The cognitive and motivational case for inviting children to generate their own writing ideas

Children unnecessarily (but routinely) underperform in writing classrooms simply because they are required to write on topics for which they have limited knowledge and little motivation to write about (Young & Ferguson 2022a, 2022b, 2022c).

Writing is probably the most cognitively challenging thing children have to do while at school. Writing requires them to coordinate at least thirteen different cognitive resources simultaneously (Young & Ferguson 2022a).

(Writing is hard (but rewarding). The cognitive resources children have to draw on to write well. Adapted from The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing by Young & Ferguson 2022a)

In addition, there are many social, emotional, metacognitive and self-regulatory skills that children have to use and apply to produce a great piece of writing, and to develop themselves as confident and successful writers.

Young & Ferguson’s (2021) hierarchy of emotional writing needs

Having been brought up on a diet of scheme-supplied writing prompts, contrived topics, and artificial writing situations, many children learn to detest the writing classroom (Clark et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022c, 2023a). Children can find that the quality of their writing is actually being judged on their ability to remember the stuff they’ve been required to write about by the scheme-writer rather than on the quality and accuracy of their craft. Teachers too end up spending the majority of their writing lesson giving out content knowledge and not writerly knowledge (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022a). Children’s writing development suffers as a result.

In contrast, in Writing For Pleasure schools, we know that when children are allowed to choose and access a topic they are familiar with and emotionally connected to, their writing performance improves and they produce higher quality texts (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2022b, 2023b). This is because, perhaps for the first time, they can write from a position of cognitive strength, confidence and expertise. They get to access content which is not only stored in their long-term memory but they are also extremely keen to write about. This frees them up to focus on all the other demanding cognitive resources required to write successfully!

***

If you are interested in finding out more, download our eBook: No More: I Don’t Know What To Write… Lessons That Help Children Generate Great Writing Ideas For 3-11 Year Olds and The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing.


The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s FREE Handbook Of Research On Teaching Young Writers

This free handbook addresses all the major aspects of teaching writing. We would like this handbook to support teachers in developing sound subject knowledge and exceptional classroom practice. The handbook includes:

  • Over 500 research entries covering the major aspects of developing students as writers. 
  • Short abstracts and keyword tags to help teachers find the research they are looking for.
  • An analysis of the analysis and what it is the best performing writing teachers do that makes the difference.
  • A chapter dedicated to each of the 14 principles of world-class writing teaching.
  • Research on the early teaching of writing including compositional development, phonics, encoding, spelling, letter formation and handwriting.
  • Extended entries on major topics such as speaking and listening, reading/writing connection, multilingualism, special educational needs and disabilities, and social and emotional disorders.
  • Focused chapters on the affective needs of student writers, including: self-efficacy (confidence), self-regulation (competence and independence), agency, motivation and writer-identity.
  • Essential literature and suggested reading offered at the end of each chapter.

This handbook is a useful resource for anyone interested in developing world-class writing teaching. Teachers should find what is shared within these pages utterly interesting, informed and helpful.

New to this second edition:

  • New research studies related to initial teacher education.
  • Further research studies on the subject of child agency, ownership and personal responsibility.
  • Additional studies on the subject of writer motivation and writer-identity. 
  • Substantial new studies related to multilingualism.
  • Major additions to the special educational needs chapter. 
  • New studies on the subject of drawing/planning and their influence on children’s writing.
  • Writing in the early years.
  • Studies on encoding and handwriting fluency.
  • New research studies have been added to the genre-study and mentor text section. This includes using this kind of study to influence success criteria and rubrics.
  • Papers on the importance of pursuing purposeful and authentic class writing projects.
  • Additional studies on functional grammar teaching.
  • More information on developing as a writer-teacher.
  • Substantial new studies on delivering live-verbal feedback and pupil-conferencing.
  • Our section on the writing/reading connection has had additional studies added to it.

*NEW eBook* No More: I Don’t Know What To Write Next… Lessons That Help Children Plan Great Writing

In No More: ‘I Don’t Know What To Write Next!’, Felicity Ferguson & Ross Young share with you a rich variety of attractive planning strategies and techniques, for EYFS right through to KS2. In addition, they supply graphic organisers and planning grids for key fiction, non-fiction and poetry genres. Using these resources and planning strategies will help your pupils:

  • Stay on track 
  • Keep their pieces cohesive
  • Get over writer’s block
  • Know how to carry on
  • Pick up from where they left off 
  • Write more – and write better 

Making a good plan for your writing is like providing yourself with a comforting road map if you lose your way. And we know that effective planning has a huge positive impact on children’s writing outcomes. This publication will help you give planning the attention it deserves.

