Using focus groups to teach writing

“Hi Ross, can you point me in the direction of any research on the effectiveness of focus groups when teaching writing?”


Research, particularly case studies observing the best performing writing teachers, suggests that small group writing instruction can be a powerful way to teach writing. Group instruction is great because it allows teachers to provide more explicit and direct instruction and they can observe and provide more live verbal feedback and responsive teaching to students who need it most.

✅ Increased engagement. Small groups naturally fosters more active participation and engagement among students compared to whole-class instruction.

✅ Peer collaboration. Small groups can naturally encourage peer collaboration, revision and proof-reading. Small group instruction also supports the social and emotional development of students by fostering positive interactions, empathy, and oral language and listening comprehension development (Young & Ferguson 2022). Students in small groups often take more ownership of their writing and are motivated by the collaborative process of crafting and sharing their writing.

✅ Improved writing quality. Research suggests that students can produce higher-quality writing when they receive targeted direct instruction and regular live verbal feedback (Ferguson & Young 2021).

✅ Enhanced revision and proof-reading skills. Small group discussions can focus on the use of revision strategies and help students develop the ability to critically review and improve their writing (Young et al. 2021 and Young & Ferguson 2023b).

However, the effectiveness of small group instruction can vary depending on factors such as the teacher’s subject and pedagogical knowledge, the classroom environment, and the class’ ability to self and co-regulate. It’s essential that teachers consider these factors before implementing small group instruction in their classrooms.

Recommended strategies:

Here are some tips on how to deliver writing instruction to small groups:

  • Bring children together based on their writing needs (Young & Ferguson 2023).
  • Focus on teaching one or two specific craft move strategies at a time. Just like whole-class instruction, follow the principles of SRSD instruction when delivering group instruction. For more information, see our article here.
  • Provide students with opportunities to give and receive peer feedback on how they’ve applied the taught strategy. For more information, see our article here.
  • Provide live verbal feedback to individuals and make sure you’re moving their writing forward (Ferguson & Young 2021).
  • As their writer-teacher, withdraw and work on your own writing when the group is working productively. Be there to provide additional support but only when you’re needed. Use the writing you’re crafting to help you with that support (Young & Ferguson 2023). 

✅ Create a community of writers. For group instruction to work, you need to create a positive and supportive learning environment. You need to create a classroom culture where students feel comfortable sharing their writing and asking each other for help. They need to be able to co-regulate.

✅ Personal writing projects. Personal writing projects are essential if you want group instruction to work in your classroom. For example, it’s important to set up a routine where children know to work on their own personal writing project once they have finished the process goal for that particular writing lesson. This stops students from interrupting you while you are working with your group.

You may want to meet and work with all the pupils in small groups over a number of days. For example, during the revision stage of a class writing project where you are assessing the children’s manuscripts against the class’ agreed product goals (success criteria). The rest of the class should know to work on their personal writing projects during this time.

It’s also possible to find yourself in a position where you want to meet with a small group who, for whatever reason, struggled with the previous day’s lesson. For example, at the planning stage of a class writing project, you may find that a handful of children could really benefit from some additional planning time, feedback and instruction. The rest of your class’ plans are good to go. In this situation, you want the rest of your class to work on their personal writing projects while you work with your specific group that day.

Recommended research

📝 Dix, S., Cawkwell, G. (2011) The influence of peer group response: Building a teacher and student expertise in the writing classroom, English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 10(4), 41–57 [LINK]

This paper discusses the influence of peer group response – a case study teacher’s workshop experiences that transformed her professional identity, building her confidence and deepening her understanding of self as writer and ultimately transforming this expertise into her writing classroom practice.

📝 Hall, K., Harding, A. (2003) A Systematic Review of Effective Literacy Teaching in the 4 to 14 Age Range of Mainstream Schooling London: Institute of Education [LINK]

Although there has been an interest in ‘effective schools’ and ‘effective teaching’ for decades now, it is only recently that there has been a specific focus on literacy and especially on those characteristics and practices of teachers who appear to be successful in their teaching of literacy. We know a great deal about how children acquire literacy and develop as readers and writers, but we are only just beginning to understand more fully the ways and means through which successful teachers promote healthy literacy growth amongst their students. Many curriculum approaches and packages have been found both to work and to fail; what seems critical is the skills of the teacher. We need to know more about how to recognise ‘effective’ teachers of literacy and to understand more fully the kinds of professional knowledge, beliefs and classroom actions that are associated with the successful teaching of literacy

The synthesis of the 12 studies in the in-depth review showed that effective teachers of literacy have a wide and varied repertoire of teaching practices and approaches (e.g. scaffolding, where support in learning is initially provided by the teacher and then gradually withdrawn as the pupil gains in confidence) integrating reading with writing, differentiated instruction, excellent classroom management skills) and they can intelligently and skilfully blend them together in different combinations according to the needs of individual pupils. 

Effective literacy teachers are especially alert to children’s progress and can step in and utilise the appropriate method or practice to meet the child’s instructional needs. The ‘effective’ teacher of literacy uses an unashamedly eclectic collection of methods which represents a balance between the direct teaching of skills and more holistic approaches. This means that they balance direct skills teaching with more authentic, contextually-grounded literacy activities. They avoid the partisan adherence to any one sure-fire approach or method. The synthesis of the three studies (in which teacher effectiveness was empirically demonstrated) that underwent the second and more rigorous stage of in-depth reviewing suggests the actions that teachers can take to promote literacy development in the early years of school. These are as follows: 

  • Balance (direct skills instruction and more contextually-grounded literacy activities)
  • Integration (integrating literacy modes, and linking with other curricular areas)
  • Pupil Engagement (on-task behaviour and pupil self-regulation)
  • Teaching Style (involving differentiated instruction – incorporating extensive use of scaffolding and coaching and careful and frequent monitoring of pupil progress)
  • Links With Parents And Local Community 

There simply is no one single critical variable that defines outstanding literacy instruction. According to the research evidence, however, there is a cluster of beliefs and practices like scaffolding, the encouragement of self-regulation, high teacher expectations, and expert classroom management.

📝 Parr, J.M., Limbrick, L. (2010) Contextualising practice: Hallmarks of effective teachers of writing, Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(3), 583–590 [LINK]

This study identifies practices of effective teachers of writing. Three schools with significantly higher achievement in an area that underperforms nationally were identified and within them teachers whose students exhibited superior progress were selected. Common was: 

  • A commitment to formative assessment practices.
  • Classroom environments supportive of student literacy learning. 

Hallmarks of exceptional teachers included: 

  • Students having a greater awareness of their learning
  • A focus on a sense of purpose and meaningfulness in their writing projects. 
  • A coherence or connectedness to class writing projects 
  • A consistent and systematic routine to their writing lessons and projects.

This paper argues that student achievement in writing is likely to be higher when teachers exhibit strengths in these hallmarks.

📝 Langer, J.A. (2001) Beating the odds: Teaching middle and high school students to read and write well, American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 837–880 [LINK]

This study investigated the characteristics of instruction that accompany student achievement in reading, writing, and English. Analyses specified six features that permeated the environments and provided marked distinctions between higher and more typically performing schools. In higher performing schools: 

  • Instruction in the knowledge and conventions of English and high literacy take place as separated and simulated as well as integrated experiences.
  • Test preparation is interpreted as encompassing the underlying skills and knowledge needed to do well in coursework as well as on tests and integrated into the ongoing class time, as part of the ongoing English language arts curriculum.
  • Overt connections are constantly made among knowledge, skills, and ideas across lessons, classes, and grades as well as across in-school and out-of-school applications.
  • Students are overtly taught strategies for thinking about ideas as well as completing activities.
  • Even after achievement goals are met, teachers move beyond those immediate goals toward students’ deeper understandings and generativity of ideas.
  • The content and skills of English are taught as social activity, with depth and complexity of understanding and proficiency with conventions growing from collaborative discourse.

📝 Medwell, J., Wray, D., Poulson, L., Fox, R. (1998) Effective Teachers of Literacy A Report Commissioned by the UK Teacher Training Agency London [LINK]

A study was commissioned to help the Teacher Training Agency and teachers in England to understand more clearly how effective teachers help children to become literate. Findings suggest that effective teachers of literacy: 

  • Believe it is important to make it explicit that the purpose of teaching literacy is enabling their pupils to create meaning using text.
  • Centred their teaching around “shared texts”.
  • Teach aspects of reading/writing such as decoding and spelling in a systematic, structured way.
  • Emphasise to their pupils the functions of what they were learning in literacy.
  • Have developed strong and coherent personal philosophies about the teaching of literacy.
  • Have well-developed systems for monitoring children’s progress and needs in literacy.
  • Have had considerable experience of in-service activities in literacy.

📝 Young, R. (2019) What is it ‘Writing For Pleasure’ teachers do that makes the difference? The Goldsmiths’ Company: The University Of Sussex [LINK]

What Is It “Writing For Pleasure” Teachers Do That Makes The Difference? was a one year research project which investigated how Writing For Pleasure teachers achieve writing teaching which is highly effective (greater than average progress) and also affective (pertaining to positive dispositions and feelings).

Findings showed that teachers who teach the principles of Writing For Pleasure at a high level of proficiency have classes who feel the greatest enjoyment and satisfaction in writing and in being a writer. Writing For Pleasure teachers attend to self-efficacy, agency and self-regulation in a rich combination. Some principles of Writing For Pleasure were not observed at a high level of proficiency by the teachers as a whole data set and so need to be further investigated. The affective domains of motivation and writer-identity were not realised adequately by the pupils as a whole data set and so need to be further investigated. Finally, a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy is a highly effective pedagogy.

📝 Gadd, M. (2014) What is Critical in the Effective Teaching of Writing? Auckland: The University of Auckland [LINK]

In this paper, Gadd (2014) defines eight dimensions of effective practice and instructional strategies. They are as follows:

  • Learning Tasks – Select or construct writing topics that students can identify as purposeful. Involve students in selecting and/or constructing their own writing topics. Devise open-ended learning tasks that can be undertaken over an extended time period. Promote the purposefulness of the writing topic at the beginning of lessons.
  • Lesson Learning Goals – Involve students in the development of future lesson learning goals. Set a clear learning goal for the lesson that is generally related to a stage of the writing process.
  • Expectations – Have a clear vision of what most students can reasonably be expected to achieve within the lesson. Communicate expectations clearly through displays and resources.
  • Direct Instruction – Demonstrate clearly what students are expected to do. Either through ‘active demonstrating’ (constructing an exemplar or part of an example live) or ‘receptive demonstration’ (provided a pre-written exemplar). Active demonstration is said to be far more effective however. Build on what the students have practised already. Look out for and take advantage of ‘teachable moments’ during the lesson to provide instruction that is clearly linked to the learning goal.
  • Responding to Learners – Ask high-level, meta-cognitive and text-related questions of the children whilst they write. Indicate ‘next steps’ to students when commenting (verbally or written-feedback) on their writing. Get children to address any verbal feedback there and then. Use a range of ways to respond to students’ efforts.
  • Engagement and Challenge – Attend to learning needs through individualised or small group instruction. Ensure students understand how their current lesson links to the future lesson(s).
  • Organisation and Management – Break writing into easily identifiable stages. Set manageable time allocations during lessons. Provide sufficient opportunities for students to practise writing during lessons (on average 2.5 hours a week). Make contact with as many children as possible during the lesson. Ensure that the classroom operates to regularly repeated routines and clear behavioural expectations.
  • Self-regulation – Encourage students to use resources to plan, write, revise, edit and present texts independently. Give time and opportunities for students to write on self-selected topics. Encourage students to write outside writing time (through a home/school writing notebook). Provide opportunities for students to look at their writing collaboratively. Students to set personal learning goals after each piece they complete.

Gadd (2014) suggests that effective teachers of writing employ all dimensions in strategic combination with each other. The effectiveness of each dimension is contingent on its inter-connectedness to other dimensions within the same pedagogical context. The research makes clear that instructional writing actions and activities are effective if regarded as purposeful by learners and if they include meaningful opportunities for learner involvedness. Through his research, Gadd makes it evident that what is suggested here as effective pedagogy for all learners is a particularly effective pedagogy for less experienced writers. What is good for some is in fact good for all.

