Inspiring Writing

The school year is coming to a close and even more than ever I find myself facing the challenge of inspiring reluctant writers to fulfill their potential.  With light nights, World Cup fever and the never-ending lure of the games console, some children find it increasing difficult to be motivated with their learning especially when it comes to writing.  The fear of a blank page, the mind drawing a blank and not knowing how to spell the word you think of, all serve to compound a child’s unwillingness to put pen to paper.

During my own struggles to support these children I have found the following resources and methods useful.  I do not suggest that they will lead a reluctant writer to produce apiece of Level 6 writing but at least they could inspire some good writing and provide opportunities to develop skills.

1. Make it relevant.  Nothing engages children more than the feeling that their writing is valued or reflects their own passions.  Creatively structuring a lesson on promotional texts so that it can be written about Nerf guns, for example, will often lead to a higher standard and quantity of writing than would normally be expected.   A child that is reluctant to start may end up unwilling to stop when they are fully engaged with the topic and are keen to demonstrate their own level of knowledge and expertise.   Choose from current trends such as football, loom bands, the latest gaming sensation or children’s own particular interests.

2. Use http://www.literacyshed.com/ as a stimulus or ideas for a writing activity.  I return to this site time and time again, not only does it offer a range of starting points,  including images, film trailers and advertisements but also provides examples of suitable writing activities.  New ideas are constantly being added and the content is usefully organised into different ‘sheds’ such as  ‘The World Cup’, ‘The Video Games’ and  ‘The Myths and Legends’ sheds.

3. Not all writing has to use pen and paper.  Frequently struggles with handwriting and difficulties with spelling restrict children’s creativity and flow.  Allowing children to use a simple word processing programme, a specific computer programme or tablet app such as ‘Clicker‘  often helps.  The spell check and ability to edit work easily is appealing to children and some programmes even narrate what has been written to assist with checking for errors and sense.  Other options include using Powerpoint, photostories,  post it notes and comic strips as alternative approaches to writing.

4. Talking and collaborating. Writing can be a lonely task, especially if you are struggling for ideas or motivation. Starting a lesson with opportunities to talk through ideas and share thoughts with others can assist children to become inspired.  It also allows time for ideas to become more organised and developed.  In addition the writing task itself can be shared if children are able to work collaboratively and each contribute ideas either taking it in turns or allowing one to scribe their agreed sentences.

5. Change the environment. We often think that writing cannot be done properly unless we are sat at a desk with pen and paper.  However, especially with current technology and the introduction of tablets, writing can be done almost anywhere.  Experiment with different locations: writing outside in the playgrounds, eco-garden, even lying on the floor or sitting on cushions to write.  This often allows children to relax and feel more comfortable  as well as taking inspiration from what is around them.

 

This list is not exhaustive and since all children have their own learning styles, what suits one, may not inspire another.  However, even if one or two reluctant writers are engaged or find themselves caught up in the joy of writing itself, then it has been a worthwhile activity.

If anyone else has any tried and tested methods for inspiring young writers please add your comments.

 

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KS2 SATS resources

It is that time of year again when KS2 SATs are rapidly approaching.  I know that both teachers and parents want their children to be able to do their best in the tests so I have put together a list of a few resources which I have found useful.

1. TES I Board http://www.iboard.co.uk/

A vast range of activities searchable by age and subjects. Many are free but others are only available by subscription. Also has a specific SPaG revision pack.

2. I Am Learning KS2 English, Maths and Science Apps https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/i-am-learning-ks2-english/id432518626?mt=8

Both apps have specific games for each skill and are listed by Year group or topic. They are a quick fire revisions and assessment tool and progress is recorded. they requires iOs 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Each priced at £1.49 (March 2014)

3. Literacy Shed http://www.literacyshed.com/

Though no formal test for writing at Year 6 there is still teacher assessment and this site features a range of resources to inspire writing.  Including videos and animations it offers suggestions of writing activities for a range of genres.  Ideal for reluctant writers or those looking for ways to inspire great creative writing and put into practise skills of grammar, punctuation and spelling.  All resources are free.

4. Sums Online http://www.sums.co.uk/

A site featuring a wealth of free resources for practising mathematical concepts.  Teaches and guides pupils as well as testing their ability. Ideal for those struggling with particular areas of maths or wanting to reinforce skills. Also a range of apps available to purchase for Apple devices – http://www.mathsapps.com/

5. BBC Bitesize http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ks2/

A range of free activities, information, games and lesson plans for practising English, Maths and Science skills.  Games link to CBBC programmes making learning fun and engaging for children.

6. IXL Maths http://uk.ixl.com/math/year-6

A range of 227 Maths skills for Year 6 organised by category. Sample problems are shown, progress is tracked and questions increase in difficulty as you progress. Explanations are shown if an incorrect answer is input. Activities can be used for free and there is a free app. Subscriptions available for parents and schools who want full benefits including tracking and  reports.

7. Assessment and Reporting Arrangements for KS2 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/assessment-and-reporting-arrangements-2014-key-stage-2

Government documents on assessment and reporting requirements for KS2 teachers. Useful for parents who want to be informed about what tests and assessments will be taking place and when.

The value of a School Christmas play

It’s that time of year again when children come home announcing which role they will have in this year’s school Christmas play.  Whether it be a traditional nativity or something alternative parents are spending hours searching for or making costumes and young girls bemoan the fact that they still have not been chosen to be Mary!

