The aim of this article is to explain the importance of teaching at the sentence-level and to give teachers guidance on how to teach at the sentence-level successfully.
Teaching students to construct coherent and meaningful sentences is essential if we want them to convey their ideas happily and successfully (Young & Ferguson 2022). Sadly, teaching at the sentence-level is too often overlooked or neglected.
📝 Sentences arethe building blocks of writing
Sentences are the building blocks of writing. Many writers spend the majority of their writing time considering (and reconsidering) the sentences they write. They regularly ponder, write and rewrite. This is because every sentence is deemed to be its own mini composition.
It’s important to remember that sentences are informed by the sentences that have come previously and by the sentences we plan to write next. Sentences are conceived at the text level and they are produced in the context of the other sentences that surround them.
📝 Enhancing clarity and cohesion
Proficiency in sentence construction improves the clarity and readability of students’ writing. Clear sentences are easier for both the writer and the reader to understand.
Proficient sentence construction helps when children are trying to deal with other complex aspects of writing and being a writer. For example, thinking at the sentence-level reminds children to consider the needs of their audience. See our eBook The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing for more details.
Effective strategies when teaching at the sentence-level…
Writer-teachers should explicitly teach and model sentence construction, including capitalisation, punctuation, and word order. Visual aids and examples will enhance students’ understanding. To see example lessons and visual aids, donwload our eBook: Sentence-Level Instruction.
Here we see a writer-teacher sharing the function of relative clauses alongside some written examples.This poster will stay up in the writing classroom for weeks or even months. Alongside it, the teacher will have a poster full of examples taken from their own writing, children’s literature, and their students’ writing.
Provide sentence starters and visual prompts to assist students in generating their own sentences. These prompts can be tailored to the class writing project. Children’s use then transitions to their personal writing projects too.
✅ Trying it out
Give students some time to experiment and engage in playful exploration before they use and apply their sentence learning to their own composition that day. See this article for more guidance.
Encourage revision as a natural part of the writing process. You shouldn’t limit your sentence-level instruction to only the drafting phase of a class writing project. For more information, see this article.
✅Integration with reading
Connect sentence writing with reading great mentor sentences. Analysing other authors’ sentences can make sentence structure, voice and style seem possible and probable for students. See our eBook: Reading In The Writing Classroom for more information and guidance.
✅ Developmentally appropriate expectations
Have developmentally appropriate expectations for each year group and understand that sentence-level proficiency develops over time and through repeated practice. Indeed, it’s a life-long process of development! See our eBook: Sentence-Level Instruction for more details and guidance.
The mission of The Writing For Pleasure Centre is to help all young people become passionate and successful writers. As a think tank for exploring what world-class writing is and could be, a crucial part of our work is analysing emerging governmental policy. It is therefore important that we issue a response to what this document has to say.
Overall conclusion If commercial scheme writers or schools pursue the recommendations made in this policy paper in any kind of serious way, we run the very real risk of developing the most reluctant, listless and unmotivated writers for a generation. While some of the recommendations within the policy paper are welcome, it remains grossly incomplete. We therefore urge anyone interested in developing world-class writing teaching to read the cited research within this review before making any changes to their writing teaching or commercial offerings.
The ‘Writing Readiness’ Ideology This policy paper routinely ignores research recommendations. Not a single research paper relating to writing development is cited. Instead, the majority of the recommendations come through the lens of writing occurring largely in phonics lessons. A subject as important as writing should never be treated simply as the servant of phonics. We can only conclude that the DfE has decided to promote an ideological position of ‘writing readiness’ rather than pursue an evidence-based and research-informed position.
Writing readiness is also referred to in research and literature as: a presentational skills ideology (Young & Ferguson 2021), a worksheet curriculum (Dahl & Freppon 1995), the fragmented and discontinuous approach (Dunsmuir & Blatchford 2004), mechanics-orientated teaching, didactic-only instruction, the bottom-up perspective, code-based teaching (Quinn & Bingham 2018), drill-and-skill-to-kill-the-will, piecemeal, sequenced and scripted, recite for writing, writing as a cognitive only matter (Johnston 2019), the transcribing speech orientation (Lancaster 2007), the component skills perspective (Harmey & Wilkinson 2019), formula writing (VanNess et al. 2013), the write ‘correctly’ like an adult perspective (Daniels 2014), the artificial approach (Thomas 2005), the systematic procedures perspective (Bruyère & Pendergrass 2020), the exercise approach (Håland et al. 2019), the ‘only conventional writing is real writing’ perspective (Bradford & Wyse 2020) or the ‘additive-cumulative’ view of writing (Tolchinsky 2017).
We know that children who don’t master the basic skills of writing early into their educational journey can go on to underperform and even experience school failure (Berninger et al. 2002; Abbott et al. 2010; Young & Ferguson 2021). Advocates of a ‘writing readiness’ ideology take the erroneous view that we must therefore focus on getting children to transcribe conventionally first before they are even allowed to begin making and sharing meaning through writing. However, this is a serious instructional mistake (Snyders 2014; Rowe 2018; Harris et al. 2023). This perspective is ineffective in achieving its own aims, and is most often suggested by those who are unaware of current research and best practice (Hall et al. 2015). The problem with such an approach is not so much what it includes but rather what it decides to leave out (Young & Ferguson 2021).
Advocates of this approach typically hold the view that for children to learn how to write, they must first be told that they can’t (Roser et al. 2014). They fail to see that children want to write from the very first day they attend school (Graves 1983), that the majority of children come to school on their first day already believing that they can write (Calkins 1994; Hall et al. 2019), and that actually children are ‘already ready’ to write (Ray & Glover 2008; Ackerman 2016; Bradford & Wyse 2020; Young & Ferguson 2022). Despite this, a ‘writing-readiness’ ideology asks teachers to position their pupils as ‘transcribers and dictators’ who must practise specific transcriptional skills until near mastery, before ‘earning their right to write’.
Firstly, the withholding of meaningful writing opportunities until basic skills have been mastered goes against research recommendations (Fitzgerald & Shanahan 2000; Shanahan 2016; Gerde et al. 2012; Graham et al. 2012; Tolchinsky 2017; Graham et al. 2020b; Harris et al. 2023; Gerde & Bingham 2023).
Policymakers shouldn’t confuse spelling and handwriting development with writing development. Spelling represents only a fraction of what we must develop in the youngest of writers (Tolchinsky 2017; Kemp & Treiman 2023). Through a ‘writing-readiness’ orientation, children learn only about transcribing. They can only learn about writing and authoring from instruction about writing and being a writer and through repeated daily meaningful practice. Slavishly copying out isolated letters and sentences is not writing (Ferreiro 1982; Zhang & Bingham 2019).
According to both Johnston (2019) and Young & Ferguson (2021), policymakers are right to give their attention and focus to the cognitive dimensions of learning to write, but their limitations lie in their failure to see or care that this cognitive development is also emotionally and affectively loaded and therefore needs to be embedded in motivating, social and meaningful practice.
Expertise in composition and transcription influence and support each other (Harris et al. 2023; Kim 2023). Therefore, to somehow ban meaning-making until full transcription is achieved is tremendously harmful and counter-productive.
This policy document is essentially asking children to prepare for an apprenticeship that feels like it is never going to materialise. For example, Håland et al. (2019 p.70) notes that ‘it is unclear whether students understand for what purpose they are exercising’. As a result, children quickly become uninterested in writing (Clark et al. 2023).
According to Mackenzie & Veresov (2013), a ‘writing readiness’ perspective can disrupt children’s natural text construction process by underestimating or denying the significance of drawing as part of children’s writing process. Indeed, this policy paper sets no value on the power of children’s drawings to contribute to their writing development.
If children are allowed the opportunity to share meaning, it’s suggested that teachers step in and write the message on that child’s behalf by getting the child to dictate what it was they wanted to say. Children aren’t trusted to do it for themselves. As a result, children don’t learn how they could write without a teacher present. Indeed, under this conception, teachers are being asked to assume all cognitive responsibility for the writing activities that take place in the classroom, leaving children passive and actually learning very little.
This policy paper supports linear planning and a one-size-fits-all teaching practice. However, according Boyle & Charles (2010), good early writing teaching involves responsive teaching and a great deal of individualised instruction.
The recommendations in this policy document will train a generation of children to be dependent rather than independent writers. For example, according to Jacobson (2010 p.2), ‘story starters or writing prompts, fill-in-the-blank sentences or waiting until January to begin writing (“when the students know their letters”) are just a few of the ways we communicate to students that they are not capable of writing and thinking on their own’.
The importance of talk and play We are pleased that the policy paper acknowledges the importance of high expectations, rigorous routines, and clear organisation. For example, teachers with the most engaged and best performing pupils are also superb classroom managers (Wharton-McDonald et al. 1998; Zhang & Bingham 2019). There are few disciplinary encounters because the students are so engaged with their writing. Children know what to do and how to do it. They also know what to do when they don’t know what to do (Young & Ferguson 2021).
