Category Archives: Writing

Story Telling and Talk for Writing

Chris Smith’s session on storytelling during our day at the Story Museum included many ideas that could effectively complement our Talk for Writing work.  The suggestions in this post centre mainly on the imitation stage, although the Storytelling School approach of Tell, Deepen, Shared Writing and Independent Writing span the entire T4W process.  Specific details on each of these steps can be found in the Storytelling School Handbook: what follows is some thinking about how they can be applied in a T4W unit.

Imitation – Internalising the text

Hear it, map it, step it, speak it.

Children’s first interaction with the story is told by the teacher, not read aloud. Teachers should be prepared to tell the story with skill (see the Storytelling School Handbook for Teachers for a toolkit for great story telling).

Get children to map the story from memory.  In the first instance this can be a simply structured map depicting the main things that need to be remembered for the plot to work.  This should be a fairly short activity but it can be added to over time.  Children could have their text map in front of them as they listen to and practise the story during the imitation stage.  Before children use their text map to retell the story, they need to practise recalling the meanings of the symbols.  Try getting pairs to talk through their plans: ‘This is the bit where…’  There will still be a need for a teacher text map for the teacher to model retelling and for some children to use themselves.  It can be used later to support the planning of the innovation.

Stepping the story (details in the handbook) gets children to focus on key moments that trigger memories of the finer details for later retelling.  Each step could include words and actions to trigger those memories.  When children write at a later stage, each step could become a paragraph or a scene.  Consider here the planned repetition of tier 2 focus words to increase the number of interactions that children have with this vocabulary.  Stepping the story could focus on different things.  They could step the settings so that at each key moment in the story, children are thinking about the details of the setting.  They could step the characters so that at each key moment, they are thinking about bringing the characters to life.  They could step the dialogue, thinking hard about the interactions between characters.  Consider the intended effect for the story and the toolkit that will be later co-constructed.  By tweaking the ‘step it’ stage, foundations for great Reading as a Writer can be laid, preparing children for co-constructing the writers’ toolkit(s) later on.

Once children have internalised the main parts of the story through hearing, mapping and stepping, they practise retelling the story.  Paired retelling, taking turns, allows for flexibility which communal retelling may not provide.  The first person tells part of the story and then the other continues before passing the story back again.  This is not to say that communal retelling is not useful – many children, particularly those new to English, will need to hear and rehearse specific language patterns.  Some children may need to be encouraged to speak one idea at a time to get a feel for sentence demarcation which will support later writing accuracy.  Get children to build the sophistication of their story by magpieing phrases from others’ retelling.  One partner can tell the story while the other listens, text map in front of them, adding ideas that improve their version.  Something similar can be done with a group retelling performance: a group pass the telling of the story between them while the rest of the class listen, adding to their text maps.

Reading as a Reader – Deepening the storytelling

The sophistication of children’s storytelling will develop through the imitation stage and will be supported through established aspects of T4W such as shared reading, book talk etc.  The Storytelling Handbook includes other opportunities to deepen children’s understanding of the story.

Reading as a Writer

During this stage, we get the children to analyse how good writing is created.  Children need to have a sound knowledge of the underlying story structure but it is also useful to summarise the structure even more simply, for example, ‘Annoying thing won’t stop so… accept it.’  Boxing up the story helps children to analyse the writing section by section, which then contributes to planning the innovation.  Chris’ plot matrix (see the Handbook) may be an interesting alternative.

Whilst co-constructing the writers’ toolkit, it may be useful to return to ‘stepping the story’ with the intended effect in mind.  If the intention is to bring the character(s) to life, then thinking hard about the language use at each key moment that does this sets children up well to analyse other writing for how it could be done.

Non Fiction

A similar approach can be used with non-fiction writing.  Non-fiction arguably presents a different challenge in that the speaker / writer must have mastered the subject content as well as the appropriate language of non-fiction in order to effectively get their message across.  It is the subject content that must come first, though – children need something to think about before learning and using the language associated with non-fiction writing.

Imitation – Internalising the subject content

Just as the teacher would be expected to tell the story when working with fiction, so too with non –fiction.  The first interaction should be told, not read.  The teacher should tell the text in role in simple language so that children get to know the subject content quickly – informally tell children about the content from memory, making a connection just as for storytelling.

Get children to map the subject content, following the same structure as for fiction, including stepping it.  When children know the content well, the teacher can begin to change their retelling to make it more formal and to include the non-fiction language features necessary.  Children can then do the same throughout the Reading as a Reader stage, so that when they come to Read as a Writer, they would have already been talking some of the non-fiction language that we’d be asking them to analyse in other texts.

