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Talk for writing: Michelle's Year 2 case study – A narrative unit

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  • Date: Sep 2008
  • Programme: Talk for writing
  • Subject area: Literacy
  • Focus: Building on modelled writing and story structure, and experimenting with word choice.
  • Number in series: 4
  • Phase: Primary
  • Key stage: Key Stage 1
  • Ref: 00467-2008PDF-EN-29

Written by a teacher who attended the four South West Region workshops and took active steps to put into practice the messages and strategies explored in relation to Talk for writing.

Teacher's comments

I became involved in Talk for writing through my role as a leading literacy teacher and have been amazed at the way the approach has had a massive impact on the children's writing.

I'd like to share my learning journey from the beginning through to the moment when my Year 2 class begged me to let them all stay in at break-time and continue writing their stories.

Phase 1 of the unit exposed the children to quality texts. We read and discussed challenging stories with rich language ('book-talk') and the children were given time to 'magpie' words and phrases that they could potentially use in their own stories. They noted these in their writing journals, otherwise known as their 'magpie books'. Indeed, throughout the unit, the children had opportunities to 'magpie' ideas from authors and each other. To encourage the children to read as writers we made 'pretend' reading glasses. They would wear them during a shared reading session, focusing the children on reading the text from a writer's perspective, and then they would discuss what they noticed, in pairs, group and as a class ('writer-talk').

The class chose their favourite story to retell. Allowing the children time to perform aloud gave them a confidence I had never witnessed before.

Later in the unit we created a story map. As a whole class, the children used the story map to support a retelling of the story, using actions. Next, they practised retelling the story in small groups and then finally in pairs. Some children acted out their story, using props and costumes. By the end of the unit, they had internalised the story and could tell it off by heart. This then allowed the children to be innovative and alter their story. For example, some children substituted their own characters and others added in extra detail (storytelling and story-making).

In Phase 2, we spent time exploring the characters in more detail. To support and enhance children's learning, I often dress up and assume the role of story characters. For this unit I became a mermaid! Through the technique of hot-seating the children questioned me, in role, and built up a sense of the mermaid's personality. Later we watched a DVD and explored the setting in which she lived. The children and I stepped into our magic mirrors and were transported to a world beneath the ocean. There the children used all of their senses to explore the setting. This stimulated their imagination and the impact was evident in the quality of their final written piece (role-play and drama).

Modelling storytelling for my own version of the adapted story was crucial. Looking back, I can't believe I have never done this in my teaching career before now, as it seems such an obvious step. The children watched me make mistakes and play with word choices. My teaching assistant and I also modelled conversations, demonstrating the thinking process behind story-making. In effect, I highlighted my thinking processes and therefore the process that writers go through when constructing a story. Although this is challenging, the children benefited from seeing me rise to the challenge (more storytelling and story-making).

The next step, in Phase 3, was to model writing. I used the story map created in Phase 2 to guide my story. I had internalised the structure of the story, which certainly made it easier for me to model how to put it onto paper. I was able to demonstrate clearly how I played with words, exploring and plunging deeper for better words – after all, the first words you think of first aren't necessarily the best. I described these to the children as surface words (more 'writer-talk' during modelled writing).

During shared writing sessions I built on the modelled writing and encouraged the children to play with word choice. I was aware that the more reluctant writers tended to choose words that were easy to spell. To counter this, I encouraged the children not to dodge a good word but rather to put dots beneath the word as a reminder to check the spelling later. I demonstrated how to be a reflective writer by highlighting the mistakes that I made. I realised that this was crucial for the children to see. A large poster at the top of my working wall reminded the children to hear it, say it, read it, explore it. With careful, explicit modelling of each of these elements, children became more confident in using this structure independently (yet more 'writer-talk' during shared writing).