I learned that there is a book or more in everyone; the right opportunity is what they are awaiting.Kemi Dairo (Teaching Assistant)
In this article you will learn about an ambitious project which started out by lighting a writing fuse beyond the school gates, and ended with an explosion of talent, creativity and over three-hundred books!
Having attempted a similar project before (Hayden, 2021), but on a much smaller scale, I knew that we had a model which could work. This time out, using World Book Day as the distant publishing goal, our whole school was invited to spend two weeks making books at home. Children were simply invited to make a I Love… book. A book about ‘something’, ‘somewhere’ or ‘someone’ they loved.
We chose this simple genre to create an accessible entry point for all our writers whilst still allowing enough head room for more experienced writers to take the books in whichever direction they desired.
Lift off: the big launch!
It all started during our phase assemblies when, on the first Monday back after the February half-term, we launched the project (see slideshow below).
Read as writers
We started by sharing with the children and their families what a good I Love Book… might look like.
Through whole-school assemblies, we undertook a period of genre-study by reading as writers and discussing several mentor texts (Ferguson & Young 2023). We wanted the expectations to be clear so that children knew what they were expected to produce for themselves (Young and Hayden, 2022). Copies of these texts were also delivered to parents and carers through our School Ping messaging app.
Because we were doing this project as a whole school, from Nursery all the way up to Year 6, we looked at two texts: one from the EYFS Project Booklet and one from a child in Year Three who had already made an I Love… Book about her favourite colouring pencils.
“I’ve got an idea… Let’s party!”
Having laid the first stone in our wall of potential books, children spent time in class with their teacher having an Ideas Party where they discussed possible writing topics and each filled up an Ideas Heart with people, places and things they loved (see slideshow below for examples). The average number of ideas generated per child was twelve, which means in the space of an hour, across our whole school, we generated around seven thousand potential writing topics!
It may seem axiomatic, and certainly passes the logic sniff test, but when children are invited to write about topics they are experts in, they tend to create better quality writing products, and are much more deeply invested in their book being the best it can possibly be (Graham 2018; Young & Ferguson 2021, 2022).
Generating ideas is a vital process in the development of apprentice writers and children of all ages are able to mine their own lives, experiences, reading and passions to unearth them (Hayden, 2021a, 2021b). Overlooking this aspect of the writing process is simply not an option if we are interested in cultivating well-rounded writers. And guess what? It’s loads of fun!
And what’s more, finding strategies to help navigate this important element of a writer’s repertoire has never been easier thanks to commercially available books aimed at teachers who are passionate about teaching young writers (Young et al. 2021, Young and Ferguson, 2022b).
That evening, this page of ideas was taken home along with a pre-stapled blank book in which writers could begin crafting their text over the coming fortnight. A different book was made for EYFS, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 to act as an approximate guide in relation to both quantity of words and number of pages. This was also signalled through several mini-lessons.
“So, should we just get on and write then?”
Well, not quite. As a school, we knew that just giving pupils agency over their topic choices was a necessary but not sufficient condition to garner the kinds of quality writing products we were hoping for. Therefore, we embarked on an unusual mission to teach the whole community using as many of the fourteen principles of world-class writing instruction (Young & Ferguson, 2021a, 2022a 2023a) as possible!
We liked being creative, having the freedom to choose what we wanted to write about and being given the time to write our books -Bronze Class (Year 6)
Feeling peckish? Have a tea-time tip!
The teaching part of the project utilised our school messaging service and invited writers to try out either an aspect of the writing process each day, or something else associated with the craft of writing. This was called our tea-time tip!
The tea-time tips gave us an idea of how to write our books – Opal Class (Reception)
Imparting the knowledge of being a writer: how crafty!
In selecting the tea-time tips (see slideshow below), we decided to prioritise ‘craft knowledge’ (Young et al. 2021) over both sentence-level strategies and functional grammar instruction because we felt this would benefit the broadest range of writers from the EYFS up to Year Six.
