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Using Talk for Writing strategies to improve writing standards

Case Study
  • Authored by: Jo Yardley
  • Status: Approved


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

I am a leading teacher for ECaW (Every Child a Writer) which means I
support in my own school and also 2 other schools helping them to
achieve greater results in their writing. This is aimed at year 3 and 4
children. I was also involved in the Nottinghamshire Talk For Writing
project which entailed 6 teachers trying out the materials after CPD and
then cascading these materials to our school and also through INSET and
CPD in other schools. We also presented our case studies at
co-ordinator training. My ECaW schools embraced the Talk for Writing
strategies and I worked alongside them for a year helping them to
implement these strategies, plan units which developed these techniques
through the whole teaching sequence and also looking at their data for
the children.

Standards in my school and my ECaW (Every Child a Writer) schools
were below age related in writing. We all had a particular difficulty in
engaging and developing boys in their writing. I wanted to make
children more excited about their work and also find writing different
genres more rewarding and easier to do. I wanted them to have ideas, to
be able to structure their work and to be able to craft better
sentences. Ultimately I wanted to have an impact on overall standards.

Who might find this case study useful?

  • Headteacher
  • Teacher

Key points

Point 1

Do you want to bring interactivity into your literacy lessons?

Point 2

Do you want to raise the standards in writing in your class?


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

  • Communication, language and literacy
  • English - writing

How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?

  • By engaging pupils in their learning.
  • By teaching the children what skills they need to develop their writing. 
  • To help the children to understand what text structure is and how to plan their own writing. 
  • To get the children to use a wider variety of vocabulary and to be able to talk it, then use it in their writing. 
  • To use a wider variety of vocabulary that they have identified and 'magpied' from other quality texts. 
  • To plan in greater quality and to actually use their planning in their writing. 
  • To use paragraphs effectively and to increase cohesion between paragraphs. 
  • To use guided writing to teach the children their next steps in learning.

What were your success criteria?

  • Can the children improve in their writing by using a more structured approach?
  • Can the children write in different sentences to shape their text in a more interesting way? 
  • Can the children use a wider variety of vocabulary in their talking and their writing? 
  • Can my own school achieve their floor target of 65%+ Age related expectations? 
  • Can my supported schools increase their writing targets to 70%+ age related expectations?

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?

  • Use of pupil talk for whole-class teaching

Describe the teaching approaches you used

Background Information

Bishop Alexander is a school in the town of Newark who has a very
mixed intake of children. Our KS2 English test results fluctuate
between 60 – 80% achieving level 4+ depending on cohort and the
situation in school. Because of this our school was placed in ISP
(Improving Schools Programme) this year and we have just completed the
first year of this. In the last three years we have reorganised all of
the literacy resources in school and also implemented the national
strategy. We have had a whole school push on standards in writing by
implementing elements from the Big Write and speaking and listening

Implementing Talk for Writing strategies

All of these strategies were used with my year 5 class and then continued into year 6 with the same set of children.

I used writer talk when doing shared writing and also guided
writing; the children found it hard to sit and listen to me at first
because we have normally quite interactive sessions. I am going to
develop this further this year.

I used some prompts for talk and displayed them in front of the
children and then when reading a shared text or the class novel I
modelled how you would use these phrases and also started discussions
about the points it raised. We were reading Alone on a Wide Sea by
Michael Morpurgo which had lots of different issues which through these
prompts, I felt helped the children to ask more pertinent questions and
also focus their thinking.

We planned using story maps and cartoon strips talking them
through, using concentric circles ( children split into 2 groups of
childrfen one set stay still and the second set move one person at a
time talking their plan through- a little like speed dating) to tell
their story to lots of other children and getting feedback from lots of
different children. They had time to edit their story in between each
move. The children loved this activity, some of the reluctant writer
boys found themselves writing because they found it necessary as they
couldn’t remember all the things they wanted to say. We had been working
on connectives and a lot of the children were naturally using them in
their talking to vary their sentence starts. We also used talk this way
to talk through plans with other children which uses music to get them
to move around the room and stop to the nearest child and talk their
plan getting feedback about their writing from the children.

We used Boxing up (from the Talk for writing materials - where you
take the main themes of the story and then imitate then, innovate them
or invent something totally new based on the structure) with legends.
The children found this amazingly helpful because they found it hard to
develop a writer's frame and the conventional frame didn’t fit any of
the examples that I had. So I collected several good examples that had a
very similar structure. I modelled how to box up the first legend and
then using this as a working model they boxed up the second, they
noticed the subtle differences between the two and then were able to
check these boxes with a third. They then went and in pairs boxed up
their own myth either using one of the story lines already read or
created a totally new one. They then split from their partner and walked
and talked their legend to a different child. They edited their boxes
and then told it to another child. This was repeated allowing the
children time in between to edit and review. They ended up with
scribbled on plans with changes and amendments all over it. They then
did their writing and their end products actually ended up looking like
their plan!!

