Introduction to The Writing For Pleasure Centre
Introduction to the session
In this session, you will be taken on a whistle-stop tour of Information Books. This is a class writing project used by our 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 Information Book resources so you can do the project with your class.
Why do this project?
Children accumulate lots of information every single day. It is vital to their development as writers that they are given the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise with others and to experiment with the language and organisation of non-fiction genres.
This class writing project will show children that they can be knowledgeable about a subject and that sharing this knowledge is 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 each other their passions, interests and aspects of their lives. It is important for children to understand the power of writing as information giving but also to experience it as a social resource.
The importance of having a class publishing house
- DOWNLOAD our example of practice.
The importance of book-making
Purpose and audience. It’s essential that children are making books for others to enjoy. Books that they can show, tell (and sometimes read) to others. For children in the EYFS, the audience can be very immediate. For children in KS1 and KS2, you can start to think about audiences beyond the classroom.
The purpose and audience for the Information Books you’re going to make today is to teach your pupils. You need to ask yourself: will they know more by the end of the book than they knew when they started?
I really want you to make a short picture book today that you can read and share with your pupils. I also want you to answer their questions about it and for you to tell them how you made it. You can then invite them to make their own that day too…
By the way, it doesn’t always have to be book-making…
The importance of studying mentor texts (also known as: examples or WAGOLLs)
Hey! We could do that in our books!
Let’s take a look at some mentor texts (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 Information Book. This list is our product goals.
NOTE: Here’s an example of what a product goals list can look like in the context of the EYFS/KS1. This example is taken from a Year One classroom who were writing animal story picture books. The class studied Rosie’s Walk before making this product goals list together.
Here is an example taken from a Year Three class who were writing Fairy Tales.
Generate your own ideas: Have an ideas party!
- I’ve introduced the project.
- We know the purpose and audience for these Information Books.
- 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. Just like the children in your class, I would like you to come up with a variety of ideas of what your Information Books could be about.
NOTE: Here are some examples of how teachers have ideas parties with their class. The first is from a Year One class where small groups of children had an ideas party with their teacher on flipchart paper. The second example is taken from a Year Four class where again children were given flipchart paper on their desks and invited to have an ideas party with their friends. They were to come up with loads of short story ideas based on the different themes stuck in the middle of the paper.
Idea generation mini-lesson: What do you know?
When children write about the things they know about, they are more engaged and they care more about their writing. A great way to help the children reflect on what they already know is to simply ask them: “What do you know about?” This way they share their ideas with the class and other children begin to make connections, relate and think about what they know about too. This works so much better than giving the whole class the same topic such as ‘animals in Antarctica’, which they cannot relate to, might have no interest in and know little about.
Today we are going to think about what we could write about for our Information Books. To help us, let’s each talk about what we know a lot about. You can make a list, a collection of drawings and use labels. Then we can decide which topic you might want to develop into a book!
As children become more experienced, you can help them be more specific. For example:
- Games: What kind of games?
- Swimming: Where? How?
- Cat: What breed? Your own? Domesticated or wild?
- Drawing: What kind of drawings?
Here the children in Year 1 made their lists of the things they know and could write about.
Working through the writing processes
I would now like us to start working on our Information Books. 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.
In KS1, we recommend children make picture books of about 6-8 pages. This can then develop into making ‘chapter books’ when they feel ready. ‘Chapter books’ are portrait A4 pages with a space for a picture at the top. The children learn to write about that picture underneath and to get a new page when they feel they need a new image and some new writing. Children have access to as many pages as they need. At the end, they staple their pages together and it becomes a ‘chapter book’. Please note, a chapter book can be as little as two pages long! It still counts!
Some of our affiliate schools are continuing this practice well into Year Three and even into Year Four. Please choose whether you’re going to make a chapter book or picture book today.
As adult writers, I’m going to leave you to write and work your way through the different processes 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. Children learn to move through these writing processes on their own and in the process make lots of picture books over and over again.
Mini-lesson #1: 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.
Mini-lesson #2: Organise what you know
If the children in your class are finding it hard to make their text cohesive, it is important that we teach them to organise their ideas, especially when they know the subject really well. They will be very motivated to write and it is essential that they select the information they want to write about to make their writing organised, thinking carefully about their title, headings and subheadings. After they have generated their ideas and thought a bit more about how well they know their topic (see mini-lesson ‘How well do you know?’), the children can now think about their heading and title. Additionally, when the children are revising they might want to change the title and headings and subheadings. However, considering them might help the children who are finding it hard to write cohesive texts.
What? Use what you know and organise your ideas using:
Why? It will help your reader to understand your writing and make your information clearer, cohesive and more organised.