Recommended literature

  • Reutzel, D.R. (2007) Organising effective literacy instruction: Differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all children, Best Practices in Literacy Instruction, Gambrell, L.B., Morrow, L.M., and Pressley, M. (Eds.) (pp. 313–434). New York: The Guilford Press
  • Graham, S., & Harris, K. (2005) Writing better: Effective strategies for teaching students with learning difficulties Brookes Publishing Company
  • Serravallo, J. (2021) Teaching Writing In Small Groups Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Guidance on what NOT to do when teaching at the sentence-level

Teaching students to construct coherent and meaningful sentences is essential if we want them to convey their ideas happily and successfully (Young & Ferguson 2022). Sadly, teaching at the sentence-level is too often overlooked or neglected.

In our previous blog post, we shared guidance on how to teach at the sentence-level efficiently and effectively. In this article, we will share what you probably shouldn’t do when thinking about teaching at the sentence-level.

⚠️ Avoid overloading

Don’t overwhelm with too much information about sentence structure all at once. Keep instruction & explanation elegant and explicit. We recommend following the principles of SRSD instruction. You can find our more here.

⚠️ Don’t rush children’s development

Remember, young writers are still developing their oral language, encoding and fine motor skills, so be patient & develop ALL aspects of writing fluency slowly but concurrently. You can find out more about developing fluency in writing here.

⚠️ Avoid DRILLING for terminology

Refrain from drilling complex grammar terminology. Instead, focus on practical and functional aspects of sentence structure, such as capitalisation & punctuation. You can read more about this here and here.

⚠️ Don’t stifle children’s initiative

Avoid stifling creativity and experimentation by insisting on rigid sentence structures. Encourage creative expression – even if it means sentences are INITIALLY less conventional.

⚠️ Avoid overcorrecting

While correctness is important, don’t make it the sole focus. Encourage students to express themselves happily. Correctness comes gradually as we mature as writers. Children have fragile & developing writer-identities and egos. Don’t overcorrect every error in early sentence writing. Prioritise positive reinforcement over constant correction to maintain a positive attitude towards writing. Remember, a good writing lesson is one where the writer wants to write again tomorrow.

⚠️ Don’t skip idea generation & planning activities

Don’t skip pre-writing activities in your eagerness to have students write sentences. Children should learn the complete writer’s process. For more information and resources for teaching idea generation and planning, follow these two links [LINK] and [LINK].

⚠️ Avoid developmentally inappropriate expectations

Recognise that young learners are just beginning to understand the concept of sentences, and their writing will reflect this stage of development. Again, see our advice on developing writing fluency.

Remember that teaching writing to children is about fostering a positive attitude towards being a writer and building fluency. It’s a developmental process, and the goal is to gradually guide them toward more advanced writing skills as they grow.

Where’s the research on teaching at the sentence-level?

“Dear Ross and Felicity. Our school is looking to focus on teaching children about sentences. However, I would like to read some of the research around this before we start making any instructional changes. Can you point me in the direction of some?”


Firstly, it’s great to hear that your school is deciding to focus its attention on sentence-level instruction. We’ve already written a number of articles about how sentences are the building blocks of writing:

  • Guidance on teaching at the sentence-level [LINK
  • How do we develop writing fluency? [LINK
  • The components of effective sentence-level instruction [LINK]

Teaching students to construct coherent and meaningful sentences is essential if we want them to convey their thoughts and ideas happily and successfully (Young & Ferguson 2022). But what does the research say?

The aim of this article is to share a list of research papers (and associated literature) which investigates what it means to teach children at the sentence-level.

📝 Limpo, T., & Alves, R. (2013) Teaching planning or sentence-combining strategies: Effective SRSD interventions at different levels of written composition, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 38,328–341 [LINK]

This study tested the effectiveness of two strategy-focused interventions aimed at promoting fifth and sixth graders’ opinion essay writing. Over 12 weekly 90-min lessons, two groups of 48 and 39 students received, respectively, planning and sentence-combining instruction, which followed the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model. These intervention groups were compared with a practice control group of 39 students receiving standard writing instruction. The following main findings were noteworthy: 

  • Planning and sentence-combining instruction enhanced planning and sentence-construction skills
  • The treatment increased opinion essay quality and text length
  • Planning instruction enhanced not only discourse-level writing but also some sentence- and word-level aspects of composition
  • Sentence-combining instruction enhanced not only sentence- and word-level writing but also some discourse-level aspects of composition
  • After instruction, there was a correlation between self-efficacy and writing quality

📝 Weaver, C., Bush, J., Anderson, J., and Bills, P. (2006) Grammar intertwined throughout the writing process: An inch wide and a mile deep, English Teaching: Practice & Critique, 5(1), 77–101 [LINK]

Drawing on theory and practice, the authors of this paper argue that, rather than trying to “cover” all grammatical skills, something traditionally done in many classrooms, and with limited results, teachers can teach grammar with better results by focusing on key grammatical options and skills in the context of actual writing, throughout the writing process and over time.

The article includes specific examples of teachers integrating grammar within writing instruction, as supported by theoretically and pedagogically sound practices. The article also presents a planning framework for teachers seeking to integrate grammar more effectively in their classrooms. Particularly emphasised is the value of using literature as a source for grammatical examples and skills. Sections also address specific adaptations for elementary writing workshops and the teaching of editing.

📝 Walter, K., Dockrell, J., Connelly, V. (2021) A sentence-combining intervention for struggling writers: response to intervention, Reading & Writing, 34 pp.1825-1850 [LINK]

Children who struggle with writing are a heterogeneous group and may experience difficulties in a range of domains, including spelling, reading, and oral language. These difficulties are reflected in their writing and may influence their responsiveness to writing interventions. 

Children receiving a sentence-combining intervention showed significant improvements. Findings indicate that when devising interventions for struggling writers, specific profiles of skills should be considered. Specifically, sentence combining may be more appropriate for students whose primary area of difficulty is reading, rather than poor spelling or oral language.

📝 Saddler, B., Ellis-Robinson, T., Asaro-Saddler, K. (2018) Using Sentence Combining Instruction to Enhance the Writing Skills of Children With Learning Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, 16(2) pp.191-202 [LINK]

One area of writing that may be particularly problematic, causing both academic and behavioural challenges for writers with learning disabilities, is constructing sentences. Sentences are the building blocks of coherent and effective writing and constructing syntactically correct and complex sentences is a critical skill characterising expert writing. Unfortunately, many students with learning disabilities struggle with this critical skill. These students may produce sentences with fewer words, less syntactic complexity, and more errors of spelling and grammar than their regularly achieving peers. 

For researchers and teachers of children with learning disabilities, improving sentence construction ability with empirically based interventions is imperative. In this review of literature a method to teach sentence construction, called sentence combining, is presented and current research providing support for the use of sentence combining as a method to improve sentence construction ability, overall writing quality, and quantity of revisions is summarised.

📝 Graham, S., and Perin, D. (2007) Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents In Middle School & High Schools Washington, DC: Alliance For Excellent Education [LINK]

This report offers a number of specific teaching techniques that research suggests will help 9-17 year old writers. The report focuses on all students, not just those who display writing difficulties, although this latter group is deservedly the focus of much attention. The premise of this report is that all students need to become proficient and flexible writers. In this report, the term “low-achieving writers” is used to refer to students whose writing skills are not adequate to meet classroom demands. Some of these low-achieving writers have been identified as having learning disabilities; others are the “silent majority” who lack writing proficiency but do not receive additional help. As will be seen in this report, some studies investigate the effects of writing instruction on groups of students across the full range of ability, from more effective to less effective writers, while others focus specifically on individuals with low writing proficiency. 

Eleven elements of current writing instruction found to be effective for helping adolescent students learn to write well and to use writing as a tool for learning are identified. It is important to note that all of the elements are supported by rigorous research, but that even when used together, they do not constitute a full writing curriculum. These elements are: 

  • Writing Strategies, which involves teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions
  • Summarization, which involves explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarise texts
  • Collaborative Writing, which uses instructional arrangements in which adolescents work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their compositions
  • Specific Product Goals, which assigns students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete
  • Word Processing, which uses computers and word processors as instructional supports for writing assignments
  • Sentence Combining, which involves teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences
  • Prewriting, which engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organise ideas for their composition
  • Inquiry Activities, which engages students in analysing immediate, concrete data to help them develop ideas and content for a particular writing task
  • Process Writing Approach, which interweaves a number of writing instructional activities in a workshop environment that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalised instruction, and cycles of writing
  • Study of Models, which provides students with opportunities to read, analyse, and emulate models of good writing
  • Writing for Content Learning, which uses writing as a tool for learning content material

📝 Andrews, R., Torgerson, C., Beverton, S., Locke, T., Low, G., Robinson, A., and Zhu, D. (2006) The effect of grammar teaching on writing development, British Educational Research Journal, 32(1), 39–55 [LINK]

This article reports on the results of two international systematic research reviews which focus on different aspects of teaching grammar to improve the quality and accuracy of 5-16-year-olds’ writing in English. The results show that there is little evidence to indicate that the teaching of formal grammar is effective; and that teaching sentence-combining has a more positive effect. In both cases, however, despite over a hundred years of research and debate on the topic, there is insufficient quality of research to prove the case with either approach. More research is needed, as well as a review of policy and practice in England with regard to the teaching of sentence structure in writing.

📝 Keen, J. (2004) Sentence-combining and redrafting processes in the writing of secondary school students in the UK, Linguistics & Education, 15(1-2) pp.81-97 [£ – LINK}

This article builds on the established research on sentence combining with respect to students’ writing development. The findings are discussed in relation to the use of coordinating conjunctions, the subordinating conjunctions ‘as’ and ‘because’ and subordination other than explanatory ‘as’ and ‘because’. They suggest that aspects of grammatical development in students’ writing are integrally related to propositional meaning, cohesion and rhetorical effects, and in particular that redrafting can enable students to explore forms of expression in their own writing, that coordination and use of explanatory ‘as’ and ‘because’ can enable students to explore relationships between clauses in writing, and that a complex process of rank shift of clause types, including subordinate clauses, can enable students to enhance their clause planning and their ability to elaborate.

📝 Kolln, M. (1996) Rhetorical grammar: A modification lesson, English Journal, 85(7), 25–31 [LINK]

This article explores what “grammar” means and suggests that grammar has a place in the writing classroom. Kolln suggests that by modifying “grammar” with adjectives such as “functional” and “rhetorical” teachers can contribute to positive, meaningful changes in the language arts curriculum.

📝 Myhill, D. (2018) Grammar as a meaning-making resource for improving writing, L1-Educational Studies Language and Literature, 18, 1–21 [LINK]

This article reviews recent research which demonstrates that explicit grammar teaching can support learner outcomes in reading and writing. Drawing on a framework for grammar, which emphasises grammar as a resource for meaning-making, the article will offer a rationale for the inclusion of grammar in the curriculum. This argument will be evidenced with data from a series of related studies and will discuss:

  • Linking grammar and the learning of writing in a meaningful way
  • The role of talk in supporting the development of students’ metalinguistic knowledge students’ understanding of grammatical terms
  • The place of teachers’ grammatical subject knowledge in supporting a meaning-rich approach to the teaching of grammar

📝 Berninger, V., Nagy, W., Beers, S. (2011) Child writers’ construction and reconstruction of single sentences and construction of multi-sentence texts: Contributions of syntax and transcription to translation, Reading and Writing, 24, 151–182 [LINK]

For this study, children in grades one to four were asked to complete two sentence construction tasks: (1) Write one complete sentence about a topic prompt (2) Integrate two sentences into one complete sentence without changing meaning.

