Getting writing instruction right

Have you heard of SRSD instruction? SRSD stands for self-regulation strategy development. Sounds quite posh and complicated doesn’t it? It’s actually incredibly grounded and easy to understand. SRSD instruction is about teaching children strategies which enable them to be independent writers by using for themselves what they’ve been taught. It’s one of the most validated and effective practices a teacher of writing can employ in their classroom (Harris et al. 2006; Graham et al. 2011; McQuitty, 2014; Koster et al. 2015; Sun et al. 2022). That’s why it appears as one of our 14 principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, 2022a, 2022b).

All children, but particularly struggling or less experienced writers, need high-quality teaching and explicit instruction if they are to fulfil their potential as writers. This is why SRSD instruction works so well. The concept is simple. Teach your class one writerly technique, process or strategy (what we call a craft move) before inviting them to use the move for themselves in their writing that day. Case studies show that the most effective writing teachers deliver instruction in keeping with SRSD when teaching ‘craft knowledge’ (Young et al. 2021), ‘sentence-level strategies’ (Young & Ferguson 2022c) and ‘functional grammar lessons’ (Young & Ferguson 2021b). 

Their writing instruction typically goes something like this:

Step One: Orientate
Remind the children of the class writing project you are currently working on. This includes checking they know what they are writing and who they are writing it for.
Step Two: Discuss
– Introduce the craft move you want the children to try out in writing time today. Give the craft move a name. For example ‘show don’t tell’.

– Then be a salesperson. Tell your class why this craft move is so fantastic and how its use could transform their writing.

– Link the craft move to the class’ success criteria for the writing project (Young & Hayden 2022). For example: ‘show don’t tell’ is going to help us achieve ‘share your characters’ feelings’, which is on our success criteria.
Step Three: Share Models or Model Live
Share models. Show children examples of where other writers have used this craft move in their writing. There should certainly be an example of where you’ve used the craft move in your own writing. You should also show examples from other recreational or commercial authors and/or from other students’ writing. Invite children to ask you questions.


Model using the craft move live in front of your class. Share some of the writing you are currently working on and show how you’re going to use the craft move to enhance your writing. Invite children to ask you questions.
Step Four: Provide Information 
We always recommend turning your instruction into a poster or resource which the children can refer to throughout writing time. This helps them memorise the craft move and any conventions it might involve. For example, you might make a poster to accompany a lesson on punctuating speech. The poster can almost always be pre-prepared to save time and can remain up in the classroom over many days, weeks or even months. Children will be showing independent, self-regulating behaviour every time they consult the poster.
Step Five: Invite
– Invite children to use the technique during that day’s writing time.

– Monitor children’s use of the craft move during your daily pupil-conferencing (Ferguson & Young 2021).

– Sometimes you might feel you want your children to practise the strategy prior to using it in their own writing. However, in all honesty, we find this is rarely necessary.
Step Six: Evaluate
You can invite children to share how they used the craft move in their writing during class sharing and Author’s Chair (Young & Ferguson 2020). If you have noticed a student who has used the craft move in a particularly powerful, innovative or sophisticated way during your pupil-conferencing, you should invite that child to share their writing with the class. The class can then discuss their friend’s writing and its impact.

If your teaching of these craft moves is well planned and, above all, responsive to what your pupils need instruction in most, then, over time, children will internalise these strategies for themselves and so become confident, agentic, personally responsible and independent writers (Young & Ferguson 2020; Young et al. 2021).

It’s important to remember that the stages shared above constitute a good guide. However, teachers should also feel free to experiment with them if they want to. The professional judgement made by a particular teacher might be that a certain stage could be omitted altogether and that another stage might need more time devoted to it. For example, some teachers like children to practise the craft move prior to using it in their own writing, while others find this an unnecessary distraction. Some like to model the craft move live, and create their poster in front of their class, while others like to have made their poster prior to the lesson, or to share writing they have already crafted.

Finally, it’s essential to recognise that this is only one of the principles of world-class writing teaching. The reality is that it works best when interconnected with the other principles (Young & Ferguson 2021a). In particular:

  • Pursue purposeful and authentic class writing projects (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022)
  • Set writing goals (Young & Hayden 2022)
  • Teach the writing processes (Young et al. 2021)
  • Balance composition and transcription (Young et al. 2021)
  • Be reassuringly consistent (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021c, 2021d)
  • Be a writer-teacher (UKLA 2022)
  • Pupil-conference: meet children where they are (Ferguson & Young 2021)

You can find out more about any of these principles by using this link or by downloading, for free, our Handbook Of Research On Teaching Young Writers (2022a).

Finally, if you’d like to read, see and use real classroom examples of SRSD instruction, you may wish to purchase any of the following publications:


  • Ferguson, F., Young, R. (2021) A Guide To Pupil-conferencing With 3-11 Year Olds: Powerful Feedback & Responsive Teaching That Changes Writers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Mason, L. (2011) Self-regulated strategy development for students with writing difficulties, Theory Into Practice, 50(1), 20–27
  • Harris, K.R., Graham, S., Mason, L. (2006) Improving the writing, knowledge, and motivation of struggling young writers: Effects of self-regulated strategy development with and without peer support, American Educational Research Journal, 43, 295–337
  • Koster, M., Tribushinina, E., De Jong, P.F., Van de Bergh, B. (2015) Teaching children to write: A meta-analysis of writing intervention research, Journal of Writing Research, 7(2), 249–274
  • McQuitty, V. (2014) Process-oriented writing instruction in elementary classrooms: Evidence of effective practices from the research literature, Writing & Pedagogy, 6(3), 467–495
  • Sun, T., Wang, C., Wang, Y. (2022) The effectiveness of self-regulated strategy development on improving English writing: Evidence from the last decade, Reading & Writing
  • UKLA. (2022) Teachers’ Writing Project Questionnaire UKLA: Leicester [Online:]
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2020) Real-World Writers London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021a) Writing For Pleasure: Theory, Research & Practice London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021b) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Grammar Mini-Lessons For 5-11 Year Olds Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021c) A Quick Guide To Teaching Writing In The EYFS Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021d) A Quick Guide To Teaching Writing In KS1 Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. Hayden, T., Vasques, M. (2021) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s 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. (2022a) Handbook Of Research On Teaching Young Writers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022b) The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022c) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Sentence-Level Instruction: Lessons That Help Children Find Their Style And Voice Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Hayden, T. (2022) Getting Success Criteria Right For Writing: Helping 3-11 Year Olds Write Their Best Texts Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre

NEW BOOK: The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing *OUT NOW*

Learning to be a writer is one of the most cognitively challenging but socially rewarding things children do when they are at school.

