Prior to founding Pobble, I spent 16 happy years as a primary school teacher and deputy head. The final school I worked in was a hub for pupils with EAL (English as an additional language) also children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. We also had a significant number of children with Special Educational needs. I taught across all age groups in Primary but when thinking about the challenges of teaching writing one particular class stands out. I had a class of 39 9 and 10-year-olds which included 14 children on the SEN register, 4 with EHCPs and also a number of the children who had significant behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. Teaching writing was a real challenge! It was common at the start of the year for children to write very little, sometimes they would even put their heads on the table, or put down their pencils and refuse to write. I quickly had to adapt and create strategies that would ensure even the most reluctant writers were engaged and motivated to write.
One of the things, that drove me to create Pobble is that I felt that the challenges I was facing and the ideas I was trying to implement in my own school, were similar to the challenges that teachers like yourself are facing every single day.
The things that I learned, I've taken forward in the work that I do now with Pobble and they've helped us shape the platform to become a powerful tool for engaging and motivating children to write. Here are my top 10 ideas that I now see working really effectively in the schools that I support.
Having an exciting hook, whether it's a brilliant book, a video clip, role play or a powerful image at the very beginning of a lesson is incredibly important. The more exciting and interesting it is for the children, the more you'll get out of them. If I just said "we're going to write about this today," without that hook, it was never quite the same. When I was teaching and we were starting a new topic, I had a silver box that would be full of props, there would be a bit of magic while the children would try to guess what we were going to be learning or writing about, it aways sparked their imagination, right from the start.If you need exciting hooks to engage and support the children, you'll find something on Pobble. I used to spend hours finding images that were of interest and that were copyright free and so Pobble 365 was created for that reason. I wanted it to be something that was brilliant for me as a teacher because it would have saved me loads of time and I wanted that for others. For those of you not familiar, Pobble 365 is a free image every day of the year. With every image you’ll find story starters, questions that the children can discuss with their partners about the picture and some useful sentence and grammar activities as well. What's really nice about the platform is that you can spend a little bit of time exploring, anything that you like you simply click save, and it's there and available for you to use at a later date.
I was certainly guilty as a teacher of saying "I did this last year and it worked really well so I'm going to do it again", but one of the big things I learned from working with colleagues in EYFS was building upon the children's interests. They would talk to the children and develop the learning around what the children wanted to learn about. The further we move through school we haven't always got that flexibility, but if there's something great on the television that all the kids are watching you could link your literacy to that to spark interest from the children in your class. It could be I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, The Masked Singer or even a sporting event, either way you can build your literacy lessons alongside it. Building upon children's interests, learning what they're intrigued by, and finding the opportunities to write about things that they care about is really important.
There's a vast array of brilliant lesson presentations already made for you on Pobble. If you’re looking for things that the children are interested in then simply search our resources. Some children don't just like writing stories, so Pobble News offers non-fiction writing ideas based on current child-friendly news stories.
Another thing I learned quickly was that the more that my lessons could link together, the better. It really helped me, particularly when it came to those longer writing pieces to pull all the teaching points and activities I was setting together. If I was teaching a theme or topic I would find a way to link in something quite discreet in grammar, then a set of spellings, and then read a text that was related to the writing task that we were doing. The more things you can connect with your theme or topic, the easier it will be for the children to get involved. Think about your weaker writers too, if a child is going out to do an intervention group, can the group connect with what is going on in the classroom as well, rather than them doing something totally different?
I mentioned that I'd love to link my ideas together, that's why in Pobble we've added theme or topic-based lessons. We have 35 topics that are differentiated six times, from 4-5-year-olds, all the way through to 10 and 11-year-olds, each has literacy activities including vocabulary, spelling, punctuation and sentence challenges all linked to the theme, plus they're curriculum aligned and editable! That's great for cross-school, but it's also great if you are planning some type of catch up programme, and you have an 11-year-old class with some children working at, for example, age 9, you can give those children or the TA that's working with them a very similar lesson on the same theme and topic.
You can find out more about all of Pobble's editable lessons here.
I remember looking back at writing books at the end of the year in some of the year groups that I taught, and thinking gosh, there isn't much in there! We'd done lots of hot seating, drama, and lots of analysing texts, but actually, we haven't put pencil to paper as often as maybe we should have. So one of the things, the further I went in my career I did would be to try to find the opportunity every single day to just write; even for five or ten minutes. It might be to write questions, to write a paragraph, or respond to a picture on the wall. We'd have an English book, and then we had a free write book where it was open to them to write whatever they wanted. Introducing Free Writing Friday is a great way to do this. The more opportunities the children got to write, the better that writing became, it's great for building stamina for writing too.
Lots of people come to Pobble because they're looking to develop stamina for writing, our Quick Writes make excellent homework or short burst writing activities that just allow children to put pencil to paper and build that stamina and the topics are really fun and engaging.
In my class, the more things I could provide to help those children to begin writing the better. Modelling writing is a brilliant way of supporting them, you can give them four or five sentence openers, ready-made word banks or vocabulary ideas on a flip chart. The more we can give the children when they start to write, the more engaged and motivated they are. Writing checklists are helpful for reminding children of some of the features they need to include. Something I would always do with my writing checklists was to provide some examples as well. So if I'd said they need to use good sentence openers, I would provide three examples of a good sentence opener so there was always that connection and a piece of support.