£5.95 – Individual license

£29.75 – School/Institution license

or FREE for members

Evidence-based writing instruction for children with SEND

For all students, writing is the most cognitively challenging thing they do while at school. Writing requires children to coordinate at least thirteen different cognitive resources simultaneously (Young & Ferguson 2022). In addition, there are many social, emotional, metacognitive and self-regulatory skills that they have to use and apply to produce a great piece of writing, and to develop themselves as confident and successful writers (Young & Ferguson 2021).


(Writing is hard (but rewarding). The cognitive resources children have to draw on to write well. Adapted from The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing by Young & Ferguson 2022a)

Children with SEND can find writing a particular challenge (Young & Ferguson 2023). For example, children with learning disabilities can find it difficult to: 

  • Conceptualise what their writing is meant to do for their reader and what it is meant to look like.
  • Write imaginatively. 
  • Organise their ideas and write with a strong authorial voice. 
  • Generate ideas.
  • Translate their ideas into sentences fluently.
  • Find the words they want to use.
  • Craft sentences which are transcriptionally accurate.
  • Use conventional spelling.
  • Handwrite quickly, happily and fluently.
  • Rework their compositions and make revisions.
  • Manage themselves during writing time.

Children with learning disabilities typically have:

  • Less writerly knowledge than their peers.
  • Less process knowledge than their peers.
  • Less genre knowledge than their peers.
  • Negative feelings about writing and being a writer.

Children with learning disabilities typically believe that:

  • Writing is about mechanics, spelling, punctuation, capitalisation, and penmanship.
  • They can’t write without someone else being there to help them.

Children with learning disabilities typically produce writing that is:

  • Low in quality, disorganised and lacking cohesion.

Below is a review of the meta-analyses of studies specific to working with children with SEND. The table lists the evidence-based instructional practices and their ‘effect size’. This tells us how powerful the type of instruction is found to be across the multiple studies analysed. Anything at or above 0.4 can be considered to make a significant positive contribution towards children’s learning. Effect sizes can often be different across different papers. Readers should therefore treat such findings only as a broad indicator of what can work when the conditions are right.

Evidence-based writing practices specific for children with SEND
Type of instructionEffective size
Goal setting0.57
Genre study0.94
Teaching the writing processes0.60
Generating ideas, drawing, talking and making plans1.55
Mini-lessons (SRSD instruction)2.09
Transcriptional instruction (encoding, letter formation, handwriting and spelling)2.40
Be a writer-teacher (modelling and writing alongside)2.48
Pupil-conferencing by the teacher and feedback from peers0.75
This table is taken from Supporting Children With SEND To Be Great Writers: A Guide For Teachers And SENCOS (Young & Ferguson 2023).

The table above confirms that teachers and schools who use the Writing For Pleasure approach and its associated materials are already doing an excellent job in supporting their children with SEND to become great writers. For example, the Writing For Pleasure approach ensures: 

  • Children are writing for a sustained period every single day (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2023).
  • Children are regularly invited to write about things they know a lot about and are motivated to write about. This means they are naturally writing from a position of confidence and strength (Young & Ferguson 2022b).
  • Children are taught daily mini-lessons which are short, elegant, explicit and follow the principles of self-regulation strategy development instruction. This includes lessons on grammar, sentence construction and other literary craft moves (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022c, 2022d).
  • Children are always set a precise and easily achievable ‘process goal’ for each lesson (Young & Ferguson 2023).
  • Writing instruction is regularly accompanied by a poster, chart, checklist or other resource to visualise and reiterate taught content (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022c, 2022d, 2022e; Young & Hayden 2022).
  • Children get to write in environments which are calm, well-organised and reassuringly consistent (2023).
  • Children with SEND are invited to write alongside their friends who may be more experienced writers.
  • Children receive live verbal feedback and responsive individualised writing instruction every day from their writer-teacher (Ferguson & Young 2021).
  • Children see writing modelled (either live or pre-made) every day as part of a good mini-lesson and they have opportunities to watch and write alongside their writer-teacher during writing time (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022c, 2022d, 2022e).
  • Children are encouraged to use a writer’s process which suits where they are developmentally (Young & Ferguson 2023). 
  • Expectations are clear as children are shown what they are expected to produce for themselves via the use of mentor texts and genre study (Young & Hayden 2022).
  • Children receive a solid apprenticeship in writing in the EYFS and KS1. This means they master encoding, letter formation, handwriting fluency and basic sentence construction early into their writerly apprenticeship (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2023; Young & Ferguson 2022f).
  • Writing classrooms are set up to ensure that children are always expected (and importantly, are utterly able) to write well independently. This means they don’t acquire bad habits like ‘learned helplessness’ (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022f).

