Introduction to The Writing For Pleasure Centre
Introduction to the session
In this session, you will be taken on a whistle-stop tour of Explanation writing project. This is a class writing project used by Writing For Pleasure Centre schools. The session will show you how a project is typically planned and delivered and you will get the chance to start writing your own!
After the session, you can download all our Explanation resources so you can do the project with your class.
Why do this project?
By writing about what they know and care about, children learn that they can use their expertise to inspire and awaken the minds and hearts of others.
Explanation texts are a gift. All of us ‘own’ knowledge capital. Indeed, many people make great sums of money from disseminating this capital. Others, though, choose to share their knowledge freely because of the joy and the benefits it can bring to other people. It teaches your reader something, and this is the wonderful thing that children will learn during the project. This introduction itself is an explanation text. You can tell because it does three things:
- It says what an explanation text is.
- It says why it is a useful genre for children to write.
- It says how it is best taught.
By Year 5-6, children will be very familiar with reading and writing information texts. Explanation texts are very similar, but where an information text simply tells you what something is like, an explanation text goes on to explain how and why things happen. Explanation texts are probably the type of non-fiction that children will read most as they go through school.
Children know about many things that their peers or adults around them know nothing about. It can be very rewarding and self-affirming to share this knowledge through writing. Children will become aware that they have valuable expertise to pass on to others. This class writing project will show children that sharing knowledge is often an enjoyable, social and satisfying thing to do. You and your class will begin to appreciate the pockets of ‘communities’ that make up a writing classroom, with children talking and sharing with others their passions, interests and parts of their lives. It is important that children understand the power of writing to explain and inform but also experience it as a social resource.
Every day, children explain things so that others can understand them. They often have to explain things to adults. There may be many topics from the lives and cultures of your pupils that you don’t know much about, so this writing project is an opportunity for your pupils to teach you a thing or two!
Explanations can be about something physical in the world (such as geography), things people do or even abstract ideas. It is best to write an explanation text on a topic you know a lot about. Think: do I know exactly why something happens? Or exactly how something works? Could this be useful to somebody else?
The importance of having a class publishing house
- DOWNLOAD our example of practice.
The importance of purpose and audience
Purpose and audience. It’s essential that children are making and sharing meaning for others. Texts that they can show, tell, perform or read to others. For children in the EYFS, the audience can be very immediate: peers, teachers and caregivers. For children in KS1 & KS2, you can start to think about audiences beyond the classroom.
The purpose and audience for the Explanation Texts you’re going to start writing today is to teach your pupils something. It might also offer you an opportunity for reflection.
I’ve already established the purpose and audience today but when working with your class, you’ll want to talk about this together. At the beginning of any writing project, you and your class should get together to look at our Publishing And Performing Menu and decide where you want your final pieces to be published and for whom. Our schools also use our writing wheels for the same reasons.
The importance of studying mentor texts (also known as: examples or WAGOLLs)
The importance of product goals
Let’s take a look at some mentor texts and set our product goals (DOWNLOAD the mentor texts here).
I would like you to look at the mentor texts I’ve provided and make a list of things you think you’ll have to do or include to write a great Explanation Text. This list will become our product goals.
NOTE: Here’s an example of what a product goals list can look like. These examples are taken from two separate projects in Year Three classroom. One is Fairy Tales and the other is Information. The class always reads a variety of mentor texts before making their product goals list together.
Generate your own ideas: Have an ideas party!
I’ve introduced the project. We know the purpose and audience for these memoirs. We’ve studied a variety of mentor texts and we decided on our product goals. It’s now time to start generate ideas for what we want to write about! I have to say, this is my favourite part of teaching writing with children. Like the children in your class, I would like you to spend a few minutes coming up with a variety of ideas of what your Explanation Texts could be about.
