Talk For Writing - Poetry - Thurrock Grid for Learning

Talk For Writing – Learning to
craft language – short-burst poetic
Poetry is the place to start because poetry is about words. Writers need
to be attentive to words and then the way they fit and flow together
within sentences.
1. Internalising Poetic Language and
Perhaps, right at the start, we should state that poetry lies at the heart
of language and experience. It is where children learn to savour
words, play with language and use it to capture and celebrate their
world. The poem is central – and so too should be the child’s own
pleasure in language for writers love words. Nothing else much will
follow without these conditions. In the Primary Framework
‘Progression for Poetry’, it states:
Like many art forms, poetry could be said to have little purpose and
yet every culture has song, rhyme or poetry as an essential aspect of
its cultural inheritance because it goes to the heart of language,
thought and who we are as human beings. Usually poetry matters
most to the writer and then the reader. It may be written specifically
to entertain but often will be written in order to preserve and
celebrate experience. Poetry helps us to create, or recreate, imagined
or real experiences that are deeply felt. Reading poems and making
our own poems challenges, surprises, enriches and comforts.
Early poetic utterance emerges with the discovery of the power of
sounds and words. Very young children play with sounds, rhythms
and enjoy inventing words. As they grow up, children enjoy rhymes,
inventing new combinations of words, riddles and other forms of word
play. Such early language playfulness lies at the heart of poetry.
Children also soon discover that language has the power to recreate
experience. For instance, a young child looking in awe at the moon on
a cold December night may find that ordinary language will not
sufficiently convey enough of the experience or what was felt because it merely labels or reports the experience (I saw the moon. It
was fantastic). In order to capture something of both the experience
and what was felt, language has to be used in a different manner (the
moon hung in the dark,/like a bear’s silver claw,/ and the stars
speckled the night…). So, poetry helps us to explain ourselves to the
world and the world to ourselves – capturing something of the essence
of the experience as well as our response.
When looking at children’s poetic writing, the progression draws
language and experience and feeling together:
Children write most effectively about subjects that they have
experienced and that matter. It is the desire to capture and
communicate to a reader or listener real experience and genuine
feeling or to play with language that leads to the most powerful
Poetic writing is enriched and deepened by attentive reading, listening
to and performing of poetry. Without reading, writing may become
proficient but it will never move beyond that. It is worth recalling that
whilst at university Ted Hughes rose at 6 every morning to read a
Shakespeare play before his tutorial. Hughes was a genius partly
because he had the voice of Shakespeare within him - as part of his
living linguistic repertoire. T.S. Eliot suggested to Hughes that when
reading poetry, it should be read aloud – so that the mind both read
and heard the poems.
Reading and performing helps us internalise language and possibilities
– it increases our range of voices to call upon when writing. As
teachers we need to put into the minds of children the voices of many
poets and poems for them to draw upon when writing.
Children love reading, writing and performing poetry. It is essential to
our well-being because it focuses upon creativity - and creativity
matters, especially for those with chaotic lives because making
beautiful things helps children feel good about themselves and their
It would be worth working out which poets are going to become the
main focus for teaching over the four years in key stage 2, focusing
upon a poet a term. This means that the children become familiar with
a range of poets over time. Children could choose and read a ‘poem a
day’ with the teacher reading once a week. This may only take up a
few minutes a day – but the cumulative impact could be quite
It would be sad to think that children might miss out on Michael
Rosen, Charles Causley, Val Bloom, Judith Nichols, Kit Wright,
William Blake, Philip Gross, Walter de La mare, Shakespeare or Ted
Hughes. Recent research by publishers suggest that teachers worry
about performance poetry – which is strange because almost any
poem can be performed. Also, teachers struggle to find poems from
other cultures. Key anthologies include: One River, Many Creeks:
Poems from All Around the World, edited by Valerie Bloom
Macmillan Children’s Books); Around the World in 80 Poems,
edited by James Berry and Katherine Lucas (Macmillan Children’s
Books); Masala: Chosen by Debjani Chatterjee (Macmillan
Children’s Books).
In the foundation stage and at key stage 1 children need to build up a
bank of nursery, traditional and action rhymes. Many picture books
rhyme (e.g. Each Peach Pear Plum) and there are a few ‘key’ poems
such as ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ that one would wish to learn and
perform for the sheer joy of the rhythm and their sheer silliness!
Poetry at key stage 1 should be a daily occurrence – ‘poem of the
week’ is chanted in the classroom and can be sent home for parents
and carers to read or sing with their children. As well as rhyming
verse, we should also make sure that a wide variety of challenging
poems, including free verse, are introduced and experienced right
from the start.
Establish a Poetry Climate.
The original ‘Writing Poetry’ flyer recognized the need for schools to
establish a positive climate for poetry by suggesting:
access to up-to-date collections of poetry so that there is enough
for browsing, taking home to read, reading a range in class
attractive displays that focus children’s interest, e.g. poetry posters
(including children’s own poems) on display
poem/poet of the week/month
relating poems to other curriculum areas
selecting poems to perform, or tape, for other classes – ‘poets on
inviting poets into the school
creating ‘poet trees’ with branches for different types of poem plus
leaves with extracts
spreading enthusiasm for poems – recommendations by pupils and
writing, reading and sharing poems as the teacher
celebrating National Poetry Day.
Digging deeper.
Poems are not like sums – they do not always easily add up. Some are
straightforward enough but will trigger memories and responses
nonetheless (such as Michael Rosen’s ‘Chocolate Cake’). When
reading poetry, it is important to read aloud - for poems are as much
about sound as meaning. The full impact is often a combination of the
words and the sound and sometimes the layout as well. There are
many poems that are easy to understand and lightweight that will be
fun to read and chant but for teaching we need to be more interested in
presenting poems with depth that will actually influence the
The point about ‘challenging poetry’ is that it does not have to be fully
understood – it is there to be enjoyed and experienced. Children will
not have the critical language, let alone faculties, to be able to discuss
Shakespeare at any depth – but they can experience it – and often link
into a true sense of the poem’s intentions. What has to be avoided is
strapping the poem to a chair and trying to thrash a metaphor out of it!
Too many poetry lessons are about spotting verbs and similes rather
than deepening understanding and appreciation. Poems are not just to
be understood intellectually. They present language as a sensation to
be heard and experienced. And with some poems, it may be pointless
to ask what does it mean because it is more of an event that appeals to
what T.S. Eliot described as the ‘auditory imagination’.
The habit of reading and then talking about poems is one to be
developed. The phrase ‘tell me’ being very handy as it invites
extended thought. It is worth saying that rather than just chucking an
activity at a poem, the teacher needs to think carefully about what
activity might help to deepen children’s understanding and
Here are some activities that may help children dig under the skin of a
poem. It is worth increasingly asking the children to raise questions,
make statements, talk poems through, explain ideas and describe
memories and responses. Try to avoid putting children into the
situation of ‘guessing what is in the teacher’s head’. Especially with
poetry, the interpretation is not just in the teacher’s mind – a good
poem will work on the reader in different ways. Sometimes it is just
enough to know that you loved a poem. Choose activities to match the
poem’s demands:
 Prepare a group reading of a poem. Thinking about how to use
voices, varying the pace, expression and volume to suit the
meaning. Make sure the words are clear – add in percussive
backing where relevant.
 Read and discuss – likes, dislikes, puzzles and patterns.
 There may be specific questions that are worth asking as they
help to focus children on discussing aspects that may unlock a
poem’s meaning.
 Select the 5 most important words – defend your choice.
 If you had £1 and words cost 10p – which words would you
 Jot down your initial ideas, memories, questions, thoughts,
similar experiences, feelings – and share these in pairs.
 What was the most powerful picture?
 Annotate the poem – make statements or raise questions.
 Use a colour to identify powerful words or surprising images.
 Explain the poem to a friend.
 Give children a poem without the title – what is it called?
 Cut a poem up by verses, lines or words to be re-sequenced.
 Omit key words and present a poem as a cloze procedure.
 Write a poem out as prose – the children have to decide what
pattern would look best upon the page.
 Respond to the poem in another form, e.g. a letter, diary entry,
message, newspaper article.
 Illustrate a poem and annotate with words and images.
 Use two colours – one for sound effects (alliteration,
onomatopoeia, rhymes, hard/soft sounds) and another colour for
pictures (similes, metaphors). Talk about their effect.
 Paint the poem - set the poem to dance or music.
 Act the poem’s story out.
 Create a model of the poem or collect images and artifacts to
create a mini poetry museum where poems are matched with
images and objects on display.
Imitation reading game.
Read a short poem to the class. The game is for the children to listen
carefully and then as soon as you have finished, they should write
down as much as they can remember – filling in gaps, if they need. In
pairs, they can compare results and then listen to the original again.
This develops memory but is also interesting because different people
remember different sections – or everyone remembers the same piece
– why? Discuss the memorable aspects – was it rhythm, the image, the
word combination, its impact?
Poetry Reading Interviews.
Children work in pairs - one in role as the poet (or poem) and the
other is about to interview them. Read a poem. The interviewers then
ask questions and role-play an interview. Hear some in front of the
class. Questions can be about the poem – but also any other aspect
that the interviewer deems interesting! This game might be handy
after several weeks of hearing different daily poems by a poet.
Booktalk - Likes, dislikes, puzzles and patterns.
Put children into pairs to make a list about a poem of likes, dislikes,
puzzles and patterns. Or, each pair makes a list of 5 questions they are
curious about. Later on, list these as a class and see if other pairs can
provide ideas or answers.
Exploring feelings in a poem.
Choose a key image from a poem - that made you feel something
(happy? sad? bored?) and explore why:
The tyger made me feel sad because….
Miming Poems.
Mime a poem. Will the rest of the class be able to guess which poem?
Again, this would be good to use when the children have heard quite a
few poems by a poet and are building up a few favourites that have
been performed a number of times.
Thoughts in the head.
Draw a cartoon or thought bubble for a character in a story poem. Hot
seat the character or have them perform a monologue.
Writing about poems.
Model how to write about poetry and ask the children to use a simple
pattern for a written response, e.g.
What the poem is/seems to be about.
Why I have chosen it- likes, dislikes and
What the poem means to me.
What the poem reminds me of/makes me think
Poem’s pattern ,techniques and language used
and their impact.
Final comment – most memorable aspect.
Building a writing repertoire from reading and enjoying poems.
When I first started teaching, I held a poetry session once a week.
After a while, I noticed that the children were building up a repertoire
from their reading and writing. Once we had met ‘alliteration’ and had
some fun with it then it crept into other lessons, even when it was not
mentioned. I realised that the reading and writing was helping the
children acquire a bank of possibilities that they could use in their
own writing. The original ‘Writing Poetry’ flyer recognized the
importance of building a repertoire for children’s own writing:
As writers, pupils should build up a repertoire of forms and stylistic
devices that they can call upon to create poetry. In many instances,
pupils will be focusing upon crafting language within a focused and
manageable length and in a known form.
