Beyond the usual problems of poor spelling, punctuation and grammar in my Year 10 extended writing lies something altogether more sinister: a lack of content. Too often, I see student letters, speeches, articles and reviews that simply run out of steam. Students often start well, using all of their strongest ideas in the opening two paragraphs, before realising that they have nothing else to write about.
This means that ideas are poorly developed across the whole text and in individual paragraphs. Students write paragraphs that are 4 lines long, consisting of 1 or two sentences. Or, it becomes clear that students only have two solid ideas that they actually develop across the whole text, resulting in thin, shallow pieces of writing. I set about tackling this in the following way
1.Exposure to rich, challenging core texts
Too often, a lack of content is due to poor prior knowledge of an issue. To tackle this, we started every writing task with a reading task, making sure we looked at a rich, challenging text to begin to build our knowledge. For example, we started a task on formal letters by looking at an editorial from The Guardian. This built confidence by exposing students to a range of ideas and content.
2. Modelling of high quality student texts
We then moved to something more familiar by exploring an excellent student model. We used the visualiser to pick apart features and content. Models were stuck in books and referred back to.
3. Collaborative Planning
Students then worked in teams to plan together. Again, I wanted to expose them to as much possible content before they started producing their text. Each group had a Scribe, a Chairperson, A Creator and a Spokesperson. Below is a group plan for a letter of complaint about a holiday:
4. Movement and further exposure to content
I wanted to really push students here to pick up further content for their text. Students moved about the room and picked up ideas from each plan- simple as they had been scribed on the desk with a whiteboard pen. I played cringey music (Agadoo/The Birdie Song…) to give students a 3 minute time frame and an idea of when they must return to desks.
5. Keep it or Bin it
Students then decided whether to keep or ‘bin’ their ideas, putting an asterisk next to their 5 strongest ideas and a cross next to anything they no longer wanted to include. They were then encouraged to hone this further by numbering each point with an asterisk, therefore creating a chronological plan for their text.
6. Oral Rehearsal and Upgrading
Students then started their text. I encouraged them to use whiteboard pens on the desks to rehearse each sentence before transcribing into their books. This gave them an opportunity to edit as they wrote. Students also read each sentence aloud to check for errors.
Not only did this allow students to quickly edit their work, but I could also assess writing quickly as I circulated.
First draft after oral rehearsal:
7. Speed Dating Peer Assessment
Students were each given a pink highlighter and edited each other’s work. They were given a minute for each book, simply highlighting potential errors.
8. Speed Dating Oral Rehearsal
Students sat in two rows facing each other. They practised reading their work aloud to their partner, listening for any errors.
9. Final Draft
I wanted to give students ample opportunity to write something that they were proud of, and to complete the editing process in full. Students completed their final draft on plain A4 paper with guidelines underneath, understanding that their final piece should be of the highest quality.
10. Pictures for Parents
Finally, I took pictures of each final draft and emailed home the images to parents as an example of each student’s best work.
Results so far
- Students are more confident before writing, as they have been exposed to so much potential content, in a number of different formats
- Students are more engaged as lessons are a mix of individual work, collaborative group planning and movement around the room
- Accuracy has improved as students are constantly editing their work- on the desk, in books and orally.
Students are producing work for an audience (in this case, their parents) and enjoyed being able to send something home that had been produced to a high standard.