WAGOLL – how to write a model text (without the stress)
Dropping Little Red Riding Hood into Ancient Egypt could be just the spark you need to get typing your own content…
Julia Donaldson, Stephen King, Philip Pullman and Eoin Colfer, not to mention me, were all teachers before moving on to a professional writing career.
There seems to be a sneaky feeling that all teachers, particularly those working in a primary setting, are closeted writers desperate to break out.
You only have to talk to a few about their confidence when it comes to creating short texts (or WAGOLL) for their class, however, to realise this isn’t the case.
Just as there are teachers who really have to study and work hard at their maths knowledge, their French skills (definitely me) or their grasp of computing, there are many who aren’t immediately comfortable throwing together a few hundred words for their class.
That might be you or somebody you know. It will probably be more people than you think.
We should clear up some confusing language first. If you teach using Talk4Writing, you might know them as model texts. You may refer to them as WAGOLLs (what a good one looks like) or something else entirely.
Here, I mean any content that you create for your class, be it a reading comprehension, an information text about rainforests, or the more classic structural model for writing.
When my school moved to a Talk4Writing framework, creating the model texts was the part that I enjoyed most.
I was writing a lot at the time – both my own books and freelance – and it was something that I felt comfortable doing. Not everybody felt the same, though.
I recently carried out a survey as research for my new book Write It Level It Teach It, which highlighted some interesting trends among the teachers who took part.
Most teachers graded their confidence when creating content as about three out of five, or below. Sixty-nine per cent were spending at least an hour writing a text for their class.
The main concerns were generating ideas, including grammar objectives and ensuring they were at an appropriate reading level.
The fact that you are reading this article might mean that you, too, are looking for a way to relieve some of the stress you feel when creating content.
You might not have told anybody that you struggle, or you might be singing it from the rooftops, but you aren’t alone.
Pupils in your class will consume more of your content than that of any other author. If you are creating content a few times a week, you are already guiding their reading experience.
It’s right that you want to make it an effective and efficient process.
So, here are five things to consider when creating your content:
Books for topics
Your content doesn’t need to ‘tie in’. Hear me out. Coming up with an idea that will hook your class is probably the most important part of the whole process.
Your pupils might be totally immersed in the life of Victorian children, and your linked reading text might engage every one of them.
Realistically, though, you probably have a group, however small, who are struggling to invest.
Getting the hook right for your class is going to have more impact than ensuring it is linked to a topic.
Writing a text focused on something that captivates your whole class will increase engagement.
How to write a character
If children see people they know appearing in your WAGOLL text, I guarantee they will be more interested.
Instead of a letter from a child trapped in a workhouse, consider a letter home from the premises officer trapped in the school by a forgetful head who’s left for the holidays.
A mystery with a lunchtime supervisor at the centre is a great way to not only grab your children’s attention, but encourage them to engage with other members of the school community.
Writing for a purpose
If you take Little Red Riding Hood and replace her with an Ancient Egyptian slave, you can create a simple narrative.
The wolf could become the Sphinx, and the delivery of food to Grandma an important document to the High Priest.
You can then take any part of this story and write it for a purpose: the meeting with the wolf/Sphinx could be a diary entry. The delivery of the food/document could be a newspaper article, and so on.
This works for non-fiction, too.
Little Red could be Ernest Shackleton. The food, his quest to reach the South Pole. The wolf, the harsh weather.
If you use the same language that you would for the wolf (stalk, lurk, pounce, creep) to describe the weather, it becomes a great example of personification.
KS2 SATs papers have been consistently at a Year 6 and above reading age.
The latest maths paper had a reading age of Year 6. If a Year 6 class are only accessing texts at a Year 4 level, they are at a disadvantage.
Most KS2 reading books have a reading age of Year 4, so you can’t rely on them for exposure; it has to come from somewhere else.
Renaissance, the company behind Accelerated Reader, have a free online tool that will tell you the reading level of any text or any book. Just search for ATOS Reading Analyzer to find out more.
Talk for Writing model texts
All of this sounds daunting, but it doesn’t need to be.
There are lots of great resources out there to download and use. They are great time savers. In fact, if you use them as a source of ideas for your own writing, they can be a great tool.
You can download these as they are to use. But if you can use them as inspiration for your own writing, you will end up with a resource that is uniquely tailored to your class and their needs.
You can find a selection of free fiction, non-fiction and poetry texts written by Talk4Writing founder Pie Corbett at tinyurl.com/tp-PieTexts
3 steps to an engaging text
- Remember the mantra: purpose, purpose, purpose.
Does the text need to inform? Will it provide a structural scaffold? Are you trying to demonstrate particular grammar objectives?
- Consider whether it needs to include everything you are trying to fit in.
If it’s a scaffold, it probably doesn’t need so many extra grammar objectives. If its purpose is to inform about a topic, are you adding to your stress levels by trying to include passive voice?
Not only are you increasing your own workload, you are also muddying the water for the children.
They will be looking to the text for guidance in one form or another, and if you aren’t clear on what its purpose is, there’s a good chance that they won’t be either.
- Remember, at the end of the unit, your pupils are only going to be given 40 minutes or so to write their own text.
If it’s taking you over an hour, they probably won’t be able to do it in less.
If you’re not expecting the children to include something, then don’t worry if you don’t either.
Matt Beighton is an experienced primary teacher turned full-time children’s writer. Matt now splits his time between writing his Monstacademy and Pick Your Path gamebook adventures, writing for The Literacy Shed and running writing workshops in schools.