We found the tips useful because they were in small manageable chunks and they had examples – Platinum Class (Year 1)
We used the principles of SRSD (self-regulation strategy development) instruction to deliver our daily explicit mini-lessons (Young et al. 2021) as we knew it was one of the most effective ways to teach young writers, and was strongly supported by the available evidence as being a great way to develop their independence (Young & Ferguson, 2022).
Knowing that many of our writers lacked experience in book-making, we made the decision that some of the advice in the first week would cover some of the basics that would normally have been taught in the EYFS (For example: ‘Making A Front Cover’ and ‘Something Different On Every Page’).
Teaching the writing processes
I liked that we had ten days so didn’t have to rush – Anisa (Year 4)
Over the course of the project, we covered all the writing processes: idea generation, planning, drafting, revising, editing and publishing (Young et al. 2021). We felt the model below was the best way to structure the project, again, in order to cater to the wide diversity of experience levels.
There was an emphasis on talk throughout the project (Young & Ferguson, 2021, 2021) as we believed this would encourage family members to join in with the crafting process. After all, if the best writing classrooms develop talk throughout the writing journey, then why can’t this be fomented in a burgeoning writing community?
In the absence of the ‘classroom writer-teacher’ normally available in a school context, it was anticipated that pupil-conferencing (Young & Ferguson, 2021) could take place between family members as they crafted their texts together. If not in the more structured sense that it might be conducted in a writing classroom, it was at least hoped that some of the following might be attended to: idea explaining, idea sharing, idea spreading, supplementary ideas, communal text rehearsal, personal text rehearsal, text checking and performance (LINK).
I liked the tea-time tips as they reminded me to work on my book – Anisa (Year 4)
Goal-setting is one of the principles of world-class writing instruction (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a) and it was placed at the centre of this project. Day 2’s tip (Choosing something delicious from the publishing menu) invited everyone to imagine a future audience for their book (distant publishing goal) while the tea-time tips acted as both, a daily reminder to set aside some time to work on the books, and an invitation to try something out and achieve it (process goals). Several of the tea-time tips also explicitly taught mini-lessons which were designed to attend to the success criteria for the book like: making a great front cover, something different on every page and give a mentor text a hug (product goals).
I found the mini-lessons useful because they told us step-by-step things to try out – Nieve (Year 3)
Of course, the digital nature of the tips, being delivered through a messaging app, meant that they were also archived. Therefore, anyone who hadn’t had time to work on their book on the day the tip was delivered could also go back to refer to them at any point during the project.
The tips were delivered at 4pm on each day of the project and were always accompanied by an example of the strategy for that day being modelled by me in my own book. There then followed an invitation for everyone to try out that mini-lesson in their own books.
To what extent the tea-time tips were opened, read and then used is difficult to ascertain. However, we know that one hundred percent of our families have the School Ping app on one or more of their devices, so theoretically each family had equal opportunity to access the daily instruction we were sending out.
Being a writer-teacher
In order to guide participants through the project, I tried out all the tea-time tips in advance (see slideshow below).
We shared these through School Ping and also stuck them to the wall in the reception area of the school for any families who weren’t regularly checking their messaging app. Spare blank books were also placed here for other family members to grab if they wanted to make their own books alongside the children.
World Book Day: Let’s party!
I loved doing the tour around school and reading so many other books! – Presley (Year 3)
On World Book Day, we organised a mass publishing party by putting all the books on tables in the corridors outside each classroom. Then, classes took it in turns to walk around the school reading all the books throughout the day.
It was fun, it made us be creative and we loved sharing our books with Year 5 – Yellow Class (Year 2)
Taking the writing register: What did children choose to write about?
I liked the freedom of being able to express myself! – Jemimah (Year 4)
Over three hundred children produced a book and returned it which was around a 60% participation rate.
There was a huge variety of writing ideas as you might expect (see table and slideshow below).
What were the books like?
All young people deserve an opportunity to share what they know, think, and care about, demonstrating who they are through their writing – Young et al. 2022 (p.5)
If we look at a sample of the writing products from across the school, we can see ample proof of children sharing who they are through their writing. As the Writing Realities framework makes explicit, any school is enriched when it fosters a writing environment where children are not required ‘to leave their own identities, cultural capital, thoughts, opinions and knowledge outside the writing classroom door‘ (Young et al. 2022, p.5).
