After over a decade of teaching English I am still finding new approaches and understanding more about how students learn to write. In the last year or so, my thinking has developed to focus upon the primacy of vocabulary knowledge and also the need for a huge amount of varied repetition of writing skill, particularly with grasping syntax and a confident use of punctuation. For example, I reckon after months of crafting and drafting that my year 8 and year 9 group may have cracked using semi-colons and colons!
One important observation I have made about my own teaching is rather obvious, but also essential, is that you need a great deal of time to practise writing. This necessitates having less content to ensure there is ample time for such work. One method I have employed is micro-writing: that is to say, writing that is concise and wholly precise. I wrote about strategies for this in my book: ‘Teach Now! Becoming a Great English Teacher’ :
- Six word film plots. Made popular on a passing internet fad – this simple compression of an entire narrative into only six words really challenges students to find the core message of a given narrative. Try it yourself! My attempt would be the film Gladiator: A swords and sandals gladiatorial gore-fest!
- Seven word biographies. Another fun genre focused writing activity. You can see the opportunities are endless in terms of selecting genres and text types! Here is my effort based on the Bard: Domed genius. Changed the writing world forever.
- Ten word tall tales. You get the idea! Try your own. Give students rules and structures that add challenge, such as asking them to include four types of punctuation etc.
- Haiku and Tenko poems. These compressed poems get students selecting vocabulary and organizing sentence structures with real precision and focus.
- Mobile phone number narratives. Get students to use their mobile phone numbers to create a structure for sentence lengths e.g. for the number seven they need to include a seven word sentence etc. It really concentrates their mind on crafting sentence structures.
- Uplevelling. Give students individual sentences that they need to improve. They could be given specific instructions e.g. ‘Use an adverb sentence starter’ (Taken from Teach Now! Becoming a Great English Teacher)
As micro-writing can prove so speedy, you can ensure that students get a great deal of purposeful writing practise that can be repeated weekly to hone their writing skill.
I think ‘Shared writing‘ may just be the king of writing teaching strategies: take a look here.
Of course, crafting and a writing with accuracy are synonymous. Here is my thinking on the teaching of grammar: ‘On Teaching Grammar’.