However, the document wrongly suggests that a ‘noisy’ classroom is an unproductive one. Talk and play are essential for developing children as writers if they regularly occur in calm, rigorous and well organised learning environments. The document fails to see that writing develops in an active, dynamic and highly social way. Children only understand what writing is, what it is for, and what it means to be a writer, if they write in a social and cultural context that matches what writers actually do (Lamme et al. 2002; Kissel 2009; Kissel et al. 2011; Tolentino 2013). For example, empirical evidence shows that talking and playing while writing can initiate ideas, promote revising and encourage more cohesive, logical and structured texts; elaborate plots; action; dialogue and descriptive settings (McQuitty 2014). In addition, when children write together, they engage in more sophisticated writerly behaviours, write longer pieces and write in a wider variety of genres (McQuitty 2014).
Oral language and listening comprehension It’s important for the DfE to recognize that oral language development in the context of the writing classroom goes beyond simply asking children to ‘rehearse a sentence’ before they write it, though this is one of a number of essential strategies for early writers to internalise (Young & Ferguson 2022). Instead, children’s development as talkers relies on ‘a conversational context’. Children’s language develops when they are given the cognitive responsibility to use it. Ultimately, children must be the ones to construct their own speech and writing, otherwise, as the evidence shows, they learn little (Latham 2002; Timperley & Parr 2009; Chuy et al. 2011; Avineri et al. 2015; Allal 2019). The acquisition of language is a dynamic and creative process, not the passive reciting and copying of someone else’s model.
So how important is the role of oral language in children’s writing development? Case studies of the best performing writing teachers argue that it is transformative (Pressley et al. 1997; Medwell et al. 1998; Langer 2001; Gadd & Parr 2017; Young 2019). A child’s writing and their language development benefit each other when they are invited to craft writing alongside their teacher and peers every single day. Indeed, engaging in daily and meaningful talk and writing is one of the best ways to develop children’s language (Mercer et al. 1999; Rojas-Drummond et al. 2008; Green et al. 2008; Parr et al. 2009; Fisher et al. 2010; Dix 2016; Reedy & Bearne 2021). This is in keeping with The Science Of Writing, and the DfE rightly acknowledges its importance.
The youngest of writers develop their ideas for writing in the same way as they produce their speech (Bereiter & Scardamalia 1987). They draw on what they know about discourse-level talk. For example, how to tell a good story or how to tell others about the things you know in a way that is engaging. This is one reason why a developmentally appropriate writing process, one which involves plenty of talking and sharing, is so important in the early years of writing.
A recommended recursive writing process for the EYFS (Young & Ferguson 2022)
According to Kim & Schatschneider (2017, 2022), an ability and opportunity to tell their writing has the largest direct effect on young children’s writing. Essentially, discourse-level talk involves children being given time and opportunity to talk about their whole text. In the context of the earliest writers, this should involve children in the EYFS and KS1 having an opportunity to talk as they write every day. In addition, children should talk about their drawings as this is another way to engage them in discourse-level talk (Mackenzie 2011). In the older years, this remains true too. For example, children should feel free to talk at the discourse level by sharing and discussing their plans with their peers (Young & Ferguson 2023d).
There are a variety of different talking strategies children use as they craft texts. Children talk with one another before they write, as they write and after they write. These interactions occur in different ways and can include:
Idea explaining – Children share what they plan to write about during the session with others.
Idea sharing – Children work in pairs or small ‘clusters’ to co-construct their own texts together.
Idea spreading – One pupil mentions an idea to their group. Children then leapfrog on the idea and create their own texts in response too.
Supplementary ideas – Children hear about a child’s idea, like it, and incorporate it into the text they are already writing.
Communal text rehearsal – Children say out loud what they are about to write – others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
Personal text rehearsal – Children talk to themselves about what they are about to write down. This may include encoding individual words aloud. Other children might listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
Text checking – Children tell or read back what they’ve written so far and others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
Performance – Children share their texts with each other as an act of celebration and publication.
Encouraging children to talk and collaborate together during writing time is an evidence-based research recommendation (Graham et al. 2012; Grossman et al. 2013; De Smedt & Van Keer 2014), and the opportunity to talk as they write improves children’s final written outcomes (McQuitty 2014). Children who talk as they write go on to write richer and more sophisticated texts (Wiseman 2003; Vass et al. 2008). This may be because talk gives children more working memory for writing (Latham 2002; Cremin & Myhill 2012; Young & Ferguson 2021) or because talk between children assists them in deciding what to say and how to encode it (Davidson 2007; Whittick 2020).
A classroom rich in talk, where children are encouraged to tell others about events in their own lives, the knowledge they bring into school, and the imaginative ideas their minds conjure up is the foundation of any high-quality writing program (Lamme et al. 2002; Daniels 2014; Rowe 2018; Young & Ferguson 2021, Young et al. 2022). Your class can have more stories and ideas for writing than you’ll ever know what to do with as long as you’re willing to give time for talking and sharing (Young & Ferguson 2022b). Children regularly rely on talk for guidance, a model, expertise, assistance, and instruction (Wohlwend 2008; Kissel 2009). This isn’t a negative thing as it shows children’s commitment to being independent through what’s called co-regulation (Young & Ferguson 2021).
Vocabulary knowledge According to The Science Of Writing, vocabulary knowledge is one of thirteen cognitive resources children need to draw on to write well, and the DfE spends a lot of time discussing it. Here is how children’s vocabulary typically develops:
Typical language milestones
Eighteen months old
At eighteen months old, children already have a vocabulary of around fifty words.
Two years old
By two years old, most children produce utterances of two words. These utterances are crafted by the child and are not the parroting back of an adult model. Speech and thought come together by the age of two.
Two and a half
Can utter sentences of three words.
Between three and four years olds
Begin speaking in full sentences. Children can say an infinite number of original sentences – sentences that they’ve never said or heard before.
Five years old
Children are able to use language with a capacity close to that of an adult. For example they use language for the following purposes: to persuade, influence or command others; to share and understand information; to tell stories (both real and imagined) and use language imaginatively and playfully. Children can typically say and write sentences of around five words.
From seven years old
Children usually acquire a full and accurate knowledge of their first language.
As you can see, every child brings a great deal of language learning into the classroom on their very first day of school. This is something the DfE often fails to appreciate. Indeed, this learning is too often underestimated or overlooked by many who work in education (Avineri et al. 2015; Sperry et al. 2019; Cushing 2020; Burnett et al. 2020’ Young et al. 2022). However, research shows that children are more likely to succeed in schools that use and value their existing knowledge and build on it (Johnson 2015; McQuillan 2019).
With this said, there are a number of things teachers can do to further develop children’s vocabulary in the context of the writing classroom:
Teachers can actively teach word choice strategies during writing lessons. E.g. word-level functional grammar lessons (Young & Ferguson 2021b), writing-study lessons devoted to literary techniques (Young et al. 2021) and use of word-choice strategies like Cracking Open Boring Words (Young et al. 2021).
Teachers can set aside specific sessions within a class writing project for children to attend to their vocabulary choices prior to publication (Young & Ferguson 2023c).
Where are the writing centres? It’s deplorable that there is nothing mentioned about writing across the day or about the use of Writing Centres despite the fact that they are both essential to children’s writing development (Mayer 2007; Rowe 2008; Tolentino 2013; Quinn et al. 2016, 2022; Bingham et al. 2017, 2018; Bollinger & Myers 2020). This relates directly to our concerns around the recommendation that children should only ever write at a table (p.58). This would be an instructional mistake and would go against research recommendations (Rowe & Nietzel 2010; Hall et al. 2015; Gerde et al. 2015). We want children to have opportunities to write in many varied situations in and out of the classroom. However, we’d certainly recommend that any dedicated letter formation or handwriting instruction be done at a table.
Letter formation and handwriting
Learning to form letters and spell words requires considerable effort and attention… Schools, therefore, should consider the advantages to children of delaying the teaching of joined handwriting. Nearly all the headteachers in the schools Ofsted visited for its ‘Bold beginnings’ survey did not teach a cursive or pre-cursive script in Reception. They told inspectors that they believed: … it slowed down children’s writing, at a point when they already found manual dexterity tricky and the muscles in their shoulders, arms and hands were still developing.
It’s well known that early writers should focus their efforts on ‘automaticity’ and fluency of handwriting rather than on the adherence to any particular style (Graham 2010; Graham et al. 2012; Santangelo & Graham 2016). The main aim at this age is for children to write quickly, accurately and effortlessly. The fact is children who write with automaticity go on to perform very well in their later years and produce higher-quality pieces (Puranik & AlOtaiba 2012; Malpique et al. 2017, 2020). We are therefore happy to see the policy paper support this position.
