What is Talk for Writing?
At the Academy we have started using Talk for Writing in order to support our children’s literacy skills…
- Read on to find out why.
- Ask your child to tell you what they are learning in Literacy.
- Ask your child’s Teacher to show you their Literacy book so you can see the impact.
Talk for Writing – the key to raising attainment
Talk for Writing, developed by Pie Corbett and supported by Julia Strong, is powerful because it is based on the principles of how children learn.
Talk for Writing enables children to imitate the key language they need for a particular topic orally before they try reading and analysing it. Through fun activities that help them rehearse the tune of the language they need, followed by shared writing to show them how to craft their writing, children are helped to write in the same style. Schools that have adopted the approach have not only increased their children’s progress but have found that children and teachers alike love it. It not only works throughout primary schools from the early years to Year 6 but also in secondary schools where it is key to making literacy across the curriculum really work
Talk for Writing is powerful because it enables children to imitate the language they need for a particular topic orally before reading and analysing it and then writing their own version. Pie gives a brief explanation of the basic principle of Talk for Writing here. It builds on three key stages:
The Imitation Stage
Once the teacher has established a creative context and an engaging start, a typical Talk-for-Writing unit would begin with some engaging activities warming up the tune of the text, as well as the topic focused on, to help children internalise the pattern of the language required. This is often followed by talking an exemplar text, supported visually by a text map and physical movements to help the children recall the story or non-fiction piece. In this way the children hear the text, say it for themselves and enjoy it before seeing it written down. Once they have internalised the language of the text, they are in a position to read the text and start to think about the key ingredients that help to make it work. This stage could include a range of reading as-a-reader and as-a-writer activities. Understanding the structure of the text is easy if you use the boxing-up technique and then help the children to analyse the features that have helped to make the text work. In this way the class starts to co-construct a toolkit for this type of text so that they can talk about the ingredients themselves – a key stage in internalising the toolkit in their heads.
The Innovation Stage
Once the children have internalised the text, they are then ready to start innovating on the pattern of the text. This could begin with more advanced activities to warm up the key words and phrases of the type of text focused on so the children can magpie ideas. Younger children and less confident writers alter their text maps and orally rehearse what they want to say, creating their own version. The key activity in this stage is shared writing, helping the children to write their own by “doing one together” first. This could begin with using a boxed-up grid (innovating on the exemplar plan) to show how to plan the text and then turning the plan into writing. This allows the children to see how you can innovate on the exemplar text and select words and phrases that really work. Demonstrating how to regularly read your work aloud to see if it works is important here. This process enables the children to write their own versions through developing their ability to generate good words and phrases and also, hopefully, develops the inner judge when they start to decide why one word or phrase is best. If, during this process a teaching assistant (or in KS2 an able child) flip-charts up words and phrases suggested, these can be put on the washing line alongside the shared writing so when the children come to write they have models and words and phrases to support them. Throughout the shared writing, the children should be strengthening the toolkit so they start to understand the type of ingredients that may help. Once they have finished their own paragraph/s children should be encouraged to swap their work with a response partner. Then with the aid of a visualiser, the whole class can also discuss some of the more successful work. Time now needs to be found to enable the children to give their own work a polish in the light of these discussions and perhaps to begin the dialogue about what works by writing their own comment on their work for the teacher to comment on.
The Invention/Independent Application Stage
The teacher now has the opportunity to assess the children’s work and to adapt their planning in the light of what the children can actually do. This stage could begin with some activities focused on helping the children understand aspects that they were having difficulty with and should include time for the children to have a go at altering their work in the light of what they have just learnt so that they start to make progress. This stage will continue to focus on the next steps needed to support progress so the children can become independent speakers and writers of this type of text. Perhaps some more examples of the text are compared followed by more shared writing on a related topic and then the children can have a go themselves on a related topic of their own choosing. Typically, teachers work with the children to set ‘tickable targets’ which focus on aspects that they need to attend to. Again this section will end with response partner and whole class discussion about what features really worked, followed by an opportunity to polish your work. This process also helps the children internalise the toolkit for such writing so that it becomes a practical flexible toolkit in the head rather than a list to be looked at and blindly followed. At the end of the unit, the children’s work should be published or displayed. The teacher will now have a good picture of what features to focus on in the next unit to move the children forward. It is important to provide children with a purpose for their writing so classroom display or some sort of publishing is useful.
The impact of Talk for Writing has been outstanding. Typically, schools have found that children initially double their rate of progress and, where the approach has been applied systematically across a school, many schools have moved from only a third of Year 6 achieving level 4 to over 90%.
Impact on School Attainment
Many schools have found that daily storytelling can have a dramatic influence on progress in composition. For instance, the initial teacher research into this approach focused on 4-and 5-year-olds in Reception classes. At the start of the year, only 2% of the sample was able to retell a whole story. By the end of the year, 76% retold a whole tale in fluent standard English.
In a study carried out in Lewisham (reported in ‘Stories to tell, stories to write’, available from Lewisham Professional Development Centre, Kilmorie Road, London SE23 2 SP), 100% of the primary age pupils tracked made average progress in writing and 80% made 3 or more sublevels of progress in one year. This was particularly impressive because the children being tracked were selected because they had been making less than average progress. A more recent study in Lewisham (2010) found that a similar cohort of children made on average 2 years progress in one year, this time focusing on the impact of ‘talk for writing’ on non-fiction writing.
A recent study in Salford by teachers at St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School showed that the approach works very powerfully for children who have English as a new language – indeed, compared with a control group in similar schools, those pupils benefiting from the ‘talk write’ approach on average made outstanding progress.