But it is not only a matter of building up the more obvious techniques
such as alliteration or similes. I noticed that children began to pick up
on other ideas and re-visit them. For instance, we had a session
writing about the moon and weeks later on, we drew and then wrote
descriptions of our hands. A number of children recycled the moon
image to describe their fingernails.
Obviously, through reading children may acquire basic writing
techniques, such as:
 Words – choosing the most powerful, expressive and
appropriate words to illuminate. Words have to earn their place
– avoid just chucking in an adjective for the sake of bulk or
prettifying a sentence.
 Word combination – being alert to the possibility of avoiding
the obvious (the big giant) and choosing words to surprise,
perhaps a shock of truth to arrest the reader, e.g. The cockerel
 Sound effects – these can be produced by using alliteration
(very handy because it may force a more interesting choice, e.g.
rather than ‘purple plum’ you might think of ‘panicking plum’!)
Onomatopoeia will happen naturally if children choose words
with care so is not really a technique to use…. but something to
comment upon. Rhyme comes with a word of warning for
young writers but can be used to gain effects such as humour or
emphasis if used sparingly and only when it adds to meaning.
 Creating pictures – similes (‘like’ and ‘as’), personification
and metaphor are useful techniques to help the reader visualise,
as well as making connections between ideas.
As well as building up a repertoire of techniques, reading a wide range
of poems also helps children to pick up on different possibilities when
writing – what Kenneth Koch called ‘poetic inclinations’ – things that
you can do in poetry. By this I mean a variety of ways of looking at a
subject. Let’s take the moon – there are all sorts of ways in which we
might be able to respond poetically. We could turn it into a riddle, or
ask questions of it, or describe it. The possibilities are endless. This
sort of reading may be implicit with younger children but more mature
writers can be encouraged into the habit of ‘reading as a writer’. As
Isaac Newton said, ‘‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the
shoulders of giants’. It is this repertoire that helps to shape a child’s
own voice. The sorts of ‘stances’ a writer can take include:  description – an old piece of bark, lighting a candle, looking at
marbles, the back of your hand, feathers, leaf skeletons… like
lace/neatly threaded/like a map/or a starfish far from
home/crinkled parchment/veins leading nowhere…;
 personification – bringing inanimate objects alive – fog sneaks
up the lanes/curls round the houses…;
 apostrophe – addressing the world, e.g. talking to tigers like
Blake – Snail, where did you get that shell?;
 surprise – bringing together two unlikely ideas, e.g. instead of
‘the old lady hobbled’ write ‘the old lady break-danced’;
 lying – given that all stories are lies, poets too are good liars.
‘My Love is like a red rose.’ Pull the other one! This could be
playful – ‘the moon is a beachball kicked into the night by a
 riddling – hiding the subject and provide clues, e.g. I fly-bynight, sweeping the hedgerows, eyes like amber searchlights…
 pretending – lots of opportunities for word play and fun here –
My secret is made of chocolate….
 questioning – good for addressing the world – What immortal
hand or eye/could frame thy fearful symmetry?
 exclamations – good for sounding indignant – Stone – get up
and do something!
 synesthesia – mixing up the senses – I want to paint the scent
of the sun’s first rays…
 boasting – great for making yourself feel good – Pie Corbett is
a sleek Mercedes. He won 4 golds at the last Olympics…
 exaggerating – Each tick of the clock is a timebomb
 telling secrets – all poems are a sort of secret – the cat’s sly eye
 making the ordinary poetic – The window’s eyes glare…
 making it musical – Hip hop hap/it’s the dinosaur rap…
 autobiography – using your own life and memories as a source
– listening to the television mumbling/listening to the buses
grumbling by….
 monologues – objects or people telling their story - Last night I
met Dawn/wandering around/looking for the sun….
 word play – all sorts of games for playing with words – Her
eyes shot round the room – we ducked down!
 word snapshots – writing short poems of only two or three
lines – Winter dawn/cars huddle at roadsides/numb fingers
This idea of cumulatively building a writing repertoire should lie at
the heart of any school’s teaching of writing. The original ‘Writing
Poetry’ flyer suggested to children:
The Poet’s Repertoire.
 Over time you will learn different forms that you can select for
different occasions, e.g. raps for entertaining, haiku for memorable
moments, free verse for serious poems and capturing experiences
and ballads for story telling.
 Being true to the experience that you are writing about is more
important than trying to squeeze words into a form.
 To write in any form you need to spend
time reading good poems written in
that form.
 Read like a writer – notice how poets
achieve different effects.
 Borrow simple repeating patterns from
poets and invent your own.
 Invent your own forms and structures.
 Be careful with rhyme. Forcing a rhyme
can lead to dishonest writing.
Go for the right word rather than a
forced rhyme.
 Keep the writing concrete and detailed.
 Use your own poetic voice. Try to
use natural language and invent
memorable speech – listen for this
in everyday speech.
It is through attentive reading and plenty of performing poems by
heart that children begin to internalize patterns and possibilities. Much
of this may happen without a child knowing that a rhythm or turn of
phrase has become memorable and will influence their future writing.
As children get older, their attention to the detail and their savouring
of the language may well become more explicit so that approaches to
writing and poetic inclinations become a more conscious part of their
repertoire. Writers need to develop curiosity about what other writers
do. How are poems created? How do they intrigue our imaginations?
Powerful poetic writing can occur in most schools, in most classes,
given the right conditions. The key factor is the teaching – the
children have the talent, for childhood is a time where the world is
fresh and new – language is there for experimentation. I remember
one of my children seeing the cooling towers by Nottingham and
describing them as ‘cloud factories’. As we grow older, our language
increasingly fossilizes and the deadening hand of cliché makes our
speech formulaic and predictable. But children are different. In a
sense, it is a special moment in time when language is used to bring
oneself and the world into being. Each new word is tasted and
precious – little ones often just repeat words to hear and savour their
sound. The difficulty comes later on, as they learn the conventions of
their culture. Perhaps our society no longer values the apt phrase, the
elegant argument, the beautifully crafted anecdote? As teachers we
should be the preservers and celebrators of the well-chosen word.
One of the problems that the old literacy strategy faced was that the
objectives were too often seen as ‘one-off’ events rather than
something cumulative that then needs plenty of practice. For instance,
these objectives from the old framework were essential for all young
writers and not just for the terms they appeared:
Year 3 term 1
T10 to collect suitable words and phrases, in order to write poems
and descriptions; design simple patterns with words, use repetitive
phrases; write imaginative comparisons.
Year 4 Term 3
T15 to produce polished poetry through revision, e.g. deleting words,
adding words, changing words, reorganising words and lines,
experimenting with figurative language.
This was an attempt to establish writing strategies. I’ll return to these
when we move on to thinking about writing poems.
A Word of Caution - Poems as Models for Writing.
One of the effects of the original strategy was to create a focus upon
different poetic forms. Whilst children should read and experience a
rich and broad diet of poems, when it comes to writing this lead to
some strange outcomes such as children being asked to write ‘classic
poems’ because they had been reading them! Many of the forms were
fine for reading but too demanding for writing. Where the form
becomes dominant then it may stultify the writing. For instance, haiku
may have three lines and seventeen syllables but because all the
child’s efforts have gone into the form may well be lifeless. A wellchosen form should liberate writing and not interfere with creativity.
Some poems offer simple forms and have that magical quality that
acts like a catalyst to writing. They invite creativity. For instance, Kit
Wright’s ‘Magic Box’ never fails. I would also mention the following:
The Door – Miroslav Holub
A boy’s head – Miroslav Holub
Cat began – Andrew Matthews
14 ways of touching the Peter - George MacBeth
The magical mouse – Kenneth Patchen
I saw a peacock – anon
A fistful of pacifists – David Kitchen
My name is – Pauline Clarke
You! – traditional – Igbo
Go inside – Charles Simic
36 ways of looking at a blackbird – Wallace Stevens
In a station of the metro – Ezra Pound
Cat in the window – Brian Morse
Clouds – Teddy Corbett
This is just to say – William Carlos Williams
The red wheelbarrow – Wiliam Carlos Williams
The sound collector – Roger McGough
A poem to be spoken quietly/Wings – Pie Corbett
Listen- John Cotton
Body sounds – Katya Haine
The oldest girl in the world – Carol Ann Duffy
Things to do at Sandpoint – 5th grade class, Sandpoint, Idaho
Wind – Dionne Brand
For Francesca – Helen Dunmore
Small dawn song – Philip Gross
Not only – Brian Patten
Fog – Carl Sandburg
Leaves – Ted Hughes
Amulet – Ted Hughes
To make a Prairie – Emily Dickinson
Mamma Dot – Fred D’Aguiar
Yes 0- Adrian Mitchell
Our Street – Les Baynton
Oath of Friendship – Anon
Playing a dazzler – James Berry
In the time of the wolf – Gillian Clarke
Curious craft – Philip Gross
The ideal ‘list’ or ‘collage’ poem provides a form for the children to
tag on their own ideas. The ‘collage’ would make sure that each line
was fresh, adding something new to the cumulative picture. The
poems might be very simple:
I like the sound of bacon sizzling in the pan.
I like the sound of crisps being crunched.
Or quite challenging:
The lines that lead….
The door of disasters,
a daring deed.
The alley of agony,
an antique ache.
The passage of purity,
a peaceful palm.
The lane of loneliness,
a limping leash.
The window of wisdom,
a whisper of wanting.
The other key structure is completely open – free verse. It is where the
children make a pattern upon the page with the words. The lines can
be long, short or both. Ideally, free verse should not sound like
chopped up prose but flow with the underlying rhythm of speech –
memorable speech. An over clipped style may lack an inner regularity
which a well-written poem usually possesses – even if the flow is
broken for effect. Reading one’s writing aloud can help the child to
‘hear’ whether it flows well.
The ploughed field.
The icy wind shreds leaves,
like a thousand broken sparrow’s wings,
scattered on the frosted fields.
Ridged ruts,
scratch lino cuts in parallel lines.
The earth ripples;
holly in the hedgerows is hard as iron.
A few berries speckle the green scarlet.
Other structures may be borrowed from poets, or invented, as long as
they liberate the writing and neither constrain nor dominate. The
poetry progression suggests that the key forms for children’s poetic
writing are:
collage or list poem
free verse
shape poems (free verse in a shape)
short patterned poems, for example, haiku, cinquain, kennings
borrow or invent own pattern, for example, pairs of lines
simple rhyming form, for example, rap
It is worth noting that rhyme is too difficult for most children and
generally leads to doggerel. A few simple formats and rapping can be
fun but usually it is a skill that only the most gifted use effectively.
Also, early attempts at syllabic poetry such as haiku might be best
attempted without worrying about counting syllables so that the
children can focus upon creating a simple word-snapshot. The
principle forms are free verse and collage poems.
2. Creative games.
Before we begin to look at creative games, I just want to return to the
whole business of establishing writing strategies that are essential to
short burst creative writing in a poetic mode. For instance, the ability
to rapidly generate words and ideas and then select what is powerful is
essential to writing effectively. This has to be practised and children
can be trained to become very skilled at generating ideas. The key
writing abilities seem to me to be:
Observing carefully – learning how to look very carefully, especially
noticing the sensory details. Poets are observers of their world;
‘Brainstorming’ – rapidly generating lots of possibilities and words jotting words and phrases independently. Poets are word hunters and
hoarders (this may need to be practiced as a class many times);
Memory search – revisiting and visualising the details of experiences
– trying to get to the heart of what happened; seeing it in your mind;
First word not always the best word – double-checking each word
that is chosen – being alert to the idea that the brain is likely to think
of the most obvious words and these may be clichés – so learning to
pause, think and select carefully for maximum impact;
Word play – having an eye and ear for unusual and striking
combinations that may create different effects;
Draft – concentrate totally on the poem, drawing on the brainstorm
and returning to the original experience; writing swiftly and
meditatively; seeing it in the mind; sifting and experimenting;
muttering it aloud as you write to hear how it sounds;
Read aloud – read aloud to a partner or group and listen/look to
hear/see where the poem works and where it needs polishing; shift
from being the writer into reading your own writing as a reader;
Polish – learning how to improve by changing or adding words,
deleting over-written parts, trimming words or sentences, using poetic
techniques with caution and for impact, reorganising;
Publishing – e.g. anthologies, posters, performing or recording onto a
A creative positive classroom is one where everyone is excited about
writing – trying for optimal performance, with activities that develop
the whole person – where everyone has a passion and commitment to
trying hard and getting better at writing. Creative classrooms have
space for playing with language and ideas – for risk taking and
inventiveness. These sorts of quickfire games are a useful basis for
writing and brain development and make great little warm-ups to tune
children into a creative mode at the start of a session. It is worth
remembering that nothing of significance can be written without using
the imagination.
Creative Connections
Play this game often – just give them a word and ask them to write
down as many words as they can think of that are associated with it.
Time them – a minute only - and then see who has written the largest
number of words. Play this many times so that they get used to
generating words and ideas rapidly. This is a fundamental creative
writing skill.
If the children find this difficult, then you need to play it as a whole
class. Provide a focus such as a picture, video clip, photo or object.
Then, as a class, brainstorm as many words and ideas as possible.
Don’t let them worry about the words – concentrate on letting the
words flow.
Ink waster
To warm up the brain and get into a creative mood give the children a
topic and ask them to write as much as they can in, say, one minute.
Time them and ask them to count the number of words then try again
with another topic. They should write as rapidly as possible. This
limbers up and frees up the mind.
New experiences.
The brain is stimulated by new experiences – it makes us curious and
generates language. First hand experience makes brains grow! Each
weekend, try looking for something curious that you could take into
the classroom – photos, a mirror, a key, a picture of a Salvidor Dali,
an old watch, a gnarled piece of bark….. Use these for rapid drawing
and writing. To write, you could just brainstorm words and ideas as a
class or individually in a few minutes. What does it look like, remind
you of, what do you associate with this? What might it be used for?
Invent 5 new things you could use it for? What might a Martian think
it was?
Random words.
Choose a book. Ask for a number – this gives you a page to turn to.
Now ask for a number – this gives you the line. Then ask for a small
number – this will select a word. The children then have 15 seconds to
write a sentence. Then use the same sort of process to randomly select
two or three words – can they make a sentence using the words?
Noun and verb game
Ask for a list of nouns (engine, ruler, pencil, tree). Then make a list of
verbs (sipped, stole, rushed, wished). The game is to invent sentences
that include a noun and a verb from the lists. This can be fun if the
nouns and verbs do not match in any sensible way – you will get some
quite creative solutions!
The engine sipped…
The ruler stole…
The pencil rushed…
The tree wished…
Now complete the sentences, preferably choosing unusual ideas, e.g.
The engine sipped from a cup of silences.
The ruler stole a tongue of ideas.
The pencil rushed down the stairs and into the garden.
The tree wished it could turn over a new leaf.
Animal game
Make a list of animals. The children have to write a sentence about
each one – as playful as possible. Put in certain criteria, e.g. use a
simile, use two adjectives, use an adverb, use ‘after’, use ‘when’, etc.
Use the animal list to create alliterative sentences – one per animal,
e.g. The tiny tiger tickled the terrified terrapin’s two toes with torn
Doing a ‘Shakespeare’.
One simple activity that helps children to enter memorably into
Shakespeare’s language is to imitate some of his lines (this works for
almost any great writer). Use his verse as creative springboards, to
unleash new possibilities. The teacher has to read carefully, looking
for possible patterns, where a line or image might lend itself to
Macbeth has always been a good play to experience with year 6.
Whilst it seems obvious to write spells or charms arising from the
witches’ famous scene, there are other possibilities. For instance,
children may be interested to hear that the expression ‘he looked
daggers at me’ comes from Shakespeare. Hamlet states ‘I will speak
daggers to her, but use none’. In Macbeth, the dagger is a central
image both as a real object of murder but also a metaphor for ‘there’s
daggers in men’s smiles’ (2.3.147). Macbeth wonders ‘art thou but a
dagger of the mind’?
Ask the children what else might be seen in a smile, eyes, hands, tears,
sobs, cries, pain, hearts? It’s not hard to generate ides such as:
‘There’s hooks in men’s eyes, there’s sharks in men’s promises,
there’s knives in men’s hearts, there’s a thief in men’s promises’.
These can be left as a simple list – or be bullied into a shape with the
teacher assisting:
There’s daggers in men’s smiles.
There are hooks in men’s eyes,
There are scales in men’s sighs.
There are sharks in men’s dreams,
There are spears in men’s schemes.
There are knives in men’s talk,
There are bounds in man’s walk.
A scan of almost any scene, in any play, will provide possible
patterns. At a glance I have just noticed:
In nature’s infinite book of secrecy,
A little I can read….
He wears the rose of youth upon him
‘O word of fear’
I am as hot as molten lead, and as heavy too.
The stars will kiss the valleys first
Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety…
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown
This is a brave night to cool a courtesan
But soft, methinks I scent the morning air
Peace! How the moon sleeps
Swift, swift, you dragons of the night
The simile game.
List well-know similes. What are the stories that lie behind the
similes. Here are some to get you going.
As busy as a cat on a hot tin roof
As deaf as a post
As happy as a rat with a gold tooth
As hungry as a wolf
As innocent as a lamb
As poor as a church mouse
As proud as a peacock
As scarce as hen's teeth
As slippery as an eel
As slow as a tortoise
As stubborn as a mule
As tricky as a box of monkeys
As welcome as a skunk at a lawn party
Dish out poetry books and ask children to collect similes. Display
these in the classroom. Move on to creating new similes. Start with
something simple like a moon or sun shape.
The moon is like a fingernail’s edge.
The moon is like a a scimitar’s blade.
The sun is like an ogre’s angry eye.
The sun is like a golden frisbee.
Dead Metaphors.
A dead metaphors is a clichés – our language is scattered with them,
Stone cold
A heart of stone
Apple of my eye
Boiling mad
Bear fruit
Hatch a plan
Play with dead metaphors by taking them literally, e.g.
I felt stone cold –
my arms were rock
and my legs were granite.
She was the apple of my eye –
but someone took a bite
out of my sight!
My teacher was boiling mad –
steam came out of her mouth!
I hatched a plan –
it is only just able to walk
and needs bottle feeding daily.
Inventing Metaphors.
First of all, identify something that you want to create a metaphor
around – for instance – the stars. Now generate a simile, e.g. the stars
are like diamonds. Now omit the word ‘like’, e.g. the stars are
diamonds. That is a metaphor. If you want to go one step further,
move the noun in front of the image, e.g. the diamond stars. Dylan
Thomas uses this technique in his writing!
A Nuisance of Nouns.
Invent the stories behind common collective nouns. Then invent new
A crush of rhinoceroses
A dose of doctors
An elephant of enormities
A glacier of fridges
A lottery of dice
A number of mathematicians
A quake of cowards
A wonder of stars
The Box of Stars.
Split the class in two. One half makes a list of places, e.g. room, town,
city, village, mountain, river, star, sun, kitchen, alleyway, box, etc.
The other half has to make a list of nouns and abstract nouns, e.g.
memories, love, doom, sparklers, curtains, sunsets, wisdom, jealousy,
disasters, grass, stars, etc. Then put children into pairs and they match
the words listed exactly in the order they wrote them down, e.g.
The room of memories.
The town or love.
The city of doom.
The village of sparklers.
The mountain of curtains.
The river of sunsets.
The star of wisdom.
The sun of jealousy.
The kitchen of disasters.
The alleyway of grass.
The box of stars
Crossing the River.
Invent creative ways to cross a river, e.g. make friends with a frost
giant and ask it to breathe onto the river, freezing it so that you can
walk across.
3. Original Playfulness with
Language and Ideas.
The original ‘Writing Poetry’ flyer stated: Poetry is included in the
NLS Framework in every term, as a central aspect of literacy. Its
appeal lies in the desire to play with language and ideas, as well as
the recreation and preservation of experiences that matter.
There is a strong vein of poetry that plays with language and ideas.
This would include the fanciful and fun, the surreal and ridiculous. It
ranges from playground rhymes to nonsense verse. The teacher can
either work from a model, write a model for the class or just work
from a poetry idea so that the shared writing becomes the model. Here
is an example, I have often used:
If only I could catch a snowflake
and hang it
on the side of the Eiffel Tower.
If only I could trap a handful of sunlight
and store it
for wintry days when the air bites back.
If only I could grab a withered flower
and keep it safe
so that it can burst into blossom.
If only I could store a seed of truth
and protect it
behind the frozen doors of eternity.
If only I could hold on tight to laughter
and trap its body
to protect me when sadness smothers.
If only I could seize the passing days
and keep them tucked away
in the diary of my departing.
To scaffold writing this sort of poem, it is handy to make a list of
possible words to use instead of catch (grab, grip, grasp, seize,
imprison, hold, contain, capture, keep, store, trap, fossilize, paralyze).
Then make a list of things that might be captured (moonlight, stars,
frost, clouds, ran, lightning, thunder, silence, hope, a wish, dreams,
disaster, war, thoughts, spring, summer, winter, memories, buds,
flames, mirrors, keys, windows, doors, ocean). Finally, discuss what
you would do with these things. This helps provide a weaker class
with ideas. When teaching writing, it is always worth considering how
much scaffolding will be required for success. Gradually, scaffolding
should be taken away so that the children move from dependence to
independence in their writing because they can scaffold their own
The new poetry progression identifies the importance of encouraging
children to write playfully and inventively – developing original
playfulness with language and ideas. List poems are a simple and
effective way of helping children develop confidence as writers when
playing with language. Provide a repeating pattern that acts like a coat
hanger so that children can focus upon using words effectively,
creating new ideas, e.g.
I want to write a poem
made of slices of lemon light.
I want to write a poem
made of sneezes and breezes.
I want to write a poem
made of the shine from a car’s bonnet.
Before we go any further, I should point out that there is no reason
why even the youngest should not be engaged in making up poetic
ideas and observations. Of course, the teacher will need to jot these
down or record them on a flip chart. Many teachers of young children
overplay the importance of rhyme in early poetic writing – and rhyme
is difficult to do (though rhyme is important for developing an ear for
sounds). Simple list ideas provide an ideal opportunity for children
from the Foundation Stage onwards to be engaged in creating playful
One of the problems you may find is that some children may just write
dull lists that seem to go on forever! If this is the case, show them how
to elaborate and extend a few of their ideas and then ask them to select
their favourite lines and improve them in the same way. Let’s say that
a child has written:
With my magic eye
I saw a cat.
Adding in an adjective and then extending the idea by adding on what
the cat was doing might improve this:
With my magic eye
I saw a grey cat slinking along the sunlit path.
Of course, it would be even better if we knew what sort of snake it
was (naming it). And perhaps it might be more playful and surprising
(less of a dull cliché) if we had the snake doing something impossible:
With my magic eye
I saw a Siamese cat
shopping at Tescos
for the finest salmon!
Many teachers might feel that is sort of writing is just silly. This arises
out of a lack of understanding of creativity. Innate creativity is
impeded by socially and culturally acquired habits of linguistic
expression – clichés. To some extent therefore, education has to
eliminate whatever stops children being creative. As we grow older
our language becomes frozen into a set routine of linguistic patterns.
If we are not careful so too does our thinking. If you take a look at
Shakespeare or any great writer, you will find many examples of
language play where the rules are broken and fresh word
combinations created in order to illuminate the truth of experience.
For some children the pressure to create can actually freeze their
thinking. This may be because of a desire to get it right, to be good, to
create an amazing story or poem with little effort right from the outset.
This misconception about creativity may stultify some young writers.
And it is playing with words and ideas that may help them loosen their
approach to accept the haphazard, the daft, the mistakes, the blind
alleys and blunders all as part of generating ideas, fishing for words
and trying out new combinations. For play lies at the heart of creative
writing. As Ken Robinson write in ‘All Our Futures’, ‘imaginative
activity is the process of generating something original: providing an
alternative to the expected, the conventional or the routine’.
(Robinson, Kenneth ‘All Our Futures’ (The Arts Council, London,
Using the imagination involves being playful. It may be serious in
intent. A child creating may well be concentrating fiercely but it is
still play. In recent evaluations of my own teaching by year 5 children,
many of them reported that the poetry lessons had been ‘fun’. But I do
not recall much laughter. In fact most of the time we were working
with serious intent. But of course, much of the writing involved
playing with words and ideas in order to create something worthwhile
rather than regurgitating what we already know. The imagination is
about generative thought – bringing something new into being. For
this to happen, the mind has to abandon its dull routines and be open
to new connections, analogies and relationships between ideas and
language. This leads to the highest forms of expression. Without such
playfulness, writing will be merely imitative of what has happened
before. So too will thought.
Possible list of playful poem ideas.
 In this magical bag I found….
 I dreamed…
 In the clouds I saw…
 Listen, can you hear…?
 Come with me to an impossible world
 Through the window I saw…
 In the crystal ball I saw…
 In a girl’s/boy’s head is….
 Trapped inside the marble is….
 I wish I was/could/had…
 It is a secret but I saw….
 Through the door is….
 On the journey, I heard….
4. Detailed Recreation of Closely
Observed Experience.
Noticing lies at the heart of good writing because concrete detail
brings writing alive and makes it sound real. Most children have to be
trained to look carefully at experiences, to notice details and respond
with all their senses and feelings. This sort of writing helps us see the
world more clearly and more appreciatively. The idea of closely
observing experience is a key writing strand in the poetry progression.
The words we use do not have to be ‘fancy’ - but they have to be
chosen with care. The point is to make the experience actually happen
for the reader. The language recreates the experience so that the reader
sees and hears what is happening. This is what writers call ‘show’ and
not ‘tell’. As Ted Hughes suggested, the words that we need are
rooted in the senses. They are words that have a sensual quality and
bring the subject alive. Words which we feel (greasy, oily), we hear
(click, hiss) and see (freckled, veined) help to recreate the experience.
The conditions needed are for the writer to observe (or to imagine),
write with fierce concentration without stopping, not to worry about
the words (till after you have finished). In fact, many children’s shortburst poetic writing needs little revision. When they have been taught
well, the poems may arrive virtually complete – almost as if they had
already been written! Revision has to be taught. It is a matter of
‘readerly’ judgement – holding your writing up against the inner
yardstick – which is based on the reading of good poems.
It is worth spending time seeking out objects or pieces of art or images
that can be used as starting points for writing. Here is a list of
 observing an experience - leaf skeletons, a spider’s web, a
pomegranate sliced in half;
 objects/collections – tree bark, hands, candles, buttons, ties,
photos, feathers;
 locations – old buildings, woods, alleyway, sea front, building
 unusual objects – back of a broken tv set, a ship-in-a-bottle;
 art – drawing before writing, postcards/posters of paintings,
music, sculptures, film clips, photos, dance;
 seasons and weather – thunder, storms, rain, snow, frost, dew;
 relationships – things mum says, my teacher is…, friends,
 memories – secret places, details, strange events, old dreams,
things I used to do;
 feelings –anger, sadness, elation, memorable incidents;
 a recalled common experience – bonfire night, dark in my room.
 Cross curriculum – poems can be written in science, history, art,
geography to enhance and explore the world.
Young children need to have the experience right in front of them.
This involves bringing objects into the classroom or taking children
out. The teacher then draws their attention to the object under
scrutiny, words and ideas are discussed and generated that form the
basis of writing.
Senses list poem.
Begin by writing simple list poems based on the senses. Generate a
class word bank together for the senses. Use headings for the senses
and then list ideas under each heading. What do you like to taste –
what tastes do you not like, etc. Some of these ideas could be turned
into simple poetic sentences, e.g.
I want to taste the sharp tang of lemon.
I want to taste the sizzle of bacon…
Make sure that children use detail and ‘name it’ – in other words, use
‘Siamese’ rather than ‘cat’. Beware of lazy adjectives that tell the
reader nothing new (red letterbox) but use something new (rusty
letterbox) or unexpected.
Begin by looking closely and brainstorming words and ideas. Make a
large collection. Then work with the children to produce a simple
piece of descriptive free verse. A typical shared piece might look like
Like a crab,
My hand scuttles along.
Ridged like a stumble of hills,
it spreads out fingers
or clenches into a tight fist.
Etched with lines,
like a fan of veins,
my palm is the road map to my future.
Fingernails curve,
ready to scrape and scratch.
Thumbs up a hand shake –
or a threat!
My hands speak for me.
When writing in this vein, we draw upon both the experience and our
selves. Once the teacher has helped the children learn how to look
carefully at an experience and use words to bring that experience alive
(by using words that touch and taste and smell, words that you can
hear, that recreate the experience) – then the children can capture any
experience they wish.
In the same way, Ted Hughes carried a notebook with him when
working on his farm in Devon, recording events as they happened,
learning how to stare intently in order to see the truth of what was
happening, ‘to make a fleeting snapshot…of a precious bit of my
life…’. In the introduction to Moortown Diary (Faber 1989) Hughes
noted that ‘if I wish to look closely I find I can move closer, if I phrase
my observations about it in rough lines.’ He notes that this form of on
the spot free verse that requires his ‘watching eye’ also helps him ‘see
quite clearly’ when trying to recall events; ‘the process of memory,
the poetic process’ of transforming and preserving experience. He
refers to the poems as his ‘surviving voice-track of one of my days, a
moment in my life that I did not want to lose’. In this sense, the writing
is also about preserving and making more of our own history.
In the same way, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ notebooks show how he
absorbed experience, filtering through his mind a stream of words and
images to attempt to capture what he was looking at – to get inside its
skin, to know its true self. In the classroom, the teacher may provide
the focus (say – a candle), train children how to observe, calling on
the senses but also must train the children how to brainstorm words
and ideas - how to generate language rapidly firing out possibilities.
And finally, there is process of selecting what Coleridge described as,
‘the best words in the best order’ – ‘fishing’ for the right word. For
that to work, the words have to be well chosen. Here is Hopkins
limbering up, an attempt to capture an essence, staring at raindrops:
Drops of rain hanging on rails…. Blunt buds of the ash. Pencil buds
of the beach. Lobes of the trees. Cups of the eyes. Gathering back the
lightly hinged eyeballs. Bows of the eyelids, pencil of eyelashes….
Eyelids like leaves, petals, caps, tufted hats, handkerchiefs, sleeves,
gloves. Also of the bones sleeved in flesh. Juices of the sunrise….
It is worth adding that when children are selecting words and ideas, it
is their reading that assists them. Their reading of poetry then
becomes the yardstick for knowing what works and what does not. As
one child said, ‘you have to have something to hold it up against’. The
reading of good writing helps them make a judgement when
composing. Their reading becomes their internal critic – reading
polices writing!
Writing ‘on location’.
Select one thing that makes a powerful focus and as a group
brainstorm – draw their attention to detail and using the senses – ask
them ‘what does it look like… what does it remind you of….?’. When
looking at something (say, a cow), it can help to jot down the main
things that you can see down the centre of the page – horns, eyes,
tongue, jaws, teeth, saliva, flanks, hooves, tail. Then begin to build
your poem by adding words either side of each thing – adjectives/
verbs, etc
Then add in words:
Tasselled tail swishes
What does it look like:
Tasselled tail swishes like a bell pull
Then on a flip chart show them how to take the brainstorm ideas and
craft them into a simple, descriptive free verse poem, e.g.
The cow snorts and snuffles,
rubbing her heaving flanks against the railing.
Her horns jut out of her skull
like a Viking helmet,
like handle bars on a lunar monster.
Eyes bulge,
staring like glassy marbles.
Spittle drips from her jaws
as she grinds her teeth,
chewing over
the passing day…..
Add powerful language and use a dash of poetic technique. Keep
going back to the experience – revisiting it in your mind. Of course,
location writing is helped if you use a camera to capture key images
that the class can use for their writing.
Memory Boxes.
Michael Rosen is the key poet for writing about real family events and
memories – he has the unnerving knack of remembering or noticing
the exact details that are particular to his experience but also generally
true for all of us. Memory is a primary source for many writers –
especially in fiction. Of course, memory is based on observation. You
have to have noticed in the first place!
Ask children to bring in memory boxes. These could be real or
imagined. Discuss and list memories – they do not have to be
dramatic. Start talking about memories around people, places and
events. Show children how to make notes and turn these into simple
memory poems. Use a list poem pattern, e.g.
I remember watching the bus wobble down King Street.
I remember watching the silver glint of fish in the stream.
I remember listening to the grumble of late night television.
I remember listening to early traffic complaining on the hill outside.
5. Children writing their own
These two strands – the detailed recreation of experience and
playful invention - will often come together in the best writing where
new word combinations or arresting imagery reveals a fresh way of
looking at the world. Both strands have something to say about the
writer themselves and their own vision of the world. Poetry is born out
of wrestling our selves and our deeply felt experiences into language.
All of this hoo-ha leads us on to the purpose of poetry – equipping
children with a language to capture experience for their own ends. I
remember taking a class of children to look for the source of a river in
some woods in East Sussex. Chris paused at one point and said,
‘Perhaps we should write a poem about this.’ We all paused and
listened to the wind in the trees, looked at the rusty autumn colours,
felt the trees pressing in…. it was the moment I had been waiting for.
Only matched by the poem a child wrote in Canterbury cathedral crypt
about another lad who was in hospital on a life support machine. Two
great examples of humans reaching for poetic language to capture a
special moment, to celebrate and try to understand what is happening.
Opportunities for reflective writing chosen by the child should be
there within the curriculum. Sometimes it leads to the most powerful
writing because it comes from the child’s own needs.
6. Taking Account of Children’s
Views of Teaching and Learning.
Taking an interest in children’s views on teaching and learning is
generally instructive. It reveals much about our teaching and tells us
something about what the children feel they are learning. In summer
2007, I carried out a series of 21 poetry sessions with year 5 children.
I asked the children to make notes for me on what they had found
useful in my teaching, what had hindered their learning – as well as
what they felt they had developed or learned as a result of the lessons.
The teachers also provided me with feedback on what they had
noticed. So what did I learn? The key points were:
Shared writing was found useful by most children as a precursor to
writing (‘it shows you what you’ve got to do’) – this included the
brainstorm, listing words, staging writing and scaffolding; a few
children felt that having to stick to a pattern was restrictive;
Many liked being shown simple patterns that they could hang their
ideas upon and teachers commented on the way in which I ‘sneaked
in’ techniques so that techniques were taught in ‘isolation’ but then
constantly applied;
Most children commented on the importance of a variety of
interesting stimuli – bringing in objects, using photos and art work,
using good poetry models, and working from Shakespeare; children
commented on how it was hard to write without a focus;
Nearly everyone commented on different ways in which they were
engaged in the sessions – this involved aspects such as ‘explaining’
things, interesting ideas, a brisk pace/vigour, working in silence,
challenging/ ‘testing’ words and ideas, giving time to think, giving
time to talk, letting everyone speak, valuing everyone’s ideas;
One interesting aspect was that most children mentioned that the
sessions had been ‘fun’. This is an interesting word because I don’t
think we laughed much! It was all quite intensive and serious – but it
felt like fun because it was satisfying. Recent research suggests that
many children in England do not enjoy reading as much as their
international counterparts. I wonder what the figure for writing would
be like because my experience is that the larger majority of children
do not enjoy writing! I wonder whether the short-burst nature of
poetic writing meant that something satisfying and creative could be
achieved relatively quickly – allowing for success for all.
How articulate children are about their writing is a reflection of how
articulate we are as teachers about writing.
Children As Writers.
The ‘Writing Poetry’ flyer offered children advice on the writing
process – which suggests the sorts of classroom conditions in which
writing flourishes:
Getting started
 Keep a poetry-writing journal – jot down ideas for poems, things
you notice, details, words, similes, things people say.
 Listen to your feelings, thoughts and dreams.
 Write inside or outside – use your senses to listen, touch, smell,
taste, look and wonder.
 Write about the following:
 pictures, photos, posters, film, sculptures
 intriguing objects, collections, places, creatures, people,
moments and events
 secrets, wishes, lies and dreams
 pretend to talk with and to people, places, objects, creatures
(Tyger, Tyger burning bright), both real and imaginary
 write about your obsessions – what you feel passionately about,
dream about, hate
 use memories of special moments.
 Write in different voices – as yourself or something else.
 Have a clear focus for writing. Do not be vague.
 Begin with what you know. What is true, not true but might be and
things which could never be true.
 Be outrageous, boast, plead, imagine, joke.
Before writing
 Look carefully at your subject. Make notes of the details.
 Become a word searcher. Before writing get used to
brainstorming, listing, jotting ideas and words, whispering ideas in
your mind.
Writing your Poem.
Settle in a comfortable place to write.
Work from the brainstorm, selecting and discarding.
Use your writing journal, a thesaurus, a rhyming dictionary.
Write on every other line to give yourself space to add in new ideas
and make changes.
Sift words and select the best from your mind. The first choice is
not always the best choice.
When you write don’t get distracted – concentrate hard on your
Write quickly so that the poem flows – you can edit it later.
The first draft may look messy as you try out words and ideas.
Poems can be built up, adding a brick at a time, piling up images
and ideas.
Poems can be like jigsaws – moving pieces around to get the best
Go for quality not quantity.
Avoid overwriting – especially using too many adjectives or
Keep re-reading as you write. Mutter different possibilities to
yourself and listen to how your poem sounds. Look at the poem’s
Don’t be afraid to take risks, try unusual ideas and words – poetry
is about inventing.
Take a new line at a natural pause, or to give emphasis, or to
maintain a particular poetic form.
Create strong pictures by using similes, metaphors and
Create memorable sounds by using repetition for effect,
alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhythm and rhyme.
Create powerful poems by choosing precise nouns. (Rottweiler not
dog) and powerful verbs (mutter not talk) and words that do not
obviously go together so that you surprise the reader, e.g. Not the
old lady hobbled down the road but try the old lady jogged!
After Writing
Read your poem aloud and listen to how it sounds. Often you will
immediately notice places where it might be improved.
Read your poem to a partner, poetry circle or the whole class –
listen to their response and then take the time to work on it.
Be a good response partner – read through, or listen to the writer,
read their poem. Always tell the writer what you liked first. Discuss
any concerns the writer may have. Make a few positive
Poetry is about celebration and enjoyment. Here are some ways to
spread your poems around:
 perform to the class, other classes, the school
 make a poetry programme or video
 e-mail or fax poems to other schools or put poems on the school
 publish in class anthologies, scrapbooks, homemade books, on
poetry display boards
 hold a poetry party performance, or make picturebook poems, for
a younger class
 illustrate and create poetry posters
 hold a poem swap
 send poems to magazines, newspapers, literary websites, radio and
Final words.
Over the years, I have constantly been trying to capture what leads to
helping children write powerfully. It is partly the richness of regular
reading, the modelling of writing, showing an interest and valuing the
children’s ideas, the relentless challenge, but also that creative
ingredient that stops the classroom from being an ordinary place and
turns it into the most serious of games; a time when we are no longer
teacher and pupils but all briefly suspended in a moment when our
minds are liberated to enter a place beyond fear of failing; a new
world where words and images stalk out of nowhere and we wander
into a territory where we become truly intelligent and our
imaginations stalk the earth.
Perhaps it is that final ingredient that can never be described – how
the spell is cast, how the mind enters a new zone and suddenly the
writing flows….. that tension between discipline and creation where
the reading meets the writing and the writer. A poem is a journey
which the reader and writer share, where the reader peeks into part of
the writer’s imagination and in doing so part of their own inner world.
And why should all this matter? Well, in a poem you have to care for
each word and words are so closely linked to our thinking and being
that when we care for the words, we care for the child. A poem says –
hello world, this is me and this is my life and my imagination and this
is what I experienced. Poems are little distillations of humanity and
should be cherished.
The original ‘Writing Poetry’ flyer listed a few principles to guide
 Provide a clear focus – usually based on first-hand experiences
that interest/intrigue.
 Teach skills of observing the details of experiences, brainstorming
and revising.
 Before pupils write, read quality examples to inspire.
 Demonstrate writing class poems.
 Encourage surprising word combinations.
 When responding, identify aspects to improve – focus on word
choices and the poem’s impact.
 Establish response partners – read drafts aloud to hear the effect.
 Value and respect creativity.
 Provide audiences for the children’s writing, e.g. classroom
scrapbooks, taped performances.
Pie Corbett.
Col listened to the silence, grabbed by a peace that made the
day seem even brighter. “At last,” he said aloud, watching the
rushes drift by as he rested the paddle.
Miss Jenkins gripped the wheel. ‘Matty,’ she said, shaking
her bubbly blonde hair towards the passenger in the front
seat, ‘I need to know that you will try.’
His name was Toy Jubilee and he was the largest person that
I had ever met. My Grandfather had warned me not to hang
around with Toy but that made it even more tempting. “They
think they’re better than us,” he said, smiling benignly. But I
knew better.
Reading as a Writer – the blueprint.
Identify the underlying pattern in ‘Humpty Dumpty’, ‘The Three
Bears’ and ‘Little Miss Muffett’.
Night Adventure.
The sun slipped behind the distant hills, painting the
mountains red and black. Shadows lengthened, deepening
the darkness. Wind hissed through the grass as if
whispering a last secret.
Wearily, Tom and Jez picked up their fishing gear. It was
late and they knew that they would be in trouble. But
holidays only came once a year and they were just a mile
from the cottage where they were staying. “Come on,”
mumbled Jez, picking up his rod and turning to go.
At that moment, the boys paused. From somewhere
overhead they heard a low whirring sound. Half a mile
away, a glowing light appeared above the forest. It hovered,
spilling threads of brilliant light into the dark trees. The
boys turned to stare at each other and, without thinking,
ran helter-skelter straight towards the forest.
But it was dark and quite silent. As they neared the lights,
they tiptoed, peering through the branches. Tugging them
deeper and deeper into the forest, the strange lights shone
down like silvery ropes.
Without warning, there was a rush of roaring wind that tore
at the trees. Then the lights disappeared. There was silence.
It was quite dark and the boys knew that they were
hopelessly lost!
“It’s no good standing here. If we walk in a straight line,
we’ll soon be out,” whispered Jez, tugging at his brother’s
sleeve. Tom followed his older brother but he kept thinking
that he could hear something moving nearby. Something
heavy, a dark shape lumbering along. At that moment, it
Now read as a writer for the effect created in a
WHAT is the effect – and HOW has it been created?
A door banged. Claire jumped. What was that? It wasn’t Mr
Jakes because she could hear him whistling at the other end
of the playground. Out of the silence, she heard steps.
Somebody was coming closer. Somebody or something was
coming down the corridor. Nearer. She stood still, so still that
even the tables and chairs froze with her. Carefully, she
peered round the edge of the door. A shadow slipped, quick
as a knife, into the next room. Claire clenched her fist around
the pen, her heart racing.
Shaz blew on her hands to keep them warm. She
stared up the street and stamped her feet
impatiently, hoping that the bus would not be too
long. Already the road was getting darker and the
shadows lengthening. Shaz glanced at her watch – it
was late! At that moment she heard a noise from the
behind the shelter. Something was scratching,
scraping on the back wall. Shaz froze. Her mind
raced. What could it be? Anxiously, she peered up
the street again, just in time to see a figure running
towards her….
Coral Ocean stood on the edge of the playground and
waited. No one came near. All the other kids seemed to be
absorbed in their own games. She gazed out through the
railings and pretended to notice something interesting in
the distance. Blinking back tears, she roughly rubbed her
eyes and hoped that no one would notice.
“What’s up?” A tall boy had come across and stood
bouncing a tennis ball against the wall.
“Clear off,” snapped Coral, turning away from him.
And that is that, thought Coral as she made she way back
home. Karl was still bouncing his ball by the school wall.
As she passed by, he waved to her. Coral grinned.
Kezzie stared round the shed. A fly crawled up the dusty
windowpane, cobwebs hung from the rafters and a broken
chair lay beside a pile of rotting carpets. The air smelled
musty. From the back of the room, where it was quite dark,
something scuttled. But she had not got time to worry about
that. Kezzie ducked down behind a large box, held her
breath and waited…
Usually Zennnor enjoyed visiting the
glass city. “Personally, I have no
intention of going anywhere,” muttered
the genie, dropping another sugar beetle
into her mouth.
Zennor stared in fascination as the genie
chewed thoughtfully. They waited while a
wizard’s cart trundled by. “But the
Princess…,” Zennor hissed, anxiously
folding the telescope’s frail wings.
The Canal.
“Now, I do not want you two playing down by the old canal.
You know it’s dangerous,” said Mrs Mac, digging her hands
deep into the washing up bowl. Tom and Tiree nodded as if
they understood.
Ten minutes later, they reached the old canal. Cautiously,
they peered in. The water was still, black and deep. Although
it looked dangerous, Tom grinned at his brother. He took the
rope swing that dangled from an overhanging branch and
leaped out over the canal. He swung backwards and forwards
whooping like a siren. Although Tiree was laughing, inside
his heart was thudding. He knew that he would have to swing
over the canal next.
“Are you scared, Tiree?” asked Tom, staring at him. Tiree
did not want his friend to think that he was a coward so he
ran back, leapt out and sailed across the canal, skimming the
water with his heels. But half way over, the rope snapped.
Tiree crashed down into the water. Tom gasped because he
knew that Tiree could not swim!
Desperately, Tom leapt in. At first, he could see nothing –
just darkness and weed tangling his feet. Then he saw red! It
was Tiree’s hoodie. Frantically, Tom grabbed it and tugged
Tiree to the side. Tiree lay on the bank gasping and wheezing
like an old man.
Twenty minutes later, they were standing in Mrs Mac’s
kitchen. They had to explain what had happened and Mrs
Mac grounded them for a week! After all, she had warned
them often enough. The canal was dangerous. They had been
The Door.
Marty ran past the bike sheds, round the corner and onto the school
allotment. He could just hear the other boys running after him.
Blinking back his tears, Marty dashed towards the rickety, allotment
shed. He opened the door and stepped in. It seemed like a good place
to hide.
At first, he saw the wooden bench with cobwebs dangling down and
dust settling. But then…. as the door closed behind him, he found that
he was standing in a brightly lit room. High above him yellow parrots
flew round stone pillars and on the floor was a scarlet carpet. In front
of him stood a boy of about his age, dressed in a long cloak. Wherever
he was, Marty knew that was no longer in the allotment shed!
“Quick,” yelled the boy, grabbing Marty by the arm. The two of them
ran down the great hall and dived under a wooden table. Something
was moving towards them. Marty could hear its feet thudding like
drumbeats. To his horror, an enormous, green dragon appeared. Its
tongue flickered and smoke billowed from its slimy nostrils. “Stare it
down,” hissed the other boy. “It’s a coward!”
A moment later, Marty found himself standing in front of the mighty
beast, staring into its eyes. He glared deep into the dragon’s gaze with
the fierceness and fury of fire but his legs were trembling. However, it
only took a few seconds before the dragon blinked, turned and
scuttled away. Marty and the boy chased after it, shouting with joy at
their triumph.
As Marty dashed through the great hall doorway, he stumbled and
found himself…. back on the allotment. The gang was standing right
in front of him, still shouting. Marty halted. He stood upright and
fixed them with a glare. It was a glare that had only recently halted a
dragon. It took a few seconds before the other boys stepped back,
turned and ran. Behind them, they could hear Marty laughing….
Pie Corbett.
Non Fiction
Brief report on Southampton Research Project.
Talking non-fiction has been explored now by many schools as a
process for helping children improve their non-fiction writing. I am
especially grateful to colleagues in Southampton who have been
working on developing this process over the last year. They have
found that enhancing non-fiction reading with ‘talking the text’ is a
powerful tool for helping children internalise the language patterns
that they will need when they come to write. Talk is also helpful for
generating and developing ideas. Before writing, it is useful if
children begin to shift the talk so that they actually start to orally
rehearse the sort of thing that they will write. At this stage, response
from classmates helps them to develop points and enrich their writing.
Finally, shared writing provides another key point for discussing what
needs to be done to make writing powerful.
Those involved in the Southampton project have seen improvements
in children’s writing and attitudes to writing. Some had initial
concerns that learning a text by heart might stultify creativity. Hannah
Looker (year 1 teacher), from Glenfield Infants School, wrote:
‘My one concern was that most of the children’s writing was exactly
the same and I was worried about aspects of rote learning. This made
me wonder whether we were stifling creativity. I felt very much that
we had succeeded at internalising the text and imitating it and my next
step was to see if the children could innovate when writing their
instructions. This is why I decided to let the children choose a set of
instructions to write. They chose from, ‘how to trap a bear’, ‘how to
be a princess’, or ‘how to steal treasure from a dragon’. The results of
these instructions showed that children had definitely internalised the
features of instructions as many children included all the correct
features or had more features than they did with their independent
writing at the beginning of the project. ….the ‘talk write’ process had
equipped children with the tools they needed to write a good set of
instructions and as a result, they rose to the challenge of writing with
their own ideas and creativity…..My initial worries over stifling
creativity were dismissed when I saw the creative instruction writing
at the end of the process.’
The point about becoming familiar with the text type is not so much
for it to be ‘rote learned’ or ‘memorised’ but for the child to have
spoken and played with the language so much that the patterns
become increasingly familiar and eventually embedded into their
linguistic competence. Attentive reading and chanting the text gets us
so far – but the teacher has to set up other situations where the
patterns will be heard and used and innovated upon so that the
children become very comfortable with using them. That is why we
talk about ‘internalising’ language patterns rather than ‘learning’
Generally, the project has shown improvements in children’s writing –
not just at the end of a unit but also in some cases over a month later
on. Typically:
children write at more length, developing ideas;
there is improved overall structure using paragraphs;
a variety of appropriate sentence structures are used;
a wider vocabulary;
improved spelling and often handwriting;
improved attitude.
In some classes children’s writing improved by a sub level within a
few weeks. A typical example would be a below average year 3 boy
from Moorlands Primary School. In the initial ‘writing perceptions’
survey he ranked writing as the least enjoyable on a scale of one to ten
because ‘it is not fun’. When asked what is hard about writing, he
responds, ‘I am not good at writing’. In response to ‘are you a good
writer? How do you know? He wrote, ‘No because I am not good at
sbeling’. Three weeks later, he ranks writing as the most enjoyable
with a score of ten because ‘it is cool’. When asked what is hard about
writing, he writes, ‘nufing’. In response to ‘are you a good writer?
How do you know? He writes with bold affirmation, ‘yes’.
His initial sample of writing is a report about an animal – he chooses a
hamster. This is with no teaching. He writes:
Hasds are riley sofd. Thay slep in the day. They hav shap tef. They
sutums clum up and down. They eaten us and druy bnuns.
After the unit he writes a report about a lion.
A lion is a type of cat with a lonig taol.
They all look the same. They have a bodey of a cat and long her. Most
lions are yellow.
Lions usually live in loing grass. In hot cutres like Africa and Asia.
They eat all sizes of animals and sometimes kill cubs.
If you want to see a lion you could sday buy loing grass where there
are lions foot pris.
When lions walk their heels don’t touch the ground. They can run at
speed of 30 miles an hour. The males roar and can be heard over five
miles away. Males eat first.
The most amazing thing a bault lion is that they are Excellent
This second piece demonstrates the influence of powerful teaching.
Not only has he learned much interesting information about lions but
also can structure his writing more logically and has adopted many
sentence features typical of a more mature writer of non-fiction.
A unicorn is a type of horse with a horn.
Most unicorns look the same. They have the body of a horse and a
long horn. This sticks out from the middle of its head. The horn has
a sharp point and is usually a spiral shape. Most unicorns are a pure
white. However, some red and black unicorns have been seen.
Unicorns usually live in forests. However, they are very shy and
like to hide in the trees so that they cannot be seen. In the daytime,
they keep well hidden but as the sun goes down and at dawn, they
move around.
Unicorns mainly feed on grass and drink water. If you want to see a
unicorn, you could hide by a pool where you have seen a unicorn’s
hoof-prints! You can also feed unicorns with apples and carrots.
Some unicorns like to search the woods for nuts and tasty roots.
Unicorns are best known for the magic contained in their horns. If
you meet a unicorn, it will probably tell you that it is the last one
left on earth. Hopefully, this will not be true!
The most amazing thing about unicorns is that they are very rare. If
you meet one it could bring you great luck.
After one unit using this approach, the teachers commented on:
children’s enjoyment in the active approach;
the importance of using actions to make language memorable;
10 minute bursts every so often are fine;
big display is needed to show washing line;
older children can teach each other sections of a text in groups;
show them the written version maybe in the second week;
the process helps to make the children more articulate about
their writing, ‘I put that in to make it more interesting for the
reader’ (year 1);
use lines to show sections/paragraphs – they can begin this in
year 1 or 2;
it helps to read some and ‘talk’ some;
minimum of 3 weeks for a unit;
use prewriting assessments to set teaching and individual
Teachers felt that they had learned much about helping children
through the first stage of internalising a text. The next steps which the
teachers have now been developing over the last term and a half are:
 develop innovation;
 take the children from the plan into ‘talking the text’, orally
 move from ‘talking the text’ into shared and independent
Teaching Non-fiction in literacy – what to
write about?
We write best about what we know and what matters.
 From the curriculum, e.g. why the Eygptians built
 Linked to story, e.g. interview with woodcutter
leading to a newspaper report.
 Something real that children find interesting, e.g.
the local environment, are sharks really dangerous?
 Imaginative, e.g. a dragon hunter’s guide.
Non- Fiction around a story, e.g. Little Red Riding Hood.
Recounts: newspaper reports about the incident, hot seating of characters, diary
entries and letters by characters.
Instructions: how to trap a wolf.
Reports: Wolves – the truth!
Explanations: How a wolf trap works.
Persuasion: Persuade the police to release the wolf – he wasn’t such a bad guy
after all. Adverts for wolf traps, invisible cloaks and Granny machines.
Discussions: Should the wolf be set free?
An imaginative stimulus, e.g. The Dragon Hunter’s Guide.
Recounts: hot seating someone who saw a dragon; diary or letter, news report or
tv interview – my meeting with a dragon.
Instructions: how to trap a dragon, how to tame a dragon, how to keep a dragon
as a pet, how to find a dragon.
Reports: Different types of dragon.
Explanations: How a dragon trap works.
Persuasion: Persuade a dragon to leave the area. Advertise for a dragon hunter.
Include also – Map of local area, letters, notices, adverts, dragon passport etc.
Check out which has some video clips etc.
Where do you revisit to apply and consolidate
Select topics that will interest children.
Identify places where what has been
learned in literacy can be taught and
applied – orally or in writing:
 Report writing.
 Instructions.
 Recounts, e.g. newspaper reports,
biography, autobiography
 Discussion/argument.
 Explanations.
 Persuasive writing.
Stage 1 Imitation.
Stage 2 Innovation. Stage 3 Invention.
Read and talk the
All write the same
All write a different
a. The class get to know the
chosen text type really well
so that they internalise the
language patterns. For
instance, they might be
working with a report about
b. This can be done by
‘talking the text’ (chanting
the text) or through drama,
e.g. interviewing an expert
on badgers.
c. This can also be done by
reading and revisiting the
text on many occasions.
d. Ideally, children should
both read and ‘talk’ the text.
e. The text is explored
through comprehension,
drama and other activities.
f. The class will also need to
‘read as writers’ in order to
work out the underlying
structure as well as key
language patterns that the
writer has used to create
different effects.
g. It can also help to work
with a number of examples
of the text type.
a. Having become familiar
with the text type, the
children are ready to move
into writing.
b. Select a topic that will
interest the children, e.g. a
report on ‘Foxes’.
c. Use the underlying
structure as a plan, gather
information and ideas – and
put these in the appropriate
place on the plan.
d. The children help the
teacher develop the class
plan – simultaneously
making notes on their own.
e. Use the class plan to orally
rehearse sections – children
orally rehearse their own.
f. Use shared writing - with
the children helping to
create a class version about
‘Foxes’ – key going back to
the original to capture the
‘tune’ of the text.
g. Children then write their
own version about ‘Foxes’ –
adding extra information
and flavour.
h. Teacher assesses
children’s writing and
a. In this final stage, the teacher
uses assessment to focus the
b. Everyone chooses their own
topic – the class version might
be about ‘Bats’ but all the
children choose their own
creature (or work in pairs or
groups to gather information on
the same animal).
c. The teacher creates a class
plan, reminding children about
any specific issues to do with
planning – children create their
own plans.
d. Shared and guided writing
(about the class topic of ‘Bats’)
are used to focus attention on
what children need to do in
order to make progress.
e. Children write their own
pieces about ‘cats’, ‘owls’, etc.
f. The class writing about ‘Bats’
can be used to teach editing and
revision, considering the impact
of the composition.
g. Sometimes, everyone will be
writing about a similar topic,
e.g. the Romans. There may be
choice within this, e.g. food,
daily life, etc.
h. This stage is about increased
This is underpinned by
daily reading of the text
type, plus daily spelling,
sentence and text games.
Focus games on what needs
to be practised.
Session 1 – Instructions.
Stage 1
Introduce in an imaginative way – perhaps using a news
bulletin that announces the arrival of a marauding dragon to
the area, images of dragons, video clips from a film or by
going out for a dragon walk in role as dragon hunters.
Hot seat a local character who claims to have seen a dragon.
List what the dragon has been doing.
In pairs – discuss ideas for trapping the dragon – share ideas.
In role, teacher plays ‘Minister for Disruptive Dragons’ –
children in role as locals, attend a meeting where the minister
tells them how to trap a dragon.
Children then learn the set of instructions, using a washing
In pairs children interview each other in role as dragon
trappers, reusing what they have learned from the text type.
News arrives that an ogre has appeared and a new set of
instructions is needed.
The class now read the version on screen, labelling the
overall structure and raiding the language features.
Stage 2
The class work in pairs to come up with ideas for trapping the
ogre – these are shared and listed.
One method is selected, the washing line is used to create a
new version.
The class talk the new version.
Shared writing is used to write the new version.
Children could design their own versions, creating posters for
their instructions to be pinned up round the area.
Teacher ‘marks’ children’s writing and uses this to set targets
for teaching and learning.
Stage 3.
Make a list of other possible mythical creatures that might
maraud the local area.
Teacher demonstrates using the washing line to create the
class one – say ‘How to capture a house goblin?’ –
demonstrating jotting in ideas.
Children do the same for their own creature.
Teacher leads shared writing, turning the class one into a
written set of instructions – using assessment to highlight any
key aspects that need teaching to secure progress.
Guided writing is used to teach specific groups.
Children write their own.
Session 2 – Non-chronological Report.
Stage 1.
The class are in role as dragon hunters. Find an interesting
way to begin perhaps using images, video clips, on line
resources, or by finding evidence of dragons in the area!
A dragon has been sighted in the area. It is a frost dragon. To
find out more about this dragon the class read a report.
To become experts, they
a. learn the report orally, using a map and actions;
b. investigate each paragraph to help the children
internalise the patterns, e.g.
Paragraph content.
What it is – definition.
What it looks like – description.
Imitate orally or on mini whiteboards.
Label a drawing. In role, interview dragon
Read carefully, draw a map, label and
then use to retell.
In pairs, hold a mini debate in which one
person claims the dragons are dangerous
and the other claims it is not.
Invent other ‘most interesting things’
about dragons – add on extra information.
Where does it live – habitat.
What does it eat – lifestyle.
The most interesting fact – ending.
You could finish this section with the children work in
groups of 5 to present information about a Frost Dragon
using what they now know. Listen to the different group
presentation or capture on digital blue.
Stage 2.
The dragon experts have been invited to add to the new
edition of the ‘Dragon Hunter’s Guide Book to Dragons of
the English Islands’.
The ‘grand master’ (teacher in role) will help everyone by
showing them how to create their entry.
Use the paragraph grid to create a frame for each section of
the guide. The class could discuss any extra possible sections,
e.g. a ‘did you know?’ box, points of extra interest, etc.
As a class, invent a new dragon – fill details into the grid,
section by section and use shared writing to write an entry
with the class helping.
Everyone writes their own version using the information and
adding any extra sections or ideas.
The teacher/grand master reviews their entries and provides
Stage 3.
The grand master takes everyone through the process,
bearing in mind the assessment and focussing on areas that
might be problematic.
A class grid is developed, completed and used for shared
At the same time the children complete their own newly
invented dragon, thinking about how whether extra sections
are needed. Ideas can be discussed in pairs, etc.
Children might also extend this further by writing reports
about other mythical creatures such as unicorns, orcs,
Cyclops, phoenix, etc.
Session 3 – Discussion /argument.
This approach varies because it does not work
directly from a model. The children start by
organising the information and creating their own
Stage 2.
The class work as ‘time detectives’ gathering evidence and
facts about a new topic such as ‘The Great Fire of London’.
The investigations is into ‘why the GFOL destroyed so much
of London?’
Children sort the information discarding irrelevant facts.
Then they put the information into ‘clumps’ and decide on
headings for each clump. These will become their
paragraphs. They orally rehearse each section.
Shared writing is used to turn sections into writing.
Provide new information for them to add to their ‘clumps’ or
add new ‘clumps’. They then write their own versions.
Stage 3.
Children use this approach in history or other curriculum
areas, working in role as detectives to explain ‘how’ or why’
something has happened.
Our Trip to the Fire Station.
Last week, we all went to the Fire Station.
First, we saw the fire engines. They were bright red.
Next, we saw a fireman put out a huge bonfire.
After that, the chief answered our questions. We found
out two interesting facts.
1. Girls can be fire fighters.
2. Fire fighters have to rescue cats from trees.
Finally, we all went back to school. It was a great day.
How to Trap a Dragon
Are you kept awake at night by the sound of dragons
tramping through the garden. If so, do not despair.
Help is at hand. Dragons are not so hard to defeat as
they are rather silly creatures. Read these instructions
and soon you too will be rid of this terrible pest.
What you need: a spade, a brown sheet, some leaves
and sticks and a large lump of meat.
What you do.
First, dig a deep pit.
Next cover the pit with a brown sheet.
After that, scatter on the leaves and sticks.
Finally place the large lump of meat on top.
Now tiptoe behind a tree and wait.
In the end, the dragon will not be able to resist the
temptation and will therefore fall into the pit.
A final note of warning.
An angry dragon can be a fearsome sight so keep your
pet house goblin inside.
How to Trap an Ogre
Are you kept awake by the sound of ogres tramping through your garden? Do
you lie in your bed trembling at the sound of another car being squashed? Do
you awake to smashed walls and footprints in the flower beds? Do you live in
fear of what might await you round the corner? Do your knees knock at the
thought of a walk to the corner shop? If so, the likelihood is that you have an
Ogre in the neighbourhood!
Do not despair. Help is at hand. Ogres are not so hard to defeat, as they are rather
dim-witted. Read these step-by-step instructions and soon you too could be rid of
this terrible pest.
What you will need: a spade, a brown sheet, tent pegs, a sack of leaves, some
branches, plenty of soil, a large lump of meat.
What you have to do:
First, you must dig a very large and deep hole. This needs to be
deep enough to hold the Ogre.
Secondly, you must cover the hole with a brown sheet that is
pinned securely by tent pegs into the earth.
After that, scatter leaves, a few branches and enough soil on top
of the sheet to cover it.
Now you have to tempt your Ogre by placing a large lump of
meat on top of the sheet.
Hide nearby and wait.
Soon the tempting smell of the meat will reach the Ogre’s nose.
Eventually, the Ogre will come along and try to get the meat.
In the end it will not be able to resist the food and therefore will
fall straight into the pit.
Important note
An angry Ogre can be a frightening sight, so keep all little children
inside. The Ogre will try to escape so make sure that you do not go
too near the edge in case it can reach over the top. Some Ogres try to
bargain their way out. They may sob and weep and beg for their
freedom. They may even promise you vast wealth, pretending that
they know the whereabouts of a dragon’s treasure trove. Do not be
fooled. Ogres are in the main very stupid and only think of eating and
The Kingston Frost Dragon.
The Kingston Frost Dragon is a type of dragon.
Have you ever wondered what a Frost Dragon looks like? In
fact, they are similar to the majority of dragons. Like most
Dragons, they huge wings, large jaws, a spiny back and a
long tail. Typically, they are a sparkling white colour.
However, some have been spotted that are an icy blue.
Furthermore, their teeth are made of diamonds and look like
icicles. The main feature of this dragon is the fact that it does
not breathe flames. They breathe frost and snow. A few
dragons of this variety have the ability to breathe on any
creature and freeze it to stone. Additionally, they all have
webbed feet that they use for swimming.
The Frost Dragon lives by the River Thames. It hides in the
tops of trees and is difficult to see because most of them can
become almost invisible. This dragon likes to hide in frosty
fields or mist. This makes them difficult to track down. They
only come out at night and tend to move round the
countryside when it is snowing or misty.
Are Frost Dragons dangerous? Many humans fear these
dragons because they believe that they eat only princesses.
However, this is not true. They will steal cattle and sheep but
actually have never been known to attack a human. Indeed, in
the summer, they are more likely to eat the roots of trees and
fresh leaves than animals. This habit makes their skin glow a
strange green colour.
The most interesting thing about a Frost Dragon is that they
tell great stories. They can enchant people with their tales
that have been known to last over a year long. Indeed, many
people believe that the story of a thousand and one nights
was actually told by a patient Frost Dragon! It has been
suggested that they might be able to tell stories in schools.
Why did the Great Fire of London
get out of control and destroy so
much of London?
Houses in London were built very closely together.
Water supplies were unusually low in 1666.
Officials did not believe it was going to spread and took
no action when it started.
Throughout London, heating and lighting were provided
by fire.
Someone started a fire in Pudding Lane.
Fire fighting equipment was not good enough to cope
with a large fire.
The wind on the day of the fire was very strong.
Fire fighting equipment was not good enough to cope
with a large fire.
The wind on the day of the fire was very strong.
Most buildings were made of wood.
Houses had thatched rooftops.
It had been a very hot, dry summer.
Early on Thames waterworks was destroyed.
The Mayor was concerned about repayments to owners
of demolished buildings.
The majority of people fled with their own possessions.
Non-fiction – reminder sheet
1. Vary sentences to create effects:
 Short, simple sentences for drama and clarity: Food is fuel.
 Compound sentences for flow: Humans need water and they
should drink at least 5 litres a day..
 Complex sentences to add extra layers of information, argue,
reason and explain: While many people eat fast food, it is not
good for you to eat too much.
 Questions to draw in the reader: Is your diet healthy?
 Exclamations for impact: Smoking kills!
 Imperative: Turn the oven off.
 Lists: You will need a piece of felt, some pins and scissors.
 Sentence of three for description: The hammerhead shark is one
metre long, completely black and has very sharp teeth.
 Sentence of three to build points or persuade: It is important to
eat well, drink plenty and stay fit.
 Topic sentences: Owls feed at night.
2. Vary sentence openings:
 Adverb opener (how): Carefully, turn the switch…
 Time connective opener (when): The next day…
 Prepositional opener (where): On the other side of the road is…
 Causal connectives: Because…
 Reasoning connectives: However,…
 Verb opener: Place the brush…
 ‘ing’ opener: Eating too much at one sitting is not healthy.
‘ed’ opener: Imprisoned for ten years, the king finally…
3. Drop-in clauses:
 Who/which: Harold’s army, which had travelled from the
North, was exhausted.
‘ing’: The Britons, thinking they had won, gave pursuit.
 ‘ed’: Harold, determined to succeed, stood his ground.
Practise – sentence types that relate to the text type and that will help
children to progress. Provide spellings and sentence types on cards and mats,
etc. and in displays.
List the key words and sentence features needed to make progress in your plans.
These notes are c. Pie Corbett 2006 – for use in your school only.
Shared Writing
Issues - too many teachers: show a pre-written piece for children to analyse and do no
shared writing;
 just write openings;
 only write a few lines;
 work slowly so that the flow of composition dies;
 do not focus on what will make the difference (curricular
targets derived from learning needs identified through AfL) ;
 find it hard to articulate decisions, generate interest or build up
a creative atmosphere;
 find it hard to talk about what makes effective writing;
 find it hard to challenge and shape pupils’ contributions;
 find it hard to refer back to the plan, reading model, targets or
what will help children make progress.
Shared Writing
Teachers who struggle with shared writing are not really teaching
writing. It is rather like saying, ‘well I want you to learn how to play
tennis but I’m not going to show you or help you’. They probably
 to develop pleasure and confidence in their own ability to write
up to level 5 (key stage 2) or level 3 (key stage 1);
 to develop subject knowledge of different text types, how they
are organised and written; composition and effect;
 to develop different ‘writerly’ approaches to use when teaching
different types of writing;
 to develop the skills involved in modelling writing , teacher
scribing, supported composition and guided writing;
 Shared writing involves teaching the whole writing process
from ‘reading as a writer’ through to teaching how to gather
ideas, plan, draft and edit;
 The teacher has to think about how much scaffolding is
required for success – in poetry, for instance, would a
brainstorm be useful as a way of gathering a bank of
 Remember that during shared writing, older pupils should use
writing journals to collect words that are not used - and that
they can ‘magpie’ any interesting ideas or words from other
What is ‘Modelling’ writing?
 Modelling writing – is sometimes called ‘Demonstration’
 It is the ‘Blue Peter’ approach - ‘I’ll show you’ how to write
something, accompanied by a running commentary that
explains what is happening and why.
 It should be used for hard things, new things and to show
 The teacher:
- demonstrates how to write;
- explains decisions – talking like a writer; discussing the link
between effect and style;
- may refer back to any model;
- shows how to move from the plan or brainstorm into
- models thinking, rehearsing sentences, writing and rereading;
- models polishing sentences or texts;
- keeps up the pace – pauses and explains on key points;
- demonstrates specific targets and what makes progress;
- constantly is generating words and ideas, selecting, orally
rehearsing, writing, re-reading and judging the impact;
- involves the children as critical partners.
What is Teacher Scribing?
 Involves the children by drawing on their contributions for
writing – words, sentences, ideas.
 Shared writing is the next step on from modelling – it is ‘now
we’ll have a go together’.
 The teacher
- scribes on a board in front of the children;
- focuses children on thinking about what needs to be done
next – check plan, re-read, use target, refer to model;
- helps children generate lots of ideas and then select the most
powerful, orally rehearsing and rereading, making
- sifts contributions – challenges if contributions are weak;
- maintains pace so that there is a creative buzz;
- sets ‘progress’ challenges, e.g. ‘now to show how he feels,
let’s try using an ‘adverb starter’;
- balances demonstration and children’s contributions.
What is Supported Composition?
 Generally, children compose on mini whiteboards;
 The teacher controls and provides a specific challenge;
 Sentences or mini paragraphs may be demonstrated and then
imitated direct from reading;
 Contributions are used to make teaching points about impact;
 The focus is usually upon a specific aspect that will help
children make progress;
 Often what is composed can be shared with a response partner
and polished to be used in a future piece of writing;
 This practice is the bridge from the teacher writing into the
children writing but is still focused and controlled by the
teacher so that the children are imitating or rehearsing an aspect
of writing.
There are many underlying ‘writerly’ skills that have to be made
explicit during shared writing of any sort, usually through ‘talk for
writing’, e.g.
First thought not always the best thought;
Generate lots of ideas and then choose;
Try ideas out in your head or mutter aloud and choose the best;
Test words out in sentences – orally rehearse;
Try out whole sentences and then several sentences to see if the
writing flows;
Re-read whole paragraphs to check for sense, flow, impact and
Name it (‘Porsche’ not just ‘car’);
Make word lists, jot down ideas and save them up to use in your
Keep re-reading to check you’ve not used a weak word or
clumsy phrasing – be your own critic;
Re-read a sentence to help you make the next one up;
Keep re-reading to check for accuracy;
Choose a simple design and stick to it.
Make paragraph the main unit of composition.
Keep the writing concrete - see and show what happens by
using senses.
Use details/names – precise nouns, powerful verbs.
Show character - use setting.
Omit needless words!
Try to see what you are writing about in your head;
 Keep checking the plan + any targets or reminders;
 Look back at the model or mentor text – be ready to imitate
patterns; Draw upon ideas from your reading;
 Think about the effect you want to create - then how to achieve
 Write quickly and concentrate – get into a writing flow;
 Pause for ‘thinking time’, to re-read as the reader;
 If you get stuck leave that bit – leave a space – and move onto
another part – or go back to the plan….
 Always read your writing aloud to see and hear how it sounds;
 Be ready to polish and improve.
Pie Corbett April 2008.
Where to find Stories for Telling.
 ‘The Bumper Book of Storytelling into Writing Key Stage 1’ and
its companion volume ‘The Bumper Book of Storytelling into
Writing Key Stage 2’ by Pie Corbett (order from Pie Corbett,
Pipers Cottage, Oakridge Lynch, Nr STROUD, Glos. GL6 7NY). I
wrote both these books to provide an introduction into storytelling.
Each book contains a bank of stories for different year groups.
 The Storymaker’s Chest Key Stage 1 – a treasure chest of a box
with puppets, games, an audio CD, cards and so on – the book
includes a bank of stories for Nursery to year 2.
 Storyteller – published by Scholastic. This is a series of 3
anthologies, each with an audio CD, for 4-7 yrs, 7-9 yrs and 9-11
yrs. Stories by storytellers. The 3 teacher’s books each come with
a DVD of some of the stories being told by storytellers – Taffy
Thomas, Jane Grell, Xanthe Gresham and my good self!
 Barefoot Books - beautiful traditional tales collections worth
buying – in particular, ‘The Odyssey’ retold by Hugh Lupton and
Daniel Morden. You can buy both the book and an audio CD. This
fabulous retelling brings the tale alive in a way that I have never
heard before. It would make a feast for a year 5 or 6 class. – an
absolute must have.
 Also useful – ‘The Story Tree’ by Hugh Lupton (with an audio
CD) – good for Key Stage 1 and ‘tales of Wisdom and Wonder’ by
Hugh Lupton (complete with audio CD). Both from Barefoot
 Voyage – a series of guided readers – selected by Pie Corbett and
Chris Buckton - published by Oxford University Press – one
anthology per year across KS2. Short stories for reading and
Books and resources to help you develop storymaking.
 Jumpstart! Storymaking by Pie Corbett, published by David
Fulton. A book of story games and activities.
 Writing workshops: ‘Teaching Narrative Writing at Key Stage 2’
and ‘Teaching Story Writing at Key Stage 1’ – both by Pie
Corbett – published by David Fulton. New editions due in 2009.
 The Storymaker’s Chest key stage 2 – a treasure trove of story
cards, objects, posters etc. Ideal support for telling and writing.
There are two chests – for each key stage. These provide the best
source of cards – characters, settings, dilemmas, triggers, magic
beans, story trails….. Published by Philip and Tacey. Also now – a
mystery box!!
 The Story Generator Cube – quickfire games using storymaking
cards. Great for inventing new stories. Published by Philip and
 Story Mats – 3 mats that are graded in difficulty – providing easy
to use prompts not only for making up stories but also reminders
about varying sentences, etc. Published by Philip and Tacey.
Spelling games.
hear it - chant it
see it
make it
watch it being written
have a go
 systematic, daily phonics – pushed into writing and reading
 link spelling and handwriting
 Daily – from R to Y3 – segment and blend.
 Which one?
 Picture it.
 Speedwrite.
 Finish.
 Countdown.
 Riddles.
 Muddles + Common words and patterns – plurals, starts,
middles and ends – ly, ing, ed.
 Shannon’s game.
 Rhyme it.
Try using – train, wheel, bone, light, flies, soap, seed, snail, goat, cream, face,
five, bowl, cake, hook, car, sock, back, shout, wood, led, bad, toy, day, gate,
see, try, blow, true, game, gave, fine, moon, fool, boast, feet, cap, ash, rat,
day, best, ill, bit, line, ring, ink, ship, shot, stop, hump, poke, mug.
Use their errors – common words and patterns + words needed for
the text type.
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Study collections