Great non-fiction writing relies on the writer knowing the subject content very well.  Sequencing some non-fiction work immediately after some fiction work and using the same subject content contributes effectively to writers’ subject knowledge.  For example, after a fiction unit on ‘Beating the monster’ using George and the Dragon, children could work on non-fiction, informing novices on the different types of dragon, arguing that dragons should not be held in captivity or instructing knights on how to defeat them.

Suspense: a Talk for Writing unit (Phase 3: Invention)

This post follows on from the first and second in this series which talk through a successful Talk for Writing unit on suspense writing.

After innovating twice, children were well immersed in the text type, they had fully internalised the Writers’ Toolkit and were ready to invent their own suspenseful story. After watching a film clip from Harry Potter, we discussed and boxed up the main events and discussed the key moments which contributed to the intended effect – making the audience think something bad was going to happen.

HP context

Just like during innovation, we then worked with the children to create save-boxes (banks of ideas) which could be used in their writing. We chose different elements of the Writers’ Toolkit on which to focus and again, we focused on the different sentence structures we had learned during this and previous units. The result was banks of sentences in both children’s books and on the working wall, ready to be transferred into planning:

teacher save it box invention Invention save it box chn

A key moment after this was the transferral of these ideas and construction of new ones into a plan for writing. We placed sentences from save it boxes into the relevant section of the boxed up plan and then deliberately crafted new sentences using the structures on which we had been focusing, always with the intended effect in mind. What children were left with were detailed plans, which prepared them very well for writing.

invention plan chn

We modelled writing, making explicit use of the plan and the toolkit to encourage the same kind of ‘writerly’ behaviour in the children. Support staff worked with small groups of children crafting one sentence at a time, making deliberate use of their plan throughout.

shared writing invention 1 invention writing

As with innovation lessons, each writing lesson during the invention phase would involve children either self or peer assessing their work. This might involve children choosing a successful part of their writing and a bit to improve which they would then independently or collaboratively edit. This develops their metacognitive skills. It could also involve children placing post-it notes onto their writing to identify which parts of the toolkit they have used, which provides the teacher with an assessment of a child’s understanding and internalisation of the toolkit:

invention with post it notes plenary

Final pieces of writing from children of all abilities were successful: children had made conscious, deliberate use of the Writers’ Toolkits in order to achieve an indended effect. With the effect in mind, children had learned how to craft effective and highly accurate sentences through their familiarisation with and practice of various sentence types and structures.

Suspense: a Talk for Writing unit (Phase 2: Innovation)

This post follows on from the first in this three-part series which talks through a successful Talk for Writing unit.

Following on from the imitation work of reading as a reader activities and then reading as a writer during toolkit construction (all explained here), we then began to create save-it boxes – banks of sentences which would be drawn upon in innovation sessions. After teachers had picked specific parts of the toolkit on which to focus, children looked through other texts and ‘magpied’, innovated and invented their own sentences which could be used during writing. Save it boxes generated collaboratively by the teacher and the class were then displayed on the working wall whilst children also had ideas saved in their literacy books, ready for writing.

Save it boxesinnovation save it boxes chn

After working on Writers’ Toolkits and save-it boxes as well as all of the sentence work that had been completed throughout the unit thus far, children were well prepared to innovate. During this unit, we used post-it notes to plan our innovated writing. Simply placing post-it notes with our new ideas over the original text map ensured sentence structures were maintained – the key to innovation. Children then created their own ‘post-it note plan’ ready for writing their version of the story. Teachers ensured that the different sentence types on which we had focused were explicitly modelled and picked from our banks of ideas on the working wall.

post it note plan teacher

Each day during the innovation and invention phases we included short bursts of grammar or sentence work, usually as a ‘Jumpstart’ activity (a quick starter to a lesson). In the main, these were based on elements of their writing from the previous day that we had identified as needing focused work.

Grammar throughout writing

Having planned their writing in detail using the scaffold of the original text map, children then wrote a number of paragraphs per day. In this suspense unit, children wrote two lots of three paragraphs. During shared writing sessions, teachers made explicit reference to the Writers’ toolkit, modelling the writer’s thought processes by talking aloud the intention behind the various language choices made. We modelled from both the long and short versions of the focus text.

shared writing innovation Innovated writing

During every writing session, children related their analysis of their own work back to the toolkit – to the intended effect on the reader. In the image above, the class have been encouraged to self assess by identifying a particularly successful section of their story and to then explain how they wanted to make the reader feel at this point in their writing. As with shared writing, this meta-cognitive process requires clear modelling and explanation by the teacher. However, after their immersion in the suspense genre, their reading as a writer work and their subsequent internalisation of the Writers’ Toolkit, children were well prepared to relate their analysis of their own writing back to the intended effect. As well as highlighting a successful section of their story, children were also encouraged to identify a sentence or two which they felt could be made even better. After careful modelling of this process by the teacher, children would then have a second attempt at this part of their writing.