We used the writers’ diary alongside the class novel to begin with
to magpie ideas from the good quality text. Some children loved this
especially when I encouraged them to take them home and jot down ideas
from TV or real life. They used them religiously and then had their
diaries with them when writing their own end of block story. They
enjoyed finding out that this was what real writers do and also felt a
little naughty taking ideas from other people.

We also used the imagination stimulating activities, ‘What’s in
the box’ and ‘Crossing the river’ (also TFW materials) to get ideas
flowing and to extend vocabulary. They were a little confused at first
and I didn’t get the quality I wanted as I had introduced it cold. After
three or four goes they started to say a better quality response but we
will still have to work on this further.

Limitations and things to consider before starting Talk for writing:

  • We have a lot less written evidence.
  • Some units are taking us longer. 
  • Children didn’t just develop an imagination over night!! 
  • The move from shared writing to the more modelled version was a
    shock for them because they were used to having control of the pen in
    my hand. 
  • We had quite a lively interactive ethos which had been a
    struggle to get to for the first term. The children need to have the
    ground rules in place for talk and drama. If this isn’t embedded a
    teacher could be setting themselves up to fail.


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

  • Coaching
  • Training

Describe the CPD approaches you used

I was part of the Nottinghamshire project for TfW which trialled the
approaches and also experimented with using it in a non-fiction context.
We worked as a working party to implement Talk for Writing in our
schools and then cascaded this in our own school, at LA training events,
INSET and the schools we were linked with through ECaW support.

I cascaded this training to the rest of my school staff. There had
been lots of interest (and noise) created because of what we have been
doing and the children had been enthusing to other staff members about
their learning. I led a staff meeting on Talk for Writing at my school
and my staff found it brilliant, started talking about the impact
straight away, which gave me the impetus to take it further.

Classroom observations and informal dialogues with staff were used to see if it was being embedded throughout school.

INSET at other school and with my ECAW schools:

  • Used our first cluster meeting to look at main teaching
    approaches to TFW which would appeal to Y3/4 and also talked about
    trying some of the more key stage 1 approaches of oral retelling which
    might appeal to our more challenging schools.
  • We looked at book talk, writer talk, boxing up, story mapping,
    warm up games, oral retelling, walk this way talk this way and how to
    use these approaches in whole class and guided group situations 
  • I then sent staff to other schools where I knew TfW was being done well and they also watched me. 
  • Follow up meetings at individual schools looked at including
    TfW throughout the teaching sequence with discussions into how the
    approaches have been going, totally positive feedback. Children enjoyed
    learning in this way. 
  • Next cluster we looked at how to box up non fiction, feedback at the next meeting. 
  • Coaching with the ECaW teachers, planning a teaching sequence, assessing the impact after the taught session. 
  • Looking at work samples after a unit of talk for writing and using APP to see what progress had been made.

Below is one example of a year 6 plan (journalistic writing) which includes many of the talk for writing techniques.


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


Who provided you with support?

  • Senior management
  • Subject leader

How were you supported?

We worked as a working party to implement Talk for Writing into our
schools and then cascaded this throughout our own school, training
events, INSET and the schools we were linked with through ECaW support.


What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?

  • Enthusiasm - children actually saying under their breath ‘Yes!’ when it’s literacy time.
  • Children stuck to their plan more instead of writing and ignoring what they had spent time planning.
  • More participation particularly by boys, they seemed to see the
    point of it and half the time didn’t feel like they were working.
  • Better levels in their writing marks when assessed using APP.
  • Using connectives in their talk which then appeared in writing.
  • Much more focus in discussion on texts and children starting to
    be able to articulate their opinions and ideas more clearly.
  • Writing skills are transferring much easier to other subjects and writing is of a much better quality.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

Teachers embraced the Talk for Writing strategies. They found the
increased level of engagement, the buzz about literacy and the outcomes
of the children's work to be something amazing. They saw their results
for their classes increase in a relatively short time and they also
found that the sticky bits of writing they had been struggling with much
easier to teach to the children e.g. boxing up helped children
massively with structure. Because they could talk their writing through
they were, in the older classes particularly, starting to talk in much
more complex language patterns. This was really highlighting to all of
us the 'if you can't say it you can't write it' If we were highlighting
the connectives we wanted to use, they were using them in their talking
and then writing them down but using them in the correct context. No
random 'notwithstanding' popping up because it was on a word list.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

  • 'If you can't say it you can't write it!!' ( various teachers)
  • 'When can I do my writing?' (year 5 pupil)
  • 'Their story looks like their planning' (year 3/4 teacher)

Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Periodic teacher assessment

Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Observation outcomes
  • Pupils' work

Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning

Most of the evidence comes from discussions with staff, canvassing
opinions and looking at lessons through observation and lesson study.
The teachers that I have worked with saw the above impacts in different
year groups and in different schools. They looked at their end of term
and end of year data and that has shown on average that 90% of children
have made at least 1 sublevel of progress regardless of their ability
and group situation with the majority of children making 2 or more. In
pupil interviews following a lesson study the children have commented
that they have enjoyed their lesson and really loving the interactive
and drama elements. They loved the warm up imagination games we played
and really engaged with the walk it talk it way of talking their story
through to lots of different children. They became much more willing to
listen to the opinion of other children and also became better at giving
feedback. They are good at 'magpie-ing' ideas from good quality texts
and then using these words, phrases and techniques in their own writing.