This book looks to share a deep understanding of the research and science surrounding children’s writing development. Such an understanding is crucial if schools wish to turn the tide on children’s historical academic underachievement in writing, and their emotional indifference to being writers.

What’s discussed within these pages will be essential reading for anyone who wants to pursue the principles of world-class writing teaching.

£5.95 – Individual license

Please note this is a digital resource. After successful payment, PayPal will automatically redirect you to your download.

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

£29.75 – Institution/School license

Please note this is a digital resource. After successful payment, PayPal will automatically redirect you to your download.

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The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing is OUT NOW!

Learning to be a writer is one of the most cognitively challenging but socially rewarding things children do when they are at school.

This book looks to share a deep understanding of the research and science surrounding children’s writing development. Such an understanding is crucial if schools wish to turn the tide on children’s historical academic underachievement in writing, and their emotional indifference to being writers.

What’s discussed within these pages will be essential reading for anyone who wants to pursue the principles of world-class writing teaching.

£5.95 – Individual license

Please note this is a digital resource. After successful payment, PayPal will automatically redirect you to your download.

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

£29.75 – Institution license

Please note this is a digital resource. After successful payment, PayPal will automatically redirect you to your download.

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

Book Review: Above & Beyond The Writing Workshop by Shelley Harwayne

Above & Beyond The Writing Workshop: Stenhouse Publishers

By Shelley Harwayne

In Above & Beyond The Writing Workshop, Shelley Harwayne (writer-teacher and staff developer) shares her experience and expertise in developing young writers. What excites me most about her latest title is how Shelley shares her unparalleled skill in developing class writing projects based on the reading/writing connection.

As we do with all our write-ups, I will review the book using the 14 principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2021).

  1. Build a community of writers

‘How do we give students opportunities to write about things that perhaps no one else has thought to write about and to write about them in fresh, surprising ways?’

In the classrooms which Shelley knows best, she explains that children are given time to pursue their passions, collaborate with others, and read, research, and write throughout the day. Shelley writes passionately about the need for classrooms to be effectively managed, assessment-driven and full of daily pupil-conferencing. It’s Shelley’s conviction that when we invent class writing projects which are joyful, accessible, and meaningful, we should want to take part in them ourselves. It’s this which helps teachers create a community of writers. 

  1. Treat every child as a writer

Whilst Shelley doesn’t discuss children with English as an additional language or children with special educational needs and disabilities, one of the amazing things about her is her ability to plan class writing projects which all children can bring themselves to. The projects she shares throughout her book are utterly accessible and treat all children as writers.

  1. Read, share, think and talk about writing

‘When classrooms are marked with camaraderie, children learn to pitch in, support one another, and feel free to pore over texts and screen together’.

Shelley is adamant that there should be talk in the writing classroom. We must honour children’s conversations while at the same time ensuring that children have a classroom environment which is free from outbursts, interruptions and loud voices. The fact is students learn a great deal from one another during writing time and teachers can learn from listening too. 

  1. Pursue purposeful and authentic class writing projects

‘When writing demands interaction with a reader, an adult or a peer, it is more likely that students will work hard to make it their best. Better yet, if the completed work is turned into a gift for a friend, becomes a family heirloom, or takes up permanent residence in the school or classroom library, students work hard to make the work their best. The message is clear: we need to give students real-world reasons to work hard. Students need to see that their words can make a reader smile, sigh, nod, laugh, or even tear up. They need to see that their words can change their readers’ behaviour or attitude, or make someone rethink an issue or solve a new problem’. 

This is one of the principles of world-class writing teaching which the book showcases the best. Shelley provides a whole host of great examples of purposeful and authentic class writing projects. Importantly, she shares her process so that you can create your own too. Some projects which Shelley provides include:

  • Across-the globe writing. Children write about an aspect of life from across cultures.
  • Quirky questions and biographical sketches. Children write short biographies about a variety of people who share one thing in common.
  • Curiosity at the core. Writing a letter to someone to get a question answered.
  • And the award goes to… Where children get to write fictitious awards.
  • Could it really happen? Children finding answers to their often quirky questions.
  • Just for a day writing. A playful way to engage children in people’s history/biography writing, children are invited to write the typical day of someone they admire.
  • Doing what animals do. Producing picture books which share how humans and animals often behave in the same way.
  • If you were… Children finish this sentence off in a number of ways until they feel they have something worth pursuing as a piece of writing.
  • Wearing a mask. Children get an opportunity to engage in persona writing.
  • Doing what they do best. Sharing what people do for a living – and the qualities they must have to do that job well.
  • Definitional picture books. In keeping with personification, children are invited to make a picture book which tries to define an emotion.
  • Would you rather… ? A cheery way in which to introduce the concept of discussion texts.
  • Creating reader’s notes. Making a knowledge organiser for their favourite book.
  1. Pursue personal writing projects

Whilst there is no specific discussion or guidance around children pursuing their own personal writing projects either in school or at home, Shelley does make this comment for us to think about: ‘wouldn’t it be eye-opening to simply follow our students’ leads, to have blocks of time with no set agenda, simply inviting students to do the kind of writing that they themselves choose? This, of course, would require that administrators trust their teachers and that teachers trust their students’.

