The philosophy of Big Writing, developed by Ros Wilson, is based on the premise that to write well children need to be able to talk. They need to ‘have a go’ - 'if a child can't say it, the child can't write it'. Alongside the teaching of basic English skills, Big Writing focuses on the importance of talk and oral planning before the writing begins. There are high expectations for all pupils, it gives writing a purpose and makes it fun. From the work produced during the Big Write session, teachers can track and assess progress in writing and set individual targets.
During our English lessons, children are taught the characteristics of the different types of non-fiction texts along with the range of genre in fiction. They are also taught the four basic skills: grammar; handwriting; spelling and the accurate use of punctuation and capital letters to show sentence structure. Big Writing is used to aid the development of the 'Writing Voice' through focused, fun and lively activities along with the opportunity to apply their skills through an extended writing task once a week.
The Writing Voice defines both the language the writer uses and the style with which the sentences are structured. In Big Writing it is taught through VCOP.
Ros Wilson developed a way of teaching writing to children which focuses on four main aspects:
- Vocabulary - the range of vocabulary a pupil knows and can use. This includes ambitious vocabulary, also known as WOW Words. Every class has a 'Wow Words' board where new and impressive words that the children have used and have found in good quality texts, are shared with everyone. The children are encouraged to use these words where appropriate in their writing.
- Connectives - the range of ways pupils have of joining ideas, phrases and sentences. Every class displays examples of powerful connectives. The children are encouraged to use these in their writing to join sentences and paragraphs, therefore improving the organisation of their writing.
- Openers - the strategies pupils have for opening sentences, including the use of the three Power Openers (connectives, 'ly' words and 'ing' words). Every class displays and discusses good sentence ‘openers’ (sentence starters) that the children can use in their writing to make their sentences and overall texts more interesting.
- Punctuation - the range of punctuation a pupil can use and the accuracy with which they use it. The teaching of punctuation is based on the ‘Punctuation Pyramid’ (see below). Children start by using full stops, then question marks followed by commas and an exclamation mark. Eventually they should use the higher order punctuation such as ( ) - ; : etc.
Children are encouraged to:
- Talk about their writing.
- Find exciting words and use these in their writing.
- ‘Borrow’ exciting words and phrases from other authors – we call these WOW words.
- Have a go at using interesting examples of punctuation.
- Write for an extended period of time.
- Re-read their own writing and find ways to make it better.
- Understand what they need to do next to improve.
Talk Homework - If A Child Can Say It, A Child Can Write It!
- The evening before Big Write, your child will be given their 'talk' homework. It will let you know the subject of their Big Write and how it is to be presented.
- Their homework is to discuss and prepare (mentally) with someone at home. To talk about their thoughts and ideas; for example, characters in a story, how they feel, what they see, different settings and great adjectives they could use.
- The more talking and sharing of ideas you can do the more successful their writing could be!
The Big Write Session
Prior to the session, children take part in fun VCOP games and activities. They then have a short period of time to plan their work. After a break, the children write, in silence, using all the skills they have learnt. The lighting is sometimes changed and music is played softly in the background. The children are encouraged to write at length without interruption. They are building their writing stamina and experimenting with a variety of genre, from reports, persuasive text and instructions, to character descriptions, creative writing, poetry and story writing.
How Does It Help?
Children can improve their stamina for writing. They are aware of their successes and where they can improve. This also nurtures a child's self esteem and 'have a go' attitude.
Teachers are able assess and extract targets and next steps for the children to work towards. This assessment will also help the teacher to plan for future lessons.
How You Can Help
- Talk! Ask them to describe everything and anything.
- Take it in turns to tell a story. One person starts it, the other says what happens next etc.
- Look at a picture or photo together. Use it to tell a story. Think of a title for your story. What would the opening 10 words be?
- Encourage your child to read! Can they spot WOW words and perhaps write them down in a book at home or on a piece of paper?
- Encourage your child to borrow words or phrases which they like from books, magazines, television programmes.
- Encourage your child to write!
FIND OUT MORE
The pyramid below gives examples of ambitious vocabulary.
Connectives are the words used to link simple phrases (or clauses) together to make longer, more grammatically complex sentences. Once a child is able to use a wide range of these words the quality of their writing improves. Teachers spend a lot of time teaching children how to construct grammatically complex sentences.
Below is a Connectives Pyramid which shows the increasing complexity of connectives. Children are challenged to use the more complex connectives towards the bottom of the pyramid.
The pyramid below shows the children different ways to start a sentence.
The Punctuation Pyramid
This is used to teach children about the different types of punctuation at each National Curriculum level. A variety of games are used to teach children how to use all the different types of punctuation.