Finally, it’s important to say that by no means is every student with a SEND a poor writer. Indeed, we’ve met many pupils with a SEND who are exceptionally talented writers. It’s also important to say that we have an absolute belief and faith in children with SEND. We think they are really funny, original, interesting, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and super smart. Students with SEND bring many writerly strengths to our classrooms.

***

If you are interested in reading about how to support children with SEND to be great writers, get our latest eBook: Supporting Children With SEND To Be Great Writers: A Guide For Teachers And SENCOS

*NEW Ebook* Supporting Children With SEND To Be Great Writers: A Guide For Teachers And SENCOS

Teachers (rightly) ask “And what about children with SEND?”

There have been few satisfactory answers to this question. So here, for the first time, is a book which explains with amazing clarity and simplicity how children with special educational needs and disabilities, and all who find writing difficult, can improve and achieve.

All children deserve the highest-quality writing teaching based on what research has long been telling us. In this eBook, we demonstrate:

  • How the Writing For Pleasure approach naturally supports children who, for various reasons, find writing difficult.
  • How to pinpoint a child’s writerly needs and quickly find the appropriate advice and practical real-world strategies that will help.
  • How you can set up interventions for children which are closely connected to what they are expected to do in the writing classroom. This means you can be confident that the extra support you’re providing is responsive, relevant and effective. 

The best solutions are often the most simple and elegant ones. This publication shows you exactly how to put them into practice, and see your struggling writers and children with SEND begin to flourish.

£15.95 – Individual license

£129.75 – School/Institution license

or FREE for members

The components of effective sentence-level instruction

Good sentence construction, the act of writing multiple words in sentence types that make semantic and syntactic sense, is needed for clear and meaningful written expression (Young & Ferguson 2022a, 2023a). However, struggling writers can lack the linguistic knowledge and skills required to produce complete, interesting, and varied sentences.


We recommend that teachers teach sentence-level mini-lessons which are in keeping with the principles of SRSD instruction (see below). Essentially, pupils learn about a type of sentence structure (what we call a sentence craft move) before being invited to use it for themselves during that day’s writing time (Young & Ferguson 2022b).

Steps for delivering effective sentence-level instruction
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 sentence-level move you want the children to try out in writing time today. Name the craft move. For example ‘If…, then… When…, then…’. (Young & Ferguson 2022b).

Then be a salesperson. Tell your class why this craft move is so fantastic and how its use could transform their writing. Share how you’ve used the craft move in the past.

Link the craft move to the class’ product goals for the writing project (Young & Hayden 2022). For example: ‘If…, then… When…, then…’ is going to help us achieve ‘explain why things happen’, which is on our product goals list.
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 students’ writing. Invite children to ask you questions.

Or

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 using subordinating conjunctions. 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 craft move 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 sentence 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.

Recommended text:

Teachers will find our eBook Sentence-Level Instruction For 3-11 Year Olds useful as it showcases over 50 mini-lessons used by Writing For Pleasure teachers. All these mini-lessons follow the routine shared above. 

Writing sentences in the EYFS and KS1

We’ve found that many schools ask children to write extended pieces or to write ‘at length’ too soon. As a result, children don’t receive a good foundation in what a sentence is and what it tries to achieve. However, this doesn’t mean writing sentences needs to be divorced from meaning-making and meaning-sharing. Infact, to do so would be an instructional mistake (Young & Ferguson 2022a).

