We have started using the Talk for Writing scheme to support our children’s literacy skills. It’s a powerful scheme because it is based on the principles of how children learn.
Talk for Writing enables children to imitate the key language they need for a particular topic orally, before they try reading it and analysing it. The scheme uses fun activities to help children rehearse the ‘tune’ of the language they need, followed by shared writing to show them how to craft their genre. It then helps children to write in the same style. Children and teachers alike love Talk for Writing and schools that have adopted this approach have seen improvements in the children’s progress. It works well right through from the Early Years up to Year 6 and beyond.
Here is a brief explanation of the basic principles of Talk for Writing. It has three key stages:
Once the teacher has established a creative context and an engaging start (the hook), a typical Talk for Writing (T4W) unit would begin with some engaging activities warming up the tune of the text to help children internalise the pattern of the language required.
This is often followed by talking an exemplar text, supported visually by a text map and physical movements to help the children recall the story or non-fiction piece. In this way the children hear the text, say it for themselves and enjoy it before seeing it written down.
Once they have internalised the language of the text, they are in a position to read the text and start to think about the ingredients that helps make it work. Understanding the structure of the text is easy if you use the ‘boxing it up’ technique and then help the children to analyse the features that have helped to make the text work. In this way, the class starts to co-construct a toolkit for this type of text so they can talk about the ingredients themselves – a key stage in internalising the toolkit in their heads.
Once the children have internalised the text, they are then ready to start innovating on the pattern of the text. This could begin with more advanced activities to warm up — the key words and phrases of the type of text focused on — so the children can magpie ideas. Younger children and less confident writers create their own text maps and orally rehearse what they want to say.
The key activity in this stage is shared writing, helping the children to write their own by ‘doing one together’ first. This could begin with using a boxed up grid to show how to plan the text and turn the plan into writing. This allows the children to see how you can innovate on the exemplar text and select words and phrases that really work.
Demonstrating how to regularly read your work aloud to see if it works is important here. This process enables the children to write their own versions through developing their inner judge when they start to decide why one word or phrase is best. If, during this process, a teaching assistant (or able Key Stage 2 child) flip charts up words and phrases suggested, these can be put on the washing line alongside the shared writing so when the children come to write they have models and words and phrases to support them.
Throughout the shared writing, the children should be strengthening the toolkit so they start to understand the type of ingredients that may help. Once they have finished their own paragraph/s children should be encouraged to swap their writing with a response partner. Then with the aid of the visualiser or Smart Board, the whole class can also discuss some of the more successful work.
Time now needs to be found to enable the children to give their own work a polish in the light of these discussions and perhaps to begin the dialogue about what works by writing their own comment on their work for the teacher to comment on.
The teacher now has the opportunity to assess the children’s work and to adapt their planning in the light of what the children can actually do. This stage could begin with some activities focussed on helping the children understand aspects that they were having difficulty with and should include time for the children to have a go at altering their work in light of what they have just learnt so they start making progress.
This stage will continue to focus on the next steps needed to support progress so the children can become independent speakers and writers of their text type. Perhaps some more examples of the text are compared, followed by more shared writing on a related topic and then the children can have a go themselves on a related topic of their own choosing.
At the end of the unit, the children’s work should be published or displayed. The teacher will now have a good picture of what features to focus on in the next unit to move the children forward. It is important to provide children with a purpose for their writing so classroom display or some sort of publishing is useful.
Although we are only in the first two terms of using the Talk for Writing process at Hilltop, we have already seen a huge improvement in the quality of the children’s writing across the school. This is evidenced at Pupil Progress Meetings.