We are also pleased that the policy paper highlights the importance of letter formation and handwriting instruction as being absolutely essential, that it needs to occur daily, and that it is best practised in connection with daily phonics instruction (Rowe 2018; Graham et al. 2018). However, what the document ignores is how important it is that teachers invite children to use all that they’ve learnt about letter formation during a daily ‘writing workshop time’ and/or through their daily play in the Writing Centre. The document also fails to acknowledge that children’s letter formation develops through a developmental process of: drawings and scribbles; linear scribbles; mock handwriting and letter-like symbols. This then progresses to: random but real letter strings; letters that represent key sounds learnt; spaces that indicate separation between words; ‘sound spellings’ using phonics knowledge before finally spelling words conventionally. You can see this represented in the table below:
Confusion around spelling Again, we praise the document for highlighting the importance of directly teaching children to encode during daily phonics instruction. Of course, this needs to be extended to the writing classroom too (Young & Ferguson 2022). We want children to experience the thrill of watching others understand their texts and for people to be able to read them when they are not around to tell or explain them.
‘Teachers should encourage correct spelling’ (p.55). A strange and developmentally inappropriate suggestion, especially when you consider the report’s own recommendation that teachers should praise children’s attempts at spelling in ‘phonetically plausible ways’ (also known as using their ‘sound-spellings’ or ‘invented spellings’). The DfE do not seem to be aware of important research findings which show that children who receive instruction orientated towards producing ‘sound spellings’ outperform children who don’t on a whole variety of writing and reading measures (Jones et al. 2010; Harste 2012; Ouellette & Sénéchal 2017; Gerde et al. 2012; Rowe 2018; Morin & Pulido 2022). The DfE also peddles the myth that by modelling ‘sound spellings’ as a strategy children will learn mis-spellings. The Science Of Early Writing has shown this to be simply untrue (Sénéchal et al. 2023). Rather confusingly, the paper then suggests that teachers shouldn’t model ‘sound spellings’ despite the fact that children are being asked to adopt the strategy for themselves when writing independently. In summary, it seems that teachers aren’t to model a strategy that the policy document wants children to use.
This observation relates to the deep concerns we have about the recommendation that children should only write using the grapheme/phoneme correspondences they’ve been taught so far (p.55). This would be an instructional mistake and also fails to understand the importance of children working through the stages of prephonological writing shared in our earlier section (Gerde et al. 2012; Byington & Kim 2017; Rowe 2018; Gerde & Bingham 2023; Kemp & Treiman 2023). For example, under such circumstances, you’d have the ridiculous situation where a great number of children wouldn’t be permitted to write their own name for months or even years (Bloodgood 1999; Both-de Vries & Bus 2008; Zhang & Treiman 2020).
Developing children’s abilities to respond to dictation is not the same as developing their abilities to write The DfE rightly acknowledges the profound role spoken language plays in the development of children’s encoding and spelling abilities. Thoughts and ideas have to be encoded into oral language (whether publicly by speaking them aloud, or privately in the mind) before being transcribed into written texts. This is aided by children’s ability to use their listening comprehension skills (Kim 2022). Unfortunately, despite their own emphasis on spoken language, they recommend that children engage in dictation exercises before they are allowed to ‘earn the right to write’.
The ability to express one’s own thoughts, ideas and feelings.
The transcription of someone else’s already composed text.
The process of listening to the sounds in words and transcribing their associated symbols to paper or screen.
The activity or occupation of generating and composing your own ideas and text for publication (i.e. for someone to read and understand). For the youngest of writers, this typically involves generating an idea, talking/planning/drawing, drafting (encoding), revising (making changes), proof-reading (checking for accuracy/conventions) and publication or performance.
Developing children’s abilities to form letters, handwrite with fluency, and encode quickly and happily.
Children’s growing abilities to transcribe, generate ideas and compose their own texts for publication.
Developing children’s language
The development of children’s own communication using speech and writing.
Administering dictation exercises is one way for children to practise their transcriptional skills. However, we know of another way – writing. In poorly designed Early Years classrooms, you’ll see children being given many opportunities to practise dictation, reciting and encoding. However, there is a big difference between this and developing children’s writing. Unfortunately, ineffective Early Years classrooms don’t always have a clear programme of study which helps develop children’s transcriptional skills alongside composing their own texts (Latham 2002; Timperley & Parr 2009; Chuy et al. 2011; Avineri et al. 2015; Allal 2019; Kim et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022).
It’s important to remember that, in their own ways, children can write down all the words they can say (Ray & Glover 2008; Byington & Kim 2017; Young & Ferguson 2022). However, if we always put the words in children’s mouths, they actually write nothing. Instead they become reciters and reproducers of their teacher’s voice, thoughts and ideas. The first writing teacher a child ever meets can be their most important one. The messages they send out about what writing is and what it is for are profound.
We must keep in mind that dictating and reciting texts isn’t talking or writing. Classrooms which become overly consumed by dictation exercises are ones associated with a ‘presentational skills’ or ‘writing readiness’ ideology towards early writing development, both of which are fundamentally flawed (Young & Ferguson 2021). That’s why sharing, playing and talking about their own writing is such an important part of a child’s writing process. This includes participating in translanguaging (Young et al. 2022; Ferguson & Young 2023). Indeed, a classroom rich in talk, where children are encouraged to tell about events in their own lives, the knowledge they bring into school, and the imaginative ideas their minds conjure up is the foundation of any high-quality writing program (Lamme et al. 2002; Barratt-Pugh et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022).
The importance of drawing Alongside talking and oral rehearsal, drawing is young children’s most appropriate planning technique. It’s important to give time to drawing because, when children are encouraged to draw as part of their writing process, they create more meaningful texts and with deeper complexity than they would without drawing (Horn & Giacobbe 2007; Christianakis 2011; Hui 2011; Mackenzie 2011; Mackenzie & Veresov 2013; Olshansky 2014). The document doesn’t appreciate the early signs, marks, symbols and drawings children put down on screen or paper as being writing (a way of making and sharing meaning). People did not create a transcriptional system first and then decide to share meaning afterwards (Lancaster 2007; Wyse 2017). Under this guidance, children will unfortunately learn that, if you are to write, you must essentially write conventionally and like an adult, or not at all.
Reading in the writing classroom We were pleased to see the DfE highlight the small but significant positive effect of inviting children to write about their reading in reading lessons (Koster et al. 2015; Graham & Hebert 2011; Graham et al. 2018b, 2018c). The DfE rightly suggests caution too: ‘If the reading in [reading] lessons is merely transactional, undertaken only because it leads to writing or illustrates how a language feature works, the short-term goals are in danger of jeopardising the longer-term benefits of sustained reading’ (p.112).
We were also delighted to see the DfE acknowledge the power of asking children to read and discuss authors’ craft moves in the writing classroom. (Graham et al. 2020a, 2020b; Young & Ferguson 2023a). However, we were then utterly confused when, on the same page, the DfE contradicts its own guidance by explaining that: ‘pupils would often gain more simply by reading or listening to a rich text… rather than by spending time analysing its grammatical features or using it as a model for writing’ (p.112). Part of the confusion, we suspect, is the DfE’s inability to differentiate between an explicit reading lesson and an explicit writing lesson. Instead, they assume that lessons can only be ‘English’ lessons. While reading and writing share many similarities and instruction should occur in both classrooms – it’s important to remember that reading and writing need to be taught explicitly too (Kim et al. 2023).
In the context of the writing classroom, their recommendations are simply untrue. Reading mentor texts and discussing authors’ craft moves before being invited to use them for themselves are essential and highly effective evidence-based practices (Purcell-Gates 2007; Martin & Rose 2007; Rose 2008; Graham & Hebert 2011; Graham et al. 2012; Koster et al. 2015; Graham et al. 2018b, 2018c; Young & Ferguson 2023a).
Pupils who need support The DfE claims, amazingly without evidence, that pupils who need support might find writing too hard and so shouldn’t be required to do so (p.79). Delaying children’s opportunities to engage in writing is unnecessary, damaging, and would fly in the face of research recommendations. There are many ways in which all children can be supported to be writers (Young & Ferguson 2023b).
What’s it all for? ‘Let us be clear. If children do not learn and internalise the essential transcriptional skills involved in crafting writing – spelling, handwriting, and punctuation – then their attempts to share meaning with others may be compromised or even fruitless… therefore, any call to teach fundamental writing skills is always welcome. However, it is not intended that transcriptional skills be taught in isolation, away from the craft of meaning making and sharing (Young & Ferguson 2021 p.177).
The most disappointing thing about the DfE is how they fail to see how instruction in letter formation, handwriting and encoding (spelling) should, as far as children are concerned, serve their daily sustained and meaningful opportunity for writing. After all, it’s from this meaning-sharing orientation that children really reallywant to learn more about how to form letters and encode words so they can better share their meanings with others (Louden et al. 2005; Wohlwend 2008; Hui 2011; Herste 2012; Graham et al. 2012; Dennis & Votteler 2013; Ouellette & Sénéchal 2017; Zhang & Bingham 2019).
The document essentially provides no guidance on how to develop the orange circle in this figure:
Instruction in letter formation (handwriting) and spelling during phonics sessions should be there to serve children’s daily opportunities to make and share meaning through writing.