In Writing For Pleasure schools, children from Nursery to Year Two are expected to compose simple and compound sentences across multiple pages in their ‘book-making projects’ (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2023; Young & Ferguson 2022c). Children soon recognise that a page can reflect a complete thought – often a sentence. These skills are further developed in KS2. By the end of LKS2, children are expected to draft relatively fluently and compose a variety of diverse sentences (Young & Ferguson 2022b). 

For children in schools who may not have received such an apprenticeship, they may need to ‘go back to go forward’ and book-make for a period of time. We’ve found that book-making naturally supports children of all ages develop their understanding of writing sentences (see Young & Ferguson 2022b for more details).

Sentence-level book-making projects

Beyond delivering sentence-level mini-lessons, teachers may find undertaking specific book-making projects useful. The examples below can be used with children of any age. They look to give them a solid apprenticeship in what constitutes a sentence but in a way that is orientated towards function, meaning-making and meaning-sharing. These book-making projects can be found in our publication Sentence-Level Instruction For 3-11 Year Olds.

  • The ‘what is a sentence?’ book-making project
  • The ‘what is end punctuation?’ book-making project

Finally

Teachers’ instruction should always be in the service of helping children craft their most successful and meaningful texts. We want children’s compositions to be a place where they can meaningfully use and apply what they’ve learnt about sentences. We should be able to spot what we’ve taught them when we read through their manuscripts at the end of the day. Through this process of ‘playing with sentences,’ children can see how their writing is getting better before their very eyes.

References 

  • 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
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2020) Real-World Writers London: Routledge
  • 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) The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022b) 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., Ferguson, F. (2022c) Getting Children Up And Running As Book-Makers: Lessons For EYFS-KS1 Teachers 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
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2023a) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Handbook Of Research On Teaching Young Writers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre

DIY CPD for Writing For Pleasure 3. Pupils’ Writerly Identities

This is the third of a series of blogs, written by a teacher for teachers, aimed at helping you prepare yourself as a Writing For Pleasure practitioner.  This particular blog asks you to find out more about how the children perceive themselves as writers so that you can analyse the results and then consider how to tailor your teaching to meet your pupils’ writing needs.

Now that you have found out more about yourself as a writer and your pupils’ experiences and interests, it’s vital to ask the children directly how they feel about writing, and get to understand their writerly identities.  Before you start this next task, let your class know that you are reflecting on how you teach writing within your lessons and want to find out from them exactly how they feel about writing and how they view themselves as writers.  Stress that they will never have their answers used against them in any way and they should just answer truthfully.

Task 1: Conduct pupil surveys. 5 mins each time.  (As with the task in the previous blog, I suggest you do this every term and see how it changes once you adopt Writing for Pleasure within your classroom!)

See the appendix for a blank version that can be copied.
With younger children, you might want to do this in groups and read the questions to them before they answer.

When I first did this with a class, I found out that 56% of children in my class did not think positively about writing (with one child even writing “Oh God do I have to” when asked what goes through his head).  74% of children also never chose to write anything at home and a staggering 100% of them thought that I looked solely for either correct punctuation or good handwriting when I marked their work.

Your pupils’ responses:  is change needed?

It’s possible (or even, likely) that between 30-60% of children in your class will show some dislike towards writing. Please remember that this is not your fault, but is a symptom of a broader issue regarding a general and unfortunately well-established world-wide culture of teaching writing.  Children’s negative expressions about writing might range from mild physical discomfort (i.e. My hand hurts when I write) to more severe emotional and physical reactions (i.e. I absolutely HATE writing or I get a really bad headache and feel stressed).  It’s also likely that when you ask them what makes a good piece of writing they will simply list a range of grammatical terms and punctuation without referring to their function or their impact on the reader.  If that happens – don’t panic!  You’ve now got something to work with, and will be addressing all of these things as you introduce writing for pleasure with your class.  

Optional Task 2: Analyse your pupil surveys. 60-90 mins (this time varies according to the number of children in your class and the responses you get!)  Here is an example, with the answers typed into a spreadsheet and colour coded according to responses, but you can choose to analyse the responses in a way that is most helpful to you.


