Thursday, 25 May 2017

Some more thoughts on writing...and some tips.

Writing is the most asked about aspect of a play-based classroom (well in my experience anyway.)

One thing I have to say about writing is that we must be prepared to trust that by using a self-directed play-based approach, we are allowing children to develop the building blocks that will form the foundations of literacy.  These will not be immediately evidenced through work samples, and we have to give children time to establish these building blocks.  We may not see the progress quickly and it may take a LOT of time, but in my experience, when the neurons connect the progress is rapid!  We have to allow ourselves to trust this process and those in management positions need to trust our beliefs and instincts.

Writing does not always look the same in our class, but it does have lots of commonalities.  We teach phonics separately and use this when we are talking about writing.  We make it explicit to children that our picture is our story when we start school and that we can add detail to our picture that will later turn into the detail we put into our stories.  We repeat over and over that letters are just a way to represent sounds, these sounds join together to make words and these words join together to make sentences.  Do we expect them to get this straight away?  No, but by talking out loud we are allowing children to process and embed this understanding.   We also link our writing strongly with our work on growth mindset.  Talking about the power of yet and the importance of reflecting on our mistakes.  And most important, our brain is just like a muscle the more we use it the stronger it gets...mistakes are to be cherished as the way we learn.

In fact talking about writing is what we do....we talk a lot, we make it explicit.   We all write one big group.  Usually we will write about our play, or let the children choose what to write.  Sometimes we will use a sentence starter.   We all write our names, draw a picture and then we start to write.  We have a go and talk about what we are writing...we listen in and help with sounding out as and where needed.  If children simply scribble, or simply write letters or draw random shapes, we are not bothered, developmentally this is where they are at.

Some tips that I have found useful lately.

1) We use Heidi Songs Developmental progressions of writing here.  We dont even think about going near a piece of writing with an assessment tool till stage 10.  This form is kept in their little assessment scrapbooks and we highlight where children are up to.

2)We talk a lot about writing left to write and reading left to right....seems simple but this has really helped children this year.

3)The more detail a child draws into a picture the more inclined they are to write an extra sentence...they do this naturally without having to be asked.

4)Sounding arrows....these are simply and arrow that a child draws on their page when they come to an unknown word.  We liken them to a race.  The start of the race is the beginning of the line, the end of the race is the end of the arrow.  We talk about the beginning and end sounds being the first we hear because like a race these are the easiest parts of the race....the middle sounds are hard and come last because the middle is when the race gets hard.  We use these sounding arrows at phonics time as well when we are listening to sounds.

Just be prepared to let children write.  Trust in their ability to drive their own learning.  Engage in lots of talk about learning and the process, and they will get there.

Today we wrote about our favourite place...some stories are pictured below.  These children didn't stay on the mat with us...once they reach stage 10 on the progressions they move off and write independently...they also start beginning and ending their stories in different ways.

These children have had between 3-9 months at school :)

This lovely little girl is at about stage five on the progressions.  She has worked out her reading books contain she spent a long time in her blank book copying from her cute!


  1. Perfect. Love it so much. This is exactly what I have found writing to look like in a Play based learning environment. You know the most important part of all of this is the children love writing. They see the purpose and they are empowered learners.

  2. Thank YOU! i have been thinking about writing for weeks now- In a PB classroom all year taking children out in small groups to do writing but reflecting the other day that it is not clicking for them and I was having that " blood from a stone" frustrated feeling. Your ideas have strongly resonated with me. Especially the TRUSTing in them- for goodness sake they learnt to speak and understand the English language through the same process - start simply, , talk to them, delight in their responses, read to them, play with them, SMILE lots, enjoy with them ( adding detail all the time just because you naturally do ).... then ... "voila" they are talking - words, phrases simple sentences, compex sentence then they never shut up!!!!! Thanks for fabulous food for thought and am off to rethink and retrust the way i engage my little players in writing.

  3. This is great thanks. Can I just ask: do you sit as a whole class to draw and talk about your drawing? Do you use word cards/banks or anything like that? And what about children's drawing that is non representational - I would love to hear your thoughts on that. Many thanks for all the wonderful sharing you do. Cheers