It’s critical that teachers promote and give instruction in all three of the above components. These three dimensions need to develop alongside one another in order for children to understand the world of being a writer. Despite the fact that the report acknowledges the importance of composition (p.55), the paper focuses exclusively on letter formation and children’s ability to spell and spends no time discussing how to teach children to be writers and how to teach compositional techniques, procedures and strategies. According to research and the case studies of the best performing teachers, this is a grave error (Poulson et al. 2001; Pressley et al. 2001; Block et al. 2002; Louden et al. 2005; Jones et al. 2010; Graham et al. 2012; Dombey 2013; Kent et al. 2014; Puranik & Lonigan 2014; Hall et al. 2015).
When children are invited to compose meaningful texts every day, their opportunities to practise letter formation and spelling are naturally supported within an authentic and motivating context. Teachers who teach writing through a contemporary and rigorous ‘writing workshop approach’ have children who perform just as well in the ‘basic skills’ of letter formation and spelling as those teachers who make these components their sole instructional priority (Dahl & Freppon 1995; Hall 2019; Roitsch et al. 2021). This is because children are encouraged to use what they learn about letters, words and sentences, to create and share meaning. They acquire useful knowledge about transcription (spelling, letter formation, handwriting), when they are invited to use it meaningfully rather than through exercises, skills and worksheets. When children enact the processes that real writers do (but in a developmentally appropriate way), they produce writing products which can easily meet the demands of the current curriculum (Wiseman 2003; Harmey & Wilkinson 2019; Managhan 2020; Barratt-Pugh et al. 2021).
It is this balance between explicit and direct instruction and meaningful practice which makes for world-class writing teaching.
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I learned that there is a book or more in everyone; the right opportunity is what they are awaiting.
Kemi Dairo (Teaching Assistant)
In this article you will learn about an ambitious project which started out by lighting a writing fuse beyond the school gates, and ended with an explosion of talent, creativity and over three-hundred books!
Having attempted a similar project before (Hayden, 2021), but on a much smaller scale, I knew that we had a model which could work. This time out, using World Book Day as the distant publishing goal, our whole school was invited to spend two weeks making books at home. Children were simply invited to make a I Love… book. A book about ‘something’, ‘somewhere’ or ‘someone’ they loved.
We chose this simple genre to create an accessible entry point for all our writers whilst still allowing enough head room for more experienced writers to take the books in whichever direction they desired.
Lift off: the big launch!
It all started during our phase assemblies when, on the first Monday back after the February half-term, we launched the project (see slideshow below).
Read as writers
We started by sharing with the children and their families what a good I Love Book… might look like.
Through whole-school assemblies, we undertook a period of genre-study by reading as writers and discussing several mentor texts (Ferguson & Young 2023). We wanted the expectations to be clear so that children knew what they were expected to produce for themselves (Young and Hayden, 2022). Copies of these texts were also delivered to parents and carers through our School Ping messaging app.
Because we were doing this project as a whole school, from Nursery all the way up to Year 6, we looked at two texts: one from the EYFS Project Booklet and one from a child in Year Three who had already made anI Love… Book about her favourite colouring pencils.
“I’ve got an idea… Let’s party!”
Having laid the first stone in our wall of potential books, children spent time in class with their teacher having anIdeas Party where they discussed possible writing topics and each filled up an Ideas Heart with people, places and things they loved (see slideshow below for examples). The average number of ideas generated per child was twelve, which means in the space of an hour, across our whole school, we generated around seven thousand potential writing topics!
It may seem axiomatic, and certainly passes the logic sniff test, but when children are invited to write about topics they are experts in, they tend to create better quality writing products, and are much more deeply invested in their book being the best it can possibly be (Graham 2018; Young & Ferguson 2021, 2022).
Generating ideas is a vital process in the development of apprentice writers and children of all ages are able to mine their own lives, experiences, reading and passions to unearth them (Hayden, 2021a, 2021b). Overlooking this aspect of the writing process is simply not an option if we are interested in cultivating well-rounded writers. And guess what? It’s loads of fun!
And what’s more, finding strategies to help navigate this important element of a writer’s repertoire has never been easier thanks to commercially available books aimed at teachers who are passionate about teaching young writers (Young et al. 2021, Young and Ferguson, 2022b).
That evening, this page of ideas was taken home along with a pre-stapled blank book in which writers could begin crafting their text over the coming fortnight. A different book was made for EYFS, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 to act as an approximate guide in relation to both quantity of words and number of pages. This was also signalled through several mini-lessons.
“So, should we just get on and write then?”
Well, not quite. As a school, we knew that just giving pupils agency over their topic choices was a necessary but not sufficient condition to garner the kinds of quality writing products we were hoping for. Therefore, we embarked on an unusual mission to teach the whole community using as many of the fourteen principles of world-class writing instruction (Young & Ferguson, 2021a, 2022a2023a) as possible!
We liked being creative, having the freedom to choose what we wanted to write about and being given the time to write our books -Bronze Class (Year 6)
Feeling peckish? Have a tea-time tip!
The teaching part of the project utilised our school messaging service and invited writers to try out either an aspect of the writing process each day, or something else associated with the craft of writing. This was called our tea-time tip!
The tea-time tips gave us an idea of how to write our books – Opal Class (Reception)
Imparting the knowledge of being a writer: how crafty!
In selecting the tea-time tips (see slideshow below), we decided to prioritise ‘craft knowledge’ (Young et al. 2021) over both sentence-level strategies and functional grammar instruction because we felt this would benefit the broadest range of writers from the EYFS up to Year Six.
We found the tips useful because they were in small manageable chunks and they had examples – Platinum Class (Year 1)
We used the principles of SRSD (self-regulation strategy development) instruction to deliver our daily explicit mini-lessons (Young et al. 2021) as we knew it was one of the most effective ways to teach young writers, and was strongly supported by the available evidence as being a great way to develop their independence (Young & Ferguson, 2022).
Knowing that many of our writers lacked experience in book-making, we made the decision that some of the advice in the first week would cover some of the basics that would normally have been taught in the EYFS (For example: ‘Making A Front Cover’ and ‘Something Different On Every Page’).
Teaching the writing processes
I liked that we had ten days so didn’t have to rush – Anisa (Year 4)
Over the course of the project, we covered all the writing processes: idea generation, planning, drafting, revising, editing and publishing (Young et al. 2021). We felt the model below was the best way to structure the project, again, in order to cater to the wide diversity of experience levels.
There was an emphasis on talk throughout the project (Young & Ferguson, 2021, 2021) as we believed this would encourage family members to join in with the crafting process. After all, if the best writing classrooms develop talk throughout the writing journey, then why can’t this be fomented in a burgeoning writing community?
In the absence of the ‘classroom writer-teacher’ normally available in a school context, it was anticipated that pupil-conferencing (Young & Ferguson, 2021) could take place between family members as they crafted their texts together. If not in the more structured sense that it might be conducted in a writing classroom, it was at least hoped that some of the following might be attended to: idea explaining, idea sharing, idea spreading, supplementary ideas, communal text rehearsal, personal text rehearsal, text checking and performance (LINK).
I liked the tea-time tips as they reminded me to work on my book – Anisa (Year 4)
Goal-setting is one of the principles of world-class writing instruction (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a) and it was placed at the centre of this project. Day 2’s tip (Choosing something delicious from the publishing menu) invited everyone to imagine a future audience for their book (distant publishing goal) while the tea-time tips acted as both, a daily reminder to set aside some time to work on the books, and an invitation to try something out and achieve it (process goals). Several of the tea-time tips also explicitly taught mini-lessons which were designed to attend to the success criteria for the book like: making a great front cover, something different on every page and give a mentor text a hug (product goals).
I found the mini-lessons useful because they told us step-by-step things to try out – Nieve (Year 3)
Of course, the digital nature of the tips, being delivered through a messaging app, meant that they were also archived. Therefore, anyone who hadn’t had time to work on their book on the day the tip was delivered could also go back to refer to them at any point during the project.
The tips were delivered at 4pm on each day of the project and were always accompanied by an example of the strategy for that day being modelled by me in my own book. There then followed an invitation for everyone to try out that mini-lesson in their own books.
To what extent the tea-time tips were opened, read and then used is difficult to ascertain. However, we know that one hundred percent of our families have the School Ping app on one or more of their devices, so theoretically each family had equal opportunity to access the daily instruction we were sending out.
Being a writer-teacher
In order to guide participants through the project, I tried out all the tea-time tips in advance (see slideshow below).
We shared these through School Ping and also stuck them to the wall in the reception area of the school for any families who weren’t regularly checking their messaging app. Spare blank books were also placed here for other family members to grab if they wanted to make their own books alongside the children.
World Book Day: Let’s party!
I loved doing the tour around school and reading so many other books! – Presley (Year 3)
On World Book Day, we organised a mass publishing party by putting all the books on tables in the corridors outside each classroom. Then, classes took it in turns to walk around the school reading all the books throughout the day.