If your pupils say that they don’t enjoy writing, that is not necessarily something to be concerned about – the reason for this lack of enjoyment is key.  Writing can be painful (physically and emotionally); it can and often will be frustrating!  Following up the survey with a conversation with each child is crucial.  Don’t take this personally – be interested and open to criticism.  This may not always feel comfortable but this is when you know that real change and development can (and will) happen.

The collection of responses from yourself and your pupils will more than likely tell you that a change of approach is necessary – but why?  We can address some reasons for change based on the children’s likely responses.

  • If children refer to stress/ worry/ anxiety around writing – the first thing to do is have a conversation with them to find out more about why this might be.  

Sometimes we can overload children with information about ‘things we must include’ in a piece of writing – if they are having to attending to grammatical and literary features while also grappling with the content you have provided (e.g. trying to remember everything about the events of the Great Fire of London whilst also writing a really interesting report) they will be overloaded with a cognitive burden that can feel painful.  We can start to amend this by giving children agency to make their own choices concerning what they want to write about.  (Refer back to your notes from the previous task – your class knows about a lot of things already!)  Having choice over content is empowering, since your young writers will be writing from a position of strength. For our part we should respect a child’s choices and not allow them to be subject to disapproval from us.

The question of children using written language for their own purposes and of maintaining confidence in their own ‘voices’ is one that presents itself not only in the introductory stages but all through primary school.

Taken from ‘The Language of Primary School Children’ (Connie & Harold Rosen, 1973) p. 92.

  • If children do not think they are good at writing – again, let them write about the things they know so that they can focus on the craft of their writing, rather than the content. 

You could also ask your class to create their own ‘writing rivers’ too, reflecting on the earliest experiences of writing that they can remember up to the present day.  This can create a lovely starting point for discussions between the children and for you to have with each child about the types of writing that have been most motivating and/or memorable to them.  This activity can help them (and you) to identify what it is they need to enjoy writing.

  • If children are listing elements of grammar and punctuation without referring to their function or impact on the reader, when explaining what they think should be in a ‘good’ piece of writing – think about how you might be teaching this with your class.  

All too often, we can fall into the trap of teaching children about grammar and/or punctuation as checklists without any context and without relating it back to its function and impact on the reader.  If we start to teach these things within the context of a piece of writing that we are reading and/or crafting, linking it to audience and purpose, we show children the personal value of the grammar and punctuation choices we make.  

Next time, we’ll start thinking about how we can start adapting our teaching practice – thinking about initial adjustments and forming new habits within our writing classrooms.

By Ellen Counter. Ellen has been a primary teacher for the past 15 years, working in three different London boroughs.  She has enjoyed teaching every age group during that time – from Nursery to Year 6. She completed her MA in Children’s Literature in 2013. Ellen is currently the Strategic English Lead in a seven-form primary school in East London.

APPENDIX – EXAMPLE WRITING SURVEY

Why diversity in writing matters! Exploring the Writing Realities framework

Ross was recently interviewed by Kala Williams about The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Writing Realities framework. You can watch their interview here

Alternatively, you can read their transcript interview below.

Kala Williams: How did the Writing Realities framework come about?

  • Well, it came off the back of the excellent work being done around renewing teachers’ interest in ensuring that their classroom libraries reflect the realities of school children’s lives. 

  • At The WfP Centre we felt we needed to extend this thinking to the writing classroom. My colleagues and I (Professor Doug Kaufman, Felicity Ferguson and Dr Navan Govender) believe strongly that all young people deserve an opportunity to represent themselves – share who they are and what they know – through writing.
  • And if you look at what’s been going on with some writers and publishers in the news recently, it’s never been more important that children learn how to represent others in their writing in a way that is respectful, informed and meaningful. So it all came from conversations around that really. 

There are 6 main principles: writer-identity, critical literacies, culturally sustaining pedagogy, multiliteracies, translanguaging and intertextuality. Can you briefly outline what is meant by each of these?

Definitely. So:

  • Writer identity is the idea that our writing and who we are can’t really be separated. Everything we write will either share an aspect of who we are, what we think, what we care about, what we know or how we feel. Therefore, as teachers, one of our roles is to nurture and develop children’s writer identities. 

  • Critical literacies is the idea that, as writers, we sometimes need to stand back and look at our writing critically. And by critically, I don’t necessarily mean negatively – but we need to sometimes meditate on what we are writing. For example, sharing our composition with others to get their perspective or it might be actively subverting dominant narratives by writing a graphic novel. Another example is reimagining the traditions in fairytales. You know, how often it’s a woman who needs to be saved by a man. Things like that. 