This year one of our local schools decided not to have a Christmas production for the older children because they lose valuable time from their academic studies and instead they are doing a simple carol service.  Certainly when I was teaching, hours of practice would go into fine tuning the nativity and in the final week most afternoon and PE sessions would be spent in the hall directing sheep and dancing shepherds!  It led me to think should the annual festive production become the topic for the 2nd half of the Autumn term?

The annual tradition certainly lends itself to covering a great deal of the curriculum:

There is plenty of scope for honing literacy skills creating programmes, tickets, posters and even writing their own story or script.  Not to mention character profiles and setting descriptions.

Art and Design Technology lessons could be spent designing and creating scenery, costumes and props, music lessons would feature the songs and musical accompaniments.

History, Geography and RE sessions could centre around the basis for the original Christmas story, plotting journeys etc ,  looking at how other countries and cultures use drama in their celebrations and even looking through the school archives of previous Christmas productions.

Science skills could be spent identifying materials to be used and investigating how best to create bright stars or what forces will have an effect during their production.

PSHE sessions may focus on reconciling differences between characters or cast members and developing social skills.

Maths lessons on investigating the best way to set out rows of chairs for the audience, calculating the revenue from tickets sales, the cost of the production and even using the creation of props and scenery for some work on shapes and measures.

Foreign language links may be a little more challenging though one of the characters in the play could be French or linking back to Geography topics children could research vocabulary and traditions linked to European festive productions.

All this will probably come too late for this year’s plays but maybe in the future it could be better integrated with the curriculum and prevent loss of valuable lesson time.  The other thing that has struck me over the years is how commercialised the annual production has become.  Companies are making significant revenue providing ready-made scripts and music to desperate teaching staff whilst costumes can now be found in every supermarket from October onwards!  What happened to the days of kings wearing a hand-made tunic with someone’s old velvet curtains hanging from their shoulders?  The charm for me of the school nativity was always the imperfections – gifts of gold, Frankenstein and myrrh made from old boxes, a runaway sheep and a star struck child forgetting their lines.  Nothing beats a child’s handmade decoration to hang on the tree or put up on the wall so why can our schools not let these festive offerings retain their old charm and given the current buzz for all things handmade make these Christmas plays child-made!

A game of Articulate!

I have always found that making learning activities into games is effective and rewarding for young learners.  As a parent and tutor of children who can be reluctant or even afraid to write I have found it useful to develop writing games. One of my favourite games is one I call Articulate.

I start the game with a word sort which is based on the focus for the day’s game e.g. connectives.  The pupil must sort all the connectives from the words provided.

I have always found that making learning activities into games is effective and rewarding for young learners.  As a parent and tutor of children who can be reluctant or even afraid to write I have found it useful to develop writing games. One of my favourite games is one I call Articulate.

word sort

Word Sorting

I start the game with a word sort which is based on the focus for the day’s game e.g. connectives.  The pupil must sort all the connectives from the words provided.

Picture Cards

Picture Cards

Once completed some picture cards are laid out and  I read through the instructions.

The focus for the game can be altered dependent on the age and needs of the child/ren e.g. adverbs, punctuation, adjectives etc. The rules can also be changed to match the child’s ability and skills.

The game is designed to be played in pairs though it could be also used in small groups. A child selects a picture card (but without revealing it) and then writes one or two sentences to describe it.

The sentences must include any key features specified in the instructions and must not included any prohibited words such as the ones shown below.

rules

These rules encourage the child to produce high quality and imaginative writing.  Once completed the partner must read what has been written and try to correctly identify which picture it relates to.  It can often help to have some pictures which are similar such as a hamster and a mouse to encourage the use of precise vocabulary and detailed description.  Once the correct picture has been found the partners swap roles.  During the game the child can be encouraged to check they are sticking to the rules and also to be as inventive as possible with their descriptions.

If you have any writing games you have found to be successful please let me know!

Using Science to inspire writing

As a tutor and parent I am constantly looking for ways to excite children about writing.  Recently I came across the idea of using Science as a stimulus for writing.

Through a simple search it is easy to find lists of simple but exciting science experiments which can be tried out either at home or in the classroom.  Two websites which I have used are http://www.shell.co.uk/gbr/environment-society/shell-in-the-society/social-investment/science-education/shell-education-service/home.html and http://www.glasgowsciencecentre.org/online/science-bites.html.  There any many experiments to choose from which makes it easy to find those which fit with a particular topic or for which you already have the resources available.

Recently I tried out the ‘Dancing Raisins’ experiment (which can be found on the Glasgow Science centre site).  I used this as a follow-up activity to some work we had already done on nouns as my pupil had been struggling to identify them.  Firstly I asked my pupil to identify all the nouns in the instructions for the experiment and then during the experiment he had to list all the nouns he could observe such as bubbles, fizz, lemonade, container, raisins etc.  This and other experiments would also be ideal for using as stimulus for verb, adverb or adjective activities.

DSC_0906

I found that because the pupil found the experiment so engaging, they became enthralled in the activity and despite being often reluctant to write he was keen to list everything he could observe.  The activities also encourage the use of more precise and powerful vocabulary and scientific terminology.

The experiments could also be used for more extended pieces of writing such as creating own instructions, writing up the results of the experiment or writing questions for other pupils to answer.  They are certainly well worth trying out as a way of encouraging writing whilst also extending scientific skills and knowledge.