In addition to having an ideas party, you can also teach idea generation techniques writers use to generate their writing ideas. Here’s one you could use:
Mini-Lesson #1: Idea generation technique Ideas heart
This mini-lesson comes from Georgia Heard’s book Awakening The Heart and is one of the best ways of getting together a bank of writing ideas, and it’s just as effective in Year 6 as in Years 3, 4 and 5. All you do is draw yourself a large heart shape and fill it with all the things you’re interested in and that matter to you – people, places, pets, experiences, ideas, issues. The great thing is that you can add to it at any time, whenever a topic or an idea strikes, and you’ve always got it there for future reference. Your best-loved topics will create strong emotions which can then drive a piece of writing. You can find out more by reading Ross’ example of practice.
I’ve found this a very useful ready resource for both me and the children, and I’ve shared mine with every class I’ve taught. Children showing their hearts to each other can often spark ideas in their peers. You can find out more about this technique by reading Georgia Heard’s book ‘Awakening The Heart’.
Here, Elisia shares with us her passions and interests. She has circled some of the ones she is particularly interested in ‘cracking open’ and turning into a piece of writing.
Here we can see Jake and Dolly ‘cracking open’ their interests and passions into sub-categories.
Mini-Lesson #2: Thinking ‘faction’
You’ll probably guess from the name that faction is a mix-up of fact and fiction. Children really like writing faction because it’s very versatile – you can write in lots of different genres and be creative and innovative. These are just a few of the ways of writing it:
- Take something from a fictional world you’ve read about and turn it into an information or explanation text.
- Think of a character from history and weave your own invented story around them.
- Think of an event that happened in real life and write a fictitious ending for it.
- Take a scientific fact and write a fictional explanation for it.
- Write a fictional story but introduce someone from real life as a (possibly minor) character in it.
- Take a real-life hero or heroine and write the story of their life, filling in the details from your imagination.
Whenever children in my class write faction, the results are amazingly imaginative. The piece that stands out in my mind was a factual explanation about the very realistic and practical ways – as well as the pitfalls- of looking after a creature totally invented by the writer. Try getting the children to think of as many different ways as possible of doing it, and put them up as a list on the wall. Some of the books in the class library were very helpful in sparking ideas and showing how it could be done:
- How to make friends with a ghost – Rebecca Green
- The Zoological Times; The Prehistoric Times – Stella Gurney
- Until I met Dudley – Chris Riddell
- Inside the Villains – Clotilde Perrin
- The Flea: Leo Messi – Michael Part
- Flanimals – Ricky Gervais
Of course, share your own piece of faction and explain why you were motivated to write it – I’m willing to speculate that it would have been to entertain! The children can write theirs in their personal project books and be given some sharing time to entertain each other.
Mini-Lesson #3: I know how to…
Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, both young and old, shared a little of what he is good at doing – Quincy Jones
Children love to write about themselves and the things they know how to do. They are show offs. It’s therefore easy to invite your young writers to craft ‘how to…’ books. The following prompts should spark a whole host of writing ideas:
- I know how to play…
- I know how to make…
- I know how to get…
- I know how to do…
For this mini-lesson, I’m going to ask you to share your knowledge so that we can all learn things about and from one another. Finish some of these sentences off for me, choose your favourite idea, and turn it into a ‘how to…guide’. Here’s one I made for you all. It’s about…
Mini-Lesson #4: How well do you know?
When the children have thought about the things they know, it is time to ask: How well do you know your topic? This will help them elaborate on their ideas and to check what they really know. At this stage the children might start thinking about possible subheadings.
Now that you have thought carefully about the things you know, you need to consider: How well do you know? You could circle the topic on your list that you are confident about, then make a new list with drawings and labels to help you to organise your ideas.
Here we can see children selecting topics from their list and thinking carefully about what they could write about within the topic. We call this ‘cracking open our topics’. In the process, they create a list of subcategories which they can then use to inform their planning, what they decide to put on each page of a picture book, their paragraphing, or even their headings.
Take a writing register
Once everyone has an idea, it’s useful to take a Writing Register to make a record of what everyone is writing about. Here are two examples. On the left, is an example from a Year Two class who were making information books. On the right, is an example from a Year Four class who were writing memoirs.