  • Culturally sustaining pedagogy is about creating a writing community in the classroom which looks to invite, sustain and nourish everyone’s identity. It’s about celebrating who your peers are and what they have to say. But it’s also about sustaining the lives and cultures of people who might not be present in the classroom itself. Essentially writing about people who may not be like you, or maybe are like you but in different ways. It’s about writing about them in an informed and respectful way.

  • Multiliteracies is the idea that writing is just one of many ways in which we can share meaning. Writing can be undertaken in lots of different ways. You know – multi – literacies. So, this can mean children writing and working together. Teachers can give instruction which is responsive to their individual classes. Children can be teachers in the writing classroom. Classes can get together and think about the different ways they might want to publish or perform their writing at the end of a project. Things like that.

  • Translanguaging is when young writers are given choice over how they decide to use language according to different circumstances and in response to the purpose they have for their writing and their audience. This means children can write in multiple languages, use different dialects, language varieties if they want to, and write in different registers (use different levels of formality). Depending on who they are writing for. 

  • Intertextuality is the idea that what we write is influenced by our reading, our play, the things we watch and listen to, the video games we play and our various life experiences – what can be called ‘life texts’. These texts not only affect what we write about but how we write it and who we are as writers. Intertextuality is kind of like remixing or ‘playful-plagiarism’. It’s about children taking a text they know (whatever that text might be) and making something new with it.

Clearly a lot of research has gone into this framework but do tell us how the book Real-World Writers helps teachers to incorporate the framework in everyday practice?

  • Firstly, children are explicitly taught idea generation techniques that writers use to generate their own ideas for class (and their personal) writing projects. This helps develop their writer-identities.

  • The book has a chapter devoted to helping children share what they know and, importantly, their personal response to what they are learning about, in the wider curriculum. 

  • We have a chapter devoted to helping children develop their sense of intertextuality. How they can use and write about their reading profitably in the writing classroom.

  • We explain how teachers can engage children in talking about their writing in a critical way during class sharing, through activities like Author’s Chair, and through daily pupil-conferencing with their teacher. 

Let’s get into more detail about writer identities. How do primary teachers pinpoint such identities in developing writers in order to build writing confidence? 

Well this is the interesting thing. It’s not the teacher’s job to pinpoint children’s identities on their behalf. Instead, the teacher explicitly teaches idea generation techniques which help children identify the subjects they wish to write about for themselves. 

So, for example, in the Nursery and Reception classes in our affiliate schools – this is sometimes done by having what we call an ‘Ideas Party’. The teacher simply gets some flipchart paper out and asks the most beautifully simple question: ‘what would you like to write about today?’. It’s wonderful. Children shout out all sorts of things and the teacher draws little pictures onto the flipchart in response. Takes about 5-10 minutes. When ready, children choose something from the board and off they go to write.

Another example for slightly older children, and this is actually a lesson by writer-teacher Georgia Heard, involves children making what’s called an ‘Ideas Heart’. Children write in their heart all the things that are important to them. They can then choose one of these things to write an information text or maybe a personal narrative. And actually, what’s really interesting about this particular technique, is that these two genres often merge and you get some beautifully informative but also very moving non-fiction texts – great for greater-depth I must say. And actually they are a real joy to read. You get to know your pupils so much more in this type of writing classroom. It’s a real privilege being a Writing For Pleasure teacher I have to say. 

Critical Literacies is an interesting principle. However, it can be challenging to develop writing projects that take into account social action of relevance to a wide spread of cultures and classes within a classroom. Any practical tips for teachers to take into account the backgrounds of their pupils in order to come up with projects that appeal to all writers in their classroom?

Certainly, in terms of writing for social action, we suggest a number of projects. 

We have our Letter For Personal Gain project. This is where children write to someone who they think can get them something they really want – or make something happen. All the children send their letters off at the end of the project – and you see what happens. This introduces the idea that writing can be used as a tool for persuasion and action. You can then build on this by undertaking our Advocacy Journalism project. This is where each child writes an article about a local charity they are personally moved by. They advocate for that charity in their article. You can run this project like a competition – so the best articles actually win a cheque for their charity. Regardless, all the children send their articles (with a covering letter) to their specific charity inviting them to read it and use it if they want to. 