I have added some thoughts below about a selection of the books we gratefully received.
Every child a writer – I Love Textures (Etin – Rainbow Class)
Anyone can become an author, even pupils with complex needs. Our pupils participated by making tactile books and picturebooks – Wahida Rahman (ARP Teacher)
Etin has severe global developmental delay, down-syndrome and autistic spectrum condition. He is non-verbal and mainly communicates through a combination of gestures and some sounds. Etin has a passion for certain textures. The tactile nature of his interaction with his environment forms a dominant element in his understanding and experience of the world. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that he chose to make an I Love Book… of this type.
His book is reminiscent of the kind of commercial board books which Etin enjoys in the classroom. Sometimes known as ‘touchy-feely’ books, they are very popular with young readers. Indeed, Etin was showing evidence of achieving one of the KS2 greater-depth writing statements as he was able to select an appropriate form and drew independently on what he had read as a model for his own writing. Etin has now made his very own for others to enjoy!
Co-constructing texts: What can be learned through book-making? My Fluffy and Me (Yasmin – Reception)
We can see that Yasmin has co-constructed this book with a member of her family. It seems to me that a good deal of talking must have taken place throughout its creation.
First of all, we can imagine that some idea explaining took place when Yasmin was sharing her ideas heart and deciding to make a book about Fluffy. From then on, lots of idea sharing took place as Yasmin has drawn pictures of her and Fluffy at the funfair, asleep in bed together and playing in her toy car. There must have also been some discussion of collective memories as it is sprinkled with personal anecdotes about a family holiday in Cyprus and the time the ear was ripped and sewed back on by Nene (Nan).
Even if there are not as many attempts at encoding in the sentence construction as we might like, there is clearly a rich dialogue taking place between the co-authors. That said, there are clear attempts at encoding when writing page numbers, her name and the date. Moreover, there is certainly a great deal of evidence that Yasmin has learned many of the conventions of book-making, and solidified her understanding of the product goals by engaging in this whole process.
We can deduce that Yasmin knows that when making a book writers:
- Create front covers with: a big title, an image, when the book was born and the author’s name
- Usually, put something different on each page
- Put numbers on their pages
- Might draw pictures which match their sentences
- Can label their pictures with additional information
- Create multimodal texts by including drawings, stickers, 3-d interactive elements (commonly found in feely books) and photographs
I Love Karate (Adam – Year 2)
In this Year 2 book we can see that our young author has decorated his front cover with a clear title, which lets us know what his book is about. He has also included his name and when his book was born. Each page has a different theme as well as some words and an image.
Adam’s book is highly informative and we learn something about his uniform, the purpose of learning karate and its origins. His illustrations are simple, but humorous (especially the bulging bicep and the massive doughnut at the end). His ending also suggests he was reading and leapfrogging off my mentor text as he tries out adding some additional information about what he does on the way home from karate club.
Eid Festival (Eshal – Year 3)
This book is from my heart – Eshal (Year 3)
Here we have a wonderful book in which Eshal has been moved to teach us, from her own knowledge and personal experience, about the festival of Eid-al-Fitr. In doing so, her offering from the heart has laid out a key part of her identity. Young et al. (2022, p.9) conclude that ‘a person’s writing cannot be separated from their identity; the two are deeply intertwined.’ After reading Eshal’s book, it is hard to argue with that verdict.
She clearly benefited from several of the tea-time tips; for instance, Day 2’s offer of ‘Choosing something delicious from the publishing menu‘. She made it explicit in her inside front cover where she wanted her book to end up. I think that her commitment was in part sustained throughout the process of crafting this composition by her awareness that this audience was waiting at the other end of the journey.
It may also have contributed to her willingness to go back and proofread her book. I like that she has left her transcriptional errors on the page for us to see. I suspect she really benefited from the Day 9 tea-time tip ‘How do you know you’re finished?’ as there are many examples of Eshal returning to her text and adding capital letters for proper nouns (Eid & Ramadan), inserting missing words (we, and & on) and attending to unsure spellings (morning).