Most, but not all, children in first through fourth grade could write just one sentence. Many beginning writers have syntactic knowledge of what constitutes a complete sentence, but not until fourth grade do both syntax and transcription contribute uniquely to flexible translation of ideas into the syntax of a written sentence. For multi-sentence texts, more single, independent clauses were produced by pen than keyboard in grades 3 to 7. The most frequent category of complex clauses in multi-sentence texts varied with genre (relative for essays and subordinate for narratives). This means that in addition to sentence construction and word-level transcription, number of sentences, writing by pen or keyboard, and genre influence children’s translation of ideas into written language.

📝 Myhill, D. (2008) Towards a linguistic model of sentence development in writing, Language & Education, 22(5), 271–288 [LINK]

Drawing on the findings of a research study which included a detailed linguistic analysis of a large corpus of writing from secondary English classrooms, this article describes patterns of linguistic deployment at the level of the sentence. 

Given the limited number of applied linguistic studies which consider writing development in older writers, as opposed to primary aged writers, the paper aims to investigate developmental differences in mastery of the sentence in this older age group. It describes similarities and differences in linguistic characteristics of writing at sentence level according to age and writing ability, and makes connections between the linguistic patterns and effectiveness in writing. 

The paper illustrates that clear developmental trajectories in writing can be determined which have implications for appropriate pedagogical or instructional designs. Finally, the paper offers a linguistic model of sentence development in writing, and signals the potential significance of linguistic models within a multi-disciplinary approach to writing pedagogy.

I can also recommend our eBook:

Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2023) Sentence-Level Instruction: Lessons That Help Children Find Their Style & Voice For 3-11 Year Olds Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre [LINK]

I can also recommend the following literature:

  • Saddler, B. (2019) Sentence combining, In Best Practices in Writing Instruction, Graham, S., MacArthur, C., and Hebert, M. (3rd Ed.) (pp. 240–261). New York: Guildford Press
  • Hudson, R. (2017) Grammar instruction, In Handbook of Writing Research, MacArthur, C., Graham, S., Fitzgerald, J. (Eds.) (pp. 288–300) (2nd Ed.). New York: Guildford Press

Good luck and happy writing!

Guidance on teaching at the sentence-level

The aim of this article is to explain the importance of teaching at the sentence-level and to give teachers guidance on how to teach at the sentence-level successfully.

Teaching students to construct coherent and meaningful sentences is essential if we want them to convey their ideas happily and successfully (Young & Ferguson 2022). Sadly, teaching at the sentence-level is too often overlooked or neglected.

📝 Sentences are the building blocks of writing

Sentences are the building blocks of writing. Many writers spend the majority of their writing time considering (and reconsidering) the sentences they write. They regularly ponder, write and rewrite. This is because every sentence is deemed to be its own mini composition.

It’s important to remember that sentences are informed by the sentences that have come previously and by the sentences we plan to write next. Sentences are conceived at the text level and they are produced in the context of the other sentences that surround them.

📝 Enhancing clarity and cohesion

Proficiency in sentence construction improves the clarity and readability of students’ writing. Clear sentences are easier for both the writer and the reader to understand.

📝 Grammar and conventions

Sentence-level instruction is a perfect opportunity to reinforce typical grammar conventions, punctuation, and capitalisation. These are vital for effective written communication. See our Grammar Mini-Lessons and No More: ‘My Pupils Can’t Edit!’ A Whole-School Approach To Developing Proof-Readers for more information.

📝 Supports higher-level writing skills

Proficient sentence construction helps when children are trying to deal with other complex aspects of writing and being a writer. For example, thinking at the sentence-level reminds children to consider the needs of their audience. See our eBook The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing for more details.

Effective strategies when teaching at the sentence-level…


Writer-teachers should explicitly teach and model sentence construction, including capitalisation, punctuation, and word order. Visual aids and examples will enhance students’ understanding. To see example lessons and visual aids, donwload our eBook: Sentence-Level Instruction.

Here we see a writer-teacher sharing the function of relative clauses alongside some written examples. This poster will stay up in the writing classroom for weeks or even months. Alongside it, the teacher will have a poster full of examples taken from their own writing, children’s literature, and their students’ writing.

Sentence starters

Provide sentence starters and visual prompts to assist students in generating their own sentences. These prompts can be tailored to the class writing project. Children’s use then transitions to their personal writing projects too.

Trying it out

Give students some time to experiment and engage in playful exploration before they use and apply their sentence learning to their own composition that day. See this article for more guidance.


Encourage revision as a natural part of the writing process. You shouldn’t limit your sentence-level instruction to only the drafting phase of a class writing project. For more information, see this article.

Integration with reading

Connect sentence writing with reading great mentor sentences. Analysing other authors’ sentences can make sentence structure, voice and style seem possible and probable for students. See our eBook: Reading In The Writing Classroom for more information and guidance.

Developmentally appropriate expectations

Have developmentally appropriate expectations for each year group and understand that sentence-level proficiency develops over time and through repeated practice. Indeed, it’s a life-long process of development! See our eBook: Sentence-Level Instruction for more details and guidance.

The DfE’s Reading Framework: Our Review And Implications For Teaching Writing *Updated for 2023*

On the 11th of July 2023, the Department for Education published its revised non-statutory guidance document entitled ‘The reading framework: Teaching the foundations of literacy’. It purports to provide guidance for schools to meet existing expectations for teaching reading and writing.

The mission of The Writing For Pleasure Centre is to help all young people become passionate and successful writers. As a think tank for exploring what world-class writing is and could be, a crucial part of our work is analysing emerging governmental policy. It is therefore important that we issue a response to what this document has to say.

Overall conclusion
If commercial scheme writers or schools pursue the recommendations made in this policy paper in any kind of serious way, we run the very real risk of developing the most reluctant, listless and unmotivated writers for a generation. While some of the recommendations within the policy paper are welcome, it remains grossly incomplete. We therefore urge anyone interested in developing world-class writing teaching to read the cited research within this review before making any changes to their writing teaching or commercial offerings.

The ‘Writing Readiness’ Ideology
This policy paper routinely ignores research recommendations. Not a single research paper relating to writing development is cited. Instead, the majority of the recommendations come through the lens of writing occurring largely in phonics lessons. A subject as important as writing should never be treated simply as the servant of phonics. We can only conclude that the DfE has decided to promote an ideological position of ‘writing readiness’ rather than pursue an evidence-based and research-informed position.

Writing readiness is also referred to in research and literature as: a presentational skills ideology (Young & Ferguson 2021), a worksheet curriculum (Dahl & Freppon 1995), the fragmented and discontinuous approach (Dunsmuir & Blatchford 2004), mechanics-orientated teaching, didactic-only instruction, the bottom-up perspective, code-based teaching (Quinn & Bingham 2018), drill-and-skill-to-kill-the-will, piecemeal, sequenced and scripted, recite for writing, writing as a cognitive only matter (Johnston 2019), the transcribing speech orientation (Lancaster 2007), the component skills perspective (Harmey & Wilkinson 2019), formula writing (VanNess et al. 2013), the write ‘correctly’ like an adult perspective (Daniels 2014), the artificial approach (Thomas 2005), the systematic procedures perspective (Bruyère & Pendergrass 2020), the exercise approach (Håland et al. 2019), the ‘only conventional writing is real writing’ perspective (Bradford & Wyse 2020) or the ‘additive-cumulative’ view of writing (Tolchinsky 2017).

We know that children who don’t master the basic skills of writing early into their educational journey can go on to underperform and even experience school failure (Berninger et al. 2002; Abbott et al. 2010; Young & Ferguson 2021). Advocates of a ‘writing readiness’ ideology take the erroneous view that we must therefore focus on getting children to transcribe conventionally first before they are even allowed to begin making and sharing meaning through writing. However, this is a serious instructional mistake (Snyders 2014; Rowe 2018; Harris et al. 2023). This perspective is ineffective in achieving its own aims, and is most often suggested by those who are unaware of current research and best practice (Hall et al. 2015). The problem with such an approach is not so much what it includes but rather what it decides to leave out (Young & Ferguson 2021).

Advocates of this approach typically hold the view that for children to learn how to write, they must first be told that they can’t (Roser et al. 2014). They fail to see that children want to write from the very first day they attend school (Graves 1983), that the majority of children come to school on their first day already believing that they can write (Calkins 1994; Hall et al. 2019), and that actually children are ‘already ready’ to write (Ray & Glover 2008; Ackerman 2016; Bradford & Wyse 2020; Young & Ferguson 2022). Despite this, a ‘writing-readiness’ ideology asks teachers to position their pupils as ‘transcribers and dictators’ who must practise specific transcriptional skills until near mastery, before ‘earning their right to write’.


  • Firstly, the withholding of meaningful writing opportunities until basic skills have been mastered goes against research recommendations (Fitzgerald & Shanahan 2000; Shanahan 2016; Gerde et al. 2012; Graham et al. 2012; Tolchinsky 2017; Graham et al. 2020b; Harris et al. 2023; Gerde & Bingham 2023).
  • Policymakers shouldn’t confuse spelling and handwriting development with writing development. Spelling represents only a fraction of what we must develop in the youngest of writers (Tolchinsky 2017; Kemp & Treiman 2023). Through a ‘writing-readiness’ orientation, children learn only about transcribing. They can only learn about writing and authoring from instruction about writing and being a writer and through repeated daily meaningful practice. Slavishly copying out isolated letters and sentences is not writing (Ferreiro 1982; Zhang & Bingham 2019).
  • According to both Johnston (2019) and Young & Ferguson (2021), policymakers are right to give their attention and focus to the cognitive dimensions of learning to write, but their limitations lie in their failure to see or care that this cognitive development is also emotionally and affectively loaded and therefore needs to be embedded in motivating, social and meaningful practice.
  • Expertise in composition and transcription influence and support each other (Harris et al. 2023; Kim 2023). Therefore, to somehow ban meaning-making until full transcription is achieved is tremendously harmful and counter-productive.
  • This policy document is essentially asking children to prepare for an apprenticeship that feels like it is never going to materialise. For example, Håland et al. (2019 p.70) notes that ‘it is unclear whether students understand for what purpose they are exercising’. As a result, children quickly become uninterested in writing (Clark et al. 2023).
  • According to Mackenzie & Veresov (2013), a ‘writing readiness’ perspective can disrupt children’s natural text construction process by underestimating or denying the significance of drawing as part of children’s writing process. Indeed, this policy paper sets no value on the power of children’s drawings to contribute to their writing development.
  • If children are allowed the opportunity to share meaning, it’s suggested that teachers step in and write the message on that child’s behalf by getting the child to dictate what it was they wanted to say. Children aren’t trusted to do it for themselves. As a result, children don’t learn how they could write without a teacher present. Indeed, under this conception, teachers are being asked to assume all cognitive responsibility for the writing activities that take place in the classroom, leaving children passive and actually learning very little.
  • This policy paper supports linear planning and a one-size-fits-all teaching practice. However, according Boyle & Charles (2010), good early writing teaching involves responsive teaching and a great deal of individualised instruction.
  • The recommendations in this policy document will train a generation of children to be dependent rather than independent writers. For example, according to Jacobson (2010 p.2), ‘story starters or writing prompts, fill-in-the-blank sentences or waiting until January to begin writing (“when the students know their letters”) are just a few of the ways we communicate to students that they are not capable of writing and thinking on their own’.

The importance of talk and play
We are pleased that the policy paper acknowledges the importance of high expectations, rigorous routines, and clear organisation. For example, teachers with the most engaged and best performing pupils are also superb classroom managers (Wharton-McDonald et al. 1998; Zhang & Bingham 2019). There are few disciplinary encounters because the students are so engaged with their writing. Children know what to do and how to do it. They also know what to do when they don’t know what to do (Young & Ferguson 2021).

However, the document wrongly suggests that a ‘noisy’ classroom is an unproductive one. Talk and play are essential for developing children as writers if they regularly occur in calm, rigorous and well organised learning environments. The document fails to see that writing develops in an active, dynamic and highly social way. Children only understand what writing is, what it is for, and what it means to be a writer, if they write in a social and cultural context that matches what writers actually do (Lamme et al. 2002; Kissel 2009; Kissel et al. 2011; Tolentino 2013). For example, empirical evidence shows that talking and playing while writing can initiate ideas, promote revising and encourage more cohesive, logical and structured texts; elaborate plots; action; dialogue and descriptive settings (McQuitty 2014). In addition, when children write together, they engage in more sophisticated writerly behaviours, write longer pieces and write in a wider variety of genres (McQuitty 2014).