What has been the impact on teaching?

  • More interactive techniques
  • More drama and speaking and listening activities 
  • Clearer planning 
  • Faster paced lessons 
  • More feedback from learners. 
  • More time to work with guided writing groups and a clearer focus of their needs.
  • Children able to articulate their difficulties or effects they want to achieve but don't know how

Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching

With a wider variety of teaching techniques there has to be an impact on
coverage of all different learning styles. This has engaged the
majority of children for most of the time.

I have cascaded this work to other schools through staff meetings
and INSET and shared it with leading teachers with the help of other
colleagues. They have all fed back that it has been positively received
and is making an impact in the schools they work with.

Quotes you think are relevant to the impact on teaching

  • 'We have loved this lesson' (year 6 pupil)
  • 'I have enjoyed teaching this' (year 5 teacher) 
  • 'That was fun!!' (year 4 pupil)

Evidence of impact on teaching

  • Evidence from observation and monitoring
  • Teacher perceptions

Describe the evidence of impact on teaching

Teachers' pedagogy has improved. Classroom observations have shown that children have progressed well and are engaged.

Classroom observations using these techniques scored higher
because of the progress of the children during the lesson, their
engagement and the pace.

e.g. In one ECaW school that I worked with 90% of children in 3
year 3/4 classes had made at least one sublevel from their starting
point in July/ Sept and 75% of those children had made 2 or more

In another school in 1 year 3 class and 1 year4 class 80% of the
children on average made 2 or more sublevels from their starting points.
in Sept. The schools were very pleased with these results.

There were also significant gains for the % of children working at
age related or above, both schools beat their targets by between 15%
and 20% ( these were their targets set by their SIP)

When working with a year 3/4/ teacher on her writing after a unit
planned with talk for writing, we discovered using APP that the children
had all increased by one mini level purely because of the text
structure, cohesion and sentence structure being so much stronger. They
progressed from high 2/ low 3 to low 3/secure 3.

What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?

  • Whole school initiative to use talk for writing throughout the whole school following CPD.
  • Classroom observations around talk for writing strategies. 
  • Leadership team in all schools that have been worked with fully
    supportive of talk for writing and have rolled it out across their
    schools. They wanted something different to do with their schools to
    help them with writing levels which are incredibly hard to move. 
  • Whole school dialogue about what teachers find hard to teach,
    what they need help with and positive feedback about these strategies in
    their classes.

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

For it to make a whole school, long lasting impact on writing standards
the whole of school need to commit to trying the techniques and
seriously giving it a go. There then needs to be some follow up
monitoring of lessons and planning and some whole staff discussion to
ensure it is embedded in practice. Schools also need to review their
units of literacy work to see if the content is the most exciting unit
it can be. Is the material something the children will like? Is it multi
modal? Is that unit something that addresses the needs of the children
in that class at that time?

Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership

The evidence is that many schools have taken it on board, are very happy
with the results it is yielding, have rolled it out across their
schools and are enjoying the dialogue about teaching and learning that
it is causing in school.


What is the crucial thing that made the difference?

The thing that made the difference was that I had tried these techniques
in my own class, we had had fun and other teachers had noticed and
become curious. By the time we had the CPD in Talk for Writing, which I
could talk about as having a positive impact in my room they were
totally on board for having a go. Because of this I feel that this has
had a positive start in our school and so will be there for a long time!

When it came to rolling it out to the co-ordinators I was well
placed to talk about what I had done and could talk about it working
throughout school in every phase. When it came to other schools, I could
cascade our knowledge and because we were enthusiastic about TfW I
could capture that at training events. The CPD materials were great
because they had real teaching examples on their with short excerpts of
Pie Corbett talking a lot of sense.

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

Talk for Writing DVDs and links on the web to appropriate places where
you could access the different strategies. (see What page)

What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?

  • Talk for Writing materials
  • Staff meeting presentation from CPD materials

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

  • Start with the TfW DVDs; look at what Pie Corbett is saying, then at
    what the teachers are saying. Think about how this can work in your
  • In class, start with the warm up games, orally retelling
    stories, build with book talk and writer talk, progress to boxing up and
    then how the children can share this with many others. 
  • Model writer talk and book talk in class, let the children
    surprise you with their insights but above all use quality texts which
    will stimulate quality responses. 
  • Talk as a staff about the power of modelling writing and the
    writing process to the children; to be able to write they need to see
    someone actually doing it.

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

  • We plan to take this into non fiction writing and then ultimately cross curricular writing.
  • Monitor the planning and teaching and learning of literacy with
    these strategies embedded.
  • Look at data and see what impact there has
    been in terms of levels.
  • Use coaching and lesson study more to look at good practice and share this amongst our staff.

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