If children learn stories orally, it improves the quality of their writing and develops the children’s self-confidence as story tellers. If a child knows a story really well, it makes the task of writing easier because they do not have to compose at the same time as tackling handwriting, spelling and punctuation.”
This approach breaks the teaching of writing down into three steps / stages.
Stage 1: Immersion
Underpinning the whole approach is the need for children to learn stories off by heart. Therefore, during the first week of a unit of work the children learn a text (e.g. a story, a report, a set of instructions, a diary entry, a poem) off by heart. We call this “What A Good One Looks Like”, by week one the class know what is expected of them and what they are aiming for by the end of the unit.
The children repeat the text lots of times, and use actions and a text map (see the school website for examples) to help them to memorise the text, until it creates a groove in their mind (in the same way as jingles on adverts do!).
Stage 2: Innovation
During the second week of work the children use the text as a basis for their own written composition. They use the structure that the original text provides but develop their own ideas and experiment with their own language choices. The children then receive daily feedback on their writing which allows them to develop and improve their writing as they go along, their knowledge of the characters and the setting is developed using a variety of different strategies, to ensure they have a secure understanding of their new text and feel confident in their writing.
Of course, they still keep practicing the original text every day so that they know it really well!
Stage 3: Invention
After these two weeks we give the children a chance to write their own composition based loosely on the original text to demonstrate their ability and learning. The subject of the writing is often linked to their topic (e.g. History, Science) which gives the piece of writing meaning. Using this technique over the past couple of years, we have seen some fantastic results and amazing creative pieces of writing.
Through engaging children in a key text based on the current topic, children are motivated and enthused and a thematic approach to the curriculum can be achieved. They will learn key phrases or be able to retell the stories using actions or their own words. Eventually, they will be able to adapt the stories they know to retell or write their own.
Here is an example of how talk for writing is used to engage the children in all areas of the curriculum through the use of the story “Pirates Love Underpants’ during an adventures topic:
Maths – counting treasure, recognising coins, using 2D shapes to create pirate ship flags, using 3D construction shapes to create life-size boats
Writing – lists of things to bring, wanted posters, character descriptions, letters, story adaptations and new pirate adventure stories
Topic (including ExAD, UW, PD, PSED, CL) – telescopes, treasure maps, painting, flag designs/patterns, making costumes (eye patch and pirate hat)
By following the National Curriculum guidelines, we aim to ensure that everyone at Whitehall Park School:
enjoys writing and find the process creative, enriching and fulfilling;
reads widely, recognise good writing, and understand what makes it good;
is aware of the key features of different genres and text types;
learns about the skills of writing from their reading and draw (consciously or unconsciously) upon its models in their own work;
has ‘something to say’ (a purpose and audience);
knows how to develop their ideas;
knows how to plan and prepare for writing;
makes informed choices about what they are writing, as they write (for example, about vocabulary, grammar, text structure, etc.);
understands how to reflect upon, refine and improve their own work;
can respond to the constructive criticism of others.
Here are examples of writing at the end of Key Stage 1.