For some time now as a team we have been thinking about the role of talk for writing in improving writing. This has been aided by Pie Corbett through attending training and reading his books. It has become clear to us that there are several key points when planning teaching sequences that need to have talk for writing built in and they are:
- book talk – talking as a reader
- writer’s talk – talking as a writer
- warming up the word
- learning and remembering texts
- playing with sentences, and
- rehearsing and refining your own texts
Over the next year we will be exploring all of these in much more detail, but first I want to focus on warming up the word, or as one teacher describes it – awakening dormant language.
When talking about himself as a writer, Pie describes the need to concentrate or focus on a particular image in his head or feeling and to be able to turn that into words. Ted Hughes in Poetry in The Making describes this same things by saying
‘by looking at the place in my memory very hard and very carefully and by using words that grow naturally out of pictures and feelings, I capture it.’
So if we want children to develop as writers, it would seem that this is something that we could support them with starting off with external artefacts moving on to internal ones . In fact we probably do this by using images and generating lists of words. However, we need to take this further because sometimes the list of words is not very exciting. Hughes states that you must
‘keep your eyes, your ears, your nose, your taste, your touch, your whole being on the thing you are turning into words.’
So how about generating words for one minute in a quickfire way and record them. Then as a teacher scaffold the image involving the senses – how did it feel when the wings brushed past you, what could you smell, are there any particular noises that you can hear? Now allow 2 mins for children to jot down (or the teacher record if writing will hinder the learning) their further ideas. Share these ideas, celebrate the ones that stand out and allow children to borrow those that they like. You never know when they may turn up in writing again. Some thought will need to be given as to how ideas can be recorded for future use. This whole activity should take no longer than 10 minutes because as Hughes says
‘it should be short and sharp and create a crisis which arouses the brain’s resources. The compulsion towards haste overthrows the ordinary precautions, flings everything into top gear and many things that are usually hidden find themselves rushed into the open. Barriers break down, prisoners break out of their cells.’
In poetry and fiction we rely heavily on our own images and feelings as that is what we are trying to convey to the reader. Non-fiction is slightly different. Here we need to stick with the external image. If I am writing a description of a blackbird so that others can identify one in their own garden, it is best if I don’t rely on my own image of that bird but use an image that is actually a blackbird. The way of generating words and phrases however, will be exactly the same.
Both writers ponder the same question. What would happen to children’s writing if they had to write a quick-fire poetry idea every day for a year – ten minutes writing daily? As Corbett points out, athletes train every day, pianists practice scales every day. Shouldn’t children be involved in a daily tussle with words?
Ted Hughes learnt to focus through fishing. He would spend many hours staring at the float pondering on the conditions, the liklihood of catching something and letting his mind wander. If you would like suggestions for developing this type of quickfire activity then a copy of Pie Corbett’s Jumpstart! Poetry is a good starting place.
And if you enjoy reading blogs, then you might like Deb Renner Smith’s blog Writing Every Day Works
How do you warm up the word in your classroom? Please add an idea in the comments section.