This is who I am. My personal blog is called Changing Phase (Google it) and that’s where I put my musings on all things language-based. Then Spanish@StPauls is my school blog, which celebrates the work that the children do and also give them things to do at home. Ideas Ed is my company through which I work now.
Why should we do writing? Some say we shouldn’t as they just get confused with English, and secondary teachers will have to undo all the mistakes afterwards. But it gives pupils a huge sense of success, achievement and pride to be able to write in a foreign language, and of course it allows them to access other cultures and intercultural understanding just as much, or maybe more than, pictures do. They can read books in the TL and write letters to children in other countries. KS2 Framework says that pupils should be able to access different kinds of text – simple stories, poems, information texts, adverts, letters, messages in paper and in electronic forms, and that they should be able to write simple sentences and short texts for different purposes and audiences. However, in practice, a lot of the writing that they will do is copying and labelling. It’s a big leap to get from the lists of nouns, which is what each topic starts off with, to a piece of prose or poetry in another language. Plus the development of writing in later KS2 is something that was highlighted in the 2010 Ofsted report. Non-specialist teachers are comfortable building up lists of vocabulary but don’t often have the confidence to take the writing from word to phrase to sentence level.
Copying and labelling won’t help pupils to become confident writers of extended French or Spanish. They need direct and focused help to move from that presentation phase to the application and manipulation phase. The learner needs to be guided through a series of small steps, to build up from word level to phrase level to sentence level to text level.
Writing is the skill about which secondary pupils are the least confident. You work through a topic and through the grammar points then give them the assignment for their coursework. Then they groan and say “I can’t write French”. They don’t see that they have a file full of materials that they can adapt and use to help them. If they had had the training from an early age….
There are ways of taking them through small steps to build up their confidence and to make them understand what they have to do. In Art and Technology, pupils are shown an example of what they are setting out to emulate. Imagine signing yourself up for a glass-blowing course, going along on the first day and being shown the furnace, the pole and the pigments, and then the teacher says “Make a coloured vase.” How would you feel ? You’d want to see an example of the finished product, to be shown the steps involved in making it, and to practise the steps yourself.
Pupils are also scared of writing because they think they have to write a lot. But you don’t have to write a lot in a foreign language, or in any language, to communicate effectively. Yes you can write several sides of A4, but often a phrase on a post-it is just as effective. The important thing is the steps that you go through. Build up the vocab that they are going to need, model the text type, then have a go at one all together (joint construction) and then let them loose on it by themselves.
Here are some examples of how you can take word lists that you have taught to your pupils, model how to “up” them to a sentence or phrase level, and see what pupils come up with. A simple example is the “Hello Goodbye” poem. Pupils have to come up with 2 nouns to complete each sentence. This is the one which was given as an example in one of the Pathfinder books.
For another example, here’s an example of one I felt like writing last October. So, I’ve given you a couple of examples. Have a look at the lists of nouns and other words that Y3s and Y4s will have covered, and see if you can come up with anything. Even the most simple of writing tasks should involve some aspect of thought, choice or selection. There are some alternatives to the Hello Goodbye, but still using the same idea:
Look at the sentences to see how they are made up, then do a shared writing exercise where pupils all contribute to support each other. Then they can use the word lists to individualise the poem. Each will be different because each grandma is different.
Let’s have a go at one together. This one maybe won’t differ as much as the grandmother one, but pupils will still enjoy putting their own spin on it. They’ll be recycling language that they’ve already learned to make a new product.
Looking for a new way of introducing new sentences ? You could always use a code. This means that you will be reusing known language in a new context and in a fun way. The easiest way to make a code is to use numbers or maybe a picture font. They will have fun deciphering your sentences and then can practice making their own in a fun and non-threatening way by adapting your model to make their own for their classmates. Writing in code themselves will make them see letter patterns more clearly than perhaps if they were writing in letters. For example, the “s” symbol appearing on the end of each word. The structure will also make them think about what they are putting into their sentences.
Another way to drive home the structure of a sentence and how the same structure can be reused and recycled to make lots of new sentences quickly and easily is to use a dice game. Let’s have a go and see how many different sentences we can make. Look at the structure of the sentence – what order do we need to put the words in to make it correct ? Each time we are reusing the structure and the word comí, but writing lots and lots of different sentences. Once pupils have had a go at this, they might be able to still reuse the structure but change the other variables, like the days or the numbers, or even the verb. We’re also reusing vocabulary from other units to make something completely new – reducing the workload again.
Let’s look at a more complex sentence. This is like the dice roll but the next stage, if you like. It involves more free choice and is less prescriptive. It might scare children off being long and complex with words in it that they haven’t seen before. You need to scaffold it for them – to provide a support until such a time as they are happy to go it alone. Ask the children to tell you what they DO know. (it’ll be most of the sentence) Look at the order of the words in the sentence. Discuss the words they don’t know. Ask what they can change in the sentence to make it mean something different. Then experiment. Each time they’ll be reusing the structure (for security) and recycling language they already know in a new context. And they have the scope to be creative and to make silly sentences. Let’s have a go !