Oral language and listening comprehension
It’s important for the DfE to recognize that oral language development in the context of the writing classroom goes beyond simply asking children to ‘rehearse a sentence’ before they write it, though this is one of a number of essential strategies for early writers to internalise (Young & Ferguson 2022). Instead, children’s development as talkers relies on ‘a conversational context’. Children’s language develops when they are given the cognitive responsibility to use it. Ultimately, children must be the ones to construct their own speech and writing, otherwise, as the evidence shows, they learn little (Latham 2002; Timperley & Parr 2009; Chuy et al. 2011; Avineri et al. 2015; Allal 2019). The acquisition of language is a dynamic and creative process, not the passive reciting and copying of someone else’s model.

So how important is the role of oral language in children’s writing development? Case studies of the best performing writing teachers argue that it is transformative (Pressley et al. 1997; Medwell et al. 1998; Langer 2001; Gadd & Parr 2017; Young 2019). A child’s writing and their language development benefit each other when they are invited to craft writing alongside their teacher and peers every single day. Indeed, engaging in daily and meaningful talk and writing is one of the best ways to develop children’s language (Mercer et al. 1999; Rojas-Drummond et al. 2008; Green et al. 2008; Parr et al. 2009; Fisher et al. 2010; Dix 2016; Reedy & Bearne 2021). This is in keeping with The Science Of Writing, and the DfE rightly acknowledges its importance.

The youngest of writers develop their ideas for writing in the same way as they produce their speech (Bereiter & Scardamalia 1987). They draw on what they know about discourse-level talk. For example, how to tell a good story or how to tell others about the things you know in a way that is engaging. This is one reason why a developmentally appropriate writing process, one which involves plenty of talking and sharing, is so important in the early years of writing.

A recommended recursive writing process for the EYFS (Young & Ferguson 2022)

According to Kim & Schatschneider (2017, 2022), an ability and opportunity to tell their writing has the largest direct effect on young children’s writing. Essentially, discourse-level talk involves children being given time and opportunity to talk about their whole text. In the context of the earliest writers, this should involve children in the EYFS and KS1 having an opportunity to talk as they write every day. In addition, children should talk about their drawings as this is another way to engage them in discourse-level talk (Mackenzie 2011). In the older years, this remains true too. For example, children should feel free to talk at the discourse level by sharing and discussing their plans with their peers (Young & Ferguson 2023d).

There are a variety of different talking strategies children use as they craft texts. Children talk with one another before they write, as they write and after they write. These interactions occur in different ways and can include:

  • Idea explaining – Children share what they plan to write about during the session with others.
  • Idea sharing – Children work in pairs or small ‘clusters’ to co-construct their own texts together.
  • Idea spreading – One pupil mentions an idea to their group. Children then leapfrog on the idea and create their own texts in response too.
  • Supplementary ideas – Children hear about a child’s idea, like it, and incorporate it into the text they are already writing.
  • Communal text rehearsal – Children say out loud what they are about to write – others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
  • Personal text rehearsal – Children talk to themselves about what they are about to write down. This may include encoding individual words aloud. Other children might listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
  • Text checking – Children tell or read back what they’ve written so far and others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
  • Performance – Children share their texts with each other as an act of celebration and publication.

Encouraging children to talk and collaborate together during writing time is an evidence-based research recommendation (Graham et al. 2012; Grossman et al. 2013; De Smedt & Van Keer 2014), and the opportunity to talk as they write improves children’s final written outcomes (McQuitty 2014). Children who talk as they write go on to write richer and more sophisticated texts (Wiseman 2003; Vass et al. 2008). This may be because talk gives children more working memory for writing (Latham 2002; Cremin & Myhill 2012; Young & Ferguson 2021) or because talk between children assists them in deciding what to say and how to encode it (Davidson 2007; Whittick 2020).

A classroom rich in talk, where children are encouraged to tell others about events in their own lives, the knowledge they bring into school, and the imaginative ideas their minds conjure up is the foundation of any high-quality writing program (Lamme et al. 2002; Daniels 2014; Rowe 2018; Young & Ferguson 2021, Young et al. 2022). Your class can have more stories and ideas for writing than you’ll ever know what to do with as long as you’re willing to give time for talking and sharing (Young & Ferguson 2022b). Children regularly rely on talk for guidance, a model, expertise, assistance, and instruction (Wohlwend 2008; Kissel 2009). This isn’t a negative thing as it shows children’s commitment to being independent through what’s called co-regulation (Young & Ferguson 2021).

Vocabulary knowledge
According to The Science Of Writing, vocabulary knowledge is one of thirteen cognitive resources children need to draw on to write well, and the DfE spends a lot of time discussing it. Here is how children’s vocabulary typically develops:

AgeTypical language milestones
Eighteen months oldAt eighteen months old, children already have a vocabulary of around fifty words.
Two years oldBy two years old, most children produce utterances of two words. These utterances are crafted by the child and are not the parroting back of an adult model. Speech and thought come together by the age of two.
Two and a halfCan utter sentences of three words.
Between three and four years oldsBegin speaking in full sentences. Children can say an infinite number of original sentences – sentences that they’ve never said or heard before.
Five years oldChildren are able to use language with a capacity close to that of an adult. For example they use language for the following purposes: to persuade, influence or command others; to share and understand information; to tell stories (both real and imagined) and use language imaginatively and playfully. Children can typically say and write sentences of around five words.
From seven years oldChildren usually acquire a full and accurate knowledge of their first language.
(Taken from Halliday 1969; Bancroft 1995; Latham 2002)

As you can see, every child brings a great deal of language learning into the classroom on their very first day of school. This is something the DfE often fails to appreciate. Indeed, this learning is too often underestimated or overlooked by many who work in education (Avineri et al. 2015; Sperry et al. 2019; Cushing 2020; Burnett et al. 2020’ Young et al. 2022). However, research shows that children are more likely to succeed in schools that use and value their existing knowledge and build on it (Johnson 2015; McQuillan 2019).

With this said, there are a number of things teachers can do to further develop children’s vocabulary in the context of the writing classroom: 

  1. Teachers can actively teach word choice strategies during writing lessons. E.g. word-level functional grammar lessons (Young & Ferguson 2021b), writing-study lessons devoted to literary techniques (Young et al. 2021) and use of word-choice strategies like Cracking Open Boring Words (Young et al. 2021).
  2. Teachers can set aside specific sessions within a class writing project for children to attend to their vocabulary choices prior to publication (Young & Ferguson 2023c).

Where are the writing centres?
It’s deplorable that there is nothing mentioned about writing across the day or about the use of Writing Centres despite the fact that they are both essential to children’s writing development (Mayer 2007; Rowe 2008; Tolentino 2013; Quinn et al. 2016, 2022; Bingham et al. 2017, 2018; Bollinger & Myers 2020). This relates directly to our concerns around the recommendation that children should only ever write at a table (p.58). This would be an instructional mistake and would go against research recommendations (Rowe & Nietzel 2010; Hall et al. 2015; Gerde et al. 2015). We want children to have opportunities to write in many varied situations in and out of the classroom. However, we’d certainly recommend that any dedicated letter formation or handwriting instruction be done at a table.

Letter formation and handwriting 

Learning to form letters and spell words requires considerable effort and attention… Schools, therefore, should consider the advantages to children of delaying the teaching of joined handwriting. Nearly all the headteachers in the schools Ofsted visited for its ‘Bold beginnings’ survey did not teach a cursive or pre-cursive script in Reception. They told inspectors that they believed: 
… it slowed down children’s writing, at a point when they already found manual dexterity tricky and the muscles in their shoulders, arms and hands were still developing.

(The Reading Framework p.54-55)

It’s well known that early writers should focus their efforts on ‘automaticity’ and fluency of handwriting rather than on the adherence to any particular style (Graham 2010; Graham et al. 2012; Santangelo & Graham 2016). The main aim at this age is for children to write quickly, accurately and effortlessly. The fact is children who write with automaticity go on to perform very well in their later years and produce higher-quality pieces (Puranik & AlOtaiba 2012; Malpique et al. 2017, 2020). We are therefore happy to see the policy paper support this position.

We are also pleased that the policy paper highlights the importance of letter formation and handwriting instruction as being absolutely essential, that it needs to occur daily, and that it is best practised in connection with daily phonics instruction (Rowe 2018; Graham et al. 2018). However, what the document ignores is how important it is that teachers invite children to use all that they’ve learnt about letter formation during a daily ‘writing workshop time’ and/or through their daily play in the Writing Centre. The document also fails to acknowledge that children’s letter formation develops through a developmental process of: drawings and scribbles; linear scribbles; mock handwriting and letter-like symbols. This then progresses to: random but real letter strings; letters that represent key sounds learnt; spaces that indicate separation between words; ‘sound spellings’ using phonics knowledge before finally spelling words conventionally. You can see this represented in the table below:

(Byington & Kim 2017; Kemp & Treiman 2023)  

Confusion around spelling
Again, we praise the document for highlighting the importance of directly teaching children to encode during daily phonics instruction. Of course, this needs to be extended to the writing classroom too (Young & Ferguson 2022). We want children to experience the thrill of watching others understand their texts and for people to be able to read them when they are not around to tell or explain them. 

‘Teachers should encourage correct spelling’ (p.55). A strange and developmentally inappropriate suggestion, especially when you consider the report’s own recommendation that teachers should praise children’s attempts at spelling in ‘phonetically plausible ways’ (also known as using their ‘sound-spellings’ or ‘invented spellings’). The DfE do not seem to be aware of important research findings which show that children who receive instruction orientated towards producing ‘sound spellings’ outperform children who don’t on a whole variety of writing and reading measures (Jones et al. 2010; Harste 2012; Ouellette & Sénéchal 2017; Gerde et al. 2012; Rowe 2018; Morin & Pulido 2022). The DfE also peddles the myth that by modelling ‘sound spellings’ as a strategy children will learn mis-spellings. The Science Of Early Writing has shown this to be simply untrue (Sénéchal et al. 2023). Rather confusingly, the paper then suggests that teachers shouldn’t model ‘sound spellings’ despite the fact that children are being asked to adopt the strategy for themselves when writing independently. In summary, it seems that teachers aren’t to model a strategy that the policy document wants children to use.

This observation relates to the deep concerns we have about the recommendation that children should only write using the grapheme/phoneme correspondences they’ve been taught so far (p.55). This would be an instructional mistake and also fails to understand the importance of children working through the stages of prephonological writing shared in our earlier section (Gerde et al. 2012; Byington & Kim 2017; Rowe 2018; Gerde & Bingham 2023; Kemp & Treiman 2023). For example, under such circumstances, you’d have the ridiculous situation where a great number of children wouldn’t be permitted to write their own name for months or even years (Bloodgood 1999; Both-de Vries & Bus 2008; Zhang & Treiman 2020).

Developing children’s abilities to respond to dictation is not the same as developing their abilities to write
The DfE rightly acknowledges the profound role spoken language plays in the development of children’s encoding and spelling abilities. Thoughts and ideas have to be encoded into oral language (whether publicly by speaking them aloud, or privately in the mind) before being transcribed into written texts. This is aided by children’s ability to use their listening comprehension skills (Kim 2022). Unfortunately, despite their own emphasis on spoken language, they recommend that children engage in dictation exercises before they are allowed to ‘earn the right to write’.

TalkingThe ability to express one’s own thoughts, ideas and feelings.
DictatingThe transcription of someone else’s already composed text.
EncodingThe process of listening to the sounds in words and transcribing their associated symbols to paper or screen.
WritingThe activity or occupation of generating and composing your own ideas and text for publication (i.e. for someone to read and understand). 
For the youngest of writers, this typically involves generating an idea, talking/planning/drawing, drafting (encoding), revising (making changes), proof-reading (checking for accuracy/conventions) and publication or performance.
Transcriptional DevelopmentDeveloping children’s abilities to form letters, handwrite with fluency, and encode quickly and happily. 
Writing DevelopmentChildren’s growing abilities to transcribe, generate ideas and compose their own texts for publication. 
Developing children’s languageThe development of children’s own communication using speech and writing.