Meet Teddy (Lillia – Year 4)
There is so much to love about Meet Teddy: Lillia’s Shirley Hughes-esque illustrations displaying Teddy’s cheekiness, or the subtle touches of humour she employs through references to Teddy ‘chewing everything in sight‘ or ‘going through a teenage phase‘ stand out.
Lillia, in writing about her pet dog and how she interacts with it, has exposed us to a hitherto unknown aspect of her life. Creating an opportunity, through this project, to bring this outside school learning experience, and the funds of knowledge which come with it, to the fore, has demonstrated how Lillia was totally and completely in command of the content for her book. She was writing from a position of strength which gave her the opportunity to focus more on crafting this knowledge into such a beautiful book.
Football Dreams (Frankie – Year 6)
I included this text because it’s really good and it reminds me of my own interests as a child; it is just the type of book I would probably have made at that age. It’s a really informative read and is just sprinkled with enough of the author’s voice to help us connect with his obvious passion for the subject.
I like the way that Frankie was clearly following along with the tea-time tips too. I think he probably benefited from the Day 7 tea-time tip: Give a mentor text a hug as he has included a dedication on the inside of the front cover and created a personal logo on the back of his book. He also shares with us on his final page his motivation for writing the book, which was directly taught via Day 8’s tea-time tip: Why do writers write?
I loved working at home on something with my mum – Declan (Turquoise – Year 4)
Leading by example: Writers in the staffroom
Staff across the school were encouraged to participate and in total nine books were produced by a mixture of teachers and support staff. In fact, it was the support staff who took the lead.
First out of the traps was Ann, a teaching assistant who was so inspired that she simply had to share her love of drawing through her book.
Hot on her heels, was another teaching assistant, Debbie, who revealed that her bulldog Len was the true love of her life. Her finished book soon arrived with the support of her husband who had collaborated on the illustrations.
The beauty of when staff make books is that very quickly as a whole school you can build up a significant body of mentor texts which can be used to study and teach from during future class projects (Young & Ferguson, 2023).
An interesting aside, at least for me anyway, was the fact that one book (My Garden – see slideshow below) was written by the mother of a child who had touched our hearts a few years ago with an emotional eulogy to her father (Hayden & Vasques, 2020). This girl has since moved on to secondary school, but she found the time to collaborate with her mother by providing some wonderful illustrations to this charming book.
Dual language examples – My I Love Book (Isabel – Year 1)
During the launch of the project we encouraged children to write in languages other than English, both as a means to access the project and as a way to celebrate the cultural diversity in our community. It is also an effective way to support the development of multilingual writers (Ferguson & Young, 2022). We were lucky enough to receive a number of books which had been written in both English and another language. Below is one such example which was written collaboratively.
In this book Isabel has written a pattern-style book of multiple things she loves. This is a good example of how children can write a book using a repeating sentence structure. But, what sets this book apart is that after crafting this composition, Isabel’s uncle sat alongside her and taught her how to translate the book into Cantonese.
What happened next? Tips for how to give the project legs
I think we need to do the next book making project in school and not just at home. This would support everyone to make a successful book, but especially lower down the school and for children who require a high level of support – Wahida Rahman (ARP Teacher)
Read aloud in assembly
Because there are so many different topics and themes covered across the books, it means there will be lots of opportunities to read them aloud especially when there are various festivals, celebrations and events happening throughout the school year. Marrying these up can add to the richness of your whole-school assemblies as well as providing a great showcase for your young authors.
Display around the school
In our school there are corridor displays which are used as places to celebrate learning related to that subject. So, of course, books that children produced which could be linked to curriculum areas became part of corridor displays.
There were books about: Design & Technology (My Restaurant and Mum and Ruby Bake Cakes); PE (I Love Karate, Football Dreams, My Football Club and Girls Can Play Football Too); Mathematics (The Super Math and I Love Number & Counting); RE (Eid Festival, My Easter Book and I Love Eid Mubarak!) and Art (I Love Origami and All About Art).
What better way to demonstrate the passion and enthusiasm children have for the things they learn about in school than by showing they can make a book about them!