  1. Teach the writing processes

‘I have long been a fan of writing assignments at the elementary level that match students’ interests and sustain their attention. That belief has usually led me to shorter publications (my mantra was short children, short genres). Short genres are not just good for young writers, they are good for teachers. For example, just like in a poetry course, students can often attempt several pieces’.

One aspect of a writer’s process which is undervalued in classrooms in England is the idea of experimenting with more than one piece of writing within a class writing project. Traditionally, children are asked to write a single piece. However, Shelley suggests that if we allow children to write more than one, they craft better. For example, children could write a variety of flash-fiction or poems. They shouldn’t need to simply craft one. 

Another wonderful aspect of this book is how Shelley shares how class writing projects are celebrated at the publishing stage of the process. She provides numerous suggestions as to how classes can find time to celebrate what they’ve worked so hard to create.

  1. Teach mini-lessons

‘We led students through a series of minilessons demonstrating how to improve the quality of their draft’.

Throughout the book, Shelley explains how she devised the mini-lessons for her class writing projects. This includes some really good explanation around how teachers can effectively invite children to revise (compositionally) their initial drafts. These are sessions which Shelley calls ‘lifting the quality of children’s writing’. For example, Shelley will regularly introduce a ‘craft move’ as part of a daily mini-lesson and then ask children how she could use the technique in her own writing. She then invites the children to do the same with theirs. This is an elegant and meaningful way of delivering direct writing instruction.

Show the craft move in literature -> Apply the craft move to your own text -> Invite children to use the craft move during that day’s writing time.

  1. Be reassuringly consistent

Shelley Harwayne has always been an advocate for the reassuringly consistent approach Writing Workshop can provide (Harwayne 1992, 2001). In this publication, Shelley showcases aspects of self-regulation strategy development instruction – for the benefit of teachers and children (Google: Steve Graham & Karen Harris’ work on SRSD instruction for more details).

  1. Balance composition and transcription

Shelley reminds us that as teachers who pursue the principles of world-class writing teaching, we must have the expectation that high-quality writing will be crafted. Part of this is ensuring that we balance our focus on children’s composition and their transcription. She suggests that because her class writing projects are short, she expects the highest possible standard in terms of quality and final written outcomes.  

  1. Set writing goals

‘Teachers who have high standards for student work are wise to save copies of students’ best work’.

Shelley supports good genre-study. In the book, she provides exemplar texts from her own students for your class to look at and pore over. This is something all teachers should do for their pupils. In addition, Shelley invites classes to read and reread mentor texts written by their teacher and other commercial writers. After reading, she recommends that children create a list of ‘craft moves’ which they believe the writer used from their ‘toolbox’ to help them craft such an effective piece. She suggests that children can then be taught about how they can do these things for themselves in their own pieces via daily mini-lessons.

‘We named the tools the author lifted from his writer’s toolbox to create such an effective piece… these techniques can all be borrowed… teachers should help students tease out what each author has done effectively.’

Beyond the advice on producing product goals, it is great to read about how Shelley introduces new class projects to her students. She shares how teachers can provide explanations as to why the class project exists, the publishing goal for the project, and what they hope their students will gain from participating in it.

  1. Pupil-conferencing: meet children where they are

While mentioned regularly, this is not a principle of effective writing teaching which Shelley chooses to discuss in detail. I suspect that Shelley assumes her readership will know about the importance of live verbal feedback and assessment-based individualised writing instruction already.

  1. Be a writer-teacher

‘Teachers can become the most meaningful mentor for their students because if students admire us, they will want to be like us. If we are enthusiastic, serious, and hardworking when it comes to our own writing, so might our students be. When we write in the genre that our students have been asked to write, we learn… valuable writing techniques. So, the first way to support students’ efforts is to attempt the writing yourself’.

Shelley supports the view that teachers should be participating in class writing projects alongside their students and that they should be writing mentor texts for their children to learn from: ‘the more teachers try their hand at all the genres assigned to students, the easier it is to explain to students the qualities of good writing’. 

She reinforces Donald Graves’ conviction that if a class writing project isn’t interesting to us, if we’re not itching to write one ourselves, how can we expect our pupils to be interested in giving it their best? She shares how children are impressed by their writer-teachers’ efforts and appreciate having an image in mind of where they might be heading themselves. 

When we write what our students write, we come to understand what they need us to teach them. It appears that Shelley has a nice routine when it comes to producing mentor texts. First, she will find a commercial picturebook (or another type of text) that she admires greatly. Next, she will ‘leapfrog’ off of this text and create her own. The one she creates will match what she expects the children to produce. She will then share both these texts as part of the class’ genre-study sessions.

Commercial writing as a mentor text -> Teacher’s writing as a mentor text -> Children produce their own writing.

  1. Literacy for pleasure: connect reading and writing

‘Teachers need to remember that just as their own writing informs their teaching, so, too, does their own reading’.

Rather than tether a series of writing tasks to a novel study unit, Shelley has a wonderful ability of finding books which invite children to bring themselves to the text. The beauty of Shelley’s view of the reading/writing connection is that when she comes across an intriguing piece of writing, her first thought is: I wonder if my students would like to write something like this? Then she invites them to respond in their own personal ways by generating their own ideas. This is her power.

Incidentally, this book is absolutely full of book recommendations for teachers and includes a link to an online bibliography which Shelley keeps updated regularly. Books which, according to Shelley, are so well written, teachers can’t help but mine them for wonderful ‘craft lessons’ and class writing projects. 

  1. Interconnection of the principles

In conclusion, Shelley Harwayne provides teachers with plenty to think about in terms of encouraging children to be inquisitive, outspoken and independent writers. By reflecting on the wisdom shared within these pages, teachers would be perfectly placed to create a passionate, supportive and loving community of writers who write with pleasure, purpose and power.