Administering dictation exercises is one way for children to practise their transcriptional skills. However, we know of another way – writing. In poorly designed Early Years classrooms, you’ll see children being given many opportunities to practise dictation, reciting and encoding. However, there is a big difference between this and developing children’s writing. Unfortunately, ineffective Early Years classrooms don’t always have a clear programme of study which helps develop children’s transcriptional skills alongside composing their own texts (Latham 2002; Timperley & Parr 2009; Chuy et al. 2011; Avineri et al. 2015; Allal 2019; Kim et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022).

It’s important to remember that, in their own ways, children can write down all the words they can say (Ray & Glover 2008; Byington & Kim 2017; Young & Ferguson 2022). However, if we always put the words in children’s mouths, they actually write nothing. Instead they become reciters and reproducers of their teacher’s voice, thoughts and ideas. The first writing teacher a child ever meets can be their most important one. The messages they send out about what writing is and what it is for are profound. 

We must keep in mind that dictating and reciting texts isn’t talking or writing. Classrooms which become overly consumed by dictation exercises are ones associated with a ‘presentational skills’ or ‘writing readiness’ ideology towards early writing development, both of which are fundamentally flawed (Young & Ferguson 2021). That’s why sharing, playing and talking about their own writing is such an important part of a child’s writing process. This includes participating in translanguaging (Young et al. 2022; Ferguson & Young 2023). Indeed, a classroom rich in talk, where children are encouraged to tell about events in their own lives, the knowledge they bring into school, and the imaginative ideas their minds conjure up is the foundation of any high-quality writing program (Lamme et al. 2002; Barratt-Pugh et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022).

The importance of drawing 
Alongside talking and oral rehearsal, drawing is young children’s most appropriate planning technique. It’s important to give time to drawing because, when children are encouraged to draw as part of their writing process, they create more meaningful texts and with deeper complexity than they would without drawing (Horn & Giacobbe 2007; Christianakis 2011; Hui 2011; Mackenzie 2011; Mackenzie & Veresov 2013; Olshansky 2014).
The document doesn’t appreciate the early signs, marks, symbols and drawings children put down on screen or paper as being writing (a way of making and sharing meaning). People did not create a transcriptional system first and then decide to share meaning afterwards (Lancaster 2007; Wyse 2017). Under this guidance, children will unfortunately learn that, if you are to write, you must essentially write conventionally and like an adult, or not at all.

Reading in the writing classroom
We were pleased to see the DfE highlight the small but significant positive effect of inviting children to write about their reading in reading lessons (Koster et al. 2015; Graham & Hebert 2011; Graham et al. 2018b, 2018c). The DfE rightly suggests caution too: ‘If the reading in [reading] lessons is merely transactional, undertaken only because it leads to writing or illustrates how a language feature works, the short-term goals are in danger of jeopardising the longer-term benefits of sustained reading’ (p.112). 

We were also delighted to see the DfE acknowledge the power of asking children to read and discuss authors’ craft moves in the writing classroom. (Graham et al. 2020a, 2020b; Young & Ferguson 2023a). However, we were then utterly confused when, on the same page, the DfE contradicts its own guidance by explaining that: ‘pupils would often gain more simply by reading or listening to a rich text… rather than by spending time analysing its grammatical features or using it as a model for writing’ (p.112). Part of the confusion, we suspect, is the DfE’s inability to differentiate between an explicit reading lesson and an explicit writing lesson. Instead, they assume that lessons can only be ‘English’ lessons. While reading and writing share many similarities and instruction should occur in both classrooms – it’s important to remember that reading and writing need to be taught explicitly too (Kim et al. 2023).

In the context of the writing classroom, their recommendations are simply untrue. Reading mentor texts and discussing authors’ craft moves before being invited to use them for themselves are essential and highly effective evidence-based practices (Purcell-Gates 2007; Martin & Rose 2007; Rose 2008; Graham & Hebert 2011; Graham et al. 2012; Koster et al. 2015; Graham et al. 2018b, 2018c; Young & Ferguson 2023a).

Pupils who need support
The DfE claims, amazingly without evidence, that pupils who need support might find writing too hard and so shouldn’t be required to do so (p.79). Delaying children’s opportunities to engage in writing is unnecessary, damaging, and would fly in the face of research recommendations. There are many ways in which all children can be supported to be writers (Young & Ferguson 2023b).

What’s it all for?
‘Let us be clear. If children do not learn and internalise the essential transcriptional skills involved in crafting writing – spelling, handwriting, and punctuation – then their attempts to share meaning with others may be compromised or even fruitless… therefore, any call to teach fundamental writing skills is always welcome. However, it is not intended that transcriptional skills be taught in isolation, away from the craft of meaning making and sharing (Young & Ferguson 2021 p.177). 

The most disappointing thing about the DfE is how they fail to see how instruction in letter formation, handwriting and encoding (spelling) should, as far as children are concerned, serve their daily sustained and meaningful opportunity for writing. After all, it’s from this meaning-sharing orientation that children really reallywant to learn more about how to form letters and encode words so they can better share their meanings with others (Louden et al. 2005; Wohlwend 2008; Hui 2011; Herste 2012; Graham et al. 2012; Dennis & Votteler 2013; Ouellette & Sénéchal 2017; Zhang & Bingham 2019).

The document essentially provides no guidance on how to develop the orange circle in this figure:

Instruction in letter formation (handwriting) and spelling during phonics sessions should be there to serve children’s daily opportunities to make and share meaning through writing.

It’s critical that teachers promote and give instruction in all three of the above components. These three dimensions need to develop alongside one another in order for children to understand the world of being a writer. Despite the fact that the report acknowledges the importance of composition (p.55), the paper focuses exclusively on letter formation and children’s ability to spell and spends no time discussing how to teach children to be writers and how to teach compositional techniques, procedures and strategies. According to research and the case studies of the best performing teachers, this is a grave error (Poulson et al. 2001; Pressley et al. 2001; Block et al. 2002; Louden et al. 2005; Jones et al. 2010; Graham et al. 2012; Dombey 2013; Kent et al. 2014; Puranik & Lonigan 2014; Hall et al. 2015). 

When children are invited to compose meaningful texts every day, their opportunities to practise letter formation and spelling are naturally supported within an authentic and motivating context. Teachers who teach writing through a contemporary and rigorous ‘writing workshop approach’ have children who perform just as well in the ‘basic skills’ of letter formation and spelling as those teachers who make these components their sole instructional priority (Dahl & Freppon 1995; Hall 2019; Roitsch et al. 2021). This is because children are encouraged to use what they learn about letters, words and sentences, to create and share meaning. They acquire useful knowledge about transcription (spelling, letter formation, handwriting), when they are invited to use it meaningfully rather than through exercises, skills and worksheets. When children enact the processes that real writers do (but in a developmentally appropriate way), they produce writing products which can easily meet the demands of the current curriculum (Wiseman 2003; Harmey & Wilkinson 2019; Managhan 2020; Barratt-Pugh et al. 2021). 

It is this balance between explicit and direct instruction and meaningful practice which makes for world-class writing teaching.

