Helping your older primaries to write

It’s 3pm on a hot afternoon. You have just asked your primary students to write a story in English. All your students can see is a big, blank page that needs to be filled in with words and phrases they are not too sure how to use or know what it means in their language yet. It’s a daunting task, and students start to sigh, complain and procrastinate. They positively beg you to play a game instead, or anything except writing. If this scenario sounds at all familiar, then read on to find out many more ideas to avoid this situation and to help students to really enjoy writing in class.

Who says writing has to be on paper?

For some, writing just isn’t fun – so it’s our job to make it so. Who says that writing always has to be on paper? Of course, for formal assessment it does, but helping your students to fall in love with writing is the key – and using different medium to make it fun really helps. Balloon writing, tennis balls, potatoes, lollipop sticks, plastic paper plates, snap dragon crafts, origami (unfolding the creature reveals the next sentence) – anything really can be a surface! Think about the task – if it’s about sport – students can write on a ball, if they have to write a blog in space, such as this task from TeamUp! 4, they can write on silver foil!

Provide some help

Helping students to move on from the word or short phrase to the sentence is hard. Giving them lots of help at the beginning will really help them. For example, they have a complete template of a text but only fill in the personal things, such as names, adjectives and some verbs. Gradually reduce the template help as the year goes on. Or you can give students a list of useful words and phrases and ask them to incorporate as many of these things as possible into their writing as a challenge. 

You can also exploit texts given to you in the course book – for example, if you have this comic book story task from TeamUp!, you can do the set activities, but then provide a copy, either projected onto the whiteboard, or photocopied, where some words have been blanked out – can students work out or remember what they were? If that’s a bit tough, you can provide them with the words to write. Try to encourage pattern noticing, such as removing auxiliary verbs.


Give students an audience or a purpose for writing

Think about when you write something – it’s really rare that you do not know why you’re writing and for whom it is. Asking students to produce a text without building up a good reason why, or establishing the audience, will not help their motivation to do it. Of course, we need to make it motivating for primary students – so that’s where our creativity come in. As a class, create a character together – for example, ask the class – is it a boy or girl today and then draw the base face of their answer. Ask them to tell you about their facial features and hair and draw it, and then elicit their personality and finally a name – then ask your students to produce a story, or a letter, etc specifically for this character. Alternatively, you can show different pictures of people that fit your brief and ask students to choose who they are writing to today.

Can you also make a real audience? For example, this activity asks students to write about their school – is there another class that can read it and respond? Can you set up a pen pal system with another class, even a class in another city country?

Little pieces of writing

Writing can also be woven into the fabric of other fun class activities. For example, students can write you a letter requesting and justifying why playing a fun activity in class for the last ten minutes is a good idea, requesting that they watch a video or sing a song with you. This can be done as a letter template where students just fill in the essential words, or with less help if they have a higher level. If you are following characters in the stories throughout the course book, or using a class mascot, can your students write questions to them? Then pretend to answer the questions as the story character?

You can bring real world into the classroom – can students start the day with you by writing a ‘tweet’ in English rather than the traditional saying hello? Can they share that with their partner and their partner responds to the ‘tweet’? Can you show them an Instagram picture and they have to write a caption for it? Can you show a picture of something connected to the class today and students write a sentence about it on a sticky note and put it around the picture? This can then be the springboard into the discussion and lead in for the class.

Following on from this idea of little pieces – students do not necessarily have to write all the given task at once. For example, you could start with small goals, such as just the first paragraph, just the first 25 words, and then leave the rest for the next lesson. Project work with writing works well like this as students do not get fatigued with the task at hand.

Reviewing and Revising

Does this sound familiar – students complete a piece of writing, you spend hours at home correcting all of them, and then students take it from you, read it once, then shove it into their bags forever doomed to be crumpled to nothing under the wEight of all their books? Reviewing and revising errors is just so important so we need to rethink how we can do this in class to positive effect. First of all, explain to your children why it’s important that you correct their work. Tell them that if they cannot write well with you then they will never be able to help their friends or parents in the future or correctly write in their exam or any reason that connects to your children’s world. Also, explain that if they write a word badly and you correct it, who has written the word badly? Them! and who has written the word correctly? You! So how does that help the students? It doesn’t! it’s they who need to write the word correctly eventually. 

We can help our students to review and revise in a number of fun ways. First of all, take a couple of errors from each of your students’ writing and create a correction game from it that the whole class plays, for example tic-tac-toe. Show the errors on the board and ask the students to spend time in groups thinking about what the error is and then the correction. Students then try to ‘win’ the squares by giving you the correction – I suggest allowing groups at least 2 opportunities to try and win the square. Then, hand back the work and ask students to scan their writing for the errors that just appeared in the game – can they find it and correct it?

Wow words are useful ways to help students to notice how to ‘level up’ their work. Wow words are adjectives, verbs and adverbs that help your students to move away from easy words, such as ‘said’ or ‘bad’ by presenting them with more exciting alternatives. You can teach wow words and keep posters up in the classroom, and just highlight your students work with a highlighter pen if they could have used a wow word, then ask them to choose one in the rewrite. 

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Another more independent way is for you to correct each student’s work is to write your corrections on a separate piece of paper and fix it to the students work. Then, tell your students to read and try to memorise your corrections, because in two day’s time, you will give them a photocopy of their original work back to them and ask them to find and identifY the errors that you caught – can they rise to the challenge? If you’re working remotely with your students, there is some fantastic software where you can voice record your feedback to your students and they then, in turn, have to correct the writing themselves after listening to you – great way to practise listening skills!

Also, it might be worth adding value to the review and editing procedure from your students point of view. For example, the first piece of writing will get them a mark, but if they show that they have spent time reviewing and improving their piece, they will then get a second, higher mark for their grades to reflect their learning and effort. 

Finally, writing should be practised like any other skill in English skill – little and often. Try not to leave it just for homework, or as the final BIG SCARY task of a unit, but weaving it naturally through each lesson and plan you make.

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