On first analysing the writing of our children working below expectation at the beginning of the year, it soon became apparent that what they lacked were the basics of writing – sentence accuracy. It was clear that some Reading as a Writer activities were not entirely appropriate in situations where children still needed to practise writing accurate sentences. In order to meet their needs and to involve them in the lessons on constructing writers’ toolkits, we devised activities such as the ones below:
Here, children were given instructions to write sentences using the language that we knew would occur on the toolkit (e.g. show cause and effect by saying what will happen if the reader doesn’t follow your advice). They were therefore exposed to the language of the toolkit whilst also taking part in activities which met their needs as writers. Furthermore, they were constructing sentences within the context of our innovated writing and therefore had extra preparation time. The improvement in their sentence accuracy was visible and after a number of lessons following the same structure, these children were able to compose sentences using such instructions with only short, focused bursts of modelling.
When it then came to writing, this group of children had their own ‘bank’ of grammatically accurate ideas saved in their literacy books, which they could draw upon when composing their writing. The difference in their written work was soon noticeable.
After seeing the success of this approach with our children working below expectation, we also tweaked lessons for the rest of our classes so that they also had the opportunity to collect banks of accurate sentences ready for writing. After creating toolkits, we picked a number of points from it to focus on for collecting and saving ideas for writing. Children would be given instructions based on the toolkit and in the context within which we’d be writing, such as this:
We modelled some examples, then children constructed sentences independently. So as well as having ‘Save it’ boxes of ideas displayed on the working wall, children had banks of ideas using parts of the toolkit in their books, ready to draw upon in their writing.
After focusing on this type of sentence accuracy for a couple of units of work, we realised that the vast majority of children in the year group were also finding it difficult to flexibly use and apply a variety of sentence structures in their writing. Simply ensuring that different sentence types were included in our focus text and internalised through oral retelling just wasn’t enough. Therefore, we decided that we needed a more explicit approach to teaching sentence level work.
The very first step was to decide upon the sentences structures which fit well within our new unit and with the language foci identified for the genre. As we had done in the past, the next step was to include a variety of these sentence structures in our focus text. This would ensure that there were ready made models of sentence types to refer to whilst teaching. We then decided to include sentence level work through the entire imitation phase so that children were continually writing and focusing on accurate sentences. All of this work was in the context of the literacy unit on which we were working – Historical Fiction.
We decided to focus on three sentence structures to begin with
- starting sentences with an emotion, followed by an action
- starting sentences with an ‘ing clause’, followed by an action
- ‘who’, ‘which’ and ‘where’ drop-in clauses.
Our planning for such sentence work would look like this:
1) Deconstruct and discuss examples of these sentences, relating to the focus text:
2) Model some examples using other ‘emotion starters’
3) Children would then have a go at using the taught structure:
This sentence level teaching didn’t require full lessons, but instead seemed to work well as twenty minute ‘drop in’ sessions at the beginning or end of the normal literacy lesson.
As with the previous work on sentence accuracy, children have ended up with a bank of sentences which they will be able to dip in and out of when they begin writing during the innovation stage. Teachers also collected examples of each structure which are displayed on the working wall.
Children’s sentence work: Working wall:
The next step will be to revisit each sentence type briefly, perhaps during ‘jumpstarts’, so that children can perfect and internalise their use of the structure. Then during shared writing, we will need to explicitly model using the ready-made examples from the working wall or talk through the construction of new ones.