Mini-lesson #3: What you want to say, then How best to say it
Many adult writers first need to put down on paper what it is they want to say before they can think about how best to say it. This is something we can share with children.
In this mini-lesson, share how you will sometimes write down a sentence – just to see what it is you want to say before you read it back and think about how best to say it. You can then invite your class to give it a try during that day’s writing time.
Mini-lesson #4: Nonfiction: 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.
Mini-lesson #5: Coordinating conjunctions
Author Eric Weiner calls conjunctions the ‘connective tissue’ in writing. When we speak, we don’t use lots of short, separate sentences. Instead, we join our thoughts and sentences together. It’s the same in writing. You often join two ideas together to make one sentence. Your writing sounds better like that because it starts to flow and can gather some pace. Your reader doesn’t have to stop all the time.
When this happens in children’s writing, it always reminds me of my mother who would continually press on the brakes and the car would constantly lurch forward. It’s not pleasant, so don’t put your reader through it!
Coordinating conjunctions can do different jobs for us as writers. For example, they can be used to:
- Add an idea: Eva read the map and she showed us where to go.
- Offer a choice of ideas: Nathan usually bikes to school or he walks with his friends.
- Show a difference: Adam enjoys swimming but he doesn’t like diving.
- Give a reason: Shazia read the instructions so she could build the model castle.
A good way to approach this mini-lesson is to show your class some of your own writing. Show them where you have used conjunctions. Afterwards, show them the same piece with the conjunctions removed. Read it to them. Ask them what differences they notice. Then explain this is how and why we use conjunctions in our own writing. You can then invite children to consider their conjunction use during that day’s writing time.
FANBOYS is a great way to remember the list of coordinating conjunctions that are on offer (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). A classroom poster is a good idea here, too.
Mini-lesson #6: Full stops
Children like to know how things began, so they’ll appreciate this story.
The Ancient Greeks were very fond of public speaking and they did it very well, but they weren’t that bothered about making written-down stuff easy to read. In fact, when they wrote, they used to let all the words run into one another without separating any of them. The great library in the city of Alexandria was full of people poring over scrolls for hours, struggling to make sense of what was written on them. It must have been so annoying.
The chief librarian, Aristophanes, got really fed up with this and decided to do something about it, so he thought up a very simple but very clever system. He put three ordinary dots in different positions on the line of writing to show readers where and for how long they should pause when reading aloud. One dot (now our comma) was for a tiny little pause, another one (now our semi-colon) told you to pause just a bit longer, and the third dot was for an even longer pause to show you had come to the end of your thought. And this dot, of course, is what we now call a full stop. There must have been a sigh of relief in the library. Suddenly, the writing all made sense – it sounded more as if it was being spoken.
The Greeks also had to learn to leave spaces between the words, but that’s another story.
In this mini lesson, when you’ve told the story of Aristophanes and his bright idea, show the children when and why you have put full stops in a piece of your own writing. Remind them that they can look in the books they are reading at any time to see how other writers do it. You then invite them to do the same in their own writing that day.
You should also point out that full stops only appear at the end of a sentence, and that this is to show you have come to the end of a particular thought. It’s vital for children to see that using full stops in the right place helps the reader understand the meaning of what’s being said. It’s not enough just to tell children that full stops mark boundaries between sentences. The important thing is for children to think about those infuriated Greeks, and resolve not to cause their own readers the same trouble.
Mini-lesson #7: YES! I did it!
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 checklists are all about.
The best way to introduce the concept of checklists is to show how you’ve used one with your own picture book making. Explain your process and invite questions from the children before giving them an opportunity to use the checklist for themselves during book making time. I would provide one word of caution. The best checklists are the ones you construct with your class collaboratively, in response to where your children are developmentally, and influenced by the particular writing project they are working on.
NOTE: Usually, this checklist would be based on what we discussed when we studied the mentor texts. The list of things we said we were going to do to make a great Information Book earlier would be turned into a checklist for the children to use.
Mini-lesson #8: How do you know your book is finished?
Part of running an excellent writing classroom is ensuring that it runs smoothly and that children are as independent as they can be. This includes children knowing when they are finished and what they should do once they are finished. Below is an example of a poster created as part of this mini-lesson. It’s good to ask the children themselves how they know they are finished and to ask them what they think they should do when they have finished making a book or completed their piece of writing.
Publishing or performing
Certainly when you’re well into KS1 & KS2, at the beginning of any writing project, the class can get together to look at our Publishing And Performing Menu and decide where they want their final pieces to be published and for whom. They should then celebrate by having a publishing party.
- Other class writing projects in this series – LINK
- Our quick guide to teaching writing in KS1 – 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
I hope you enjoyed this session. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to contact me – LINK