As part of the continuing development of Talk for Writing in our school, we discussed the next steps in our start of term INSET day. We have developed the approach so that everyone is using it as their main teaching method in Literacy. I have led training in poetry, narrative, non-narrative and how to teach grammar through the approach. It was felt that at this point further training wasn’t necessary, instead we would reflect on how things were going. So, what came about from the discussion was that we would ask all teachers to keep a T4W learning journal.
This would be something like what our reception class has for each child in which they record what the children get up to through photos, post it note comments, copies of the children’s work etc… Choosing our current T4W unit, we would record each step of the way through the unit. This could be done through photos, video, children’s work, classroom boards, a scrap book as long as all the ideas for the unit were gathered together and could be shared and discussed later in the term.
The reason for doing this was mainly so that we could share how a unit works in each class, discussing successes and failures and considering ways to move forward or support each other. We realised it would also help for anyone new coming in to teach in the school who may not have experienced Talk for Writing, parents who wonder what it is all about or any other visitors.
Thinking about how I would go about this, I realised that really the answer was obvious – I would record it through my blog and then share it once the unit was complete. It would be an easy way for me to keep track of a unit and not risk losing it like I would on lots of paper or in a book (I know what I am like and it may well get thrown away!)
So here goes…
My current T4W unit is Legends and, as our topic is Vikings, I have adapted the Legend of Beowolf for my year 2/3 class.
After writing the text, with a bit of help from my husband (who made me add this bit), I began learning it and the best way for me to do that was to draw it into a story map (please don’t laugh at my drawings!)
Recently, I have begun putting a box around each sentence, including the punctuation and putting each paragraph onto separate sheets. This is because I feel my class need to see clearly what a sentence is and think about how they join to make a paragraph.
I hung a copy of this first story map on the class washing line before telling the children what kind of text we were learning. They started to look at it and ask questions, which I love, before I shared the story. It is quite a long story and I have altered it a lot since I first taught it and hope this version will work with my class.
I decided to make a heading to go in their books at the start of the unit to keep the section clear should they (or anyone else) need to refer back.
For assessment purposes, I have started to begin a unit with a cold write (this is completed by the children on blue paper). I give them a prompt to pull out the style of writing that we are about to work on. In the case of this unit, I used a film from The Literacy Shed called The Tiny Crusader. I discussed what a legend was before watching the clip. After the clip, we discussed what the old blacksmith might do with the little knight. What kind of adventure might they have? Who might they meet? Where might they go? Then, they got on with their cold write. I marked this, taking on board any areas of weakness to focus on over the unit. Developing characters was my main focus but, alongside that, the usual suspects of capital letters, full stops, speech marks and developing a variety of sentence openers would also be looked at.
When I introduced the story to the class, I had managed to learn it and could just use the story map to guide me through. Of course, I forgot some of the words and altered bits but that is what we want the children to do too so I tend to worry less about knowing it word for word than I used to!
Now that we have started learning it, the children are beginning to think of actions for parts other than the key connectives and punctuation which are consistent across the school. They are pretty good at the actions too!
For this particular unit, I decided to do some work focusing in further on sentences as I have children who really need to think about what a sentence is and some who need to use more variety in their writing. I pulled out three sentence types that I wanted to teach as short mini lessons at the start of main lessons. Once they are confident with the style, I will give them as a 5 minute starter activity. The styles are a 2A sentence (includes two adjectives before a noun), the power of three for description and an emotion ‘ed’ starter sentence (focusing on specific sentences came after reading Alan Peat’s ‘Writing Exciting Sentences‘). I will, of course, use other styles of sentences during shared writing and no doubt some of the children will use these but decided that I really needed to focus in for the children who find it tricky.
For our first Steal my Style (SMS) session, we started by looking at pictures of Beowolf and Grendal. I gave the children 60 seconds to come up with as many words as they could in their writing journal (and I joined in on my flip chart too!). Using lolly lotto, the children shared some other words which I added to the class list. After that, I showed the children examples of 2A sentences on the board at three challenge levels. They choose the challenge they thought they could do (some have since altered this after having a go but that’s all part of growth mindset development and knowing what they need to do.)
After this, I modelled a 2A sentence for Beowolf and for Grendal (using different colours to highlight the parts for each challenge). The children helped give ideas for the adjectives and I said them aloud asking which way round sounded best (they have started to do this in their own writing now as I hear them when I walk around the class!! Yippee!!) They finally had a go in their books. As this was an initial introduction, it took longer than I would like but they will only get faster (I hope!)
The children practised 2A sentences in their writing journals using nouns linked to our Beowolf story like sword, hall and swamp. We magpied some of the sentences and added them to our working wall for support when we started writing. I knew that adding description was something the children needed to work on from their cold write.
I decided to develop a Steal my Style (SMS) board linked to our new sentence focus in this unit. As well as supporting this, the board seems a great way to get the children thinking regularly about key grammar terminology (we will see how this goes!)
The children have really taken to this board which ended up looking like this after a week…
This first week we focused on retelling the text and completing our story map. I drew another map in front of the class to support their mapping. I really focused on using kung fu punctuation and key connective actions as we retold it and drew our maps. I made a big emphasis on boxing up each sentence. By the end of the week, we had completed a new class text map which hung from our washing line.
The children all completed their own maps (with varying levels of support) and practised using it to retell the text to each other.
The children used Book Creator on the iPad to retell Beowolf. As I walked around the class, I could see how motivated they were to share the story. Some chose to act and film each part, some photographed their text map and verbally retold and some decided to type it up. Take a look below to see a little more…
The children worked so hard on learning the original Beowolf, retelling it daily, acting it out and sharing it with each other. As a final part of the imitation phase, I decided to ask them to write the legend of Beowolf. I haven’t included this step for a while but wanted to do it this time to see if the children could be careful with their structure if they didn’t have to worry about the content. I wanted to have chance to walk around and encourage them about correct punctuation. I have to say, it worked! Across the class I saw more capital letters and full stops as the children got immediate feedback as they were writing (I circled or ticked as the lesson progressed). I also saw children becoming more confident to use commas and speech marks. They were able to peer assess each other’s work and talk about the punctuation and if sentences made sense. This felt like a good step as they have now written a substantial amount before their innovated version and sentences styles are beginning to become natural (I have spotted some appearing in their 100 word challenges!)
Before finishing this section of our Beowolf legend, I challenged the children to do their best retelling to share with our blog visitors. If you have time, take a look here!