Review by Ross Young. Ross runs The Writing For Pleasure Centre and helps convene the United Kingdom Literacy Association’s Teaching Writing special interest group.


  • Harwayne, S. (1992) Lasting Impressions Weaving Literature into the Writing Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
  • Harwayne, S. (2001) Writing Through Childhood: Rethinking Process & Product Portsmouth NH: Heinemann
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F., (2021) Writing For Pleasure: theory, research and practice London: Routledge

The importance of a whole-school vision for writing

If children are to receive the world-class writing instruction they need and deserve, it is essential that teachers and senior leaders come together and develop a coherent and well-constructed vision for teaching writing (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2021; Young & Ferguson 2021d; Graham 2022).

This article provides an example of how such a vision was created at a Writing For Pleasure school. It is based on three assumptions as articulated by Graham (2022).

  1. Developing a vision for teaching writing should be guided by theory (Young & Ferguson 2021a) This includes considering what sort of writing teachers you want to be (Young & Ferguson 2022). This provides a framework for thinking about how writing instruction should proceed.
  2. Visions for teaching writing should be informed by the best scientific evidence available (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, 2021b, 2021c, in press). This increases the likelihood that the resulting vision is an effective plan.
  3. Theory and evidence-based writing practices are necessary but not sufficient for developing classroom visions for teaching writing. Teachers need to bring their own knowledge, gained through experience, to this process.

According to Graham (2022), these three ingredients make it possible for schools to make informed, judicious, and intelligent decisions when constructing a vision for teaching writing.

Here is an example of one such vision from one of our Writing For Pleasure schools:

Vision Statement – What happens in our Writing For Pleasure school?

We want to become a school of extraordinary writers and we want the greater-depth standard to be our standard. Therefore, writing is central to everything we do. Firstly, it involves children and teachers writing together every single day. They write for many different purposes, and for a variety of audiences. They are moved to write about what they are most knowledgeable and passionate about. They also write to deepen their responses and understandings of what they read. They write to transform their own (and others) thinking about what they learn in the wider curriculum subjects. They write to entertain, to paint with words, to persuade and share their opinions, to teach others, to make a record of things they don’t want to forget, and to reflect on their own thoughts and personal experiences. They write about themselves and their cultures. They also write to reflect and sustain the cultures of people they might not have met. They share their writing and discuss their development with their peers, teachers and caregivers. They learn how to live the writer’s life.

Our pupils explore new genres of writing through whole class writing projects. Together, they discuss the purpose of the writing project, explore its basic features, and study mentor texts together. Whilst doing this, they consider who they would like to write their pieces for and what they would like to write about most. Students are taught how to use the same features and expert techniques they identified from the mentor texts in their own compositions. They learn how to attend to their spellings, handwriting, grammar, and sentence construction. This helps them write happily and fluently. Pupils learn a whole host of craft knowledge – what we call craft moves. This includes writerly strategies and techniques for negotiating the writing processes. We want our children to know how they can take a germ of an idea and see it through to publication independently and successfully. We support students by providing them with clear processes and ambitious writing goals. They are given ample time and instruction in how to plan and how to improve on what they have already written through specific revision and proof-reading sessions.

Pupils receive daily in-the-moment verbal feedback and responsive assessment-based individualized instruction through teacher-pupil conferencing. These conversations are designed to push the writer and move their writing forward. Pupils are given many opportunities to discuss their compositions with their teachers and their peers. We devote at least one hour a day to the explicit teaching of writing and children write meaningfully for a sustained period every single day. We believe this is the only way they can learn about the discipline of writing and of being a writer. Across the school day, children will also write about their reading and will write in response to their learning in other subjects. Importantly, they also have access to personal writing journals which travel freely between home and school. We want them to live the writer’s life and to be in a constant state of composition.

We create genuine writing communities in our classrooms. Children write in positive and enthusiastic writing environments which are headed up by passionate writer-teachers. Our classrooms are a mixture of creative writing workshops and professional publishing houses. They are rigorous, highly-organised and reassuringly consistent. Pupils are encouraged to take risks and to be innovative, but also to write with focus and serious intent. We adapt our teaching depending on what individual children need instruction in most. Whether they are in Nursery or Year Six and regardless of where they are in their development or experience, all children are treated as writers and are helped not only to write pieces which are successful in terms of the objectives of the curriculum but also meaningful to them as young authors.


  • Graham, S. (2022) Creating a Classroom Vision for Teaching Writing, The Reading Teacher, 75, 475– 484
  • The Writing For Pleasure Centre (2021) Guidance on teaching writing and the new Ofsted framework [Online:]
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2020) Real-World Writers London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021a) Writing For Pleasure: Theory, Research & Practice London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021b) A Quick Guide To Teaching Writing In The EYFS Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021c) A Quick Guide To Teaching Writing In KS1 Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021d) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Writing Development Scales & Assessment Toolkit Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022) What sort of writing teacher do you want to be [Online:]
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (in press) The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre

What sort of writing teacher are you?

This article has three aims:

  1. To help you reflect on your own writerly education.
  2. To reflect on the writerly education children are receiving in our schools today.
  3. To think about what kind of teacher of writing you want to be.

To help you, in our book Writing For Pleasure: Theory, Research & Practice (Young & Ferguson 2021), we identified, labelled and described the most popular views teachers have on the teaching of writing.

The most common approaches are:

  1. The presentational-skills approach
  2. The literature-based approach
  3. The genre or ‘structuralist’ approach 
  4. The self-expressionist naturalistic approach
  5. The critical literacy approach
  6. The community or environmental approach

You may have observed schools who try to use a mixture of these approaches. However, we find one approach usually dominates. The approach a teacher or a school chooses to adopt reveals a lot about what they think a writing or indeed a writer education should be. For example, some approaches believe that the teacher’s role is simply to develop children’s writing while others believe they should also be developing the child as a living and working writer too. 

