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Building a bridge between speaking and listening and children's writing

Case Study
  • Authored by: Sarah Core
  • Status: Approved


What were your reasons for doing this type of development work?

I have always used a variety of speaking and listening strategies to enable the children to rehearse and clarify their ideas, as well as to 'get into the mind' of a character. However, there remained a group of children who failed to transfer these skills into their writing, subsequently their rate of progress within writing was extremely slow. These children either appeared to be listening, contributed but didn't apply or simply avoided writing!

Who might find this case study useful?

  • Middle leader
  • National Strategies consultant
  • Senior leadership team (SLT)
  • Subject leader
  • Teacher

Key points

Point 1

Be explicit and explain to the children why their talk is needed and where it will lead

Point 2

Teach how to Magpie ideas from other texts and speakers to use in their own writing


What specific curriculum area, subject or aspect did you intend to have impact on?

  • English - writing

How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?

I wanted these children to be able to 'steal' or 'magpie' phrases from their own reading and from the oral contributions they heard from their peers as well as myself in the classroom.  My aim was that their writing would be richer and deeper, in terms of control of language and development of ideas.  I also wanted these children to be able to extend their oral contributions and see this as a way of improving their own writing.

What were your success criteria?

  • Children will use their reading journals adapting or weaving 'stolen' phrases into their own writing
  • Children's writing shows ability to use techniques and vocabulary for effect
  • Children use what they have learnt from me and others in the classroom

PLEASE NOTE this page has three tabs - click 'Next tab' below or use tabs above to see Teaching approaches and CPD approaches

What information or data did you use to measure progress towards your success criteria?

  • Observation outcomes
  • Periodic teacher assessment
  • Pupils' work

What did you do? What teaching approaches (pedagogy) did you use to achieve the intended impact?

  • Learning how to learn
  • Teaching sequences
  • Use of pupil talk for whole-class teaching

Describe the teaching approaches you used

I taught a sequence of lessons that resulted in a piece of narrative writing, involving the cat 'Varjak Paw', from SF Said's book.  I modelled how to read deeply, showing how to select phrases that I thought were worth 'stealing' and writing them in my own reading journal.  I shared my thought processes aloud, being explicit as to what I was I doing and why.  I planned opportunities for the children to develop their own 'Little Book of Crime'/'Reading Journal' to use when I was reading, as well as during literacy lessons.  Their journals were differentiated by the use of categories to organise different types of characters and setting.  Then I modelled how to use the journal when writing, by flicking through and selecting suitable phrases for the job.  At this point we did some work on adapting/altering the phrases in our journals, seeing them as structures rather than fixed phrases.  We practiced 'weaving' phrases orally into our own 'talk', so that children could extend their own talk, hearing the effect of their words before writing them down.  We loitered at this stage for some time, until they gained confidence.  Finally we refined our listening skills, giving focused feedback to each other, as we listened to each others written drafts.

What did you do? What approaches to CPD and learning for adults were used?

  • Classroom enquiry
  • Learning conversation
  • Lesson study
  • Training

Describe the CPD approaches you used

I attended the National Strategy pilot project on 'Talk for Writing', delivered by Pie Corbett, with teaching colleagues and consultants from East and East Midlands.  We were asked to use a lesson study CPD approach to target a group of children, with the aim of accelerating their progress.  As a group we focused on the impact that talk made upon children's writing and tailored our approach according to the individual needs of our class. I worked with a consultant to identify my target group and the reasons behind their lack of progress.  I met with the whole group (6 adults) inbetween sessions, where we discussed our methods; the impact on the children and our next steps.

What CPD materials, research or expertise have you drawn on?

Related National Strategies resources:

Who provided you with support?

  • External agency

How were you supported?

I was paired with a Primary Strategy Consultant from the L.A. As a group of six, we met to discuss the project. The Regional Advisor for The National Strategy visited the school to observe my teaching, talk with my pupils and offer support with the programme.


What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?

Learning outcomes have become more explicitly focused on how to apply the skills taught to their writing. The "Big Picture" has become clearer for the children, enabling them to connect their learning and understand the value of speaking and listening activities and how they will impact on their writing.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

Children have all been motivated to use their reading journals and have successfully woven "stolen" phrases into their own writing. The boys from the target group used figuratively language for the first time (Year 5/6) rather than simple adjectives and the girls were more adventurous in their language choices as well as less passive during discussion sessions.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

A boy in the group said, "Can I change some of the words from one of the phrases, so that it makes more sense in my sentence?" (Example of adapting stolen phrases and manipulating them – seeing the purpose of stealing phrases to improve his own writing.)

Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Periodic teacher assessment
  • Test results

Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Logs or interviews
  • Observation outcomes
  • Pupils' work

Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning

Evidence of impact is in the form of their reading journals and pieces of writing since the project. The children's attainment within writing improved in terms of sentence structure and style by a sub level. All pupils in the target group could extend their talk during speaking and listening sessions and their paragraphs were longer. The boys in particular were able to build more around each of their bullet points from their plans. Our level 5 writers have increased over the last three years. This year 49% of our Year 6 cohort attained a level 5 for their writing!


What has been the impact on teaching?

Reading journals have been introduced into my year group (3 other teachers). It is early days yet, but staff have continued to plan to use them during literacy lessons that they have planned. I have continued to teach children how to use their journals when reading during guided reading, independent reading and whilst listening to me read a class novel. I have moved it on to the children "stealing" phrases that they hear other people say during speaking and listening activities, which has developed their listening skills.

Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching

Our children often appear to be listening and by teaching them to "steal" what they hear they have become more active listeners. This needs to be cascaded across the whole school so that it develops at an earlier age than Year 5/6.

Evidence of impact on teaching

  • Evidence from observation and monitoring
  • Evidence from planning
  • Teacher perceptions

Describe the evidence of impact on teaching

I have been very explicit in what I am trying to do and the difference it will make to their learning and the outcomes of their writing. Evidence of the impact of my teaching is through greater interaction of the "quieter, passive" children, the outcomes of their writing and their ability to talk about how I am teaching and why I am using the methods I do.

What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?

Developing Talk for Writing is built onto our school improvement plan for the whole school to work on. One teacher in a Year 3/4 class has also been involved in a further project through Creative Partnerships to continue to develop this work.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

It is essential that explicit links are built in, to bridge the speaking and listening activities suggested within the renewed framework to the writing phases, if they are to make an impact on writing.

Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership

Our school tracking system identifies children early so that we are able to adapt our medium term as well as guided writing plans. Our speaking and listening policy has had this technique put into it, to ensure that it builds throughout the school.


What is the crucial thing that made the difference?

The difference has been that I have been explicit about the purpose of the talk to their writing and provided a simple structure for them to apply this technique. I have shown them and told them what a difference it will make to their writing.

What key resources would people who want to learn from your experience need access to?

Talk for Writing DVD's and handbook.

Talk for writing: http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/154519.

What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?

Working alongside colleagues from different schools involved in the project to share practice and adapt practice as well as attending CPD run by the National Strategy with Pie Corbett.

If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where would they start and what would the essential elements be?

Talking through the issues for children in your class, who do not make progress with their writing, with a colleague, so that you can identify precisely what the problem is:

  • E.g. Do they read deeply or race through books without soaking up the language structures and language?
  • Do they speak in developed sentences during discussions or are their responses limited to phrases or single words?
  • Their writing is 'notey', they don't understand the purpose of linking ideas together so just write up their key ideas without building detail around them.
  • Their handwriting or spelling impedes the process.
  • They just don't read enough so don't understand the purpose of punctuation, complex sentences, precise language choices etc.
  • Their listening skills are poor, they appear to be listening, but they're not internalising what you are saying. You need to hear a verbal response from these children.
  • They don't re-read their work out loud, so don't really know what it sounds like. (They need to say it, hear it, write it)
  • Do you have too many different people teaching your class, so the thread is lost?
  • How much of the talk in your class is from you, as opposed to from them?
  • Make sure you use a tracking system to help you identify underperforming or achieving children early.
  • Plan to apply writing skills across the curriculum.
  • Explicitily teach them the purpose of a reading journal and how to use it – don't leave it up to them.
  • Target a small group of children in your class and track the impact that your work has on them. Involve them in the case study - let them know what you are doing and why.

What further developments are you planning to do (or would you like to see others do)?

I am now working on developing 'stealing talk' they hear from each other in other lessons and writing it in their journals, to help them improve their listening skills and their appreciation of language.

I am also planning in activities that allow children to orally rehearse a story or non fiction text using graphic story maps to guide them through the structure as well to identify the signposts (connective phrases) that are needed to hold their writing together.


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