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How To Teach Children To Write

Do you want to learn a better way to teach children how to write? The Talk 4 Writing approach moves from oral to written language and is highly engaging.

Over the last few years I’ve participated in a number of professional learnings that have completely changed the way I think about how we teach children to read and write. A few years ago I attended the Sounds-Write training at the Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation (DSF). This was a remarkable training that has had a profound impact on my teaching of reading and spelling. I’ve written a number of articles that discuss the programme and how I’ve been implementing it. Head over to the below article to read more:

How To Teach Children To Read

A couple of months ago I attended another workshop at DSF, this time one for writing. The Talk 4 Writing approach moves from oral language to written language and is suitable to use with both fiction and non fiction texts. As it begins with oral language it is fantastic to use with your reluctant writers, as your students interact with texts in so many different ways before they need to begin the writing process.

There are three stages in the Talk 4 Writing Approach:

1. Imitation – daily oral learning of the text

The imitation stage is “the ability to retell a story so that the child has a bank of tales by heart. The language patterns are known so well that they have become part of the long-term working memory, embedded and internalised.”

Pre-assessment: cold task

Before you begin with the approach it is important to set a pre-unit assessment, which is called a ‘cold task’. This helps to inform your planning, and allows you to set your key goals for grammar and writing. For example, your goal may be to work on descriptive writing, use of powerful verbs or sequencing. If your focus is on instructional writing, or narratives etc, then the cold task will need to be this form of writing. If you’ll be looking at instruction texts, you could provide a picture of a child brushing their teeth, so the students need to write the instructions for brushing teeth. There is no teacher input into the cold task, you just get your students to write.

Selecting a text

You analyse the cold task to find out:

  • What does the whole class need to be taught?
  • What do different groupings need?
  • What do individuals need – set simple tickable targets.
  • Adapt the model text and alter your plan.

Next you need to select (or write/adapt) a text that will meet your needs. The text needs to contain the techniques and language features that you want the children to learn. There are a number of model texts provided on the Talk 4 Writing website as well as in some of the books. I don’t feel I’m a brilliant writer, so I will be using some of the texts provided, and I may need to adapt them slightly.

Story/Text map

Next is the fun part, firstly you create an imaginative ‘hook’ to gain the students’ interest and make it memorable and meaningful for them. Then you introduce a story (fiction) or text (non-fiction) map that you use to help the students orally learn the text.

Below is a picture of a story map for The Emperor’s New Clothes, that one of the presenters (Emily) has used. The post it notes over the top of the map will be explained in the next stage.

Do you want to learn a better way to teach children how to write? The Talk 4 Writing approach moves from oral to written language and is highly engaging.Quite a bit of time is spent on learning the text orally with the aid of the map. Students also create their own maps and use pictures that are meaningful to them. This is where you can also introduce actions to go with the text to further help the students remember it. You allow your students to continue to perform/rehearse the text until they have “internalised the language patterns.” I think the quote below by Pie Corbett sums up the importance of this first stage.

“We know that linguistically, children can’t write sentences unless they can say them and they can’t say a sentence unless they’ve heard it a lot!

Other parts of the imitation stage include:

  • Reading as a reader;
  • Reading as a writer;
  • Boxing up the text / editing the story map; and
  • Story mountain.

The other parts are fully explained and many examples and ideas are provided for each part.

2. Innovation – creating a new version

Innovation is “the ability to adapt a well-known story, in order to create a new story, either by making simple changes or more complex retelling – substitute, add or alter.”

The next stage is all about changing the model text. This can be done in a variety of ways.

Substitution

This is the easiest way to innovate and usually you substitute things like places, characters and names. For younger children or those struggling then it is best to limit the number of substitutions made.

Addition

This is adding in more parts to the text. The easiest way to do this is to add in more description.

Alterations

This is about retelling the text but making significant changes that have repercussions. An example may be that you alter the setting in Little Red Riding Hood. So you may have it set in a modern estate which would change the theme of the story.

Change of viewpoint

This is a tricky change to make and would probably suit your older students. The students would need to see the text from another angle, maybe retelling the text from the view of a different character. I think this stage would require quite a lot of modelling by the teacher.

Re-cycling the basic plot

Again, I think this change is suitable for your able upper primary kids. This is where you re-use the underlying plot, but in a totally different context. So you may start with a traditional story and reset it as a science fiction or detective theme.

In the above picture of the story map, the yellow post-it notes are a good way to show the changes to the original text. The below picture shows how the text: The Emperor’s New Clothes has been innovated on and compared to the original story.