Mini-Lesson #5: Classification diagrams: Make a topic tree, then you’ll see
This mini-lesson originally came from Lori Rog’s book Marvelous Minilessons For Teaching Beginning Writing. The title comes from my own classroom experience. I had taught this mini-lesson a few weeks ago and, like all good mini-lessons, the strategy had become part of the children’s writing repertoire. During some personal project time, I overheard Elio tell Sasha to ‘make a topic tree, then you’ll see’. The name stuck and many children used the planning technique thereafter.
Typically, children choose ideas that are too broad or too large for them to handle as developing writers. They are usually more successful when they can zoom in on an aspect of their topic ‘a branch on the tree’. Using a diagram like the one below, children can write their topic idea in the trunk of the tree, before considering what its different branches might be. We want children to understand that each branch can and should represent a piece of writing in its own right. Sasha understood how it would be a great idea generation technique because filling in the branches of the tree forced him to ‘see’ what he could write about.
For this mini-lesson, it’s a good idea to share your own topic tree from your writer’s notebook and explain how you went about deciding which branch to eventually write about. You might also want to share the final piece you ended up writing. You can then invite children to use the topic tree for themselves during that day’s writing time. I usually ask them to circle the idea they’ve finally decided upon, and I’ve also found it easier to simply ask children to draw their own rudimentary tree in their notebooks as opposed to printing it out as a worksheet.
Mini-Lesson #6 Planning grids
Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential – Winston Churchill
Let me tell you something. Being given some directions so you don’t get lost makes life a lot easier. That’s how I feel about planning grids. Planning grids are like directions. They guide children as they are planning. They help children get a handle on their ideas and intentions. Of course, once they get going with their drafting, they don’t have to stick to what they’d put down on their planning grid but it’s always there to orientate them if they get lost.
For this mini-lesson, simply show children how you’ve used a planning grid to get your ideas together. You can then take any of their questions about it. Finally, invite them to use a planning grid during that day’s writing time.
Here we can see how teacher Katy Pegg showcases her own planning grid. Note that it has been made large enough for the whole class to see it. To use our Explanation planning grid, download it here.
Working through the writing processes
I would now like us to start working on our Explanation Texts. Obviously, with your classes you’d give them many days and even weeks to work their way through these writing processes and you’d teach them lessons everyday to help them write successfully. As adult writers, I’m going to leave you to write on your own. However, I have supplied you with just a few examples of mini-lessons I would typically teach children over the course of this project. With your pupils, you would just teach one thing each day.
- DOWNLOAD our drafting advice example of practice
Mini-Lesson #7 Non-fiction: Intriguing Introductions
Never think that non-fiction writing has to be a cold, hard, stodgy presentation of facts, and that you as the writer have to keep yourself hidden or well out of the writing. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, what makes a piece of non-fiction lively and interesting for the reader is when you mix in some more ingredients for extra flavour. Here are just a few options to choose from when writing non-fiction openings:
Of course it doesn’t have to be your opening that does this. Let your personal presence pop up every now and then, and keep your reader engaged with you and with what you are saying.
One thing I like to do is ask children to write down on their ‘trying things out page’ several different ways of starting their piece of non-fiction; using the possibilities above. They can then talk to their friends about which one is best. This can set the tone for the rest of the writing too. And, as always, show them in your notebook where you have tried out different ways of opening your non-fiction piece.
Below Freddie shows us his favourite opening for his published explanation of how glass is made. But before that he had played around with different openings on his digital ‘trying things out page’.
Mini-Lesson #8 Non-fiction: Colossal conclusions
Just as we have different ways to end the stories we write (see our Fiction class writing projects), children can end their non-fiction pieces in a variety of ways. Your ending is your last opportunity to leave your reader with something to think about. You want them to still be thinking about your text after they’ve finished reading it. You want it to roll around in their mind. A good ending can do that. Here some examples of the types of endings you can choose from:
Of course it doesn’t have to be your ending that does this. Let your personal presence pop up every now and then, and keep your reader engaged with you and with what you are saying.
