Our school has recently had a bike shelter fitted outside the junior block (well, right outside my classroom actually!). Gone are the days of the bike shed, this is a bike shelter, and very space-age and sleek it looks too. Now, thus far the children have thought of all sorts of uses for it: swinging on the bars designed for securing the bikes to; doing exercises on it; hiding behind it. Fortunately, we’ve also had a few bikes appear in it, although as the children are required to bring in helmets if they use it, this is a rather rarer occurrence.
Anyway, the reason that I’ve mentioned this is that another thing the children love to do with the new bike shelter is to write on it! On cold mornings when condensation covers this clear, plastic shelter, one regularly walks out in the morning to find it covered in writing. Surprisingly, some of it is perfectly polite…some of it! And you can bet that many of the children responsible for this daring act of rebellion are unlikely to have spent their holidays writing book reports. So why do they do it? Simple: they think that they are breaking the rules. And if children who are often reluctant writers enjoy breaking the rules then the implications are simple: let them break them! Now I’m not talking about tying ties around heads, giving them water pistols (or BB guns – mine is an inner-city school!) and letting them run riot around the school building. But building that natural instinct to break the rules into your writing lessons can certainly improve all children’s enthusiasm, engagement and enjoyment of writing!
1. Writing on windows
Pretty simple. The children write on the window with a whiteboard pen, it stays there for the duration of the lesson, you rub it off at the end of the lesson with a wet cloth. The cleaners won’t like you, but you’re there to teach! What they write requires more careful consideration…The sentence which they are particularly pleased with, whole paragraphs (if you have the space), the range of punctuation which they have used…I’m sure you will have ideas of your own! Following a shared writing session (as ‘shared’ as I could make it!) with a lower ability Year 6 class and in the absence of a TA, I recently asked the children to write down with their partner five adventurous words or connectives from the board which they think they could try and use in their writing. I then asked them to write them onto the window (I set the rule that they could only spend 15 secs at the window before passing the pen back to their partner!). After a few minutes of chaos the window had become a ‘word bank’ for the children and they were engaged in the writing process!
2. Graffiti Wall
This is an idea which I have borrowed from Jim Smith, the author of ‘The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook’. As he suggested, I simply bought some cheap wallpaper from a local DIY store and covered one of my display boards with it. You then have a wall that the children can write all over – is this even naughtier than writing on the windows? I have used this idea with great effect with our class book. At various stages the children wrote sentences such as an ‘Imagine 3 examples:’ (thank you Alan Peat!), and newspaper headlines/lead paragraphs etc. As well as being a great rule-breaker, this wall also became a great memory aid when re-capping the story so far!
3. Under the Table
You only have to look under the table in a school, particularly a secondary school, to know that young people love to write under the table. So, stick a big sheet of paper under the table, set them off on a task, and let them write away! At some point it would definitely be a good idea to get them to read their work aloud, or do some peer assessment, just to check that what they’re writing in some way resembles what you’ve asked them to!
4. On the Playground
Great use of a plenary, but can also be adapted to make a whole lesson. Give the children some chalk, and away they go. Again, children could be asked to write their best sentence they’ve written, their scariest sentence, or even a sentence they’re not sure about so that others can check it for them…Another approach that works is that children write a story or text trail of key sentences onto the floor of the playground, and they then walk along their trail, talking the text. If you have the technology they could even record this to watch and score against given criteria when the children re-assemble in the classroom.
Hopefully, I’ve offered a few ideas here to anyone struggling to engage reluctant writers, or anyone who just wants to add a bit of fun to their writing lessons! Enjoy!
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Chris is a Y6 teacher and Literacy Coordinator in Birmingham, UK. Please add him to twitter and read his other blog posts here http://chrisfarnen.wordpress.com/