It was fun, it made us be creative and we loved sharing our books with Year 5 – Yellow Class (Year 2)
Taking the writing register: What did children choose to write about?
I liked the freedom of being able to express myself! – Jemimah (Year 4)
Over three hundred children produced a book and returned it which was around a 60% participation rate.
There was a huge variety of writing ideas as you might expect (see table and slideshow below).
What were the books like?
All young people deserve an opportunity to share what they know, think, and care about, demonstrating who they are through their writing – Young et al. 2022 (p.5)
If we look at a sample of the writing products from across the school, we can see ample proof of children sharing who they are through their writing. As the Writing Realities framework makes explicit, any school is enriched when it fosters a writing environment where children are not required ‘to leave their own identities, cultural capital, thoughts, opinions and knowledge outside the writing classroom door‘ (Young et al. 2022, p.5).
I have added some thoughts below about a selection of the books we gratefully received.
Every child a writer – I Love Textures (Etin – Rainbow Class)
Anyone can become an author, even pupils with complex needs. Our pupils participated by making tactile books and picturebooks – Wahida Rahman (ARP Teacher)
Etin has severe global developmental delay, down-syndrome and autistic spectrum condition. He is non-verbal and mainly communicates through a combination of gestures and some sounds. Etin has a passion for certain textures. The tactile nature of his interaction with his environment forms a dominant element in his understanding and experience of the world. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that he chose to make an I Love Book… of this type.
His book is reminiscent of the kind of commercial board books which Etin enjoys in the classroom. Sometimes known as ‘touchy-feely’ books, they are very popular with young readers. Indeed, Etin was showing evidence of achieving one of the KS2 greater-depth writing statements as he was able to select an appropriate form and drew independently on what he had read as a model for his own writing. Etin has now made his very own for others to enjoy!
Co-constructing texts: What can be learned through book-making? My Fluffy and Me (Yasmin – Reception)
We can see that Yasmin has co-constructed this book with a member of her family. It seems to me that a good deal of talking must have taken place throughout its creation.
First of all, we can imagine that some idea explaining took place when Yasmin was sharing her ideas heart and deciding to make a book about Fluffy. From then on, lots of idea sharing took place as Yasmin has drawn pictures of her and Fluffy at the funfair, asleep in bed together and playing in her toy car. There must have also been some discussion of collective memories as it is sprinkled with personal anecdotes about a family holiday in Cyprus and the time the ear was ripped and sewed back on by Nene (Nan).
Even if there are not as many attempts at encoding in the sentence construction as we might like, there is clearly a rich dialogue taking place between the co-authors. That said, there are clear attempts at encoding when writing page numbers, her name and the date. Moreover, there is certainly a great deal of evidence that Yasmin has learned many of the conventions of book-making, and solidified her understanding of the product goals by engaging in this whole process.
We can deduce that Yasmin knows that when making a book writers:
Create front covers with: a big title, an image, when the book was born and the author’s name
Usually, put something different on each page
Put numbers on their pages
Might draw pictures which match their sentences
Can label their pictures with additional information
Create multimodal texts by including drawings, stickers, 3-d interactive elements (commonly found in feely books) and photographs
I Love Karate (Adam – Year 2)
In this Year 2 book we can see that our young author has decorated his front cover with a clear title, which lets us know what his book is about. He has also included his name and when his book was born. Each page has a different theme as well as some words and an image.
Adam’s book is highly informative and we learn something about his uniform, the purpose of learning karate and its origins. His illustrations are simple, but humorous (especially the bulging bicep and the massive doughnut at the end). His ending also suggests he was reading and leapfrogging off my mentor text as he tries out adding some additional information about what he does on the way home from karate club.
Eid Festival (Eshal – Year 3)
This book is from my heart – Eshal (Year 3)
Here we have a wonderful book in which Eshal has been moved to teach us, from her own knowledge and personal experience, about the festival of Eid-al-Fitr. In doing so, her offering from the heart has laid out a key part of her identity. Young et al. (2022, p.9) conclude that ‘a person’s writing cannot be separated from their identity; the two are deeply intertwined.’ After reading Eshal’s book, it is hard to argue with that verdict.
She clearly benefited from several of the tea-time tips; for instance, Day 2’s offer of ‘Choosing something delicious from the publishing menu‘. She made it explicit in her inside front cover where she wanted her book to end up. I think that her commitment was in part sustained throughout the process of crafting this composition by her awareness that this audience was waiting at the other end of the journey.
It may also have contributed to her willingness to go back and proofread her book. I like that she has left her transcriptional errors on the page for us to see. I suspect she really benefited from the Day 9 tea-time tip ‘How do you know you’re finished?’ as there are many examples of Eshal returning to her text and adding capital letters for proper nouns (Eid & Ramadan), inserting missing words (we, and & on) and attending to unsure spellings (morning).
Meet Teddy (Lillia – Year 4)
There is so much to love about Meet Teddy: Lillia’s Shirley Hughes-esque illustrations displaying Teddy’s cheekiness, or the subtle touches of humour she employs through references to Teddy ‘chewing everything in sight‘ or ‘going through a teenage phase‘ stand out.
Lillia, in writing about her pet dog and how she interacts with it, has exposed us to a hitherto unknown aspect of her life. Creating an opportunity, through this project, to bring this outside school learning experience, and the funds of knowledge which come with it, to the fore, has demonstrated how Lillia was totally and completely in command of the content for her book. She was writing from a position of strength which gave her the opportunity to focus more on crafting this knowledge into such a beautiful book.
Football Dreams (Frankie – Year 6)
I included this text because it’s really good and it reminds me of my own interests as a child; it is just the type of book I would probably have made at that age. It’s a really informative read and is just sprinkled with enough of the author’s voice to help us connect with his obvious passion for the subject.
I like the way that Frankie was clearly following along with the tea-time tips too. I think he probably benefited from the Day 7 tea-time tip: Give a mentor text a hug as he has included a dedication on the inside of the front cover and created a personal logo on the back of his book. He also shares with us on his final page his motivation for writing the book, which was directly taught via Day 8’s tea-time tip: Why do writers write?
I loved working at home on something with my mum – Declan (Turquoise – Year 4)
Leading by example: Writers in the staffroom
Staff across the school were encouraged to participate and in total nine books were produced by a mixture of teachers and support staff. In fact, it was the support staff who took the lead.
First out of the traps was Ann, a teaching assistant who was so inspired that she simply had to share her love of drawing through her book.
Hot on her heels, was another teaching assistant, Debbie, who revealed that her bulldog Len was the true love of her life. Her finished book soon arrived with the support of her husband who had collaborated on the illustrations.
The beauty of when staff make books is that very quickly as a whole school you can build up a significant body of mentor texts which can be used to study and teach from during future class projects (Young & Ferguson, 2023).
An interesting aside, at least for me anyway, was the fact that one book (My Garden – see slideshow below) was written by the mother of a child who had touched our hearts a few years ago with an emotional eulogy to her father (Hayden & Vasques, 2020). This girl has since moved on to secondary school, but she found the time to collaborate with her mother by providing some wonderful illustrations to this charming book.
Dual language examples –My I Love Book (Isabel – Year 1)
During the launch of the project we encouraged children to write in languages other than English, both as a means to access the project and as a way to celebrate the cultural diversity in our community. It is also an effective way to support the development of multilingual writers (Ferguson & Young, 2022). We were lucky enough to receive a number of books which had been written in both English and another language. Below is one such example which was written collaboratively.
In this book Isabel has written a pattern-style book of multiple things she loves. This is a good example of how children can write a book using a repeating sentence structure. But, what sets this book apart is that after crafting this composition, Isabel’s uncle sat alongside her and taught her how to translate the book into Cantonese.
What happened next? Tips for how to give the project legs
I think we need to do the next book making project in school and not just at home. This would support everyone to make a successful book, but especially lower down the school and for children who require a high level of support – Wahida Rahman (ARP Teacher)
Read aloud in assembly
Because there are so many different topics and themes covered across the books, it means there will be lots of opportunities to read them aloud especially when there are various festivals, celebrations and events happening throughout the school year. Marrying these up can add to the richness of your whole-school assemblies as well as providing a great showcase for your young authors.
Display around the school
In our school there are corridor displays which are used as places to celebrate learning related to that subject. So, of course, books that children produced which could be linked to curriculum areas became part of corridor displays.
There were books about: Design & Technology (My Restaurant and Mum and Ruby Bake Cakes); PE (I Love Karate, Football Dreams, My Football Club and Girls Can Play Football Too); Mathematics (The Super Math and I Love Number & Counting); RE (Eid Festival, My Easter Book and I Love Eid Mubarak!) and Art (I Love Origami and All About Art).
What better way to demonstrate the passion and enthusiasm children have for the things they learn about in school than by showing they can make a book about them!
Reading for Pleasure
Copies of some of the best books were made and stored in the school and class libraries. They were then available to be enjoyed alongside commercial texts during reading time. They have proved to be very popular.
