Fluency and mastery in writing

A semi-inverted Talk 4 Writing sequence

A quick blog just to explore my current thoughts around primary writing.

Having taught writing for the past 20 years to an ever-changing cohort, it feels like it is time for a change. We have been using Talk 4 Writing for many years and overall, it has been a success. However, our children have changed and we need to adjust our apporach to writing in order to reflect those changes.

What changes?

Good question. I think COVID has had a huge impact on children’s ability to write and their deeper understanding of grammatical structures. I also think that technology use has severely eroded children’s ability to concentrate for long periods of time, and has increased their expectation that they will get a reward for just turning up. In most apps and games, you get dopamine hits via well designed reward systems for doing very little. You also very rarely fail, as you can just drop straight back into the game and often carry on from where you left off.

Okay, rant over. So how do we approach a unit of writing that can span three weeks, often four with interuptions such as Sports day, Book week, Science Day, trips out, absences and the like? In these units of work, we expect children to carry large amounts of technical information with them and apply this in the end outcome – and if I am honest – rarely see much real progress from the children we need to see catching up. Progress is often slow and irregular with bad habits occurring time and time again. Yes we edit, and revise the work and yes they improve it – but have they mastered anything – how confident do they feel? Can they apply it elsewhere? Not really. Give them a writing task outside the unit of work and they revert to type and show a much less mature writing style which is actually where they are.

So, what do we have in our modern pedagogical armoury that can help us help them? Well, let me explain what I think might work. We will then give it a go next term and I will let you know how we get on.


DAY 1 – I think we should start each unit of writing with a hook – video, writing, artwork – something that we can ‘read’ and become passionate about. No surprise there!

INNOVATION – lots of modelled and shared writing

DAY 2 – Then we need to go straight into innovating sentence structures and learning useful vocabulary. In the innovation section we would explicity revise core grammatical structures using our SVO skeleton. The skeleton allows us to use the same codes across the school to represent sentence structures in order to scaffold their understanding of how sentences work. As an example, we may start with compound sentences (SVO,cSVO.) and explore how thy could be used.

Challenges always available for those who have mastered this – but where possible these should deepen their understanding of the different ways you could use this structure for effect in writing or any anomalies that can occur. For example – SVO,cSVO is often written as SVO,cVO. as the subject is not always repeated. Another example is when to use a comma and the Oxford comma. Using a semi-colon to replace the conjunction.

DAY 3 – We then add another sentence type (Adv, SVO.) and explor how fronted adverbials could help us express ourselves and why and when we would use them. We would then compose a short paragraph using compound sentencs and fronted adverbials. For true mastery we would also expect them to be able to identify these structures in other writing.

Challenge – using a variety of types of fronted adverbial; recognising the difference between a fronted adverbial and a subordinate clause

DAY 4 – If we have mastered the work so far we can add another structure. Perhaps noun phrases (SVadj,adj and adj O.) We could add this structure to our previous two and be playful with the way we use them in a short piece of writing.

Challenge could be around the vocabulary they are choosing and thinking more deeply about the way the adjectives work together and complement each other.


DAY 5 – At this point the class teacher may feel that the three structures that have ben introduced may need further consolidation with a group or groups and GD children have been indentified in this unit as they have clarly mastered these structures. The GD group would be given more challenguing structures with written examples to have a go at whilst the teacher and TAs worked with those who needed to master the first three structures.

IMMERSION – lots of drama and oral retelling and guided oracy

DAY 6 – Immersion – now I think it is far more appropriate to read texts and revisit the hook and expect the children to see the sentence structurs we have innovated as they shoukd have mastered them. The focus here shoud be on pulling out the WHY. Why do we use these structures and for what effect? What type of vocabulary is appropriate for this style of writing.

DAY 7 – Immersion – continue to go deeper into the text type. Use drama to explore the language they need to be confident using and have high expectations that they rehearse the sentence structures they have innovated orally. They can emphasise punctuation, conjunctions, fronted adverbials and adjectives to demonstrate their presence BOTH to improve their oral performance but also to show they understand their importance in the writing. Teacher will need to perform so they can see the standard expected. Guided groups can create performances with an adult.

Importantly – performances are done to an iPad and sahred on Seesaw so that all children have a chance to share and be heard, they have the privacy to be braver than in front of the whole class and this is far more time efficient.

DAY 8 – Further immersion and recording and oral performance of their response to the task – no writing at all – just speaking it our and exploring the language – revelling in it. AT our school they could record this as a video onto their Seesaw account


DAY 9 – Planning/writing – watch their video and then start to build on that as a piece of writing. Thy should be encouraged to use a planning style that suits them Some children like to draft ideas and redraft – other love a dtailed plan to start with. We need to get away from a one size fits all planning lesson.

Day 10 – Planning/writing/ editing – including guided editing

Day 11 – Planning/writing/ editing

Day 12 – Planning/writing/ editing

Day 13/14 – Writing a final copy to send off, share, display

Okay – that is the idea. Hopefully this means that they will carry the sentence structures with them and then be able to use them purposefully and confidently in their final writing.

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