I want to discuss this! Children writing their own discussion texts

Discussion is an exchange of knowledge – Robert Quillen

Children discuss things all the time. They weigh things up and consider things in their heads. They hear each other out – they challenge each other’s thinking from time to time and they try to justify their thoughts with some kind of explanation. Our students are happy to challenge what they’ve heard but are still open to changing their own opinions too. We have built this up by having debating as a central plank of our curriculum offering, weaving it throughout all subjects, while also teaching discrete debating lessons and running extra-curricular clubs for KS1 and KS2. 

In the world of social media, globalisation and political polarisation, it’s our view that discussion is an important life and academic skill that we want our pupils to be exposed to, and we want them to know how to use it for themselves. With this in mind, we set up a Discussion Class Writing Project with our Year Six classes. Children were invited to bring their own identities, cultural capital, thoughts, opinions and knowledge into the writing classroom. The idea was simple: children should write on a topic they are motivated to discuss with the rest of their class. We’ve noted that when children write on subjects they are already knowledgeable about, and motivated by, they have more cognitive space to focus on what matters: the quality of their writing.

After studying and discussing a number of high-quality mentor texts, we taught the children an idea generation technique from The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Big Book Of Writing Mini-Lessons

I’m An Expert In

This is MY idea, I thought. No one knows it like I do. And it’s okay if it’s different, and weird, and maybe a little crazy… I cared for it. I fed it good food. I worked with it, I played with it. But most of all, I gave it my attention -Kobi Yamada in ‘What To Do With An Idea’

Children love to teach each other things. There’s nothing like the feeling of confidence and pride in yourself that comes with being able to tell others about something you feel you are an expert in, especially if they don’t know much about the topic but would really like to learn something. You don’t have to know everything about your subject, but you do need to know enough to write with a bit of authority and passion. Being an expert obviously helps with most types of non-fiction writing, including instructions, explanation, information and also discussion, where you need to be able to give some kind of factual evidence for and against different points of view.

Having children write about their own funds of knowledge is one of my favourite things to do in the writing classroom. The idea that you are the class expert on something can bring a new sense of confidence to children who previously may have had little. Every child is an expert in something. You can give them these two headings to write in their notebook:

1. Things I can do.
2. Things I know a lot about.

Start this mini-lesson with everyone writing a list of things they think they might be a bit of an expert in. It could include anything, from supercars or unicorns, to making friendship bracelets, collecting crisp packets or doing Taekwondo – anything goes as long as children’s writing shares their expertise, shows their passion and rouses their reader’s curiosity and interest.

Taken from The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Big Book Of Mini-Lessons (p.116)

Below, you can see how children weighed up the different ideas they generated. Sometimes our first ideas aren’t the best. They were asked to consider their knowledge-level and interest-level for each of the early ideas they came up with. They also spoke to their friends about their lists before making a final decision on what it was they were going to write about.

As is tradition, once everyone had identified what they would like to write about, we took a Writing Register. Here it is:

NameWorking Title
MadihaIs hockey too dangerous for primary schools?
SamairahShould video games be banned?
YahyaIs the Rise of Skywalker the worst Star Wars film?
ArooshShould playtime be longer?
RumaysahIs drawing better than painting?
NadirahShould you buy a kitten?
HetShould fast food restaurants be banned?
HarviShould play and lunch at school be cancelled?
HajaarShould school be banned?
MehnazShould healthcare be free in every country?
AaishaShould the death penalty be legal?
MishallShould the death penalty be legal?
NajatShould we continue space exploration?
MinhazIs Brazil better than England at football?
NiviAre graphic novels ‘real reading’?
AairahIs Maths better than English?
ShlokAre comics better than chapter books?
KyanIs climate change the biggest threat to the world?
YusmaShould you have to learn English if you live in London?
KrithikaAre aliens real?
HumaiyraShould the death penalty be legal?
HaniyahShould the Covid vaccine be compulsory?
UmarShould the death penalty be legal?
ZoeyaWhich pet is better – cats or dogs?
ZainabShould mangas have age restrictions in libraries?
ZainDo aliens exist?
ZannaApple or Samsung?
HaroonWhich is the better team? Liverpool FC or Man City FC? 
Aadam Should vaccines be compulsory?
TasninShould hospital workers be paid more than footballers?
AdamShould Mustangs (horses) be used by humans?
TasvinderCan we do more to stop sea pollution?
GabrielShould we have one global currency?
ShaheemIs the rise of retro gaming having a negative impact on the industry?
HamdanAre aliens real?
JasleenAre mermaids real?
AmenIs Tony Stark the best marvel character?
FowjiaShould hospital workers be paid more?
SadekWho is the best Spiderman?
IshaIs Neymar the greatest footballer of all time?
ShuaybFame: Is it worth it?
MuntahaAre VR headsets a good idea?
ZainaAre movies better than books?
MuhammedShould cooking be on the primary curriculum?
AwaidShould firearms be banned across the world?
ZaraShould school time be reduced?
AishaShould pupils have a half day on Fridays?
KeyaanShould we have to pay the ULEZ charge?
SumaiyahShould social media be banned?
MuhibulAre footballers paid too much?
AyaanAre footballers paid too much?
NafisShould Lego be banned?
JawadShould Lego be banned?
DhairiShould electronics have a daily three hour limit for usage?
SnehaShould meat consumption be banned in the UK?
NabihaShould the production of plastic be banned?
KhadijahIs school uniform necessary?
AhmadWhat should we be exploring more: Ocean or space?
AmaraShould school uniforms be free?
AffanShould medical care be freely available across the world?
DruviCan we be doing more to protect green spaces?
RumaithahCan we be doing more to protect green spaces?
AbdurrahmanShould the Covid-19 vaccine be made compulsory?
DhanviShould animal testing be banned?
IsmaeelIs it time to make the summer holidays shorter?
HamzaShould the FIFA World Cup be every four years?
AzamShould commercial flights be banned?
FatimaDo we need homework?
ZahiraIn the future, should we live on Mars?
TanyaShould animal testing be banned?

As you can see, the children came up with a variety of genuinely interesting and thought-provoking topics that hopefully you’d be interested to read and discuss yourself!

Over the next few weeks, we worked hard on these ideas and crafted them into very respectable final texts. You will be able to read them all here very soon. 

We think this project is an excellent example of the Writing Realities (Young et al. 2022) principles being realised in the classroom. Firstly, we can see how children were invited to use their existing funds of knowledge. And because each child was discussing their own idea, they were also able to learn from one another and so contributed to the class’ community knowledge. This is something that isn’t really possible when children all have to write on a subject predetermined by their teacher or a scheme writer. Children learnt that they could teach others, entertain them, share their own personal reflections on a topic, engage in lively debate, and, importantly, share their opinions on subjects that matter to them most. During this project, children got to know each other a lot better and learnt about what is important to their classmates. This created an empathy and sensitivity we’ve not felt in our writing classrooms before.

By Sam Creighton, Inka Vann & Andrew Sheppard

  • Young, R., Ferguson, F., Kaufman, D., Govender, N. (2022) Writing Realities [www.writing4pleasure.com]

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