Friday, 23 February 2018

Storytelling - A way into writing

If you have been following me for a while, you will know I have a keen interest in the teaching of writing.  In fact in the teaching of literacy in general.

My approach to the teaching of writing has changed significantly since I started my journey into play and I now prefer to look at writing as storytelling. 

This is an old blog post...just in case you have not read it.

If you have read my latest book you will know that I did stumble across some research that shows children become better, more engaged writers when they are allowed to engage with the storytelling process and journaling, rather than being pushed early into formal writing where the topic is prescribed by the teacher. 

Regardless of research, I can, from my perspective clearly tell you that children become much more capable, engaged writers when they are allowed to see writing as storytelling. 

I have taught writing both ways...formally through modelling and experience, and informally through play and storytelling.  The marked difference between the two environments is the amount and type of writing and the level of engagement.  You know those reluctant boy writers everyone goes on about?  Well they don't exist in this environment.  They access writing at their own developmental stage, they do what they can and feel successful....even better after the initial teacher directed time (which feels more like a narrative) they are free to finish and move back to play.

We are only three weeks in and already I have noticed progress.

So what is it I mean by storytelling?

Basically I encourage children to see that what we write, is just what they want to say.  If  you have something to say, then you have something to write.  We talk out loud and make up stories.  We talk about our play, about imagined stories.  We talk about a story having a beginning, middle and end.  I draw and tell a story from my picture.  They learn that the first stage of writing is a picture, that when we start school the picture is our story.

We watch silent animations and talk about what is happening and what story they are telling us...what would this story look like written down?  This is an example, but there are a huge range of these on youtube, a quick search for silent animations for children will bring up a range of choices.  There is always the literacy shed too, along with fabulous pictures that can be found online to make up stories from.

The idea of sharing these, is not for children to write directly about is to show children what storytelling looks like and to really enhance the power of the image.

So what does it look like actually?

Writing does not look the same everyday...but this is  an account of what we may do at least once a week to promote writing development.

(It is important to understand that some children are not cognitively ready to learn to write, but the oral component of these sessions is the important part of learning for them.  They are not pressured to anything beyond their capabilities)

1) We have blank journals that children have access to every day at any time.  If we choose to write together on that day we all come to the mat, with our journal and our name card.  Children all have a go at their name.

2) While they are doing this, I am also writing my name in my scrapbook.

3) We talk about writing being the painting of the voice.  That the first part of learning to write is to be able to tell a story out loud and draw a picture.

4) Out loud I talk about what I might write about...this could be my play, and imagined story, something from home, anything...

5) I encourage children to get a story into their heads and to talk about it out loud as they draw a picture of it.  We may watch an animation or read a story as a lead into this.

6) As they are drawing, I am drawing, I talk out loud about what I am doing and why.  I might draw more than one picture and talk about a beginning, middle and end.  Those that want to, will watch me, those engaged in their own picture will tune me out.

7)I then start to write my story.  I will sound some words out and they will help me.  I make it clear that sounds can be represented by symbols or pictures which we call letters.  Sometimes I will just write the letters I can hear...some will tune in, some will do their own thing.  We talk about stretching words and I use a slinky to demonstrate this.  The slinky is then represented as an arrow on the page, which I write the word (or the sounds I can hear) onto the line.

8) Children will have a go.  At this point they can stop, put their book away and go back to their play.

9) While they are writing, we tune into what they are doing and support them at their level.  Showing some blends or word endings as appropriate.  Talking about features that match the stage that they are up to and what they are showing an interest in.  Helping others to sound out and in some cases showing them what the words look like that they are trying to write.  Children do not have cards to help them and we make it clear that all that is important is trying.  Is spelling!  

10) As each child wraps their writing up we talk to them about it and they gradually begin to put their books away.  They are free to 'quit' at any time and because of this they persist far longer than we would expect them to.

A writing 'session' probably lasts for ten - fifteen minutes, what do they do after that?  Well they play of course.

I believe the way into writing is storytelling.  Children need to be freed from sentence starters and word cards and allowed the time to just write.  We do not need to be constantly sitting over their shoulder and we don't need to be scribing for them.  I certainly don't think we need to overload ourselves with writing groups or constantly worry about writing tasks....just let them express themselves and everything will click into place.

As they become more developmentally ready, our children write longer stories, they are interesting and often have beginning, middles and endings.  They are not restricted by topics defined by adults, but given the freedom to write about what truly interests them.


  1. This is so me!!! I love the way you have recorded your approach to writing. I am made to feel rebellious doing it this way but it is so successful it has got to be the right way! Thanks for articulating this. 😁

  2. Wow .... truly inspiring to read.... I came from a school where kids were forced to write eastle writing test and it was heart breaking. Now I am learning first chance... which at the moment I am struggling with because its directed by the teacher. I am in a mind boggle at the moment of what to do.

  3. I'd love to see some videos of one of these writing sessions

  4. I absolutely love this and will be implementing in my class of juniors here in the Cook Islands. Meitaki maata

  5. This is brilliant many thanks for the share and will implement into our classes in our junior marae meitaki maata!