Where schools have a systematic approach to implementing Talk for Writing, results have been outstanding. For example, at Trevithick Primary, Cornwall, KS2 results have risen from 43% achieving level 4 in writing to 100% in 2012 and 2013; with 55% achieving level 5, and 14% level 6. Similarly, at St George’s Primary, Battersea, the school has risen from dire results to achieving 100% level 4 in all the tested areas with over 50% of children scoring level 5 in English in 2013.
In 2010, Honiton Primary in Devon received an Ofsted judgment of Notice to Improve; consequently they adopted the Talk for Writing approach and in 2013 they received an outstanding grade across the board.
What Children say about Talk for Writing
“Dear Pie Corbett, I am writing to you because I think your ideas about how to get children to stand up and say stories is brilliant. I used to hate writing. It was boring listening to the teacher groan on and on because I would just sit there and do nothing. Also then it was hard. Now I love it because it is so much more easy and I produce more work. I think it’s got easier because our teacher teaches us all the things and then we learn stories that include all the things. I also feel more confident…” – Pupil’s letter to Pie Corbett presented as evidence of impact by teacher on the Sheffield ‘Talk for Writing’ project.
“I also find it helpful actually saying the words so I know what kind of words I can use for my own writing. It’s amazing how much I’ve improved my writing, though I can’t spell every word.” – Pupil from Sheffield ‘Talk for Writing’ non-fiction project. “It helped me to memorise it, and drawing the pictures was fun. Usually, I don’t enjoy writing but with this we got to act out and learn in a fun way. Now I know what the writing should sound like and then I can write about anything.” – Sunil, pupil from Lewisham ‘Talk for Writing’ non-fiction project
“Yes I like writing more because I like the flow of writing – it feels good in a way. I’m concentrating and listening more and that has helped my writing.” – Hope, pupil from Lewisham ‘Talk for Writing’non-fiction project
What the primary teachers say about Talk for Writing
“Previously we did lots of speaking and listening but it didn’t seem to emerge in the writing. The ‘talk for writing’ techniques really motivated the children. Now they automatically read what they have written and discuss whether it sounds good. It has transformed the way they write.” – Leading teacher from Primary National Strategy ‘Talk for Writing’ project
“I’ve had such a great time in the last year doing ‘talk for writing’ with my class that I really want to share this. The effects were extraordinary. I could see the effect in all the subjects and the evidence in the books is amazing. When you watch the children write, now you can see them thinking about how to compose.” – Shona Thomson, teacher showcasing impact of the approach at the non-fiction Lewisham conference
“Having done a lot of oral storytelling with KS1 children, I was a little sceptical about getting Year 5 children to stand up and get really involved in expressive oral re-telling. How wrong was I!” – Maria Wheeler, teacher on Lewisham non-fiction project.
What Secondary Teachers say about Talk for Writing
“At last a literacy consultant who understands the phrase ‘across the curriculum’ rather than trying to make us all English teachers.” – conference delegate
“Julia was brilliant, passionate, inspiring.” – conference delegate
“I have had a look through the evaluation sheets and, to be honest, they brought tears to my eyes.” – Brighton literacy consultant summing up feedback from a follow-up training day which included teachers feeding back on how they were integrating the approach into their teaching.
“Teachers in all departments have been very enthusiastic about the approach. Students have loved stealing ideas.” – Deputy head from Talk-for-Writing pilot secondary school, Feltham
“Consistently engaging, highly relevant and practical.” – conference delegate “Just thought I would offer a quick update. As planned, we are continuing to reinforce the strategies that you brought to us and ensuring that strategies are implemented across the school. During a recent LA review, the renewed and consistent focus on literacy was highlighted as much improved practice. Thanks again – you have left us with a strong legacy.” – Deputy head teacher, Whitehaven
“I think this was dynamite and is THE issue we should focus on as it encompasses much of the AFL and behaviour sessions.” – teacher following school training day in Coventry
“There was something about the ‘Talk for Writing’ project that struck a chord with me. This was comparing maths to written communication in a direct and explicit way. It felt like an epiphany in the hall listening to Julia Strong explaining about talk for writing. This was the answer and as I began to work with aspects of this approach I started to feel as of this was the magic wand I had been looking for to move my students and me onwards to the land of written mathematical communication.” – Zeb Friedman, Maths adviser and teacher, Brighton and Hove
“Thanks so much for these materials. I started today to put some of the ideas into action in the classroom (getting my low ability Y8s to come up with an icon for each of Point Evidence Explain has helped already: ‘evidence’ as a little magnifying glass over a page – brilliant) Teaching “imperatives” to my Y7s via mime (one girl then remembered they called them “bossy verbs” at primary school and it all clicked!) So I’m following your advice and trying to make it work in my own classroom first before I do much whole school stuff.” – Literacy coordinator from a school in North Yorkshire
“I was inspired by your Talk for writing presentation and have tried some of the ideas in my science lessons. I feel that it is a natural next step for us. If you are interested, I have video interviews with year 11 students who used the approach and found it enormously helpful.” – science teacher, Lancashire “I attended your Talk-for-Writing conference in London last Friday (you may remember me, I was the Professor of Dragonology). I found the entire day truly inspirational! It is now my job to inspire others in my school.” – Reading Assistant Head (and Professor of Dragonology)
“I attended your Talk for Writing session at Varndean school last Friday and I wanted to email you to say thank you. I have a very difficult year 9 group. They are mostly low ability and many have behaviour problems. I used your boxing up activity today and also instructed them to be word thieves and select sections from the modelled piece of text that they could use in a letter I wanted them to write. I had a fantastic lesson with them! They were all engaged, they all finished the task and they wrote brilliant letters! I’ll be carrying on like this with them! Thank you so much. The session gave me a lot to think about and this is just one example of how effective the methods you went through have been for me this week.” – Emma O’Keefe, English teacher, Brighton