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Once you are feeling confident, writing your own text can take minutes
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Surrounded by books, magazines and sheets of A4 paper, my wife – an experienced Y5 and 6 teacher – turned to look at me and said, “I’ve searched everywhere! Twinkl, TES, the entire internet – you name it, I’ve looked! All I need is an exciting adventure narrative that has fronted adverbials, clear direct speech and three good examples of subordinate clauses.”
Seeing that she was snowed under and clearly very frustrated at being unable to find what she was after, I looked at her and replied, “Why don’t you write one yourself?”
The look of horror on her face was a picture – as if writing something of her own was the worst possible suggestion, yet she was about to ask her pupils to do the same.
If teachers feel a sense of anguish at writing, what attitude and image are we portraying to our pupils who we are expecting to do the very same?
Teachers often claim that they are ‘time poor’ and haven’t got time to find the best resources. Very often, they get bogged down with resources, trying to find the perfect model text to support their unit of work.
With the prevalence of ‘talk for writing’ in primary schools today, the need and desire for texts that meet certain criteria is stronger than ever.
By the teacher writing a text that can be used with pupils, not only can they learn a huge amount about the writing process, but the pupils will also benefit from a teacher who truly understands how they feel.
While teaching, I would regularly find writing my own text an enjoyable and satisfying experience. After practising again, and again, I could finely tune texts to meet the needs of my pupils and do this in a relatively quick period of time.
It quickly became easier and more convenient to create my own. This didn’t stop me occasionally using other sources, but it would often be my first port of call.
Having seen frustrated teachers and dull, unsuitable texts being used in class, I believe that this is the way forward and that more teachers should trust their own judgement and ability to produce a learning resource that can be used with their own classes. The benefits are numerous.
When you begin to write, either with a pad of paper or at a computer screen, you start to appreciate the skills, knowledge and experiences required to compose those first words.
By facing this challenge yourself, you can understand what activities and work needs to be planned and taught beforehand to ensure the class will be successful when they begin the task.
This empathy will benefit your understanding of the task you are setting them and it will also help you to break down the steps in progress needed to ensure the pupils produce an inventive, creative and precise piece of writing.
It can be difficult to find a model text that has appropriate grammatical features to meet the needs of your pupils. When constructing your own text, you can ensure that the areas you want your pupils to focus on are included and are good examples.
This doesn’t mean shoehorning them in, but it does allow you the freedom to, for example, drop in some parenthesis, because that is an aspect your pupils need to develop their understanding of.
Providing grammar in context is vital for pupils to understand the purpose and benefits of particular grammatical structures or word choices. As you construct your text, you can tailor the grammar and provide examples of that aspect being used to enhance your writing.
It can also provide the opportunity to illustrate writing that meets the end of year expectations without losing the enjoyment of writing. It’s a win-win situation for both you and the pupils.
Writing your own text can be quicker than searching. It can take hours for teachers to scan through old text books, rummage in the library or badger colleagues: ‘You know, that good story we used four years ago about a red dragon or something.’
Once you are feeling confident, writing your own text can take minutes. It does require practice, but the writing process can be incredibly quick.
When working with finely-tuned curriculum topics, such as the Stone Age or the Mayans, it can be very difficult to find good fictional texts associated with these areas. They are out there, but are very hard to locate and may cost. This takes time and money.
By creating your own, you can ensure it fits the topic you are studying and makes the text more meaningful for your pupils. As most teachers are aware, linking your English and topic can save time and help the pupils to see the relevance of what they are studying.
So, you’ve written the most fantastic story about a young girl who explores the rainforest and discovers hidden gems whilst running from a fantastical snake and saving her brother. In your eyes it’s simply genius. What a shame it would be to only use it once with your current class.
However, when writing your own texts, you can save it and use it again and again. Before you even realise, you may have 10-20 texts that you’ve written, ready to be used. Creating a bank of texts is so valuable and will save you time in the long run.
The most important aspects of writing are the enjoyment of reflecting, sharing something with a wider audience and taking the time to escape with your thoughts and imagination.
By doing this yourself, you receive these wonderful benefits and will have the chance to share that enthusiasm and love for writing with your class. In my experience, when I have been excited about a piece of writing, this can be infectious and the pupils warm to the task at hand.
Enjoyment is at the heart of creative writing and it can be the most worthwhile activity both for you and the pupils.
Creating your own texts is a rewarding experience. A couple of years ago, during an English lesson where the pupils were analysing the latest story that I’d written, a child looked at me and said, “Seriously, Mr H, you wrote this?” “I did,” I replied. “It’s proper good,” he said, then continued with his highlighting.
The sense of satisfaction, the connection with that pupil and their subsequent progress, proved to me that a teacher creating their own texts is more valuable than buying in books and stories. I encourage everyone to give writing a go.
Dan Hughes is an experienced primary teacher and a university tutor at the University of Worcester, lecturing in primary English and PE as part of the Primary Initial Teacher Training team.
Struggling with getting started? Try these ideas…
Teachers Felicity Ferguson and Ross Young discuss their classroom experience…
You can identify a writer-teacher by the small notebook which is brought out and scribbled in at random times, in random places. In this notebook will be shopping lists, reminders, observations, poems, stories and memoirs – all entered with purpose and possibly pleasure.
There will perhaps be some exemplar texts written for the class, ideas and plans for future writing, discarded fragments, drawings and doodles.
Writer-teachers bring their writing into the classroom, enjoy writing in their notebooks for short periods alongside the children and wait their turn to share what they’ve written. They don’t set out to ‘showcase’ their writing or style themselves as ‘experts’.
Does it work?
Research clearly shows that there is a strong connection between writing with motivation and writing with pleasure. For the children in our class, writing has become a wholly pleasurable activity and not simply a school-based ‘task’.
Notebooks of all shapes and sizes (pink and fluffy; burger shaped; leatherbound) go between home and school. Ideas are jotted down in the playground, shared with friends and worked on back in the classroom.
One parent’s comment that her son feels he is part of ‘something special’ underlines the importance of the reciprocal relationship between children and teachers.
Children gain from knowing that their teachers share the same writing challenges that they do, and they know that in conferencing and sharing sessions they are not going to be ‘judged’.
All the children in our class reached ‘met’ at the end of the year and a significant number exceeded it. Motivation and pleasure certainly played a part here.
How do I get started?
You don’t have to be Woolf or Hemingway to reap the rewards of being a writer-teacher. Take the plunge and begin writing for yourself at first.
Write in regular short bursts – even just a couple of sentences. Write any time, anywhere – on the bus, in bed, in the car park, in a cafe, on the beach.
Write about anything, however banal it might seem. Jot down words, phrases and fragments of ideas to return to at odd moments. Don’t throw anything away or do ‘neat’ copies.
Magpie from other writers and from your own reading. Gradually find your writing voice and enjoy living the writer’s life.
By reinventing yourself as a writer-teacher, you will find you can support your young writers more effectively and meaningfully.
Felicity Ferguson is an experienced primary teacher with particular interest in all aspects of literacy. Alongside her colleague Ross Young, she manages literacyforpleasure.wordpress.com and @writingrocks_17.
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