Finally, we have a Community Activism project. Children identify a local issue which they are moved to write about. They can send articles or letters to the local press and other local magazines and things. Or they write to the council department or any other body which is responsible for the issue they’ve identified.

Can you give some primary based examples of how culturally sustaining pedagogy has been prioritised so as to shed some light on the impact of research and care in the writing journey? 

I think my favourite example of this personally has always been People’s History. It’s a project which invites children to interview someone at home or in their community and write a brief personal narrative from their life. A small moment from that person’s life that has stayed with them – for whatever reason. These can then be put on public display in the school hall (along with some artwork) and families and the local community can be invited to come read, talk and share – a bit like a gallery exhibition really. Again, it’s such a pleasure to read these pieces. Children take such care over them and it brings the community together. 

Primary writers often struggle with connections to audience and tend to write from an ‘inverted position’ not necessarily taking into account the reader. How does the approach of multiliteracies develop critical thinking? 

This is a really good point you make. It’s true that children are often, usually unnecessarily, asked to write for – you know – ‘pseudo-authentic’ reasons. Essentially, ‘fake reasons’. A diet of this kind of writing results in children as you say writing from an ‘inverted position’ or not being able to take into account a reader – usually because there is no genuine reader beyond their teacher’s evaluation. A good example of this is requiring children to write letters to glue sticks persuading them to come back into the classroom. 

Multiliteracies, I suppose, invites a class to get together to talk about their goals for a class writing project. Questions can be asked like: 

  • Who do we want to receive our writing at the end of this project? 
  • What might they need from us? 
  • What are we going to need to do and think about to ensure that our writing is seen as successful and meaningful by these people? 

It’s very difficult for children to give genuine answers to these sorts of questions if there isn’t a genuine reader to discuss. You know?

Let’s talk more about translanguaging. It is important children are able to demonstrate their writers flair and often this means personalities through characterisation coming through their descriptive and expressions. We always as primary teachers encourage Standard English with some degree of informal colloquial language based on English dialects but is this inclusive enough? 

Dr Ian Cushing is doing some wonderful work about this at the moment. He would be a great guest to have. I would like to listen to him answer this question. But you’re right. Standard English is what is asked for by the curriculum. Writing in Standard English for a long time has granted people access and credibility. Ian Cushing is sociolinguist and so can talk about the problems with that. Certainly, we need to teach Standard English because, rightly or wrongly, at the moment, it continues to give people that access and credibility. However, we also need to make sure that children don’t come to see Standard English as the standard. Instead, Standard English is just one of many English varieties which they can choose to write in. Choice is the key word here. Choice based on what they think their audience will actually want, expect or need from them.

Intertextuality as referenced in the framework seems to be an ultimate outcome of readers who write to me but can you break down how primary teachers can get children to develop written responses to what they read in terms of when on the writing journey (this question is more about handling lower abilities who might struggle with this cognitive level of critical response)?

It’s funny because I see it a bit differently to you. I always consider intertextuality to be something that starts very early. For example, when I write with children in Nursery or Reception, they absolutely love to play around in intertextuality. They will make me Frozen-inspired picturebooks or they’ll write about when they crashed their motorbike on the playground and it exploded into a ball of flames. These pieces of writing are artefacts which represent children’s responses to what they’ve read or their ‘life texts’.

For example, if I read The Mole Who Knew It Was None Of His Business by Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlbruch to a Reception class just before I invite them to go make books – I know for a fact I’m going to get a lot of pooey – messy stories back by the session’s end!

One thing our Nursery and Reception teachers do is they will show children a well-loved book. A book they’ve read a few times for pleasure. They’ll bring it to the writing classroom and they’ll flick through the pages and they’ll simply ask: what do you see on this page that we could do in our books today? This is intertextuality too. 

The easiest way to see intertextuality in action – and this goes for teachers of any age – is to read them a poem and invite them to draw or write ‘something’, ‘anything’ after they’ve heard it. You’ll receive 30+ different personal responses in return. These personal responses can then be shared with each other as a whole class and they become your class’ collective response to that poem. And through this process, through hearing other people’s responses – children develop a much deeper understanding of that poem than they would otherwise. It’s a beautiful thing. 