Ross Young & Felicity Ferguson


  • Abbott, R. D., Berninger, V. W., & Fayol, M. (2010) Longitudinal relationships of levels of language in writing and between writing and reading in grades 1 to 7. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 281-298
  • Ackerman, S. (2016) Becoming Writers in a Readers’ World: Kindergarten Writing Journeys Language Arts 93(3) pp.200-212
  • Allal, L. (2019) Assessment and the co-regulation of learning in the classroom Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 27:4, 332-349 DOI: 10.1080/0969594X.2019.1609411
  • Avineri, N., Johnson, E., Brice-Heath, S., McCarty, T., Ochs, E., Kremer-Sadlik, T., Blum, S., Zentella, A.C., Rosa, J., Flores, N., Alim, H.S. and Paris, D. (2015), Invited Forum: Bridging the “Language Gap” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 25: 66-86
  • Bancroft, D. (1995) Language development In Lee & Das Gupta Children’s Cognitive and Language Development London: Wiley
  • Barratt-Pugh, C., Ruscoe, A., Fellowes, J. (2021) Motivation to Write: Conversations with Emergent Writers Early Childhood Educ J 49, 223–234
  • Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1987). The psychology of written composition. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • Berninger, V., & Richards, T. (2002) Brain literacy for educators and psychologists New York, NY: Academic Press
  • Bingham, G. E., Quinn, M. F., & Gerde, H. K. (2017) Examining early childhood teachers’ writing practices: Associations between pedagogical supports and children’s writing skills Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 39 pp.35–46
  • Bingham, G., Quinn, M., McRoy, K., Zhang, X., Gerde, H. (2018) Integrating Writing into the Early Childhood Curriculum: A Frame for Intentional and Meaningful Writing Experiences Early Childhood Education Journal 46 pp.601-611
  • Both-de Vries Anna, C., & Bus, A. G. (2008) Name Writing: A First Step to Phonetic Writing? Does the Name Have a Special Role in Understanding the Symbolic Function of Writing?, Literacy teaching and learning, 12(2), 37-55
  • Bloodgood, J.W. (1999). What’s in a Name? Children’s Name Writing and Literacy Acquisition, Reading Research Quarterly, 34: 342-367.
  • Bollinger, C., Myers, J. (2020) Young Children’s Writing in Play‑Based Classrooms Early Childhood Education Journal 48:233-242
  • Boyle, B & Charles, M. (2010) Using socio-dramatic play to support a beginning writer: ‘Daniel, the doctor and the bleeding ball’, International Journal of Early Years Education, 18:3, 213-225
  • Block, C.C., Oakar, M. and Hurt, N. (2002), The expertise of literacy teachers: A continuum from preschool to Grade 5. Reading Research Quarterly, 37: 178-206
  • Bradford, H., Wyse, D. (2020): Two-year-old and three-year-old children’s writing: the contradictions of children’s and adults’ conceptualisations, Early Years, DOI:10.1080/09575146.2020.1736519
  • Bruyère, J., Pendergrass, E. (2020) Are Your Students Writing or Authoring? Young Author’s Milieux Early Childhood Education Journal 48 pp.561-571
  • Burnett C, Merchant G, Neumann MM (2020) Closing the gap? Overcoming limitations in sociomaterial accounts of early literacy Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 20(1):111-133.
  • Byington, T. A., & Kim, Y. (2017). Promoting preschoolers’ emergent writing, YC Young Children, 72(5), 74-82
  • Calkins, L. (1994) The art of teaching writing Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
  • Christianakis, M. (2011) Children’s Text Development: Drawing, Pictures, and Writing Research in the Teaching of English 46(1) pp.22-54
  • Chuy, M., Scardamalia, M., and Bereiter, C. (2011). Development of ideational writing through knowledge building:Theoretical and empirical bases. In Handbook of Writing: A Mosaic of New Perspectives, Grigorenko, E., Mambrino, E., and Preiss, D. (Eds.) (pp. 175–190). New York: Psychology Press
  • Cremin,T., and Myhill, D. (2012) Creating Communities of Writers London: Routledge.
  • Cushing, I. (2020) ‘Say it like the Queen’: the standard language ideology and language policy making in English primary schools, Language, Culture and Curriculum, 34:3, 321-336.
  • Dahl, K., Freppon, P. (1995) A Comparison of Innercity Children’s Interpretations of Reading and Writing Instruction in the Early Grades in Skills-Based and Whole Language Classrooms Reading Research Quarterly 30(1) pp.50-74
  • Daniels, K., (2014) Cultural agents creating texts: a collaborative space adventure Literacy 48(2) pp.103-111
  • Davidson, C. (2007). Independent writing in current approaches to writing instruction: What have we overlooked? English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 6, 11–24
  • De Smedt, F., and Van Keer, H. (2014). A research synthesis on effective writing instruction in primary education. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 112, 693–701.
  • Dennis, L., Votteler, N. (2012) Preschool Teachers and Children’s Emergent Writing: Supporting Diverse Learners Early Childhood Education 41: 439-446
  • Dix, S. (2016).Teaching writing: A multilayered participatory scaffolding practice. Literacy, 50(1), 23–31.
  • Dombey, H. (2013) What we know about teaching writing Preschool & Primary Education, 1, 22-40
  • Dunsmuir, S., Blatchford, P. (2004) Predictors of writing competence in 4- to 7-year old children British Journal of Educational Psychology 74 pp.461-483
  • Fisher, R., Myhill, D., Jones, S., and Larkin, S. (2010) Using Talk to Support Writing. London: Sage.
  • Fitzgerald, J., & Shanahan, T. (2000). Reading and writing relations and their development. Educational Psychologist, 35(1), 39–50.
  • Gadd, M., and Parr, J. (2017). Practices of effective writing teachers. Reading & Writing 30(6), 1551–1574.
  • Gerde, H.K., Bingham, G.E., Wasik, B.A. (2012) Writing in Early Childhood Classrooms: Guidance for Best Practices. Early Childhood Education Journal 40, pp.351–359
  • Gerde, H. K., Bingham, G. E., & Pendergast, M. L. (2015). Reliability and validity of the Writing Resources and Interactions in Teaching Environments (WRITE) for preschool classrooms. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 31, 34–46.
  • Gerde, H. K., & Bingham, G. E. (2023). Using the Science of Early Literacy to Design Professional Development for Writing. Handbook on the Science of Early Literacy, 236.
  • Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2011). Writing to read: A meta-analysis of the impact of writing and writing instruction on reading, Harvard Educational Review, 81(4), 710–744.
  • Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D’Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., Olinghouse, N. (2012) Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice  guide (NCEE 2012–4058). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Adkins, M. (2018) The impact of supplemental handwriting and spelling instruction with first grade students who do not acquire transcription skills as rapidly as peers: a randomized control trial Read Writ 31:1273-1294
  • Graham, S., Liu, K., Aitken, A., Ng, C., Bartlett, B., Harris, K. R., & Holzapel, J. (2018b). Balancing reading and writing instruction: A meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 53 , 2793304
  • Graham, S., Liu, K., Bartlett, B., Ng, C., Harris, K. R., Aitken, A., Barkel, A., Kavanaugh, C., & Talukdar, J. (2018c). Reading for writing: A meta-analysis of the impact of reading and reading instruction on writing. Review of Educational Research, 88 , 2433284
  • Graham S. (2020a) Reading and Writing Connections: A Commentary. In: Alves R., Limpo T., Joshi R. (eds) Reading-Writing Connections. Literacy Studies (Perspectives from Cognitive Neurosciences, Linguistics, Psychology and Education), vol 19. Springer, Cham
  • Graham, S. (2020b) The Sciences of Reading and Writing Must Become More Fully Integrated. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S35– S44
  • Graves, D. (1983) Writing: teachers and children at work Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
  • Green, J., Yeager, B., and Castanheira, M. (2008). Talking texts into being: On the social construction of everyday life and academic knowledge in the classroom. In Exploring Talk in School: Inspired by the Work of Douglas Barnes, Mercer, N., and Hodgkinson, S. (Eds.) (pp. 115–130). London: Sage.
  • Grossman, P.L., Loeb, S., Cohen, J., and Wyckoff, J. (2013). Measure for measure:The relationship between measures of instructional practice in middle school English language arts and teachers’ value-added scores, American Journal of Education, 119(3), 445–470.
  • Håland, A., Frafjord Hoem, T., Margaret McTigue, E. (2019) Writing in First Grade: The Quantity and Quality of Practices in Norwegian Classrooms Early Childhood Education Journal 47:63–74
  • Hall, A., Simpson, A., Guo, Y., Wang, S. (2015) Examining the Effects of Preschool Writing Instruction on Emergent Literacy Skills: A Systematic Review of the Literature, Literacy Research and Instruction, 54:2, 115-134
  • Hall, A., White, K., Guo, Y. Emerson, A. (2019) Who counts as a writer? Examining child, teacher, and parent perceptions of writing, Early Child Development and Care, 189:3, 353-375, DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2017.1399884
  • Hall, A., (2019a) Every Child is a Writer: Understanding the Importance of Writing in Early Childhood Institute for Child Success [Online:
  • Halliday, M. (2013) Introduction to Functional Grammar (4th Ed.). London: Routledge
  • Harmey, S., Wilkinson, I. (2019) A Critical Review of the Logics of Inquiry in Studies of Early Writing Development Journal of Writing Research 11(1) pp.41-78
  • Harris, K. R., Kim, Y. S., Yim, S., Camping, A., & Graham, S. (2023). Yes, they can: Developing transcription skills and oral language in tandem with SRSD instruction on close reading of science text to write informative essays at grades 1 and 2, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 73, 102150.
  • Harste, J.C. (2012) Reading-writing connection. In C. A. Chapelle (Ed.) The encyclopedia of applied linguistics (pp.1-8) Oxford: Wiley
  • Horn, M., Giacobbe, M., (2007) Talking, Drawing, Writing: Lessons for Our Youngest Writers New York: Stenhouse
  • Hui, W.Y. (2011) The Writing behind Drawing: Lessons learned from my Kindergarten Class Journal of Classroom Research in Literacy 4(3)
  • Jacobson, J. (2010) No more ‘I’m done!’ Fostering independent writers in the primary grades Portland: Maine: Stenhouse
  • Jones, C., Reutzel, R., Fargo, J. (2010) Comparing Two Methods of Writing Instruction: Effects on Kindergarten Students’ Reading Skills The Journal of Educational Research 103(5) pp.327-341
  • Johnston, P. (2019) Talking Children Into Literacy: Once More, With Feeling Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice 68(1) pp.64-85
  • Kemp, N., & Treiman, R. (2023) Early Spelling Development, Handbook on the Science of Early Literacy, 107.
  • Kent, S., Wanzek, J., Petscher, Y., Al Otaiba, S., Kim, YS. (2014) Writing fluency and quality in kindergarten and first grade: The role of attention, reading, transcription, and oral language Reading & Writing 1:27(7) pp.1163-1188
  • Kim, Y.-S. G. (2022). Co-Occurrence of Reading and Writing Difficulties: The Application of the Interactive Dynamic Literacy Model. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 55(6), 447–464.
  • Kim, Y.-S. G., & Schatschneider, C. (2017). Expanding the developmental models of writing: A direct and indirect effects model of developmental writing (DIEW). Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(1), 35–50
  • Kim, Y.-S. G., Wolters, A., & Lee, J. Won. (2023). Reading and Writing Relations Are Not Uniform: They Differ by the Linguistic Grain Size, Developmental Phase, and Measurement. Review of Educational Research, 0(0).
  • Kissel, B. (2009) Beyond the Page: Peers Influence Pre-Kindergarten Writing through Image, Movement, and Talk, Childhood Education 85:3 pp.160-166
  • Kissel, B., Hansen, J., Tower, H., Lawrence, J. (2011) The influential interactions of pre-kindergarten writers Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 11(4), pp.425–452
  • Koster, M.,Tribushinina, E., De Jong, P.F., and Van de Bergh, B. (2015). Teaching children to write: A meta-analysis of writing intervention research, Journal of Writing Research, 7(2), 249–274
  • Lamme, L., Fu, D., Johnson, J., Savage, D. (2002). Helping kindergarten children move towards independence. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30(2), 73-79.
  • Lancaster, L. (2007) Representing the ways of the world: How children under three start to use syntax in graphic signs Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 7(2) pp.123-154
  • Langer, J.A. (2001). Beating the odds:Teaching middle and high school students to read and write well. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 837–880.
  • Latham, D. (2002) How children learn to write: Supporting and developing children’s writing in schools London: Paul Chapman.
  • Louden, W., Rohl, M., Barrat-Pugh, C., Brown, C., Cairney, T., Elderfield, J., House, H., Meiers, M., Rivaland, J., & Rowe, K. J. (2005). In teachers’ hands: Effective literacy teaching practices in the early years of schooling. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 28, 173-252.
  • Mackenzie, N. (2011). From drawing to writing: What happens when you shift teaching priorities in the first six months of school? Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 34: 322–340
  • Mackenzie, N., Veresov, N. (2013) How Drawing can Support Writing Acquisition: Text Construction in Early Writing from a Vygotskian Perspective Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(4) pp.22–29
  • Malpique, A., Pino-Pasternak, D., Valcan, D. (2017). Handwriting automaticity and writing instruction in Australian kindergarten: An exploratory study Reading & Writing 30(8) 1789-1812
  • Malpique, A., Pino-Pasternak, D., Roberto, M. (2020) Writing and reading performance in Year 1 Australian classrooms: associations with handwriting automaticity and writing instruction Reading & Writing 33 pp.783-805
  • Managhan, E. (2020). Effective Practices to Balance Literacy Instruction in Early Childhood Learning to Teach, 9(1). Retrieved from
  • Martin, J., and Rose, D. (2007). Interacting with text: The role of dialogue in learning to read and write, Foreign Languages in China, 4(5), 66–80.
  • Mayer, K.. (2007). Emerging knowledge about emergent writing YC Young Children 62 pp.34-40
  • McQuillan, J. L. (2019) The Inefficiency of Vocabulary Instruction, International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 11(4), pp. 309–318.
  • McQuitty, V. (2014) Process-oriented writing instruction in elementary classrooms: Evidence of effective practices from the research literature. Writing & Pedagogy, 6(3), 467–495
  • Medwell, J., Wray, D., Poulson, L., and Fox, R. (1998). Effective Teachers of Literacy. A Report Commissioned by the UK Teacher Training Agency.
  • Mercer, N.,Wegerif, R., and Dawes, L. (1999). Children’s talk and the development of reasoning in the classroom. British Educational Research Journal, 25, 95–111.
  • Morin MF, Pulido L. (2022). Interventions for the development of orthographic knowledge in different contexts of invented spellings, International Journal of Early Childhood, 1-18
  • Olshansky, B. (2014) Time for a Paradigm Shift: Recognizing the Critical Role of Pictures Within Literacy Learning. Occasional Paper Series (31) Retrieved from
  • Ouellette, G., Sénéchal, M. (2017) Invented Spelling in Kindergarten as a Predictor of Reading and Spelling in Grade 1: A New Pathway to Literacy, or Just the Same Road, Less Known? Developmental Psychology 53(1) pp.77-88
  • Parr, J., Jesson, J., and McNaughton, S. (2009). Agency and platform:The relationships between talk and writing. In The SAGE Handbook of Writing Development. London: Sage.
  • Purcell-Gates, V., Duke, N.K., and Martineau, J.A. (2007). Learning to read and write genre specific text: Roles of authentic experience and explicit teaching, Reading Research Quarterly, 42(1), 8–45.
  • Poulson, L., Avramidis, E., Fox, R., Medwell, J., Wray, D. (2001) The theoretical beliefs of effective teachers of literacy in primary schools: an exploratory study of orientations to reading and writing Research Papers in Education 16(3) pp.271-292
  • Pressley, M.,Yokoi, L., Rankin, J.,Wharton-McDonald, R., and Mistretta, J. (1997). A survey of the instructional practices of grade 5 teachers nominated as effective in promoting literacy. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1(2), 145–160.
  • Pressley, M., Wharton-Mcdonald, R., Allington, R., Block, C. C., Morrow, L., Tracey, D., Baker, K., Brooks, G., Cronin, J., Nelson, E., & Woo, D. (2001). A study of effective first grade literacy instruction. Scientific Studies of Reading, 5, 35-58
  • Puranik, C., AlOtaiba, S. (2012) Examining the contribution of handwriting and spelling to written expression in kindergarten children Read Writ 25:1523-1546
  • Puranik, C., Lonigan, C. (2014) Emergent Writing in Preschoolers: Preliminary Evidence for a Theoretical Framework Reading Research Quarterly 49(4) pp.453-467
  • Quinn, M. F., Gerde, H. K., & Bingham, G. E. (2016). Help me where I am: Scaffolding writing in preschool classrooms The Reading Teacher, 70, 353–357
  • Quinn, M. F., Bingham, G. E. (2018) The Nature and Measurement of Children’s Early Composing Reading Research Quarterly 54(2) pp.213–235
  • Quinn, M. K., Gerde, H. K., & Bingham, G. E. (2022). Who, what, & where: Classroom contexts for preschool writing experiences, Early Education and Development, 33, 1439–1460.
  • Ray, K., Glover, M. (2008) Already ready: nurturing writers in preschool and kindergarten Portsmouth NH: Heinemann
  • Reedy, D., Bearne, E. (2021) Talk for teaching and learning: the dialogic classroom Leicester: UKLA
  • Roitsch, J., Gumpert, M., Springle, A., Raymer, A. (2021) Writing Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities: Quality Appraisal of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses, Reading & Writing Quarterly, 37:1, 32-44
  • Rojas-Drummond, S.M., Albarr’an, C.D., and Littleton, K.S. (2008). Collaboration, creativity and the co-construction of oral and written texts. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 3(3), 177–191.
  • Rose, D. (2008). Writing as linguistic mastery:The development of genre-based literacy pedagogy. In Handbook of Writing Development, Myhill, D., Beard, R., Nystrand, M., and Riley, J. (Eds.) (pp. 151–166). London: Sage
  • Roser, N., Hoffman, J., Wetzel, M., Price-Dennis, D., Peterson, K., Chamberlain, K. (2014) Pull Up a Chair and Listen to Them Write: Preservice Teachers Learn From Beginning Writers, Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 35:2, 150-167
  • Rowe, D. (2008) The Social Construction of Intentionality: Two-Year-Olds’ and Adults’ Participation at a Preschool Writing Center Research in the Teaching of English 42(4) pp.387-434
  • Rowe, D. (2018) The Unrealized Promise of Emergent Writing: Reimagining the Way Forward for Early Writing Instruction Language Arts 95(4) pp.229-241
  • Rowe, D. W., & Neitzel, C. (2010) Interest and Agency in 2- and 3-Year-Olds’ Participation in Emergent Writing, Reading Research Quarterly, 45(2), 169–195.
  • Santangelo, T., Graham, S. (2016) A Comprehensive Meta-analysis of Handwriting Instruction Educational Psychology Review 28:225-265 
  • Sénéchal, M., Ouellette, G., & Nguyen, H. L. (2023). Invented Spelling, Handbook on the Science of Early Literacy, 95.
  • Shanahan, T., (2016) Relationships between reading and writing development in MacArthur, C., Graham, S., Fitzgerald, J., (Eds) Handbook of writing research (2nd Ed) New York: The Guilford Press pp.194-207
  • Sperry, D.E., Sperry, L.L., Miller, P.J. (2019) Reexamining the Verbal Environments of Children From Different Socioeconomic Backgrounds Child Development, 90: 1303-1318.
  • Thomas, P., (2005) Fostering composing pre-K and beyond – avoiding the artificial nature of writing and teaching Journal of teaching writing 22(1) pp.64-82
  • Timperley, H., Parr, J. (2009) What is this lesson about? Instructional processes and student understandings in writing classrooms, The Curriculum Journal, 20:1, 43-60, DOI: 10.1080/09585170902763999
  • Tolchinsky, L. (2017). From text to language and back: The emergence of written language. In C. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitgerald (Eds.) Handbook of writing research New York, NY: Guilford
  • Tolentino, E. (2013) “Put an explanation point to make it louder”: Uncovering Emergent Writing Revelations through Talk Language Arts 91(1) 10-22
  • VanNess, A., Murnen, T., Bertelsen, C. (2013) Let Me Tell You a Secret: Kindergartners Can Write! International Literacy Association 66(7) pp.574-585
  • Vass, E., Littleton, K., Miell, D., Jones, A. (2008) The discourse of collaborative creative writing: Peer collaboration as a context for mutual inspiration Thinking Skills and Creativity pp.192-202
  • Wharton-McDonald, R., Pressley, M., & Hampston, J. (1998). Outstanding literacy instruction in first grade: Teacher practices and student achievement. Elementary School Journal, 99, 101–128.
  • Whittick, L. (2020) Write a little – share a little [Online].Available: []
  • Wiseman, A. (2003) Collaboration, Initiation, and Rejection: The Social Construction of Stories in a Kindergarten Class The Reading Teacher 56(8) pp.802-810
  • Wohlwend, K. (2008) From “What Did I Write?” to “Is this Right?”: Intention, Convention, and Accountability in Early Literacy, The New Educator, 4:1, 43-63
  • Young, R. (2019) What Is It ‘Writing For Pleasure’ Teachers Do That Makes The Difference? The University Of Sussex: The Goldsmiths’ Company
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021) Writing For Pleasure: Theory, research and practice London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F., Hayden, T., Vasques, M. (2021) The Big Book Of Mini-Lessons: Lessons That Teach Powerful Craft Knowledge For 3-11 Year Olds Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre 
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021b) Functional Grammar Lessons For 3-11 Year Olds Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022) Getting Children Up & Running As Bookmakers: Lessons For EYFS-KS1 Teachers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022b) No More: I Don’t Know What To Write… Lessons That Help Children Generate Great Writing Ideas For 3-11 Year Olds Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F., Kaufman, D., Govender, N. (2022) Writing Realities Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre 
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2023a) Reading In The Writing Classroom: A Guide To Finding, Writing And Using Mentor Texts With Your Class Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre 
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2023b) Supporting children with SEND to be great writers: A guide for teachers and SENCOS Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre 
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2023c) No More: My Class Can’t Edit! A Whole-School Approach To Developing Proof-Readers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre 
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2023d) No More: I Don’t Know What To Write Next… Lessons That Help Children Plan Great Writing Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre 
  • Zhang, C., & Bingham, G. E. (2019). Promoting high-leverage writing instruction through an early childhood classroom daily routine (WPI): A professional development model of early writing skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 49, 138-151.
  • Zhang, L., & Treiman, R. (2020) Learning to spell phonologically: Influences of children’s own names, Scientific Studies of Reading, 24(3), 229–240

