Keeping your class on top form in writing lessons is a challenge, especially once they reach the top end of primary school. For many the mention of writing has them slumped in their chairs and grumbling. As a teacher you are constantly trying to find new and imaginative ways to grab their attention.
I decided to try something new to gain the focus and concentration of my thirty-four eleven year olds; using picture books and toys! At eleven, whether they like to admit it or not, they’re all still partial to toys; that imagination and the urge to explore is just hidden behind a cool key stage 2 front.
I began by presenting my class with a box of toys, objects and everyday items such as Lego characters, balls, blu-tac, brushes and handwriting pens. To include such a wide variety of objects ensured there would be something for everyone. They were intrigued and engrossed. I then shared the book The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. This book is amazing! If you are new to this text, please seek it out. Initially, my mature and very streetwise class eyed the book suspiciously. There were giggles and some huffing and puffing. “That’s a baby book!” one pupil exclaimed. I sat on my desk, crossed my legs and began to read.
After the first two lines, my room fell silent. Eyes gazing and pure focus. The classroom gradually filled with laughter, remorse and questions. All from a picture book! The text discussion was mature. Using previous knowledge as well as generating new ideas, my pupils were able to empathise with crayons! Playing Hot Seat and Role on the Wall (from Talk Across the Curriculum) helped the children to brainstorm and organise their thoughts. Now, it was all systems go.
As the book is set out as letters, I explained we would be writing persuasive letters to our owners. “Owners?” whispered the puzzled pupils. That’s when it hit them – they were going to become one of the items in the box.
The children spent a good fifteen to twenty minutes talking and ‘playing’ with the toys and different objects. I overheard one pupil say, “stop putting me behind your ear, I can see the wax,” as he held a pencil in his hand. Comments like this were added to the working wall. There were so many humorous statements that the viewpoint in their writing was precise. Another child shouted, “and tell your sister I am not Prince Charming. I am Luke Skywalker!”
As the teacher, I shared two WAGOLLs, differentiated, so all pupils could see what was expected. The success criteria and key features being clearly highlighted and the learning journey scattered across the working wall helped the children to see what they were doing, but most importantly, why. Audience and purpose was always displayed so pupils had high aspirations, knowing their work would be seen by many. The class began to write and there was no stopping them! Ideas and inspiration flowed as they wrote in character as their chosen toy.
The persuasive letters that my class produced were the best writing I had ever seen from them; full of humour and empathy as well as including all the persuasive techniques and grammar required. The pupils saw it as an ‘easy’ task because it was a ‘baby book’ and they got to play with toys!
How little they know…
Niki Tighe is a freelance English teacher based in Yorkshire. You can find her over on Twitter @tighe_niki