Managing shifts between levels of formality

I have been working with several teachers on the end of KS2 statement

manage shifts between levels of formality through selecting vocabulary precisely and by manipulating grammatical structures

The exemplification files for Leigh and Frankie show some good examples of what this can look like in writing.

  • in narrative they have shown the difference in formality between the story and some of the speech used by characters
  • in an explanation the text is more formal with a much more informal tone when relating the information to the writer’s own life
  • in a newspaper report the formality of the journalists report is contrasted with the informality of the direct and reported speech
  • in a diary different levels of formality are used to emphasise a point
  • in a letter the personal reflection on what will happen is more informal to show the excitement and enthusiasm of the writer

We then went on to think about texts that would model this for the children. One that we had to hand was My Secret War Diary by Flossie Albright – author Marcia Williams.  You can open this book on any page and find some examples of shifts in formality. We happened to open the book on p60 and found diary entries in very informal, spoken language which doesn’t always have subject verb agreement.


Flipping heck, I’m scared. I don’t want to sleep all alone downstairs no more. The Luftwaffe has begun to attack British Ships in the channel; our pilots spotted dozens of German aircraft dropping bombs on a convy near Dover.  Cook says it’s their invasion tactic to draw British planes into battle and then destroy them … I hopes we got enough planes.

This is then contrasted with a war talk in assembly from Miss Duncan on p61. It is more formal, although it still uses the pronouns you and our but it also contains the passive to distance and separate ‘us’ from the downed pilots who are prisoners. Another good page to use would be p22 and 23 where the informality of the diary entries is contrasted with a more formal newspaper report and within the report there are shifts of formality as well.

Which texts have you used to teach this? Has anyone used a film that would support the teaching of this element?

18 thoughts on “Managing shifts between levels of formality

  1. This is really interesting. Did you attend KS2 Moderation this time round? This was such a BIG part of mine, needing different genres where the children could show they could do this. This will have huge implications, I feel, for planning and teaching next year.

    I’d be happy to “chat” with ideas if you have time…

    Nice blog btw 🙂

    • Thank you for your comments about the blog Emma. I work for a team of Primary English Advisers and am a moderator for KS2 writing. I would be delighted to talk about the ‘managing shifts of formality’ statement. I will email you on using the address you provided.

  2. I’d love to hear what you think are the implications for next year with regards to KS2 writing Joy. Look forward to email correspondence 🙂 #professionaldialogue

    • That’s quite hard but you could have the instructions slightly more formal but the introduction to the more informal. I always think Jamie Oliver is the master of this. If I can find an example online I will share the link.

      • Some of my children wrote a Jamie Oliver style recipe with an informal opening, formal instructions and a chatty summing up. Our moderator said that that only showed one “shift”: informal to formal and back. To achieve greater depth they needed to shift again within the same piece. Did other people experience that?

        • That is absolutely correct. You would need to write a finishing paragraph in the same style as the opening to show two shifts. If you read the comments on this blog post you will see that mentioned (the bit about two shifts). STA released a video in the spring term sharing this so if you or the school are not signed up to get emails from them, it might a be a good idea to do so. We shared this with our schools at subject leader meetings but I am assuming that you do not have such a thing or that the message did not get passed on to you.

          • They did write the final paragraph in the same style as the opening with a more formal middle section giving instructions. I had watched the video and thought that was 2 shifts: informal-formal-informal. The moderator said that was not enough shifts – they would need a further shift. I remain somewhat confused.

  3. I am a KS2 moderator and have extensive experience. The main point to focus on is MANAGE as some children do have changes in formality but these are more often than not ad-hoc!

    • Thanks for your comment. I too am a moderator with extensive experience and i completely understand that the focus is on managing the shifts in formality and that there has to be more than once in more than one piece of work. What i think we need to grapple with is the understanding that some ‘texts that teach’ model this really well and that we can do it in many texts or we can leave them as just one consistent formality if that would be more appropriate for the audience and purpsoe.
      I think that it will take a little while for this to be shared across the profession and we have been working hard to do this, as i am sure you have too. People are obviously looking for support and there is little available at the moment.
      Do get in contact with me if you would like to talk about this further in terms of how we support people.

  4. Hi all,
    Apart from frankie or Leigh’s work does anyone have any real examples where children in there schools have written pieces which show shifts between the levels of formality?
    I think we need a range of model texts so that we can pick at the variety of examples.

  5. Hi, I am a PGCE trainee and have been asked to plan and teach a lesson sequence on formal/informal writing to a top set Year 6 class. Do you have any suggestions for model texts, please? I would like to provide a variety of examples if possible.
    Many thanks, Hannah

    • This is really difficult to answer without knowing your topics but one book that I think is really good for this is Ship by David Macaulay. This tells the non-fiction story of a sunken ship being discovered: the present-day underwater archaeologist who discovers the sunken ship (15th century caravel), the shipbuilder from the 16th century and one of the workmen on the boat. What this does is not only show the formality suitable for different text types but also the register for the different voices which we now have to assess for children writing at the greater depth standard. In this context, it means maintaining the voice, vocabulary and syntax of the time the writing is set in.

      The book is still available on amazon at a reasonable price and I have put the link below.

      I hope this helps.

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