Your framework mentions some interesting case studies where all 6 principles of Writing Realities are evidenced. Do share some key examples of how the principles have led to enriching writing outcomes in a British context.

Oh my goodness I know! The case studies are just all so wonderful and inspiring to read aren’t they! It’s very difficult for me to choose a favourite. Today, I think I’ll choose the case study of Chris Searle. He was an amazing teacher in Stepney – London – well worth investigating him online. He created a true community of writers in his classroom. They wrote People’s History of the lives of women in the local area. They helped people translate all their home language writing into English. They published commercially available poetry and memoir anthologies about working-class life in Stepney. They started their own community action group to help save the docklands. They would regularly write in response to what they were reading in the local papers. Really transformative stuff.

Children proof-reading and cognitive overload

We’ve heard a lot about the problems of cognitive overload, but has anyone pinpointed this as a possible reason why children seem to find proof-reading so difficult? 

Showing a class how to proof-read in a systematic and orderly way, in manageable daily chunks, with a specific focus in each session, will go a long way towards solving the problem of children being overburdened by having too many things to edit at once.

Classroom posters and children’s editing checklists in Writing For Pleasure schools are tailored to fit neatly into an editor’s system we like to call CUPS. The end result is that children will not only proofread more successfully, but will actually come to internalise the conventions of transcription more quickly and happily.

An example of what a Year Three CUPS checklist can look like.

If you are interested in reading about how to develop a whole-school approach to developing proof-readers, buy our latest eBook:

In No More: My Pupils Can’t Edit, Felicity Ferguson & Ross Young invite schools and teachers to make proof-reading a rigorous and meaningful part of their class writing projects. Despite the fact that expectations for transcriptional accuracy have never been higher, schools and teachers often find it difficult to teach children to proof-read with precision and enthusiasm. This book looks to change that.

This practical guide offers an overview of The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s approach, and provides a progression for proof-reading from the EYFS-KS2. It also contains over 50 exemplar lessons taken from their affiliate schools. These lessons cover the EYFS Framework and National Curriculum objectives efficiently and effectively.

What’s special about this book is the way in which each lesson teaches children the whys of proof-reading procedures and illustrates how, as editors, they can use them for themselves. Children learn to make their writing ‘reader-friendly’ and ‘reader-ready’ prior to publication for real audiences.

I taught a lesson about full-stops, so why aren’t students using them correctly?

This kind of question indicates that the teacher’s expectations may be developmentally inappropriate, and that they are not taking conventions and proof-reading at all seriously enough. I mean, if they think one lesson is enough, they’re wrong. Fluency with conventions requires seven things:

  • Explicit instruction and much reteaching.
  • A poster showing how the convention is used must be on display, and be large enough for the child furthest away to read it.
  • Lots of time allowed for reading, and seeing how authors use the convention.
  • Examples of the teacher using the convention in the mentor texts they write and sharing them with their class.
  • Daily and sustained opportunities to write. 
  • Plenty of meaningful experiences in proof-reading for that particular convention.
  • Time.

Approximation and over-applying the rule are to be expected at first. However, it’s important that we always praise these approximations before providing clarification. It’s also important that we don’t get into the habit of blaming our students for their failures. Rather than blame our pupils, we need to look at the list above and think about what we can be doing to help children’s application of the convention in question.

If you are interested in reading about how to develop a whole-school approach to developing proof-readers, buy our latest eBook:

In No More: My Pupils Can’t Edit, Felicity Ferguson & Ross Young invite schools and teachers to make proof-reading a rigorous and meaningful part of their class writing projects. Despite the fact that expectations for transcriptional accuracy have never been higher, schools and teachers often find it difficult to teach children to proof-read with precision and enthusiasm. This book looks to change that.

This practical guide offers an overview of The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s approach, and provides a progression for proof-reading from the EYFS-KS2. It also contains over 50 exemplar lessons taken from their affiliate schools. These lessons cover the EYFS Framework and National Curriculum objectives efficiently and effectively.

What’s special about this book is the way in which each lesson teaches children the whys of proof-reading procedures and illustrates how, as editors, they can use them for themselves. Children learn to make their writing ‘reader-friendly’ and ‘reader-ready’ prior to publication for real audiences.