Four Things You Can Do To Promote Excellent Writing In Your English Lessons

  1. Immerse pupils in new vocabulary

Writing is essentially the art of using words to create meaning so it’s no surprise that immersing our pupils in new and interesting vocabulary and not underestimating their ability to absorb and use this vocabulary, enriches their writing significantly. We have probably all been in the situation as teachers where we teach our pupils a new word, for example ‘dilapidated’ and all of a sudden, for the next year, EVERYTHING is dilapidated. This very common occurrence illustrates just how much our little people love learning and using new words. Something that I’ve done which is now a regular feature in my writing lessons is introducing ‘words of the day’- sharing 3 or 4 ambitious words that the pupils could use in that lesson. Alongside the word, I share a visual and an exemplar sentence. We start it as a game, with pupils having to use the visual and the sentence to explore the possible meaning of the word. This generates interesting discussion around the word’s function in the sentence, the word class and how that can give us clues and replacing the word with another to see if the meaning can be deciphered. After this, I explicitly teach the meaning of the word and ask the pupils to jot it down with a definition in their own words. I then model use of the words during my model write and encourage pupils to use these words in their writing.

The subtle nuances that a given word can create in relation to the meaning and impact of a sentence upon the reader is often underestimated.

Another thing you can do to encourage exploration of new and exciting vocabulary is invite your pupils to find and introduce the class to words or phrases they come across in their reading. Simply provide your pupils with sticky notes alongside their class read so they can bank vocabulary they discover through their independent reading! You could also model this as a writer yourself- ‘I was reading an amazing novel last weekend and came across the word gregarious. What a great word-I’m going to use this word to describe my character!’

2. Create excitement and real purpose

Writing can sometimes seem like a chore to our pupils. Teachers require a given outcome, on a given topic and pupils are expected to write reams on the subject. But that’s not how real writers work. Understandably, teachers need to teach to their school’s curriculum but when we are planning units of writing we really need to define the purpose of the end outcome and share this with our pupils. If the pupils know they are writing for a very real purpose and audience, their motivation to write improves and pupils are more likely to want to deploy all of the literary techniques they have in their ‘toolbox’ to fulfil the given purpose. Setting up a ‘journalist project’ where pupils’ writing will be published in the school newspaper gives them a sense of pride in their writing but also allows them to see the whole writing process through, as a real author would!

It goes without saying that the best writing outcomes emerge from when pupils are genuinely excited to write! I am by no means condoning changing our writing units to stories solely about Lego Ninjago or whatever the latest kid’s craze is but I do think we should make our writing ‘real’, topical where we can and really try to create a buzz around the writing with a ‘hook’. Pupils, particularly the older ones, won’t necessarily buy these ‘hooks’ e.g. an alien landing in the playground and leaving behind footprints, but that excitable, imaginative writer in them will and they will often ‘play along’ all the same!

Give them a hook, give them visuals, show them videos- the more buzz around the writing, the better!

3. Give them the knowledge they need to write in an authentic way

Writing is a complex skill. Cognitively it involves a number of ‘spinning plates’ and our whole brain (both left and right hemisphere) is involved when we are writing- everything from the creation of the ideas to the physical action of putting pen to paper. If we don’t give our pupils the knowledge they need to say, write a diary entry as an evacuee, we are giving them an extra plate to spin during that process. If pupils for example, are unaware of what an evacuee is or how they might have been feeling and why, they are already on the back foot and will most likely spend more time focusing on this, rather than how they can manipulate their writing to make the author feel empathy toward the evacuee. It’s crucial that we pre-teach this knowledge to our pupils so they can have an authentic ‘writer’s voice’.

Writing without knowledge of your subject is adding an additional level of complexity to the writing process- yet another plate to spin!

4. Talk Grammar often and share its purpose!

When we think grammar, unless you’re an avid grammarian or an English teacher, we often think it’s the less glamorous side of writing. It isn’t the exciting action scene before the Hobbit slays the dragon, it isn’t creating the suspense before the protagonist walks into the abandoned house and it isn’t the description of the mysterious character sat at the platform waiting for a train.  It’s the sentence structures that allow us to convey meaning, the tense that allows our reader to know when things are happening and the fronted adverbials that add those extra details. It is, glamorous or not, essential to excellent writing so drip- feeding into our English lessons alongside those more exciting parts of writing and teaching it in context is the best way to ensure sound grammar is underpinning our pupil’s stories, newspaper articles or non-chronological reports. If pupils understand grammatical terminology and use them as the ‘norm’, we’re able to more fluidly discuss how grammar, much alike literary devices, can be used to fulfil the purpose of a given piece of writing and enhance our writing. If pupils see this as an ad-hoc element, they will often throw in conjunctions haphazardly in an attempt to be a wholesome writer, which will have the complete opposite effect in terms of their effectiveness and lead to checklist writing- the worst kind!

Grammar might not necessarily be the most glamorous part of writing but our pupils need to know it’s just as important as any other element of writing!

TOP TIP- Refer to your pupils as authors and as writers during the lesson so they can get into the mindset of one!

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