The approach a school chooses is influenced by a number things, including:

  • How their teachers were taught to write at school. 
    • For better or for worse, we know from research that teachers often copy the writing pedagogy they themselves received. 
  • How the teachers view themselves as writers and how they undertake the craft of writing in the here and now. 
    • Your own writer-identity and your ways of doing writing will affect how you teach it as a subject in profound ways.
  • What you choose to read on the subject of writing teaching.
  • Your school’s interpretations of governmental policy. 

We will now describe (albeit in a slightly caricatured way!) the different sorts of teachers you may have been taught by or the sorts of writing teachers you have encountered across your careers.

  1. The presentational-skills teacher

First up is the presentational teacher. They believe their role is to create a method which focuses solely on children presenting the objectives of assessment as efficiently as possible. Therefore, they try to remove from their teaching anything that is not directly related to what needs to be assessed. They don’t believe it’s a requirement for children to present their own voice, consider audience or purpose, show enthusiasm, variety or originality, and so they try to remove these things from their approach – because they are seen as getting in the way. Instead, they focus on children using certain linguistic features, neat handwriting, correct spellings, adventurous vocabulary, cohesiveness and correct punctuation and the use of Standard English.

Now the problem with this approach isn’t so much what they include. All of the things I’ve just described are pretty useful to learn about – but it’s what they choose to leave out that’s the major issue.

  • These teachers routinely use grammar worksheets, dictation exercises, fill in the blank and out-of-context sentence combining activities.
  • For writing tasks, they will construct the voice, purpose and audience on their class’ behalf. They will choose the topic and everyone will write about the same thing.
  • They will construct the plan for the writing and make the children follow it to the letter.
  • They will check each sentence or paragraph is ‘correct’ before children are allowed to move onto writing another one.
  • They will give children an example text to copy or get them to learn one off by heart which they can then pretty much copy – but in a way that hopefully no one will notice.
  • They will create success criteria on their children’s behalf which tells them what to include and where it needs to be included.
  • Ideally, they will get children to draft ‘neatly’ using their best handwriting.
  • They will give children a list of vocabulary that they want to be included in their writing.
  • They will often ask children to complete the writing task in a single sitting.

So this approach is all about the teacher controlling the writing almost like a factory-foreman will control a production line. These teachers get their satisfaction from finding a system that maneuvers children through a set of procedures that results in them presenting a text that gives the impression that children have met (independently) the requirements of the assessment framework.

Limitations of the approach

The main problem with this approach is that it doesn’t remotely resemble how writers work out in the real world. The teacher takes responsibility for so much of the writing that children fail to receive a true writerly apprenticeship. For example, children under such an approach, at its end, wouldn’t be able to generate their own idea for a piece of writing and independently see it through to publication or performance. They simply come to rely on the procedure their teacher has put in place. Surely, the basic aim of any writerly education – is that ultimately children can be independent writers once they leave?

2. The literature-based teacher

Next, the literature-based teacher believes their role is to create a method which focuses on preparing children for secondary school writing teaching – where the majority of their time is spent reading and writing to show their understanding of a set text. These teachers have a passion for English literature and for teaching reading. These teachers will often use their own secondary school teaching as the basis for primary school teaching and so they will use high-quality texts to come up with a series of pseudo-authentic (meaning ‘make believe’ or ‘pretend’) writing tasks that children are to work through and complete. Like their presentational colleagues, the teacher (or scheme) will construct the voice, purpose and audience on their class’ behalf. They will choose the book and associated writing tasks for the class and everyone will be required to write about the same thing.

These teachers gain satisfaction from seeing children engaging with their reading through the writing tasks they’ve come up with.

Limitations of the approach

Again, the teacher takes responsibility for so much of the writing that children fail to receive a true writerly apprenticeship. Children don’t get to write in personal response to the texts they like. Finally, children can grow up with the misunderstanding that writing and being a writer is just about responding to other people’s ideas around a set text. They fail to write ‘for real’ (Young 2019).

3. The structuralist genre teacher

Not too long ago this was the most popular teacher, the genre teacher believes their role is to teach children about as many different types of writing as possible. These teachers typically give children an example text and then set a task where their pupils have to write a text in as similar a way as possible to the example. Again, the teacher will choose the topic and everyone will write about the same thing.

The teacher gains satisfaction from seeing children apply the features of different types of writing.

Limitations of the approach

Again, the teacher takes responsibility for so much of the writing that children aren’t invited to think about how they might want to use any taught genres for their own purposes or reasons. It’s always the teacher that’s in control of the genre and the writing idea. Children are simply there to follow a routine, a set of instructions that’s similar to what academic Harold Rosen called ‘painting by numbers’.

4. The self-expression naturalistic teacher

Never really an approach that’s enjoyed any kind of serious popularity, these teachers believe that children should largely be allowed to develop as writers in a natural and unobtrusive way. These teachers are ‘romantics’. They believe their role is to create a classroom where children can come in every single day and spend copious amounts of time writing freely and happily. It’s a bit of a hippie free-for-all. The teacher only teaches when a child (or the class) identifies their learning needs for themselves first.

As you might imagine, such teachers dislike the use of any schemes which would try to control children’s writerly intentions. The teacher gains satisfaction from observing and nurturing children’s self-discovery, creativity and their personal growth as writers. They also seem to like it when children write about heartfelt, personal or sensitive subjects.

Limitations of the approach

The obvious problem with this approach is what happens to children who don’t come naturally to writing. Another problem with the approach is that children tend to only write in genres they already know or are successful at. They also tend to write about the same thing, in the same way, time and time again. Children often write just for themselves and so can become asocial and individualistic. The creative effort that goes into the writing is often seen as more important by the teacher than the final product (the journey is seen as more important than the destination). Finally, some say, only the so-called ‘brightest and middle-class children’ do well through this kind of approach while other children are set up to fail because of its lack of focus on direct teaching.