We Are Authors Too! Book-making for World Book Day

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.

A rough guide so participants would know what to aim for on each page.
This suggestion was designed to support children to manage the length of their books.

“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)

This table shows the mini-lesson schedule and which process or craft area was being considered.

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?

This tea-time tip encouraged talk by teaching a strategy for how to share a book.

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.

Reassuringly consistent

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.

Here is Day 6’s tea-time tip where writers were invited to try out a revision strategy called Rumbling reading tummy.

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.

The entrance to our school where families could read about the project and take the resources they might need.

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.

The number of books produced by each class.

There was a huge variety of writing ideas as you might expect (see table and slideshow below).

A sample of writing ideas from across the school.

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

We kept a writing register going in the staff room to keep each other updated on the ideas we were working on.

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.

One book per week was selected and celebrated by being read aloud in our school’s phase assemblies.

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

Completed books were stored in the school and class libraries and enjoyed during reading time.

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?

Parent voice

  • 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)

Final thoughts

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

What is a high-quality text in the context of the writing classroom?

We are all familiar with the term ‘high quality’ when it is used as an attribute of the kinds of texts which are typically recommended for use in the reading classroom. In this article, we want to give a new perspective on what a ‘high quality’ text can be, but in the very specific context of the writing classroom.

As we know, reading and writing are deeply interconnected (Young & Ferguson 2023a, 2023b). However, UK schools are experiencing a systemic problem here, because this connection is usually being interpreted for the writing classroom by those who are actually reading rather than writing specialists. The currently popular idea of tethering so-called ‘creative’ writing activities related to the content of a single text is first and foremost a way of improving children’s reading comprehension rather than teaching them the craft of writing. We’ve written about this a lot elsewhere (LINK, LINK).

As writing specialists who also understand the power of reading, we advocate for the kind of writing lesson in which a reader-writer-teacher finds and teaches one craft move made by the author of a chosen mentor text, and invites the class to apply that strategy in the context of their authentic writing that day (Young & Ferguson 2023b). Finding these craft moves in a piece of writing is the key to discovering what the writer is doing to make that text, and children will see that they can use these moves in their very own piece too.

Here is an example of what we consider to be a high-quality text for use in the writing classroom. It happens to be a fairly recently published picture-book called How To Eat Pizza, by Jon Burgerman. It’s bold, colourful, fun and amusing, and includes an element of non-fiction and instruction within a playful narrative which progresses entirely through the medium of dialogue (what we like to call ‘faction’ LINK). The main character is a personified and very smart slice of pizza intent on avoiding being eaten, and the other characters are various kinds of talking foods, each with its own distinct voice – a sure-fire win with children, who often like to include such characters in their own texts.

So, why is it a high-quality text? Well, for four reasons…

✅ A clear reason why the author was moved to write.

Jon Burgerman’s ability to make clear his reason for writing is the first way in which we can say his book is of high quality. Immediately, we know why he was moved to write the book: opposite the title page he includes a little blurb about his love for pizza, and, in the blurb on the back cover, he leaves us in no doubt that his intention is to entertain his readers, and, in the process, inform them about healthy eating. Children pick up on this, and want to entertain and inform their readers just as much when they write their very own piece. The book clearly matches the reasons children are so often moved to write.

✅ Possibilities for children to write something of their own

Secondly, because of its appeal, Jon’s book has the potential to be what we call a ‘leapfrogging’ book (Young & Ferguson 2022, LINK). Children read it and immediately see how they can write a ‘faction’ or an entertaining information text of their own. In fact, he suggests this possibility on the very last page with the question: Now, how do you eat doughnuts? Given agency over their own ideas, children may choose to write something similar to Jon’s book, or they may not, but there is enough possibility there for something to be developed as a result of reading his text. This potential is another reason why we judge the book to be of high quality in the writing classroom. It’s a book that is open to children’s agency. It offers them their own possibilities. 

✅ Scope for children to play with intertextuality 

A third thing that marks the book out for use in the writing classroom is that its content enables children to be intertextual (Young et al. 2022, LINK). Intertextuality is an ability to draw on your own personal experiences, including things you have read, heard or seen, to help you generate your very own writing ideas. This book is great for inviting children to create their own texts using their own funds of knowledge, language and identity.

✅ Full of great writing craft moves that children will want to use too

Jon’s book is jam-packed with a wealth of quality craft moves. When teachers and children ‘mine’ texts to see how they are made, they together construct a list of what we call product goalscraft moves they agree would be good to do or include in their own texts to make them as meaningful and successful as they can be (Young & Ferguson 2023b). Co-constructed product goals help children maintain their focus and enthusiasm while composing, and are taught how to use these craft moves by their writer-teacher through the medium of SRSD (mini-lesson) instruction (LINK, LINK). They will come to be added to children’s own repertoire of writerly knowledge.

Here are some of the craft moves Jon has used: 

  • Time-markers (fronted adverbials) to show the order in which things could be done (in keeping with the instructional aspect of the book)
  • Adding voice and detail through a variety of adverbs and adjectives
  • Words written in capitals for emphasis
  • Onomatopoeia (vocal noises like “Aaaaargh”)
  • Ellipsis to signal anticipation
  • An interesting use of capitalisation used for the proper name (Pizza)
  • An array of end punctuation
  • Speech marks in dialogue

The book also contains some unusual compositional craft moves which contribute to the book’s appeal, such as: 

  • Having your character talk back to and interact with an invisible narrator
  • Making a joke on the final page to open up the possibility of writing another book, perhaps as part of a series
  • Taking the opportunity to be multimodal – illustrating a whole double-page spread with a gallery of pizza slices, all numbered and labelled with different attributes

Finally, this book would sit well within a collection of similarly high-quality texts, all offering the kinds of possibilities described above. Reading and studying a variety of mentor texts is emphasised by research and is a part of excellent practice in the writing classroom (Young & Ferguson 2023b, LINK).

In summary, we define high-quality texts, in the context of the writing classroom, as offering:
A clear reason why the author was moved to write it
Possibilities for children to write something of their own
Scope for being intertextual
Examples of high-quality craft moves 

In this article, we have given a new perspective to the concept of a ‘high-quality text’ by considering it in the specific context of the writing classroom. This has been a long-felt need. ‘How to Eat Pizza’ is just one example of such a text – and you will find many others in your own class library – which can be added as alternatives to the usual recommended lists. 

We end this article by sharing the templates we use to record our favourite fiction and non-fiction texts for use in the writing classroom. You’re welcome to use this template too. You’ll find them at the end of this document.


  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022) No More: I Don’t Know What To Write… Lessons That Help Children Generate Great Writing Ideas For 3-11 Year Olds Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre 
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F., Govender, N., Kaufman, D. (2022) Writing Realities Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2023a) Handbook Of Teaching Young Writers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2023b) Reading In The Writing Classroom: A Guide To Finding, Writing And Using Mentor Texts With Your Class Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre

Thinking about next year? How to start your writing teaching off right…

By failing to prepare your writing year, you’re preparing your writing year for failure.

As this academic year comes to a close, some of us are already thinking about and planning for next year. With this in mind, we are pleased to announce that we have put together a series of Welcome Projects for EYFS, KS1 and KS2. These projects are ideal for the beginning of the academic year and will help you get your year right for writing. They can be found in our new eBook: A Classroom Guide To Getting Your Year Right For Writing.

The projects last between 2-3 weeks and all the lesson plans can be found inside.

If you’re an individual or school member, you can access these projects for FREE. They can be found in the Members’ Area of the website under eBooks and Teacher Resources.

Alternatively, you can preview and purchase the eBook for just £5.95 here

Take care and happy writing, 

Ross & Felicity

How to get success criteria right in the writing classroom

At The Writing For Pleasure Centre, we don’t believe that being a great writer is a gift bestowed on just a few lucky children. We don’t accept the romantic notion that we can just leave children to develop as writers naturally. We don’t cross our fingers and hope for the best. We appreciate that children, rightly, want to be made privy to what they need to do to create successful and meaningful texts and, importantly, how to do it.

Establishing success criteria (also known as: product goals, toolkits, ingredients, options, choices, or ‘craft moves’) is arguably one of the most powerful instructional strategies a teacher of writing can employ in their classroom (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2023a, 2023b; Young & Hayden 2022). 

We want children to write the best text they possibly can. Our job as exceptional writing teachers is to make what can feel implicit, scary and confusing for them, explicit, useful and wholly attainable. The point is you’re making the covert overt for children as they begin to craft their own pieces of writing.

We’ve talked about how success criteria can go BADLY wrong in a previous article (LINK). However, in summary, they go wrong when they are:

  • 🙅 Narrow (only focused on the use of grammar craft moves)
  • 🤐 Constructed solely by the teacher
  • 📚Not linked to reading mentor texts together
  • 😡Imposed

To get success criteria right, we need to make sure that teachers and pupils:

  • 📚 Read and discuss a host of quality mentor texts together (LINK)
  • ❤️ Extract craft moves which you and the children agree would be good to use in their writing (LINK)
  • 📝 Model how and why you use these craft moves in your own writing (LINK)
  • ✍️ Invite children to use the ‘moves’ for themselves (LINK)

Importantly, in Writing For Pleasure schools, success criteria aren’t imposed. If a child hasn’t used a certain craft move in the context of their composition, they are instead asked to show how they could have used it. They do this at the revision stage of a project on their ‘trying things out page’. If they like what they’ve done, they have an opportunity to add what they’ve written into their final manuscript (Young & Ferguson 2022). However, they are not obliged. We believe this is the behaviour of greater-depth writers. They are showing how they could have used a certain craft move in the context of their own piece of writing if they wanted to, but made the authorial decision not to include it. 

This avoids the ‘overwriting’ that can sometimes occur when children are forced to include every single craft move in their final manuscript. We believe this is a sensible way of meeting the needs of the child as an agentic author, and at the same time meet the needs and expectations of the National Curriculum and assessment framework (LINK).

It’s important to note that in Writing For Pleasure schools children are also given time to pursue their own personal writing projects (Young & Ferguson 2021b). This gives students opportunities to craft some writing away from the daily demands of the curriculum and success criteria.

Academic research and case studies of the best performing writing teachers have shown that, when done well, establishing success criteria as part of your teaching practice can:

  • 📈 Yield an effect-size of +2.03 (for context, anything over a +0.4 is generally considered to have a significant positive effect on children’s writing progress)
  • 😃Increase children’s feelings of self-efficacy (writerly confidence)
  • 💁Help children feel a sense of self-regulation (they feel they can write well independently)
  • 🤗Improve children’s sense of agency (I have a say!)
  • 🥳Increase children’s motivation to write (I know why…)
  • 🏠Promote feelings of being part of a community of writers

(see Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2023b for more details)


If you found this article useful and want more information, consider purchasing the following eBooks: Getting Success Criteria Right For Writing: Helping 3-11 Year Olds Write Their Best Texts (LINK), The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Writing Development Scales & Assessment Toolkit (LINK) and Reading In The Writing Classroom: A Guide To Finding, Writing And Using Mentor Texts With Your Class (LINK).

Children’s reflections on ‘business as usual’ writing units and Writing For Pleasure class writing projects.

Over the past two years, we’ve been introducing Writing For Pleasure class writing projects (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022) into our school’s programme of study (business as usual). I asked children to reflect on writing and being a writer before and after their introduction. These reflections were gathered by asking children to complete the Children As Writers survey at the beginning and towards the end of the academic year. 

What struck me were the distinctions made by many children between ‘business as usual’ writing units and Writing For Pleasure projects. Many children explicitly mentioned enjoying Writing For Pleasure projects and not enjoying lessons where they felt they were being ‘told what to do’. 

In the article below, I go into more detail about what those distinctions were and what impact they’ve had on my teaching going forward. 

Results from surveys before the introduction of Writing For Pleasure

The first theme that I identified was the idea that writing was boring and not enjoyable. When asked ‘What goes through your head when the teacher says: we are going to do some writing?’, responses included: ‘I do not want to do this’, ‘This will be long and hard’, and ‘boring’.

For example, one child said ‘I like some writing but not all. I don’t like being told what to write; I only like things I can decide.’ Similarly, another child said ‘Sometimes I really don’t want to do it, but if we’re going to do Writing For Pleasure projects or funner things I love it.’ One said he ‘only’ enjoys writing when it is Writing For Pleasure, and finds all other writing ‘boring’. 

One particularly powerful observation came from a child who said that when she thinks about writing she thinks of ‘a teacher telling you what to do but it is in your own words.’ She also distinguished between this type of writing (which is unenjoyable) with having choice (equated with enjoyment).

Their responses also revealed negative feelings around marking and feedback in our ‘business as usual’ lessons, versus the pupil-conferencing which occurs in Writing For Pleasure projects (Ferguson & Young 2021). Some children thought I was looking for mistakes when I was reading their writing: one wrote that I am looking for ‘vocabulary and corrections’ when I read his work, and another said I’m looking for ‘things to green highlight’ (green highlighter is used to indicate a mistake). One child made her (rightful) dislike for this explicit with this response: ‘Do you enjoy writing? Yes, because it lets me express my emotions and live in my own imaginary world. No, because when I get green highlighter I have to cross out something I like so I never feel my writing is MINE.’

This shows how problematic teacher marking was, and how it was having the total opposite effect it was meant to – instead of helping children, it was demotivating and disempowering. In contrast, pupil-conferencing helps the children in a way that is empowering and effective.

Results from surveys after the introduction of Writing For Pleasure

In contrast to the first writing surveys (in September 2021), there was no mention of writing as boring in the second writing surveys (in April 2022). I think this is arguably due to the fundamental principle of topic choice in the Writing For Pleasure projects; children are taught how to choose and write on topics which interest them most (Young & Ferguson 2022). 

Overall, the children’s responses were much more positive after completing two Writing For Pleasure projects. 

  • More children indicated that they were now writing at home, 
  • 100% of children thought that they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ have a choice about what they write,
  • 100% of them thought that I personally write ‘always’ or at least ‘often’ outside of school. 

Most importantly, there was lots of mention of enjoyment of writing – more than 10 children mentioned this explicitly. There was no mention of not enjoying my feedback (and green pen) this time around.

I think these responses are due to a variety of teaching practices I introduced. I think it’s mainly due to the fact that I was writing at the beginning of every lesson; thinking aloud and discussing my choices. I would ask their opinion on my craft choices. My writing was genuine. I showed my exhilaration and frustration, and talked openly about the challenges I find with writing. Also, during the pupil-conferencing, I would reference difficulties with my own compositions to share vulnerabilities or something I’d found helpful in the mini lessons I’d previously taught.

For example, “I enjoy writing because I love learning.”, “I get excited because writing is my passion. It is my favourite thing to do.”, ‘What goes through your head: “Yay writing one of the best things.” , “I love writing”, ‘What goes through your head: “Yes I want to do this.” “It is so fun”, ‘What goes through your head: ‘YES, writing my favourite”. “It lets me express myself through words.”, “I am really excited… It is really fun and enjoyable”, “Happy because I love writing.”

I also identified a theme of writing being seen as ‘therapeutic’. This seemed particularly important for those children with additional learning needs or had a lot going on at home. One child, who is currently assigned a social worker and is a CIN, talked about how writing made her ‘feel calm, and took her to her happy place’. She wrote ‘I really enjoy getting all of my stress and anger, I do writing to calm me at home.’ This is in keeping with the findings of a recent National Literacy Trust survey into children’s writing habits during lockdown (Clark et al. 2021).

Similarly, three of the children in my class who are in the process of being diagnosed with SEND, and who are working significantly below the level of the year group, were incredibly enthusiastic in their responses in the second survey. These are children who traditionally struggle to access the Year 5 writing curriculum, and two of whom are particularly difficult to motivate and who find being in the classroom quite stressful. These two children both mention our Writing For Pleasure projects explicitly (‘what goes through my head is journals’ and ‘you get to do whatever you like’). For all three of these children, the Writing For Pleasure projects have had a hugely positive impact on their self esteem, particularly after sharing their work during ‘Author’s Chair’ (Harris 2020).

However, I did still have some children with negative responses. Interestingly, they were all from my most experienced writers. There was mention of ‘frustration’, ‘stress’, ‘it hurts my brain’ and ‘I don’t like it’. There was also explicit mention of ‘a deadline’ being stressful.

On reflection, I think some of this response can be explained by me sometimes neglecting these students who are more competent writers, and thus who I (wrongly) assumed had more robust attitudes around their writing. I tend to focus more on my less experienced writers during writing lessons. It has also made me think very carefully about how to give constructive, empowering feedback – I think perhaps with some of my ‘greater-depth’ writers, I may have been slightly less sensitive with my feedback, thinking that they were more confident and that feedback could be quicker, so I could focus on struggling writers. I think this response could be addressed by giving these children more specific, positive praise (Ferguson & Young 2021). 

In fact classes’ responses as a collective have reinforced my belief in the power of positive, specific praise. I think I do this much more with my least experienced writers, thus they feel more positive about writing, and I need to do this more consistently with all writers in my class.

My actions for next year

My first, immediate action is to stop using green highlighter when I mark their compositions. Now I only use pink highlighter (to indicate that I felt something was effective/done really well), and use my verbal feedback through conferencing to discuss the potential for their pieces and possible improvements they can make. Furthermore, instead of going around while they are writing and correcting their spellings, I give them time at the end of writing time to look at their manuscripts and see if there are any words they think they may have misspelt (what we call ‘unsure spellings’). Once they have done this, they have time to use different strategies to check the spellings (use a dictionary, ask a friend, ask the teacher) and I work together with children who need extra support doing this.

I’m going to try addressing children’s feelings of ‘stress’ around deadlines by bringing them more into the conversation. We can decide together what we feel is a suitable amount of time to get certain writing processes done. For example, ‘do you think we need an extra session for proof-reading?’, ‘do we think we could get our drafts finished by Thursday – OK – let’s aim for that’. I’m also going to plan a mini-lesson where I share how other writers manage their process and set themselves deadlines (Young et al. 2021).

By Ciara Lawlor