At St Thomas’ Federation we believe writing is both an essential skill for success in the wider world and an art form. Therefore we make our teaching of writing as creative as possible, as well as rigorously teaching the rules of spelling, punctuation, grammar.
Creative writing is taught as part of an English lesson for four hours a week but many more opportunities to practise and apply the skills learnt in these lessons are provided across the curriculum. We also try to create as many real-life situations for the children to practise writing skills. For instance, application letters for class or school monitor roles, thank you cards to visitors, invitations to events etc. In addition to the English lesson, spelling and handwriting are regularly taught as separate lessons throughout the week.
English Units of Work
A core text is used to lead each English unit. They are used as models and stimuli for both fiction and non-fiction writing.
Rationale for Text Selection
According to Doug Lemov “There are five types of texts that children should have access to in order to successfully navigate reading with confidence. These are complex beyond a lexical level and demand more from the reader than other types of books.” (Reading Reconsidered) The five categories are as follows.
(adapted from Chris Quigley’s Essential Curriculum & Five Plagues of Reading Spine by Doug Lemov).
The texts identified on the core text list ensure that each year children are exposed to all five of these categories more than once. In addition, the selection of texts has taken into account the school’s spiritual teachings, and ensure that there are a range of themes across texts to enable spiritual discussions and learning. The text list responds to the world around us now, for example the growing concern about the environment. Thus, each year pupils study at least one text which has environmental issues as its core theme.
Each year pupils study texts set in a range of different places, times, and with characters from different heritages, and of different genders. As much as possible a diverse range of authors are included in the selection of texts - this area will continue to be developed as new texts are published. When choosing traditional (archaic) stories, we have ensured that a range of cultural heritages are used. However, we have also tried to ensure that modern representations of a variety of cultures are included in the books we study to counter racial stereotyping.
The Writing Process
We use a process of deconstruction, imitation, innovation and invention in our teaching of writing
The core text (book) or a model text (based on the core text and written by the teacher) is read and analysed. Language, sentence and layout features of the genre of writing are identified and discussed.
Children are provided with speaking and listening, and drama activities so they can rehearse using the key language and sentence features of the text orally. These activities are also designed to deepen their understanding of the text. The use of ‘talk scaffolds’ (lists of words, phrases and sentence starters relating to the writing they are learning about) support their drama work and embed new vocabulary and sentence structures.
Teachers then ‘shared write’ with the children, taking ideas and modelling key teaching points. Within this process, there are opportunities for children to rehearse key points, correct misconceptions, and work in pairs and groups using mini-whiteboards to practise their writing.
With the use of a word mat (a list of high quality words, phrases and sentence starters relating to the writing they are imitating), children are given independent opportunities to apply their learning. Teachers work with small groups or individuals to move the learning on further or to address misconceptions.
A process of self, peer and/or teacher assessment is used to support editing and redrafting.
Once the children are more secure with a genre of writing, they begin to innovate. A similar teaching process to ‘Imitation’ is used, but elements of the original core text are changed. For example, the characters, setting or a key event may be altered; the story may be retold from a different viewpoint; additions may be made and new events or characters introduced.
We also feel it is important to give children time to experiment with their own ideas, drawing upon their learning from reading, life experiences and other subjects. Some lessons therefore provide opportunities for children to apply learnt writing skills more freely. For instance, if they have been learning to write in a journalistic style, they are given a more open task to write a newspaper article. These also provide good opportunities for teachers to assess the child’s writing when less support is given.
Writing outcomes are regularly published, often alongside art work, in order to celebrate the children’s work. These are displayed in class books or around both schools.
At St Thomas’ Federation we believe it is important to support children to develop neat, attractive and consistent handwriting. The development of an efficient, legible style assists pupils in all forms of written recording. We want to help children with layout, presentation and the way they organise themselves on paper. If success is achieved here, they have pride in their written work, tend to be better at spelling and are more motivated to write. Handwriting and good presentation has a high focus and high status in our school. Teaching staff have consistently high expectations of handwriting and presentation across all subjects and encourage children to apply handwriting skills taught across the curriculum.
Handwriting is an essential skill for both children and adults. Demands for neat, legible handwriting remain great within the classroom and beyond. Handwriting is a skill that, like reading and spelling, affects written communication across the curriculum. Even in the age of technology, handwriting remains the primary tool of written communication and assessment for pupils at both primary and secondary school. Beyond formal education, most employment situations will require some handwriting. Most importantly, neat and legible handwriting makes children feel proud of their work and attracts a reader to engage with a piece of written work. Getting the right habits established early on is key to future success.
Spelling is taught daily in the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 as part of phonics lessons. It continues to be taught frequently in Key Stage 2. Spelling rules and patterns are investigated, taught and practised alongside ‘exception words’ (words which are exceptions to a specific rule or pattern). Common words and a range of strategies that can be used to practise spellings are also taught.
Lists of words are sent home each week for children to learn. These relate to the current words being taught in class. In addition to this, all children in Key Stage 2 have ‘personal dictionaries’. In these they collect words, which they have spelt incorrectly in their writing and have been corrected by the teacher.