This is a good example of how every class should have an area in their class book corner for children’s book-making to be deposited (Hayden, 2021). Ensuring there is always one simple way that children can receive an authentic audience for their writing endeavours is a sign that there is a strong writing culture in your school.
Interview your authors! Meet the author – Lillia (Year 4)
How did you go about making your book?
During the project, when I had some free time I carried on working on my book. Almost every night, I would use the big table in my living room to make it.
Did you draw the pictures first or write your sentences?
The pictures came first then I thought I could write some stuff about them which would be funny for whoever read it.
Can you tell us more about your lovely pictures?
We found this tin in my house and I drew around it to make a kind of frame. I thought it would be too hard to draw everything and fill up a whole page. I wanted to focus on a small image to make it look like a photograph.
Why did you choose to write about Teddy?
I only just got him a couple of months ago and as I love him so much, I thought maybe some people would get inspired by my book and write about their own pets.
What would you like to write about next?
For my next book I would like to write about our hawks. My dad has eleven of them!
Lillia’s interview reminds us that the teaching and learning process is both cyclical and symbiotic. Already, just by listening to her thought process about her book, I can spot a mini-lesson that I can teach my class which I had not previously imagined. Her use of the tin to shrink the size of the space in which to fit her pictures is something we could all try out. And it makes perfect sense! Why not elevate the very best books our children produce to the role of mentor text?
This was a wonderful project for the children and adults. It was perfect for children of all ages to do – it allowed Aston to think and express her thoughts and ideas about something she felt passionate about. It helped Aston to think outside the box too; having ten days to do it gave her time to think and plan what she would write. The tea-time tips were really helpful and a good way to support when stuck on what to write next. Aston and myself really enjoyed doing this project together! Aston would express her ideas to me and the family before writing them in her book. She would be very firm about her ideas and how she wanted to write them. The daily tips, which we would talk and share our thoughts about, encouraged us to do a bit each day. As parents, there are always plenty of jobs that need doing, so having the ten days to do this project certainly helped us to take our time and not rush. Aston often used to make little books at home, but wouldn’t change anything if it was wrong. However, with the steps and tools carried out in this project she has now started to reread what she has written and correct it when needed. She often makes books for us to read now. We are looking forward to the next project like this! – Amanda (Year 3 Parent)
The project has allowed us as parents to be able to support our child at home. I felt I was able to explore with Renata the steps she needed to follow or consider when making her book. The daily tips were very useful as a parent that wishes to support her child and it felt like a nice way to be included and allowed to participate in what school is doing. It gave me insight into her work expectations which helps support Renata to continue improving and developing within her writing adventures! It was lovely to be part of this shared journey – Susana (Year 3 Parent)
This project has been a fantastic opportunity for children to develop their imagination and artistic talents as well as share their unique perspectives with others. My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent together discussing different aspects of the project – Riz (Year 4 Parent)
In summary, this is a project which was a long time in the making, and preparing well for it was an essential component of its success. Overall, I think it has its advantages if, as a school, you wanted to use it as a way to examine a different approach with a view to moving towards more effective writing practices in general. The project provides a low-stakes way for the school, its teachers, the children and the wider community to develop their understanding of an evidence-informed writing pedagogy away from the white heat of the classroom.
If this article has piqued your interest and you wanted to examine in more detail your school’s existing approach to gauge how it might compare with the principles outlined in this article, you could do worse than to use ourEvaluation Tool.
Alternatively, if you have already embarked on this journey and are currently embedding the principles of effective writing instruction across your school, then what better way to solidify them with a project of this type. You wouldn’t have to wait until next World Book Day either. Any number of distant publishing goals could be set and worked towards to make this not just a yearly endeavour.
What a marvellous way to bring our whole school community together. This project was accessible for all and enabled our families to tell us stories from their hearts – Sian Farrelly (Deputy Headteacher)
We are all familiar with the term ‘high quality’ when it is used as an attribute of the kinds of texts which are typically recommended for use in the reading classroom. In this article, we want to give a new perspective on what a ‘high quality’ text can be, but in the very specific context of the writing classroom.
As we know, reading and writing are deeply interconnected (Young & Ferguson 2023a, 2023b). However, UK schools are experiencing a systemic problem here, because this connection is usually being interpreted for the writing classroom by those who are actually reading rather than writing specialists. The currently popular idea of tethering so-called ‘creative’ writing activities related to the content of a single text is first and foremost a way of improving children’s reading comprehension rather than teaching them the craft of writing. We’ve written about this a lot elsewhere (LINK, LINK).
As writing specialists who also understand the power of reading, we advocate for the kind of writing lesson in which a reader-writer-teacher finds and teaches one craft move made by the author of a chosen mentor text, and invites the class to apply that strategy in the context of their authentic writing that day (Young & Ferguson 2023b). Finding these craft moves in a piece of writing is the key to discovering what the writer is doing to make that text, and children will see that they can use these moves in their very own piece too.
Here is an example of what we consider to be a high-quality text for use in the writing classroom. It happens to be a fairly recently published picture-book called How To Eat Pizza, by Jon Burgerman. It’s bold, colourful, fun and amusing, and includes an element of non-fiction and instruction within a playful narrative which progresses entirely through the medium of dialogue (what we like to call ‘faction’ LINK). The main character is a personified and very smart slice of pizza intent on avoiding being eaten, and the other characters are various kinds of talking foods, each with its own distinct voice – a sure-fire win with children, who often like to include such characters in their own texts.
So, why is it a high-quality text? Well, for four reasons…
✅ A clear reason why the author was moved to write.
Jon Burgerman’s ability to make clear his reason for writing is the first way in which we can say his book is of high quality. Immediately, we know why he was moved to write the book: opposite the title page he includes a little blurb about his love for pizza, and, in the blurb on the back cover, he leaves us in no doubt that his intention is to entertain his readers, and, in the process, inform them about healthy eating. Children pick up on this, and want to entertain and inform their readers just as much when they write their very own piece. The book clearly matches the reasons children are so often moved to write.
✅ Possibilities for children to write something of their own
Secondly, because of its appeal, Jon’s book has the potential to be what we call a ‘leapfrogging’ book (Young & Ferguson 2022, LINK). Children read it and immediately see how they can write a ‘faction’ or an entertaining information text of their own. In fact, he suggests this possibility on the very last page with the question: Now, how do you eat doughnuts? Given agency over their own ideas, children may choose to write something similar to Jon’s book, or they may not, but there is enough possibility there for something to be developed as a result of reading his text. This potential is another reason why we judge the book to be of high quality in the writing classroom. It’s a book that is open to children’s agency. It offers them their own possibilities.
✅ Scope for children to play with intertextuality
A third thing that marks the book out for use in the writing classroom is that its content enables children to be intertextual (Young et al. 2022, LINK). Intertextuality is an ability to draw on your own personal experiences, including things you have read, heard or seen, to help you generate your very own writing ideas. This book is great for inviting children to create their own texts using their own funds of knowledge, language and identity.
✅ Full of great writing craft moves that children will want to use too
Jon’s book is jam-packed with a wealth of quality craft moves. When teachers and children ‘mine’ texts to see how they are made, they together construct a list of what we call product goals – craft moves they agree would be good to do or include in their own texts to make them as meaningful and successful as they can be (Young & Ferguson 2023b). Co-constructed product goals help children maintain their focus and enthusiasm while composing, and are taught how to use these craft moves by their writer-teacher through the medium of SRSD (mini-lesson) instruction (LINK, LINK). They will come to be added to children’s own repertoire of writerly knowledge.
Here are some of the craft moves Jon has used:
Time-markers (fronted adverbials) to show the order in which things could be done (in keeping with the instructional aspect of the book)
Adding voice and detail through a variety of adverbs and adjectives
Words written in capitals for emphasis
Onomatopoeia (vocal noises like “Aaaaargh”)
Ellipsis to signal anticipation
An interesting use of capitalisation used for the proper name (Pizza)
An array of end punctuation
Speech marks in dialogue
The book also contains some unusual compositional craft moves which contribute to the book’s appeal, such as:
Having your character talk back to and interact with an invisible narrator
Making a joke on the final page to open up the possibility of writing another book, perhaps as part of a series
Taking the opportunity to be multimodal – illustrating a whole double-page spread with a gallery of pizza slices, all numbered and labelled with different attributes
Finally, this book would sit well within a collection of similarly high-quality texts, all offering the kinds of possibilities described above. Reading and studying a variety of mentor texts is emphasised by research and is a part of excellent practice in the writing classroom (Young & Ferguson 2023b, LINK).
In summary, we define high-quality texts, in the context of the writing classroom, as offering: ✅ A clear reason why the author was moved to write it ✅ Possibilities for children to write something of their own ✅ Scope for being intertextual ✅ Examples of high-quality craft moves
In this article, we have given a new perspective to the concept of a ‘high-quality text’ by considering it in the specific context of the writing classroom. This has been a long-felt need. ‘How to Eat Pizza’ is just one example of such a text – and you will find many others in your own class library – which can be added as alternatives to the usual recommended lists.