You’ve moved from word level here to sentence level, and a complex sentence at that. Another idea for this one – could use personal description. Now let’s see if we can go one step further and write a paragraph. It’s much easier than it sounds. All you need are some joining words. Do you know what these mean ? You could use some sequencing words like puis, ensuite and finalement as well.
Another way to support writing in this way, to make the structure clear while giving lots of options for creativity, is to use a writing frame. This is a basic example (just one gender of animal and colour) but you can still see how it makes the structure of the sentence explicit – it’s very clear which parts of the sentence don’t change – while giving plenty of scope for changing it. This is another scaffolding activity, which supports children while they’re experimenting with and learning how to do the sentences, and eventually they will be confident enough to try their own. You can discuss the word classes that are in each column to make the structure even clearer, and this will reinforce your literacy work nicely. The idea, of course, is that you go from column to column, left to right, picking up one thing from each column to make your sentence. If you feel that your pupils need a bit more support to start off with, to understand how the frame works, you can do a PIN numbers activity.
Give each item on the writing frame a number and then give pupils a series of numbers to decipher the sentence. Have a go at these. Once pupils have got the hang of how to use the frame, and can see that they are moving from left to right and picking up one thing from each column as they go, they can start to use the PIN numbers themselves to make some sentences for their partners to decipher. This helps them to practise the structure more and to think about the meaning and the word order.
This frame is a bit more pupil and primary friendly. It’s a lily-pad frame, and the idea is that the frog jumps across the pond from left to right, picking up a word or phrase as he goes. An idea for writing with a purpose (thank you Steven Fawkes!) – label a poster. Can use the language to make it amusing, can read and enjoy each others post-its, good for display. LABEL POSTER
Living writing frames – used to great effect in the W Sussex GfL schemes. Children hold cards in line to make a sentence. Recite them and gradually turn over the cards until they’re saying a “blank” sentence. Then add new words in and recite the new sentence.
Mini-books are something that I have had great success with with KS2 this year, and the piece of work that triggered this presentation. There is a lot of scope for retelling familiar stories, and there are a lot of tools around these days that you can use to help you to make stories if you can’t find what you’re looking for in existing materials. I’d found the information about how to make a mini-book, origami-style, a while ago, but hadn’t yet found a way to use it in the classroom. Until by chance I found this book on Amazon – a set of simple stories in Spanish for beginner learners. There are other more complex ones and non-fiction in the series too. There was one story in there that caught my eye and which I could see that would be useful. We were looking at nouns. What gender is all about, how you can spot which gender a noun is, the importance of un and una, and we were hanging it all on classroom objects, as they don’t appear in schemes of work and are kind of useful. I took the mini-book “¿Qué veo? And read it with the children. They each had their own copy:
I then showed them a story I had made myself using Storybird, adapting this theme (remember – show them a model of what they are aiming for)
Then I introduced them to the dictionary and showed them how they could use it to find nouns to put in their own story, which they would write, illustrate and put into a mini-book. The results were amazing. You can see videos of them on the school blog. All they had to do essentially was to find 7 nouns and find out if they were masculine or feminine. That’s the new language, but they were recycling their knowledge of gender and articles and also the title of their mini-book and the structure of each of the pages. Remember that at the time they had been learning Spanish for a term and a half. They wouldn’t have been half as successful if we hadn’t built it up in small steps, always concentrating on what we already knew and looking at the reusable structures. And like the post-its before, the mini-book is a nice small, non-threatening size. (Here, if time, make own mini-book)
All the best people adapt others’ models and ideas. (I can’t be the only one who goes straight to the back of the Collins Robert if they have to write a formal letter in French!) Take something you know, enhance it using someone else’s example, and you come up with something completely individual and unique, and ultimately satisfying.
So I hope this has given you some ideas of how to REDUCE the fear of writing and the difficulty of writing by REUSING structures and RECYCLING prior learning, or vocab they’ve learned before
Introducing new sentences Mon monstre a cinq , deux , six et trois . y l x k w j v i u h z t s r q p o n m g f e d c b a
Dice roll ______ comí ____ _____. sombreros doce sábado coches once viernes princesas diez jueves canguros nueve miércoles manzanas ocho martes zanahorias siete lunes objeto número día
Adapt a sentence Léa a un chat noir qui mange du poisson. Léa a un chat noir qui mange du poisson .
Léa a un chat noir qui mange du poisson. Théo a un oiseau bleu qui mange des frites. Manon a une poule rose qui mange de la laitue. mais et donc cependant Adapt a sentence
Writing frames du poisson. des bonbons. du yaourt de la tomate. qui mange noir jaune bleu rouge un chat un mouton un coucou un cheval a Léa Théo Manon Julien