Reading for Pleasure
Copies of some of the best books were made and stored in the school and class libraries. They were then available to be enjoyed alongside commercial texts during reading time. They have proved to be very popular.
This is a good example of how every class should have an area in their class book corner for children’s book-making to be deposited (Hayden, 2021). Ensuring there is always one simple way that children can receive an authentic audience for their writing endeavours is a sign that there is a strong writing culture in your school.
Interview your authors! Meet the author – Lillia (Year 4)
How did you go about making your book?
During the project, when I had some free time I carried on working on my book. Almost every night, I would use the big table in my living room to make it.
Did you draw the pictures first or write your sentences?
The pictures came first then I thought I could write some stuff about them which would be funny for whoever read it.
Can you tell us more about your lovely pictures?
We found this tin in my house and I drew around it to make a kind of frame. I thought it would be too hard to draw everything and fill up a whole page. I wanted to focus on a small image to make it look like a photograph.
Why did you choose to write about Teddy?
I only just got him a couple of months ago and as I love him so much, I thought maybe some people would get inspired by my book and write about their own pets.
What would you like to write about next?
For my next book I would like to write about our hawks. My dad has eleven of them!
Lillia’s interview reminds us that the teaching and learning process is both cyclical and symbiotic. Already, just by listening to her thought process about her book, I can spot a mini-lesson that I can teach my class which I had not previously imagined. Her use of the tin to shrink the size of the space in which to fit her pictures is something we could all try out. And it makes perfect sense! Why not elevate the very best books our children produce to the role of mentor text?
- This was a wonderful project for the children and adults. It was perfect for children of all ages to do – it allowed Aston to think and express her thoughts and ideas about something she felt passionate about. It helped Aston to think outside the box too; having ten days to do it gave her time to think and plan what she would write. The tea-time tips were really helpful and a good way to support when stuck on what to write next. Aston and myself really enjoyed doing this project together! Aston would express her ideas to me and the family before writing them in her book. She would be very firm about her ideas and how she wanted to write them. The daily tips, which we would talk and share our thoughts about, encouraged us to do a bit each day. As parents, there are always plenty of jobs that need doing, so having the ten days to do this project certainly helped us to take our time and not rush. Aston often used to make little books at home, but wouldn’t change anything if it was wrong. However, with the steps and tools carried out in this project she has now started to reread what she has written and correct it when needed. She often makes books for us to read now. We are looking forward to the next project like this! – Amanda (Year 3 Parent)
- The project has allowed us as parents to be able to support our child at home. I felt I was able to explore with Renata the steps she needed to follow or consider when making her book. The daily tips were very useful as a parent that wishes to support her child and it felt like a nice way to be included and allowed to participate in what school is doing. It gave me insight into her work expectations which helps support Renata to continue improving and developing within her writing adventures! It was lovely to be part of this shared journey – Susana (Year 3 Parent)
- This project has been a fantastic opportunity for children to develop their imagination and artistic talents as well as share their unique perspectives with others. My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent together discussing different aspects of the project – Riz (Year 4 Parent)
In summary, this is a project which was a long time in the making, and preparing well for it was an essential component of its success. Overall, I think it has its advantages if, as a school, you wanted to use it as a way to examine a different approach with a view to moving towards more effective writing practices in general. The project provides a low-stakes way for the school, its teachers, the children and the wider community to develop their understanding of an evidence-informed writing pedagogy away from the white heat of the classroom.
If this article has piqued your interest and you wanted to examine in more detail your school’s existing approach to gauge how it might compare with the principles outlined in this article, you could do worse than to use our Evaluation Tool.
Alternatively, if you have already embarked on this journey and are currently embedding the principles of effective writing instruction across your school, then what better way to solidify them with a project of this type. You wouldn’t have to wait until next World Book Day either. Any number of distant publishing goals could be set and worked towards to make this not just a yearly endeavour.
What a marvellous way to bring our whole school community together. This project was accessible for all and enabled our families to tell us stories from their hearts – Sian Farrelly (Deputy Headteacher)
By Tobias Hayden