Give pupils a voice: 10 tips to getting primary children writing

Good writing is an art. Sue Cowley, an educational author, trainer and presenter, provides her top 10 strategies for how to teach it

The teaching of writing has two key aspects: students must learn about technique but also about writing as an expressive form.

The first is the “how” of writing, covering letter formation, correct punctuation, appropriate grammar and accurate spelling; the second is the “why” of writing, including aspects such as purpose, audience and voice.

Ideally we want our primary students to be technically adept writers and to find their own voices. We also want them to feel motivated to express how they think and feel in writing. So how do we achieve this?

The following 10 tips should help you to support, inspire and enthuse your young writers during the new school year.

1. Find ways to make them want to write

As well as teaching children how to write, increase their motivation by using an interesting stimulus such as creating a defined audience, setting targets or incorporating deadlines. Create a clear sense of purpose for the children’s writing: what and who is it for?

2. Start with what we say

Writing is essentially speaking, written down and tidied up. Make talk an integral part of your approach, asking children to do it in lots of different situations. Use oral storytelling activities in which students retell familiar stories to each other. Encourage them to listen carefully, too – by asking them to write down snippets of interesting dialogue heard outside school, for example.

3. Build writing muscles

Use plenty of activities to increase finger strength, such as cutting, colouring, threading and tearing. Keep a check on how your children hold their pens and pencils, and correct poor habits early on before they become ingrained.

4. Use different stimuli as inspiration

You could “find” a fascinating object in the classroom or explore multisensory resources to inspire interesting vocabulary. Motivate your children to write by using images, sound clips, music, natural materials, tastes, smells and so on.

5. Know your left from your right

When you teach letter formation, be aware that left-handed children need to form their letters in a slightly different way. Don’t sit your left-handed pupils on the right of someone right-handed, as they will inevitably bump elbows.

6. Find ways to support spelling

Offer subject-specific word lists for students to learn. Talk to them about the etymology of language. Look for relationships between words, finding groups of words related by meaning such as one/once/only.

7. Explain why punctuation matters

Children often understand the theory behind punctuation but still fail to use it properly. Talk to them about why punctuation matters – what does it do to their writing? To avoid reams of full stop-free prose, get your children to form each sentence in their heads before they write it down.

8. Consider how you use writing books

Get students to add notes, diagrams and jottings to their narrative. Use an agreed set of marking symbols in writing books and encourage children to adopt these when they edit their work.

9. Ban clichés and over-used words

I once met a teacher who held a funeral for the word “nice”. The students buried “nice” in a shoe box in the school grounds and from that day forward they never used it again.

10. Develop ‘sets’ of metaphors

For instance, a “weather” set could include “her face clouded over” and “his voice thundered”. Use topical events to freshen up your similes and metaphors: “They fought like crazed politicians desperate to win the leadership contest.”

Sue Cowley’s latest mini-guide, The Seven S’s of Developing Young Writers, is available now

Read the remaining 15 top tips in the 18 September edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

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