To give the children the opportunity to write an entire text in a single lesson we then planned a second innovation, changing the setting of the story. Writing was planned in the same way using post-it notes. Again, teachers and children made intentional use of the different sentence types we had worked on both in this unit and previous ones. Therefore, although children were sticking to the general structure of the text, they dropped in extra sentences where appropriate and effective. In their second innovation, many children were confident enough to move further away from the focus text, which in turn prepared them well for inventing.

Whole text innovation

Suspense: a Talk for Writing unit (Phase 1: imitation)

Our recent Talk for Writing unit on suspense in Year 6 has been the most successful of the year. A number of factors have contributed to this: children internalised the text well and this happened early in the unit; we focused heavily on sentence accuracy, ensuring that there was daily opportunity for children to practise writing accurately; children internalised and were able to recall the writers’ toolkit and therefore it was used well by all in the writing phases. This series of three posts will be an overview of what our Talk for Writing unit looked like, including snapshots from planning, our working walls and children’s work.

To begin with, we assessed the children’s writing within the genre of suspense. Children were given a context and we had a class discussion about content so that they were well prepared to write. Image, video and sound were used to create an atmosphere and immerse them in the genre. This writing provided us with an overview of children’s individual writing needs within the genre whilst also highlighting any general needs across the class and year group which could then be planned for.

Pre assessment imagepre assessment

We prepared children for reading the focus text by exploring the context of the story and by introducing and discussing any unfamiliar vocabulary that they would encounter. Image and video are used regularly at this stage to ensure children have a grasp of difficult concepts. This vocabulary was then used to create a set of speed words for the unit. Speed words were practised daily as part of the warm up for each imitation lesson. Children working on a shorter version of the text had a differentiated version of the speed words, based on the vocabulary in their story. After daily practice, it  means that decoding and word comprehension are not a barrier to reading, even for children working below expectations.

Vocab speed words

Once children had a sound understanding of the vocabulary they would encounter, the differentiated versions of the focus text were then introduced. Most of the class worked on the main version, whilst children whose reading and writing levels are below expectation and those who struggle to write accurately, worked on the shortened and simplified version of the text. We then introduced the text map as soon as possible. Children experienced daily rehearsal of sentences and paragraphs from the text. The class teacher’s role here is key – we modelled reading behaviours such as re-reading and ‘going over bits’ in order to perfect retelling. We focused on the intended effect of our suspense text throughout our daily retelling – in this case ‘to make the reader think something bad will happen’. Knowing the intended effect at this stage helped both teachers and children when we came to creating writers’ toolkits later in the imitation phase.

Focus texts Text map

We used work on adverbials as a bridge between reading the text and understanding (being able to answer comprehension questions about it). Most children annotated the text identifying the type of adverbial being used by the writer to give more information about the verb:

adverbial annotate chn

Children who would find the writing need of this too challenging completed a colour coding alternative.

To follow the work on adverbials, children completed sentence work which focused on innovating adverbials in a sentence. This not only prepared them for the next phase of innovation but also provided us with valuable time to work on sentence accuracy. Following the structure of sentences from the focus text by innovating early in the unit contributed towards their internalisation of a variety of grammatical structures.

Innovate adverbials

Children then completed AF2 questions about the focus text. Those working beyond age-related expectations worked on a mixture of AF2 and AF3 questions. Having completed the bridging activity on adverbials, children were well prepared for success in this activity.


As children are immersed in oral rehearsal of the text, work on ‘talking the text’ is valuable. In this unit of work, children annotated with codes we generated together on how best to read the text aloud. Like our daily retelling of the text,  focusing on the intended effect in this activity – making the reader think something bad is going to happen – was crucial. This is what a child’s work from this activity looked like:

talking the text chn

Alongside retelling, once children had a good grasp of the text, they would also ‘quick write’ it. This involved them writing 1-2 paragraphs accurately per day using the picture prompts from the text map. Children working on the shortened version of the text would ‘quick write’ in this structure:

Quick write

Here , sentences have been structured so that they are seperate and therefore easier to follow. 

During the imitation phase, quick activities focusing on grammar were dropped into lessons. These were usually based on children’s needs which either came to light during their pre-assessment or during their daily sentence work. Activities are either jumpstarts (quick activities at the beginning of lessons) or dedicated lessons focusing on new grammatical concepts.

grammar jumpstarts

After picking out and selecting various sentence types for our focus text, part of the imitation phase involved deconstructing, discussing, modelling and practising these, in preparation for writing. Children and teachers created save-it boxes of sentences which could then be drawn upon during innovation and invention.

Sentence work sentence work chn

As well as introducing new sentence types, we also dropped in short activities which revised old sentence types so that children were building a repertoire of tools for their writing. Revision of previously covered sentence structures were all within the context of the new unit and the new story.