We end this article by sharing the templates we use to record our favourite fiction and non-fiction texts for use in the writing classroom. You’re welcome to use this template too. You’ll find them at the end of this document.
By failing to prepare your writing year, you’re preparing your writing year for failure.
As this academic year comes to a close, some of us are already thinking about and planning for next year. With this in mind, we are pleased to announce that we have put together a series of Welcome Projects for EYFS, KS1 and KS2. These projects are ideal for the beginning of the academic year and will help you get your year right for writing. They can be found in our new eBook: A Classroom Guide To Getting Your Year Right For Writing.
The projects last between 2-3 weeks and all the lesson plans can be found inside.
If you’re an individual or school member, you can access these projects for FREE. They can be found in the Members’ Area of the website under eBooks and Teacher Resources.
Alternatively, you can preview and purchase the eBook for just £5.95 here.
At The Writing For Pleasure Centre, we don’t believe that being a great writer is a gift bestowed on just a few lucky children. We don’t accept the romantic notion that we can just leave children to develop as writers naturally. We don’t cross our fingers and hope for the best. We appreciate that children, rightly, want to be made privy to what they need to do to create successful and meaningful texts and, importantly, how to do it.
Establishing success criteria (also known as: product goals, toolkits, ingredients, options, choices, or ‘craft moves’) is arguably one of the most powerful instructional strategies a teacher of writing can employ in their classroom (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2023a, 2023b; Young & Hayden 2022).
We want children to write the best text they possibly can. Our job as exceptional writing teachers is to make what can feel implicit, scary and confusing for them, explicit, useful and wholly attainable. The point is you’re making the covert overt for children as they begin to craft their own pieces of writing.
We’ve talked about how success criteria can go BADLY wrong in a previous article (LINK). However, in summary, they go wrong when they are:
🙅 Narrow (only focused on the use of grammar craft moves)
🤐 Constructed solely by the teacher
📚Not linked to reading mentor texts together
To get success criteria right, we need to make sure that teachers and pupils:
📚 Read and discuss a host of quality mentor texts together (LINK)
❤️ Extract craft moves which you and the children agree would be good to use in their writing (LINK)
📝 Model how and why you use these craft moves in your own writing (LINK)
✍️ Invite children to use the ‘moves’ for themselves (LINK)
Importantly, in Writing For Pleasure schools, success criteria aren’t imposed. If a child hasn’t used a certain craft move in the context of their composition, they are instead asked to show how they could have used it. They do this at the revision stage of a project on their ‘trying things out page’. If they like what they’ve done, they have an opportunity to add what they’ve written into their final manuscript (Young & Ferguson 2022). However, they are not obliged. We believe this is the behaviour of greater-depth writers. They are showing how they could have used a certain craft move in the context of their own piece of writing if they wanted to, but made the authorial decision not to include it.
This avoids the ‘overwriting’ that can sometimes occur when children are forced to include every single craft move in their final manuscript. We believe this is a sensible way of meeting the needs of the child as an agentic author, and at the same time meet the needs and expectations of the National Curriculum and assessment framework (LINK).
It’s important to note that in Writing For Pleasure schools children are also given time to pursue their own personal writing projects (Young & Ferguson 2021b). This gives students opportunities to craft some writing away from the daily demands of the curriculum and success criteria.
Academic research and case studies of the best performing writing teachers have shown that, when done well, establishing success criteria as part of your teaching practice can:
📈 Yield an effect-size of +2.03 (for context, anything over a +0.4 is generally considered to have a significant positive effect on children’s writing progress)
😃Increase children’s feelings of self-efficacy (writerly confidence)
💁Help children feel a sense of self-regulation (they feel they can write well independently)
🤗Improve children’s sense of agency (I have a say!)
🥳Increase children’s motivation to write (I know why…)
🏠Promote feelings of being part of a community of writers
(see Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2023b for more details)
If you found this article useful and want more information, consider purchasing the following eBooks: Getting Success Criteria Right For Writing: Helping 3-11 Year Olds Write Their Best Texts (LINK), The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Writing Development Scales & Assessment Toolkit (LINK) and Reading In The Writing Classroom: A Guide To Finding, Writing And Using Mentor Texts With Your Class (LINK).
Over the past two years, we’ve been introducing Writing For Pleasure class writing projects (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022) into our school’s programme of study (business as usual). I asked children to reflect on writing and being a writer before and after their introduction. These reflections were gathered by asking children to complete the Children As Writers survey at the beginning and towards the end of the academic year.
What struck me were the distinctions made by many children between ‘business as usual’ writing units and Writing For Pleasure projects. Many children explicitly mentioned enjoying Writing For Pleasure projects and not enjoying lessons where they felt they were being ‘told what to do’.
In the article below, I go into more detail about what those distinctions were and what impact they’ve had on my teaching going forward.
Results from surveys before the introduction of Writing For Pleasure
The first theme that I identified was the idea that writing was boring and not enjoyable. When asked ‘What goes through your head when the teacher says: we are going to do some writing?’, responses included: ‘I do not want to do this’, ‘This will be long and hard’, and ‘boring’.
For example, one child said ‘I like some writing but not all. I don’t like being told what to write; I only like things I can decide.’ Similarly, another child said ‘Sometimes I really don’t want to do it, but if we’re going to do Writing For Pleasure projects or funner things I love it.’ One said he ‘only’ enjoys writing when it is Writing For Pleasure, and finds all other writing ‘boring’.
One particularly powerful observation came from a child who said that when she thinks about writing she thinks of ‘a teacher telling you what to do but it is in your own words.’ She also distinguished between this type of writing (which is unenjoyable) with having choice (equated with enjoyment).
Their responses also revealed negative feelings around marking and feedback in our ‘business as usual’ lessons, versus the pupil-conferencing which occurs in Writing For Pleasure projects (Ferguson & Young 2021). Some children thought I was looking for mistakes when I was reading their writing: one wrote that I am looking for ‘vocabulary and corrections’ when I read his work, and another said I’m looking for ‘things to green highlight’ (green highlighter is used to indicate a mistake). One child made her (rightful) dislike for this explicit with this response: ‘Do you enjoy writing? Yes, because it lets me express my emotions and live in my own imaginary world. No, because when I get green highlighter I have to cross out something I like so I never feel my writing is MINE.’
This shows how problematic teacher marking was, and how it was having the total opposite effect it was meant to – instead of helping children, it was demotivating and disempowering. In contrast, pupil-conferencing helps the children in a way that is empowering and effective.
Results from surveys after the introduction of Writing For Pleasure
In contrast to the first writing surveys (in September 2021), there was no mention of writing as boring in the second writing surveys (in April 2022). I think this is arguably due to the fundamental principle of topic choice in the Writing For Pleasure projects; children are taught how to choose and write on topics which interest them most (Young & Ferguson 2022).
Overall, the children’s responses were much more positive after completing two Writing For Pleasure projects.
More children indicated that they were now writing at home,
100% of children thought that they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ have a choice about what they write,
100% of them thought that I personally write ‘always’ or at least ‘often’ outside of school.
Most importantly, there was lots of mention of enjoyment of writing – more than 10 children mentioned this explicitly. There was no mention of not enjoying my feedback (and green pen) this time around.
I think these responses are due to a variety of teaching practices I introduced. I think it’s mainly due to the fact that I was writing at the beginning of every lesson; thinking aloud and discussing my choices. I would ask their opinion on my craft choices. My writing was genuine. I showed my exhilaration and frustration, and talked openly about the challenges I find with writing. Also, during the pupil-conferencing, I would reference difficulties with my own compositions to share vulnerabilities or something I’d found helpful in the mini lessons I’d previously taught.
For example, “I enjoy writing because I love learning.”, “I get excited because writing is my passion. It is my favourite thing to do.”, ‘What goes through your head: “Yay writing one of the best things.” , “I love writing”, ‘What goes through your head: “Yes I want to do this.” “It is so fun”, ‘What goes through your head: ‘YES, writing my favourite”. “It lets me express myself through words.”, “I am really excited… It is really fun and enjoyable”, “Happy because I love writing.”
I also identified a theme of writing being seen as ‘therapeutic’. This seemed particularly important for those children with additional learning needs or had a lot going on at home. One child, who is currently assigned a social worker and is a CIN, talked about how writing made her ‘feel calm, and took her to her happy place’. She wrote ‘I really enjoy getting all of my stress and anger, I do writing to calm me at home.’ This is in keeping with the findings of a recent National Literacy Trust survey into children’s writing habits during lockdown (Clark et al. 2021).
Similarly, three of the children in my class who are in the process of being diagnosed with SEND, and who are working significantly below the level of the year group, were incredibly enthusiastic in their responses in the second survey. These are children who traditionally struggle to access the Year 5 writing curriculum, and two of whom are particularly difficult to motivate and who find being in the classroom quite stressful. These two children both mention our Writing For Pleasure projects explicitly (‘what goes through my head is journals’ and ‘you get to do whatever you like’). For all three of these children, the Writing For Pleasure projects have had a hugely positive impact on their self esteem, particularly after sharing their work during ‘Author’s Chair’ (Harris 2020).