As the children in my class began to write more independently, I thought about what other tools and resources I could provide in Pobble too. We've produced lots of ready-made word banks, plus the platform allows you to easily make your own. Also in Pobble, you have the ability to add your own writing checklist. We even provide suggestions of what might go in it. For example, I might be looking for some statements to include in a writing checklist that might take me an awful lot of time to put together, but in Pobble you can select them from our suggestions area. That's, of course providing the children with the right level of support whilst they're writing.
What always makes a big difference is showing children what a good piece of writing looks like. Sometimes we would call them 'WAGOLLs' (what a good one looks like), many of you will be familiar with that term. I often used to feel huge pressure when I got my flip chart out and I started to model or do a piece of shared writing with the children as you're always thinking on your feet. One of the things I started to do at the end of every school year, was photocopy examples of real children's work from the children that were in my class and I would pop them all into a box. As I moved to the different year groups, this pile of brilliant pieces of writing would build and every year when I was teaching a particular topic or piece, I would find a piece of writing that I'd done previously with the children and I would use it as an example piece. We then moved to having a visualiser so I could pop it under and we would look at those example pieces together. I would often share average pieces with them and as a class, we would say, right, what could we do to make this better?
Pobble now has over 430,000 examples of children's work so it's easy to share real examples of writing with your class. You can then do an up levelling activity or an editing activity with them. You can click to save them, add them to a presentation or build a set of activities and slides around them. It's an amazing part of the platform and very unique to Pobble as there really isn't anywhere else that you can get real authentic pieces of children's work to support children when they're writing.
I must stress the importance of children being able to self-review and also receive feedback from their peers as well. I go into schools now where the teacher says, "look back at your own work, I want you to improve it." But actually improving your own writing is really difficult. If you've ever tried to review one of your own emails or documents or your school reports, sometimes you just don't spot your own mistakes. So actually, that's a skill we need to teach children. One of the ways that you can do that is by looking at other pieces of more general work and trying to look at what good editing is. Peer review is exactly the same. Lots of children just rely on the child that sits next to them, but there were things I put in place in my class to improve that. We'd have something called feedback Friday, where I'd always build in time where they would get up, walk around the classroom, and they would either use a post-it note or a verbal comment to provide each other with feedback. Any way that we can help children to get better quality feedback from their peers, and also learn to review and edit their own work is really important.
Because we know the importance of peer and self-feedback, we've built pupil tools, especially for this reason into Pobble. With their own pupil logins, children can access and interact with them independently. You can read more about those here.
One of the reasons that you may want to edit your work and improve it is if it's going to go somewhere. If that work is just going to stay in a book, what is the motivation for that child to actually do a better version? Motivation to write is often a challenge so one of the things I always tried to do as a teacher was provide an endpoint. If we were writing letters, we were going to go post them in a letterbox in the classroom. If it was a piece of persuasive writing, I would try to ensure their persuasive pieces had an outcome. As amazing as my headteacher was, he was never going to get rid of school uniform or give the children extra playtime, the children could have written the best persuasive piece of writing ever and it was going to have no impact. So, one of the things that I did that worked really well is that I knew we were getting a bundle of iPads into my school. At the time, we had one iPad per class. So I said to the children, I want you to write to the headteacher and explain how in year 5, we need a class set of iPads. The children wrote these brilliant pieces of persuasive writing because of course, they all wanted access to an iPad. You could imagine the reaction two weeks later when our headteacher walked in with a pile of new iPads for us to say, "you convinced me"! There was a purpose, there was a result, and something happened because of the writing that the children did. And it's the same with creative writing. It could be putting it on a display. It could be standing up in an assembly or visiting another classroom to read their work out.
One of the things that we're very passionate about at Pobble is providing a platform that allows children to become published authors. Schools can sign up for their own publishing space where they can share writing with the global Pobble community. The idea is to raise the profile of writing by giving children an audience and purpose through the public platform, you can very easily celebrate the work of children with your own school celebration page as well.
Celebration of those end pieces that they've spent a lot of time doing, is so important. You can select 'star writers' of the week, but as a much simpler version, you could have a super sentence board in the classroom. If the children do something brilliant in their book or your lower ability writers suddenly produce a sentence that has a capital letter and a full stop, ask them to copy it onto a post-it note and put it on the super sentence board. It can be as simple as a white A3 piece of laminated paper with the heading 'super sentence'. The children love having their sentences recognised and put onto that board, it's a celebration for them.
To really maximise celebration, Pobble schools publish the writing of their star writers, regardless of ability every week on Pobble! Children put more effort into their writing if they know other people are going to look at it - it’s that simple! You can read more about Pobble publishing here.
We've thought of everything when it comes to celebrating your young writers, we offer Pobble certificates, stickers, lanyards and even resources to create your own Pobble class/school display!
Regularly celebrating your young writers' successes across your whole school motivates the child to repeat the writing process. If you really want to raise the profile of writing in your school, that celebration point at the end is key!
As you can see, Pobble really does support the teaching of writing every step of the way. Individual teachers can gain unlimed access to all of these tools for only £4 a month, or with a whole school subscription, you get unlimited subscriptions for your staff and pupils!
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