By Ros Wilson
Ros entered the teaching profession in 1965 and has served continuously since. She has wide experience in education, including: working with pupils with SEND; working with pupils with EAL; senior leadership; head of a large primary department overseas; local authority advisor; primary strategy manager; independent consultant; advanced skills teacher (AST) assessor; Ofsted inspector; creator and published author of Big Writing and associated texts (Oxford University Press). Ros has lived and worked overseas, including in the Caribbean and Qatar. Her hobbies are writing and talking.
For many years, schools across the British Isles and the wider world have adopted my approaches to teaching children to write with flair and style. Most children’s writing improved by 2 to 3 years in the first year of using the techniques but — more importantly — many children’s attitudes changed from being reluctant writers to loving writing and calling it ‘the best lesson in the week’.
So, what makes it such an attitude and achievement changer?
Children love the 35 minutes of fast, fun ‘games’ and activities to embed the main principles of effective sentence construction with a far more enriched vocabulary, followed by up to 45 minutes of sustained, silent writing. Building writing stamina is crucial to children loving to write.
Recently I ran a 12-week intervention in Parklands Primary School, Leeds, (the home of the awesome Chris Dyson and set in one of the highest areas for deprivation in the country). Visitors were staggered to see all but 3 of the Year 6 pupils (who had little experience of writing at length in one session without support) achieving the maximum 45 minutes within 3 weeks.
Try looking up ‘Relaxation Music with Candle’ in your search engine. Turn the classroom lights off, close the blinds and soften the music to the point where it is totally non-intrusive. This practice is rooted in research, it makes the writing time special and creates an excellent atmosphere. Let children put their heads down to think for a few minutes before they write and ensure they have their reading book on their desks so that if they ‘run out of writing’ (which they rarely do after the first 3 weeks) they can read silently and not disturb their friends.
Give everyone special pens and lined A4 paper or special books purely for their ‘powerful writing’. These provide an excellent perspective on their progress as writers for any interested parties who visit your classroom.
‘Play’ with ambitious vocabulary that you introduce each week. You can make the name fun if you wish, eg ‘WOW’ words, ‘Wonder Words’ or ‘Vivid Vocabulary’. Use them in sentences and ask children to discuss what they mean. Ask them to work them into the most appropriate sentences on
the whiteboard. Play ‘Call My Bluff’ where the children have to choose which of 3 given meanings is the correct one or which of the 3 versions of the word is spelt correctly. Above all, do these sorts of activities without asking them to write but then do tell them to insert 2 or 3 impressive words into their writing when they do write. Of course, some children use them incorrectly at first but stick with it and they will soon get it. Most children need to use new words repeatedly to fully understand their use and to embed them in long term memory.
Finally, teach the strategies for powerful sentences. Children do not have to know the technical names for parts of sentences to be able to use the structures correctly. If they already know the structures, they can learn the technical names later. Do explain, however, that we only use one or two powerful sentences in a paragraph. Too much is as bad as none at all!
And above all praise, praise and praise again. You will soon have a class of happy and successful writers.
Definitions. A powerful sentence has 2 of the 3 powerful features:
- Power Opener = ‘ly’ words (eg Slowly; Thoughtfully; Anxiously) ‘ing’ words (eg Hoping; Expecting; Fearing) or Connectives (eg When; Despite; After)
- OR Power Word = WOW Words (eg immense; sensational; devious)
- OR Power Punctuation = (question mark, exclamation mark or ellipses for all children plus
parenthesis for the older children).
Most recently, Ros has had the opportunity to fulfil her life aspiration of writing books for pleasure and the first two were published in May 2020. ‘It’s Just a Journey with Ros’ is a humorous autobiography that tells the stories of many of the journeys of different types that Ros has made in her career. ‘Bonkers Boris Meets the Mayor’ is written for children aged 7 to 12 and is both funny and entertaining. It is hoped that both books will bring pleasure and entertainment to their readers. Do check them out!