However, I did still have some children with negative responses. Interestingly, they were all from my most experienced writers. There was mention of ‘frustration’, ‘stress’, ‘it hurts my brain’ and ‘I don’t like it’. There was also explicit mention of ‘a deadline’ being stressful.
On reflection, I think some of this response can be explained by me sometimes neglecting these students who are more competent writers, and thus who I (wrongly) assumed had more robust attitudes around their writing. I tend to focus more on my less experienced writers during writing lessons. It has also made me think very carefully about how to give constructive, empowering feedback – I think perhaps with some of my ‘greater-depth’ writers, I may have been slightly less sensitive with my feedback, thinking that they were more confident and that feedback could be quicker, so I could focus on struggling writers. I think this response could be addressed by giving these children more specific, positive praise (Ferguson & Young 2021).
In fact classes’ responses as a collective have reinforced my belief in the power of positive, specific praise. I think I do this much more with my least experienced writers, thus they feel more positive about writing, and I need to do this more consistently with all writers in my class.
My actions for next year
My first, immediate action is to stop using green highlighter when I mark their compositions. Now I only use pink highlighter (to indicate that I felt something was effective/done really well), and use my verbal feedback through conferencing to discuss the potential for their pieces and possible improvements they can make. Furthermore, instead of going around while they are writing and correcting their spellings, I give them time at the end of writing time to look at their manuscripts and see if there are any words they think they may have misspelt (what we call ‘unsure spellings’). Once they have done this, they have time to use different strategies to check the spellings (use a dictionary, ask a friend, ask the teacher) and I work together with children who need extra support doing this.
I’m going to try addressing children’s feelings of ‘stress’ around deadlines by bringing them more into the conversation. We can decide together what we feel is a suitable amount of time to get certain writing processes done. For example, ‘do you think we need an extra session for proof-reading?’, ‘do we think we could get our drafts finished by Thursday – OK – let’s aim for that’. I’m also going to plan a mini-lesson where I share how other writers manage their process and set themselves deadlines (Young et al. 2021).
In A Classroom Guide To Getting Your Year Right For Writing, writer-teachers Ross Young, Tobias Hayden and Felicity Ferguson share their secrets about having a great year of writing with your pupils.
With so many things to attend to and consider at the beginning of an academic year, quality time to think about what your writing teaching will look like is often at a premium. This eBook shows you how to gain that time, and how to use it productively for the benefit of both yourself and your class.
Spend the first two weeks following our advice and carry out a successful Welcome Project, which will help children in a friendly and reassuring way understand what writing and being a writer is going to mean in your class or school.
This eBook provides:
A suggested welcome project for setting children up in the EYFS as book-makers
An example of a welcome project for KS1
An example of a welcome project for KS2
Over 40 illustrated lesson examples and visuals taken from real classrooms and from the work of expert practitioners
Top tips from practising teachers
Answers to frequently asked questions
This book is essential reading for writing coordinators and teachers. By undertaking quality Welcome Projects, you learn what your pupils need from you to write happily and successfully. You can be sure that you will have laid the groundwork for a year that’s right for writing.
Children read stories, poems and letters differently when they see these texts as things they themselves could produce – Frank Smith
Establishing product goals (also known as success criteria or writing checklists) with your class for a writing project is one the most effective things a teacher of writing can do. Research shows that setting writing goals can yield an effect size of +2.03. For context, anything over +0.4 is considered to have a significant positive effect on children’s writing development.
Setting product goals is related to another evidence-based writing practice too: the studying of mentor texts. In Writing For Pleasure schools, product goals are established by the teacher and children together and only after studying and discussing a variety of mentor texts. This should typically be a whole collection of texts which match the kind of writing the children are going to be writing as part of the class writing project. Studying mentor texts prior to writing their own can yield an effect size of +0.76 (for children with SEND, this can be anything up to +0.94).
Product goals, at their best, are decided upon jointly between you and your class. They will include the things you all think you will need to do or include for your compositions to be engaging, successful and meaningful. Product goals are absolutely not limited to grammatical features or text conventions. When you ask your class your first most challenging and exciting question: What will we have to do to make these the best short stories that were ever written?, we won’t be expecting the main response to be ‘capital letters’ (important as this is), or ‘grammar’. We will want firstly to hear children identifying things which connect with the essence of the project. The following authentic set of product goals shows what we mean:
Here you’ll notice writer-teacher Tobias Hayden writes ‘see class poster’ next to some of the goals. This is to tell the children that they’ve already received a lesson on this ‘craft move’ (Young et al. 2021) this year and that there is a poster on display in the classroom which explains how to do it.
In contrast, here is a real example of an ineffective list of product goals I saw recently on Twitter. Let me explain the problem with this particular checklist:
Firstly, you can’t hear the pupils’ voices and goals in this list. You don’t get a sense of what it is this community of writers want to achieve in their pieces. You can tell that these goals haven’t been arrived at collaboratively with the teacher and only after studying a variety of mentor texts together – mentor texts which match the kind of writing the class is looking to produce for themselves.
Almost all of the goals are too vague to be useful. They are not linked to the use of specific craft moves and we know from research that this is important for future instruction (see LINK). For example: ‘language devices’ or ‘grammar’aren’t nearly good enough. These need unpacking and made explicit by naming specific craft moves. What craft moves have you and the children decide you want to try and apply?
Finally, we can see that compositional goals and goals for proof-reading are being thrown in all together. This is such a shame. As we know, revision and proof-reading are completely different cognitive processes and each deserves its own instructional time, checklist, and attention to be done at its best (Young & Ferguson 2022).
In conclusion, you don’t want to produce product goals which look like this example.
You don’t want to produce a list of product goals on the children’s behalf during your planning and preparation time. This is just a terrible writing teaching crime!
You don’t want to give them a list that is out of context – without first letting the children participate in the study of mentor texts (LINK).
You don’t want your list to be depressing – failing to share with the children why any of these craft moves will be so useful for the project.
Though incredibly important, you don’t want a list which is exclusively about grammar craft moves (LINK).
You don’t want to include things to do with proof-reading – these can have their own checklist and be discussed later into a project (LINK).
How you read mentor texts with your class and record product goals is important, and it’s not an easy thing to do. It takes expertise and practice. For more information, see our eBooks entitled Getting Success Criteria Right for Writing: Helping 3-11 Year Olds Write Their Best Texts (Young & Hayden 2022) and Reading In The Writing Classroom: A guide to finding, writing and using mentor texts and with your class (Young & Ferguson 2023).
‘Writing Realities: Examining new directions in writing research, instruction and learning’
Guest editors: Ross Young, Doug Kaufman (University of Connecticut), Felicity Ferguson
This special issue of Literacy will highlight new directions in writing research and instruction through the voices of international scholars and practitioners. It will present and extend recent research suggesting several core principles that must be attended to for effective learning of writing to occur (Young et al. 2022). These include: writer-identity, critical literacies, culturally sustaining pedagogy, multiliteracies, translanguaging and intertextuality.
Due to the increasing centralisation and commercialisation of writing instruction, pupils are routinely required to leave their own identities, cultural capital, thoughts, opinions and knowledge outside the writing classroom door. Through the rigid interpretation of national curriculums and published schemes, students may be required to take on a monocultural identity that doesn’t always honour or take advantage of their rich ideas and experiences. Learners from a variety of social positions –including those from diverse cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds– can feel alienated from writing because they have not typically received an apprenticeship in becoming autonomous and confident writers who carry with them a strong personal and collective writer-identity once they leave school. However, this special issue invites you to share how innovative instruction driven by some of the principles highlighted above canintroduce opportunities for young people to take personal responsibility for their writing and learn how to harness their own authorial agency. In the process, they may also learn how to live, work and represent others within an inclusive, outwardly loving community of writers.
This issue will be organised in a way that presents a cohesive portrait of the innovative shifts in research and instruction that the writing education field is currently experiencing. First, we would like it to outline the research and theoretical constructs driving these shifts, offering a context, an argument, and a direction for the reform and revision of traditional curricula and teaching. Next, we wish to share examples of effective writing instruction from across the spectrum of learner development, starting in the early years and moving through to further and adult education. Finally, we invite authors to present models for preparing pre-service and practicing teachers to engage in effective classroom instruction.
In summary, for this special issue, we are asking for contributions from scholars and practitioners working in different circumstances, paradigms and research traditions to submit papers that discuss and explore any of the following:
Culturally sustaining writing pedagogies
The physical, social, and cultural contexts of building a community of writers
Intertextuality in the writing classroom
Teacher writers and action research
Please send a 500-word abstract, title and short bio from each author to guest editor, Ross Young at literacyforpleasure [at] gmail.com by November 1, 2023.
For any questions concerning this special issue, please contact Ross Young at literacyforpleasure [at] gmail.com.
Young, R., Ferguson, F., Kaufman, D., Govender, N. (2022) Writing Realities Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre