'Miss, we're writing to change the world today!'
To hear these words spoken by a nine-year-old child at the start of a writing exercise is a primary school teacher's dream. To then see the children write with passion, enthusiasm and precision, knowing their words had a real purpose and believing that they could effect change was a moment of immense satisfaction. How had we got to this point?
Lavender Primary School, in Enfield, was invited to participate in the Exeter University 'Grammar for Writing' project alongside our local comprehensive school Chace Community School in a cross phase project. For Lavender, this meant adapting schemes of work intended for Year 8 pupils to make them suitable for the year groups participating in the project: Years 4 and 5. Simultaneously, we wanted to synthesise the 'new' from the Grammar for Writing schemes whilst retaining what we knew to be excellent practice: analysis of text structure, teacher modelled writing, joint composition and supporting learning through the use of a working wall.
The focus of this article will mainly be on Year 4 and their persuasive writing about the impact of palm oil production on orangutans, as this is the class I taught; however the successes detailed later relate to both year groups.
Initially, a skeleton plan was created for both Years 4 and 5 to work from. This was to be literacy in hourly sessions taught over five days per week. From the skeleton Years 4 and 5 went their separate ways so that the content was targeted more appropriately towards each year group. The teaching sequence was to include:
* Immersion in the text type (including film, games, provocative texts)
* Exploration of text structure
* Exploration of grammatical features of text type--through talk, short writing activities and text analysis
* Use of writer talk to analyse writer choices and the impact on the reader
* Short writing exercises to experiment with grammatical features of the genre
* Joint construction and evaluation
* Independent construction
* Review of success--self and peer evaluation
* Context and audience for final writing
* Oral rehearsal in preparation for writing debate
* Independent construction
For Year 5, their great success was starting the unit with Haroon's father's speech from the summer 2011 riots in which he asked people to stay at home to prevent further loss of life. People responded to this heartfelt request and the riots came to an end. This text tapped into their own experience as Enfield had been a site of the riots. The children were enthralled by the speech as it was a real life situation, it had a direct impact and it demonstrated the power of language. The crafting of this speech became a reference point throughout the unit.
'I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites--we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this?'
Children were able to recall these examples of blunt simple sentence, pattern of three and rhetorical questions throughout the unit.
Persuasive writing in Year 4:
For Year 4, this was the first time they had been introduced to persuasive writing, so initial texts were chosen to reflect the language features of the text type but to also tap into their own age-appropriate personal experience: Playtimes Should Be Banned, Schools Should Have Playstation, advertising aimed at children. The idea was to begin with texts which were relevant to their own direct experience and then broaden out the texts to include 'bigger' ideas. Once familiarity with the text type was established we proceeded to analyse the use of persuasive devices.
Clear text deconstruction was one of the most successful strategies used. …