Towards the end of the imitation phase, we collaboratively created writers’ toolkits. Teachers modelled identifying and analysing how the writers of suspense texts had achieved the intended effect. Children then worked in small groups to continue this with other extracts of text. This activity ensures that children are exposed to and talk about what good writers do and how to achieve similar effects in their writing. For children who wouldn’t be able to access this work and who still need to work on accuracy in writing, we devised activities such as this:

Toolkit BE

Here, children were exposed to the language of the toolkit that the rest of the class were constructing, but were also taking part in activities which met their needs as writers.

For the next couple of days and throughout writing phases, we practised recalling the toolkit because in order for children to write well, they need to be able to remember how to achieve certain effects. We blanked out the main wording of the toolkit, leaving only a short prompt. It was then covered with a sentence which shows the effect in action. For example ‘describe a sudden noise’ is covered with ‘A door banged’.  Daily practice recalling the toolkit ensured that it was internalised, just like the focus text.

Recall toolkit

The next two posts will describe the key moments from the innovation and invention phases.

Writing Accurate Sentences

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:

photo 1.1

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.

Before:                                                               After:

photo .2       photo 4

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:

photo 2.1

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:

photo 2

2)      Model some examples using other ‘emotion starters’

3)      Children would then have a go at using the taught structure:

photo 1

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:

photo 3                      photo 5

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.

Tweaking Talk4Writing Text Maps

One of the staples of Talk for Writing is to help children internalise texts and the language patterns within them in order for them to be able to write effectively. One way of doing this is to get children to use a text map to help them retell a text. In the past, they have looked like this:


For many children, this worked. Some children, though, were still unable to internalise a text and indeed had difficulty writing one. In order to help these children, a few changes were made to the way that we used text maps. First, we arranged the text into a flow map where each box contained one sentence.


Children who do not yet have a secure understanding of sentence demarcation can be shown the beginnings and ends of sentences much more clearly when the text map is set out in this way. Also, the punctuation is included in the text map. Second, we split the text up to show a paragraph per page of flipchart paper, for similar reasons as splitting up sentences. Third, we wrote a simplified, shorter text for children working at earlier stages of English.


These children learned this version, but also used the longer version for work on reading comprehension and language development. A final tweak to text mapping has been using the app Explain Everything to create videos of teachers retelling texts.

Children cannot take working walls home with them to practise for homework, but they can watch the video, pause it at different points and retell the text. Children have also been using the text to practise writing accurately. They watch, pause and then write the text. They can then listen again the sentence they were working on to check the accuracy of their writing.

When children move up year groups, these videos can be looked at again, further embedding children’s banks of internalised texts that they can draw upon to write effectively.

UPDATE 29th November 2013
A further tweak that has been developed is the use of high frequency words. Accurate formative assessment can inform the teacher of which high frequency words children need to practise reading, spelling and using accurately in sentences. These can be edited into the focus text and also clearly marked on the text map. The example below is from year 3.


As children talk the text, they are practising either decoding or sight reading those high frequency words. They can practise spelling the words and using them accurately when they write from the text map. Many high frequency words will be transferable and will work fine for innovating too, meaning that children are regularly immersed in them.


In order to raise attainment for all pupils we have a consistent approach to the teaching of handwriting throughout the school.  We aim for all children to develop a legible, fluent and adaptable handwriting style that can be produced at speed and empowers children to write with confidence and creativity.

Handwriting is an important communication skill which has a developmental process with its own distinctive stages of progression.  We use the Penpals for Handwriting scheme which is published by Cambridge University Press.  The Penpals materials provide everything necessary for structured teaching in the context of our creative curriculum.  There are five stages that form the basic organisational structure of the scheme that we use throughout the school:

  •       Readiness for handwriting; gross and fine motor skills leading to pattern, marking and letter formation (Foundation/3-5 years)
  •       Beginning to join (Key Stage 1/5-7 years)
  •       Securing the joins (Lower Key Stage 2/7-9 years)
  •       Practising speed and fluency (Key Stage 2 7-11 years)
  •       Presentational skills (Upper Key Stage 2/9-11 years)

Teachers need to be flexible with their cohort of children and make individual judgements of where in the scheme each child is ready to work.

Based on the level of handwriting in the class, the teacher makes the decision about the time that needs to be dedicated to the teaching of handwriting.  There will be times when handwriting needs to be taught daily for 10-15 minutes, and there will be other times when it can be taught through other activities, e.g. shared and modelled writing sessions.

Considerations when teaching handwriting:

  • Pencil grip and tension;
  • Writing pressure;
  • Clarity of the stroke;
  • Paper position for left/right handed children;
  • Body posture
  • Furniture

Further TIPS FOR TEACHING (National Handwriting Association) is available for staff on the school server in the following location.

publicdata\Staff\Teaching\Ac Year 2012-2013\Resources\English Resources\Handwriting\National Handwriting Association