Do you want to learn a better way to teach children how to write? The Talk 4 Writing approach moves from oral to written language and is highly engaging.The other parts of this stage that are developed include:

  • Activities to develop vocabulary;
  • Sentence and paragraph activities;
  • Shared, guided and independent writing; and
  • Lots of feedback.

Below are some pictures of other activities used to help develop vocabulary, sentence and paragraph structure.

Do you want to learn a better way to teach children how to write? The Talk 4 Writing approach moves from oral to written language and is highly engaging.

Do you want to learn a better way to teach children how to write? The Talk 4 Writing approach moves from oral to written language and is highly engaging.

Do you want to learn a better way to teach children how to write? The Talk 4 Writing approach moves from oral to written language and is highly engaging.

Do you want to learn a better way to teach children how to write? The Talk 4 Writing approach moves from oral to written language and is highly engaging.3. Invention – making up new stories

Invention is “the ability to draw upon a full range of stories, language, experiences and ideas to create your own story.”

The final stage is independent application where your students create their own text. It is useful to reuse familiar characters, settings, events and themes at this stage as well as encouraging new ideas. There are many ideas provided for getting your students started. This stage is about the teacher providing the starting point and then helping the students to scaffold their ideas as the text unfolds.

This stage also suggests that you publish student work. The final part of the approach is to complete the ‘hot task’. This is where you get your students to repeat the exact same task that you used for the cold writing task. This then allows you to measure progression over the course of the unit and then set future targets as well.

How I will use the Talk 4 Writing Approach

I must admit now that I’ve decided to give this a go, I have felt a bit overwhelmed. There is so much information and as I won’t be using this approach as part of a whole class situation it is difficult to work out the bits that I should include.

Thank goodness DSF had a workshop which explained how this approach can be used in a small group tutoring situations where you only have 1 session a week. Emily, who was one of the presenters of Talk 4 Writing, helped to explain how she has been using it in limited time.

My main focus is to help students with their reading and spelling using Sounds-Write. However, I have some older students who also require much needed help with vocabulary development and writing. These students are now in year 7 and have all the pressures of high school on them.

So beginning next week I will be trialling Talk 4 Writing (T4W) with a group of 2 girls in year 7. Our sessions go for 45 minutes, so the first 30 minutes will be our phonics time. Then I will spend 15 minutes weekly working on our writing. Using T4W this way it will take approximately 6 months to get through all the stages. Seems like a long time to maintain their interest on one topic…

The girls have been learning about report writing at school, so I thought I’d start with a non-fiction text. In the book this non fiction text is referred to as an information text (or non-chronological report). One of the other presenters talked about how she used the theme of Dr Who for her unit on information texts. She wrote a report on The Dalek. So I will be using this text and have adapted it so that it is not so long. Emily suggested that when using T4W in a weekly tutoring situation it is best to have a text that is between 150-200 words long.

So I have set up my cold task for next week, and I’ve got my hook sorted. Now I need to get onto making my text map.

Over the next few months I’ll post about our progress and share some of the activities that I’ll be completing.

I’m pretty excited to get started and can’t wait to see how we go.

If you would like further information about the Talk 4 Writing approach, then head over to their website. If you’re in Perth and interested in attending the training, then have a look at the DSF website.

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3 Responses to How To Teach Children To Write

  1. Hi Mel,

    I am homeschooling and have been trying to get my head around teaching my daughter to write well. I came across Pie Corbett’s ‘Talk for Writing’ and loved the premise, but was overwhelmed/daunted by the process of how and where to start with a child in Grade 2. So, I am really excited to see that you are using the program and hope that you will detail your thoughts and progress so that I can start to get my head around it and how to implement it effectively.

    Thanks for all your other posts!

    Warm regards,

    Viv

    • Hey Viv,

      Thanks for your lovely words 🙂 So glad to hear that you are also interested in using Talk 4 Writing. And yes I completely understand that feeling of being overwhelmed. I have done the training and it is still daunting. But I have a plan now so I’m excited about getting started. The version that I’ll be using is a very stripped back version as I don’t have the time that you do. But hopefully by me documenting what I’m doing it will help pull it all together for you. If you have questions along the way feel free to ask them, and I’ll do my best to answer them. I’ll probably also make mistakes along the way, but I’m sure it will help me to improve the process. I’m hoping to share photos, my planning documents, any resources I make and maybe even some videos…so stay tuned 😀

      Cheers
      Mel

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