One thing I like to do is ask children to write down on their ‘trying things out page’ several different ways of ending their piece of non-fiction using the possibilities above. They can then talk to their friends about which one is best. I find it’s usually best to teach this mini-lesson when the majority of your class are revising. And, as always, show them in your notebook where you have tried out different ways of ending your non-fiction piece.
Below is Freddie’s final choice for his ending. But again before that he had experimented with a few different types on his digital ‘trying things out page’.
Mini-Lesson #9 What is the cause?
This type of mini-lesson is not always necessary. Often the purpose and audience for our writing naturally dictate the types of language we are going to use and not the other way around. If I’m looking to explain something to others, I’m quite naturally going to use causal conjunctions. It’s going to happen by definition. For example, throughout this document I’ve used conjunctions such as: because, so, therefore, even though, but and however to explain the cause of something to you.
In this mini-lesson, simply highlight in a text you’ve written yourself how using conjunctions like the ones above allowed you to explain something for your reader. You can then invite children to use these conjunctions for themselves during that day’s writing time.
Mini-Lesson #10 Parenthesis (brackets, dashes and commas)
Sometimes you might find that you want to add in a little extra information about something but you don’t want to have to put it into a new sentence, so you can use parenthesis. If this bit of information isn’t absolutely vital to the meaning but is just there to supply a little interest or intrigue, you can put
either commas, brackets or dashes round it, and this is what’s called putting something in parenthesis. Children like the idea of parenthesis because it’s about making a choice. Here are some examples:
I find that it helps to tell children to think of this extra information as a kind of whisper or afterthought. It can often sound almost chatty – get children to have a look in ‘The Hobbit’ and see just how many times Tolkien puts little comments to the reader in brackets. However, a class I taught said they liked using dashes when they wanted to be more informal, and preferred brackets if they wanted to be serious or seem posh. Also they said they tended to prefer commas in non-fiction writing and for stories but dashes for personal narrative. It’s a good thing to encourage this kind of discussion in this mini-lesson. Finally, show children where and why you have done it yourself, and invite them to put something in parenthesis in their own writing today.
Using the revision checklist
Children like to know what they have to do and how to do it. They also get a great deal of satisfaction and confidence in knowing they are doing a good job. That’s what revision checklists are all about. Please feel free to use our example checklist to reflect on how your Explanation Text is coming along.
NOTE: Usually, this checklist would be based on what we discussed when we studied the mentor texts and established our product goals. This was the list of things we said we were going to do or include to write a great Explanation Text.
Writing For Pleasure schools ensure that each class sets themselves up as a publishing house at the beginning of the year and children publish their work onto this publishing house.
Because of this, they take proof-reading (editing) really seriously. Their children are given ample time in which to ensure that their manuscripts are transcriptionally accurate before they go through to publication or performance. They give children very specific things to edit for and give them multiple days in which to complete it. For example, by using the CUPS technique. Each day, children may be asked to proof-read for one of the following:
- Use of vocabulary (cohesion/repetition/proper noun/pronoun use as opposed to ambitious vocabulary
Children are encouraged to keep count of the number of edits they DO make and children are praised for the number of changes they make prior to publication. Teachers check children’s manuscripts prior to publication and if they are not transcriptionally accurate enough, the teacher will ask the pupil to work on it again.
Publishing or performing
Now their manuscript is revised and proof-read, the children are in a position to write up their final copy and publish or perform it to their waiting audience.
It’s important that at the end of a writing project you celebrate the children’s hard work by having a publishing party. This is what other authors do out in the real-world so children should be entitled to it too.
- Other class writing projects in this series – LINK
- Our BIG book of mini-lessons: lessons that teach powerful craft knowledge to 3-11 year olds – LINK
- Our writing development scales and assessment toolkit – LINK
- Our book Real-World Writers: A handbook for teaching writing with 7-11 year olds – LINK
- Our book Writing For Pleasure: Theory, research and practice LINK
I hope you enjoyed this session. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to contact us – LINK