I’ve encountered a few comments recently about Talk for Writing around whether (or how) T4W works in year 6. I thought this might be useful for one or two people.
Talk for Writing is split into three parts, on which there is more here.
This 6 week block was based on Tales of Fear (fiction) and Reports (non-fiction).
Tale of Fear: Imitation
We shared the short version of our story ‘Jack‘ with the children, and the first week saw them mapping and learning the text.
The trick here was to encourage them to internalise some language, but particularly to look at sentence structure. This was talked about as we learned the text, but looked at more deeply when we shared the longer version – the children were able to give reasons for longer, more complex sentence structures which were then followed by short, dramatic changes.
This discussion around sentence structure allowed us to develop the children’s understanding of a wider range of punctuation as well. From here, a toolkit was made (to my mind, a toolkit is what could be included, not what has to be included – as per success criteria). The toolkit has the tools used in the learned text (e.g. repetition) alongside a directly-lifted example, as well as, if possible, the impact it has.
Reading around the text
When the children engaged in reading as a reader activities, they were quick to notice that things were deliberately hidden from the reader, and questions were raised about whether the creak was a ghost/spirit, a noise made by Jack’s dad as he went to work, or simply Jack’s imagination running wild. This is easily my favourite part of the unit as the children have so many ideas about the story and really get their teeth into it.
After our analysis of the text, we boxed up (see picture below) the story so that we could then plan our own. Some children will innovate through simple substitution – the creak might be replaced by a shadow, for instance – while others might write from a different point of view, or even attempt to write a prequel or sequel to the learned text.
Boxing up based on the imitation text
Throughout this week, I model my planning process, writing part-by-part. Here is a perfect opportunity to wean the children away from five paragraphs, which a lot of them will get stuck with, and on to a deeper understanding of what a paragraph is and does, or how one sentence is allowed to act as a paragraph. There is a lot of modelled and shared writing here – I write part of the story before the lesson, the children analyse it (I drop in deliberate spelling mistakes or SPAG targets from that week), and then we write the next part together, all the while talking about vocabulary, impact of sentence structure and referring back to the toolkit.
Annotated version of my text, written with the children
The children then wrote their own stories innovated from the text.
Innovated writing: sticking fairly closely to the original text, developing own language and voice while also playing with structure
Peer feedback with reference to the toolkit
Simply put, this is the part where the children plan and write their own stories independently.
As a stimulus, we read the opening chapters of A Monster Calls, The Graveyard Book and Where Monsters Lie; we shared picture books where fear is an active element, such as The Dark (Lemony Snicket), The Watertower and The Viewer (both Gary Crew); watched videos such as Alma and Road’s End; and also did a short burst piece of writing using two clips – the first was personifying fear and the second was somebody trying to conquer theirs. We looked for the physical manifestations of fear as well as how it might feel – vocabulary such as oppressive, suffocating and paralysing were developed from this short session, which led to a short burst piece of writing.
An invented tale of fear – this writer did not reveal what was scaring the narrator, nor what happened to them – the class were desperate for more
The best part of this week is the sharing of the texts – children take turns to read aloud to their small group and we hear the familiar moans of ‘oooh, it can’t finish there!’ and ‘I want to know what happens next’. The constant sharing of one another’s texts gives greater value to the children’s writing and also encourages and maintains a high standard.
Reports – Imitation
We wrote a short report on fears so that we could link easily to our fiction text. As with the imitation week for the fiction work, we learned the text, looking particularly at the vocabulary, punctuation and sentence structure. We really wanted the children to develop a formal voice within their writing throughout this unit, so the imitation week was important in developing vocabulary and an understanding of the active and passive voice.
Looking carefully at new and unknown vocabulary
Explaining writer choices
Once more, we devised a toolkit of the features we found and showcased them with working examples.
Some of the children were keen to write about their own fears, or fears they had heard of, but others went a bit further, bringing in books about different phobias. We shared these as a class and then set about planning our own report, this time on unusual fears. We looked at how the imitation text was structured, which the children decided was thus: define the fear, explain its causes, share symptoms then report on medical advice. Therefore, that’s how we planned.
Shared planning (before boxing up)
A simple boxing up ahead of innovation
I wrote my own text, introducing fears of broccoli, a loss of mobile phone signal and the rain, and the children seemed to really enjoyed helping me with this before writing their own too. Again, we did a lot of modelled and shared writing here, always considering what made our writing formal and what made it less so. I was pleasantly surprised to hear children explaining that the use of the second person was ‘too chatty – it’s just like you’re talking to your mate and you don’t sound like an expert’.
My annotated innovation – the pink writing is what the children have edited for me
Developing a formal tone
This child finds punctuation tricky, but here they are using complex, deliberately-structured complex sentences to show formality
As before, the children planned and wrote their own reports, some using their own passions and interests; others using our topic week as a starting point.
Over the six weeks, we had covered the vast majority of the English writing curriculum, as well as parts of the reading curriculum.
- We have separate reading and grammar lessons which are tailored to support each week’s learning. For example, we did short burst sessions on using colons during our grammar session of report writing (week 2), and in week 1 of the same block read lots of different report-based texts.
- It is vital that you write your own text first – don’t just write it cold. Know what you want to write, but be prepared to let the children tweak it. Explain your choices throughout.
- Ensure the children have enough time to plan carefully, and if they’re unsure, to plan with you. Poor planning generally equates to poor writing.
Hopefully this has been of some use – it isn’t ground-breaking, nor difficult. What it definitely offers is an easy way to teach vast swathes of the curriculum to year 6.