5. The critical-literacy teacher

An approach which is becoming ever more popular, particularly in the United States, these teachers are teaching writing from a social-justice perspective. 

These teachers believe that writing in schools can often oppress minority or marginalised groups and that children’s lives, perspectives and experiences and children’s existing cultural capital, knowledge and identities are too often ignored, suppressed, and replaced by their teacher’s wants and desires.

These teachers also see their role as being to equip children as writers who consider the politics behind their writing. For example, children are asked to think about who they typically represent in their writing, what they typically write about and how they typically write it? Who is excluded in the texts they produce? How can they write as a way to take social action and fight injustice? How can they celebrate the things that make us different but also the same? How can they write so as to share about who they are, what they think and what they believe? (As opposed to what their teacher has imagined, thought or believes). Finally, these teachers think carefully about how they can use emerging technologies to help children write and publish their manuscripts.

The teacher gains satisfaction from seeing children’s ability to work and write with a collective voice, celebrating and validating who they are, sharing and appreciating their multiple and developing individual voices, identities, knowledge and experiences, and, through student-led activism, fight for and critically reflect on issues of social justice, inequality, and prejudice at a local and global level.

Limitations of the approach

Because writing is always framed through critical literacy, it can make some children fearful to compose texts in case they offend someone. Indeed, children may well craft texts which create conflict or cause offence. They may write texts which are seen as sexist, racist, classist, ableist, or may rely on stereotypes. As a result, these things will need to be discussed and unpicked in the classroom.

You also need to consider how much political understanding is required by children to take part in such an approach. When and how is this to be taught? Also should teachers be engaging in politics? Should schooling and politics be kept separate? (If this is even possible?)

6. The community environmental teacher

These teachers see writing as a way and means to participate with the world. They believe children should be writing ‘real’ texts for ‘real’ reasons and for ‘real’ audiences. The classroom acts like a ‘writing workshop’ or ‘publishing house’ where children and teachers work as a community of writers to produce and publish texts for others to read or see performed. These teachers don’t believe in assigning ‘pretend’ writing tasks but rather plan authentic class writing projects. They believe writing should ‘get to work’ and should be published or performed to the highest standards that is possible for each individual child. The teacher sees their role as inviting children to participate in the choosing of their own writing ideas within the parameters of a class writing project. They give children instruction in genre (for example, they discuss the purpose and future audience for the writing and together they think about what they are going to have to do, and what they are going to have to include, to create a successful and meaningful text) and they learn the processes writers go through to craft and publish texts out into the community. And so these children come into the classroom every day to live, work and learn as real writers and they are there to learn from a real writer – a writer-teacher. The children are expected to produce writing that is (developmentally appropriate) but also comparable with professional standards.

These teachers gain satisfaction from seeing children living the writer’s life and in developing their own writer’s process. Finally, their satisfaction derives from seeing children write successful and meaningful texts which fulfil their own intentions and are taken seriously by genuine audiences. And actually the argument is that if children are writing real texts for real people, they naturally have to exceed the requirements of the curriculum.

Limitations of the approach

There can be limitations to this approach. For example, children can sometimes not feel part of the writing community and that people don’t tend to like the things they choose to write about.


Research suggests that as teachers we need to adopt a multidimensional
approach to the teaching of writing (Young & Ferguson 2021; Young & Ferguson in press; Young & Ferguson in press). It’s important that we take the strengths of each of these approaches and try to mitigate their limitations. The research would suggest that we need an approach to writing which combines rigorous instruction in the processes and craft of writing with principles which contribute significantly to children’s enjoyment and satisfaction. An approach which is neither teacher centred nor child centred but rather one centred around creating successful writers.

We term such a model as Writing For Pleasure, which brings together the very best aspects of all the orientations described above to form a rigorous, fresh, holistic, and inclusive philosophy and pedagogy for writing.

The aim of this article was to: 

  • Help you reflect on your own writerly education. What approach did you receive at school?
  • Help you reflect on the writerly education children are receiving in schools today. What type of writing teacher are you seeing in schools (your school)?
  • Help you think about what kind of writing teacher you want to be.


Here is an interesting reflection activity. You have ten counters. With your colleagues, consider how many counters you would place next to each of the writing perspectives shared in this article. Each counter shows how much you think your teaching aligns with that approach. This could lead to some rich discussions with your colleagues.


  • Young & Ferguson (2021) Writing For Pleasure: Theory, Research & Practice London: Routledge
  • Young & Ferguson (in press) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Handbook Of Research On Teaching Young Writers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young & Ferguson (in press) The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre

Writing Persuasive Letters for Personal Gain in Year 4

If we think that children don’t have anything to write about, we are doing them a huge disservice.  Given the time to think, question, dismiss, select and elaborate upon their own ideas, we find that all children have something that they want to say and – very importantly – be motivated to write about.  Children try to persuade adults to do things all the time.  After all, we (the adults) are the gatekeepers – the withholders of time, knowledge, information, choice (the list could go on).  Being persuasive is an important life skill.  We all need to persuade others at different points in our lives and for various reasons.  In order to get our point across succinctly, without being rude, and know enough facts about the subject to argue our case, we need to be clear and knowledgeable about what we want to say and how to say it.  When we really want something, we are ready to commit the thought and energy it takes to work out how to get it.

When asked what the children wanted to say in order to improve their own lives as a form of personal gain (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022), their ideas were plentiful.  Here is a small selection:

Asking for more Chromebooks to be available for children to use in Year 4
Asking to change the school menu to include healthier options
To request a signed copy of a book from favourite author
To request a family pet
To request that Sainsbury’s stop using unnecessary plastic packaging in their supermarkets
To ask their grandparents to quit smoking
To request that Laser Quest to make their equipment less heavy to carry
To ask for the local incinerator to stop burning rubbish
To ask a game company for some free samples
To ask the local council to do more about dog mess in the local park
To ask the Headteacher for swimming lessons missed because of lockdown
An example of one child’s ‘Ideas Party’

The children were given the time to discuss and think about these ideas deeply, and consider whether they knew enough or needed longer to research and find out more facts.  They could reflect upon whether the subject matter really meant enough to them to be able to write as persuasively as possible.  There were no pseudo-audiences or ‘fake’ content in our writing classrooms – we could allow ourselves to understand that when it comes to genuine, impactful writing to make real-life change, we need to write from the heart and to an authentic reader.

While a lot of children knew what they wanted, they didn’t necessarily know the appropriate audience for that letter; they didn’t know who actually had the power to make the change that they wanted to see. Speaking to the children about who could actually help with their cause was a process which to some extent demystified the workings of the world for them; they saw that real adults make decisions about how things work, and those things aren’t inevitable but can be changed, even if that change might seem unlikely or outlandish. Such an understanding encourages children to have opinions, to be critical, to imagine changes, to use their voice, as they can see that all of those things can be put to purpose.

The anecdotes mini-lesson (Young et al. 2021) was probably one of the most transformational in this project, partly because the idea was so alien to the children. Encouraging children to include their own personal feelings and anecdotes as part of their persuasion was a new idea to most of them, and something our classes really ran with. So many of them had assumed that what they thought and their own experiences wouldn’t be listened to by adults. We wanted to make clear to the children how they can use their age to their advantage, that their opinions and experiences might be valued because of their age, rather than in spite of it. Telling children that their experiences matter, and that events in their own lives might change someone else’s perspective, inspired them. Lots of the children could think of moving stories that utilised emotion and sympathy to persuade their audience, but possibly even more importantly, it was a key step in showing children that their personal voice could be meaningful and powerful.

Letting children choose why they were writing persuasively and who to, giving them a genuine purpose and audience, led to the children taking a rigorous and critical approach to their writing. When the children had decided who they were going to persuade, just asking them, “Do you think saying that is going to persuade them?” became a really powerful teaching point. Throughout the writing process, children applied that question to their own and other children’s drafts, and the children held themselves and each other to increasingly high standards. Persuasion is a life skill that to some extent or other, children will have already acquired, and it’s a skill that requires a huge amount of empathy. Asking the children to think from their persuadee’s perspective enables them to consider their audience in  a new way. It’s not just, “will your audience be entertained by this?” but “can you make your audience agree with you?”, a question which requires a perhaps more rigorous kind of scrutiny. In persuasive writing, thinking about your audience is of the utmost importance, and the children’s research extended from the topic of their persuasive letter to who they were persuading, as they began to see not just their own role in the writing process, but the significance of who they were writing for.

Once we all finished the letters, we learnt how to address the envelopes and post them correctly. We posted them in the hope of our messages to be read, understood and responded to by a genuine reader. 

After a week, one child came to class very excited, telling everyone that his dad received his letter in the post that morning. He announced that his dad had cried – proud tears after having received such a touching letter from his son. He said that his father had been persuaded to give him a hamster. “I couldn’t believe it! It worked!” the child said. His expression said everything. He told the whole class that he had tried several times before to persuade his family to buy a pet and in different ways (using the celebrations of birthdays, Christmas, Summer holidays, etc) but it hadn’t worked until the morning his letter arrived. The power of writing was becoming evident for the whole class to see.

A few days later, the school office called looking for a child to collect a letter addressed to her. The letter came, as the child said, in a “very sophisticated envelope” from Sainsbury’s. She read it aloud, initially in disbelief that it could be authentic. Another child said: “Yes, it is real! They hear you and they have responded!” She started believing it when she realised there was a serial number to track the response online.

The same day a grandparent asked for a few minutes to speak after school. Emotionally, she said that she had received a letter from her grandson. The letter was about the impact smoking has on our health and he was asking her to stop. She had been considering stopping smoking for several years but because of the letter, she made a final decision – she was quitting.

The impact of this project has been tangible.  As we wait to hear back from more of our recipients, looking forward to turning the envelopes over in our hands and poring over the contents, the belief is building in our classrooms that writing is a powerful and worthwhile pursuit.  We can’t wait for the next Writing for Pleasure project to begin.

By Ruth Arundel, Ellen Counter & Victor Guerro

Spinning A Web Of Great Story Ideas by Ateqa Ali

Near the beginning of my year five’s fiction class writing project (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022), I taught a lesson which aimed to help children find their own writing idea for a story project – and get excited about their writing. We’ve tried several idea generation lessons (Young et al. 2021) in the past and the children have loved exploring and sharing their ideas, adding to them at the planning stage and revising their drafted texts to create richer narratives.

Today we tried out a new technique together – Idea Webs, which we took from the Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Big Book of Mini Lessons. This technique involves children in a simple process of looking at two of their favourite books and writing down on post-it notes one character, one setting and one problem from each book. They are then invited to create a new story, inspired by their notes. I tried it out for myself, and, as I found my own story ideas, I realised that the technique was both straightforward and fun. 

Here we see writer-teacher Ateqa’s Idea Web which is displayed as a model. What’s wonderful about this poster is how Ateqa has made publicly available children’s Idea Webs for others to read and feel inspired by.

As I introduced the Idea Web techniques and created a shared class version with the children, it was obvious that they were excited to contribute their ideas. We didn’t record them all, but the children knew they would be making their own web soon enough. After I finished modelling the mini-lesson (12 minutes), the children immediately set to work, loving the idea of using their favourite books and characters to generate new ideas. They worked in pairs (brilliant for each choosing their own book) using an A3 sheet and some sticky notes. We were so excited at all the amazing buzz we had created around idea generation. The children took their characters, settings and problems and created rich outlines for whole new stories. These included hilariously mixed-up characters such as wimpy wizards and genius witches, and all kinds of bizarre settings and problems. I genuinely felt that professional writers would have given a fortune to be a fly on the classroom wall that day as the amazing ideas and story outlines milled about.

At the end of the session, the children started to firm up their ideas ready for me to take the Writing Register in the following lesson. A Writing Register is a place where I record every child’s name and a working title for their chosen story idea (Young & Kettle 2022). Once we had created the register and started the planning process, I felt like I couldn’t part with these amazing ideas, so I gathered them up and stuck them under my model ready for children in need of inspiration for their Personal Writing Projects throughout the year (Young & Ferguson 2021). 

This lesson was not at all what I expected; it created magic in my classroom and excitement around writing. I will definitely be using these Idea Webs in my future fiction projects.

By Ateqa Ali

*NEW ebook* Getting success criteria right for writing: Helping 3-11 year olds write their best texts

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Writing is a craft. It can be taught and so it can be learnt. 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 just 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.

In this minibook, we explain:

  • The importance of success criteria (which we call product goals).
  • How mentor texts are the key that helps children identify powerful goals for their own writing.
  • How to identify great product goals for class writing projects.
  • Examples of what product goals can look like across the different age ranges 3-11.
  • The type of language you might use to help children identify goals for their writing.
  • The profound relationship between product goals and children being able to revise their compositions with purpose and pleasure.
  • How children can use and apply success criteria in a way which matches the greater-depth standard for KS1 and KS2.
  • How teachers can plan in response to the product goals identified for a class writing project.
  • How product goals naturally lead teachers towards providing powerful writing instruction for their young writers.
  • We give answers to your frequently asked questions.

£5.95 – Individual license

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£29.75 – Institution license

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Having An Ideas Party & Taking A Writing Register With Year Four

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas  Linus Pauling

Idea Parties are a fantastic way for all children, regardless of age (EYFS-KS2), to generate ideas together for a class project (Young et al. 2021). It works across all genres. Generating ideas is one of my favourite things about teaching young writers. Children have a wonderful ability to come up with unique and original ideas in a way that I can’t. When you give children some flipchart paper and invite them to come up with ideas for the class writing project, it’s like a creative bomb goes off. This is especially true with children who have had a long apprenticeship in the principles of a Writing For Pleasure approach (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021). One of the best things about Idea Parties is the social way in which children work together to come up with lots of writing ideas. It’s often other people’s ideas that spark off your own ideas too.

Here is an example of an Ideas Party we had in a Year Four classroom. The children had already been introduced to their latest class writing project: Short Stories. They’ve already looked at a variety of mentor texts and they’ve decided on their product goals (success criteria) for the project. Now was the day to start thinking about what they wanted their short stories to be about. 

Prior to the lesson, Ms Kettle and I put some flipchart paper out on each desk and wrote some story ‘themes’ we thought the children might enjoy thinking about. These were: superheroes, mystery, sci-fi, love and friendship, fan-fiction, and spooky. In their groups, the children spent around twenty minutes coming up with as many story ideas as they could. As teachers, we also spent time at each desk coming up with ideas with the children too. It was really fun and by the end we had hundreds of ideas. More than we could ever write about for the project. 

Their teacher, Ms Kettle, was amazed by just how successful this writing strategy was. She noted how little the children needed prompting to get their ideas flowing and once they got started it was hard for her to get them to stop (no bad thing!).

Next, we asked the children to choose their absolute favourite idea. This would be the story idea they would pursue for the class writing project. For children who found it hard to choose because they had so many ideas, we simply told them to write all the other ideas they liked into the back of their personal writing project books (Young & Ferguson 2021). They could then work on these other great stories in their free time and at home.

The last thing we needed to do that day was take our Writing Register. Taking a Writing Register has lots of benefits.

  • By starting with your most confident writers, you give other children time to listen to what their peers have chosen to write about.
  • The writing register naturally makes children consider a working title for their piece. In the process of coming up with their title, they have to find a general focus for their idea.
  • Taking a register allows you to hear what each child is going to write about and provides you with an opportunity to clarify any uncertainties or difficulties they might have with it.
  • You can show the writing register to your class next year. This is another way of helping children come up with their own writing ideas.
  • It creates an excitement and buzz in the classroom. 
  • It holds children accountable.

Ms Kettle noted how having an Ideas Party flowed so naturally into taking the Writing Register. Asking the children to give their story a working title really got them to narrow in on the focus of their narrative. Below is the final writing register for the Short Stories project. Going forward, Ms Kettle can’t imagine planning a writing project without including a little Ideas Party!

NameWriting Register
UzairVampire Diaries
ShazeenThe Scary Dragon
AleeshaThe Spooky Story
AishaThe Lost Friends at the Cinema
M. AmeenThe Red Sky
ZunairaThe Day the Lightning Thief Came to Life
HusnaThe Ghost Attack!
SafaThe Ghost Invasion!
MahrabThe Haunted House
InaayaHorror of the Boy
UmarThe Day I saw a Spooky Doll
PraptiThe Giant Dragon Tea Party
MehreenLizzie’s Astronaut Journey
ZaydThe Zombie Invasion
AleezaThe Abandoned Ghost House
IshikaA Mystery Inside a Spooky Tunnel
MoryaThe Ghost City Hidden
MuhammadThe Day I Saw it Rain Blood
MulyaMysterious Explosion
JannahThe City of Power
LiyaanaThe Vampire That Comes at Night
AaryanThe Britannic
AmaniThe Scary Snowman
HussainaliThe Mythical Dragon
DhanviThe Thief That Escaped 1954
Mr YoungThe Abandoned Ghost Train
Miss KettleThe Ghost in my Cupboard

By Ross Young & Anna Kettle