Beginning Writers - What to Expect in Year One

How to Approach Writing with Beginners

There are two schools of thought currently in schools. The first is that students are encouraged to 'write' a story from when they start school and then the teacher scribes for them. Advocates of this method feel that students learn from the beginning that these marks on paper mean something, as well as learning conventions such as writing from left to right, writing on a line, leaving spaces between words, beginning with a capital letter and ending with a full stop. Phonics is also taught in a variety of ways.

The second is where students begin with handwriting that links to a phonics programme so are learning that this letter makes this sound. They are also learning the writing conventions and transition to story writing when the teacher can see they have the rudimentary knowledge to begin sounding out words. Handwriting still continues. 

The Importance of Oral Language

It sounds like a no brainer to say that if a student can't speak in sentences then it's difficult for them to write them. Some students do struggle with this skill when entering school and it's important to support this ability. Having 'news time' for the class or groups of students on different days can be a valuable way for a student to find their voice in a class setting and gain confidence in speaking in front of others. 'Pair sharing' their writing ideas with a learning buddy is another way of sorting out what to write. The teacher will also work with students on articulating their thoughts for writing.


News Time

Phonics - Where it Fits

Some form of phonics is always taught in the early primary years. It is understanding what sounds letters make. New entrant students generally learn the common sound for each letter of the alphabet and how to write it. They first hear the beginning sounds of words, then gradually the middle and end sounds. They learn how to 'blend' sounds to make words. C a t becomes cat and so forth. Phonics is an essential skill for sounding out words in both reading and writing.

The Complementary Nature of Writing and Reading

While students are learning numerous skills and conventions in writing, they are doing the same in Reading. Understanding that these marks have meaning, that we read from left to right, that there are spaces between words, that sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop, to mention but a few.  They are also applying the phonics knowledge that they are acquiring; understanding that this letter or letters makes this sound, to try to figure out new words. These skills complement each other in reading and writing and together build a students literacy ability.



High Frequency Words

These are the words most commonly used in texts and can make up between 25% to 50% of the text. Some can be sounded out but others need to be learned. Students are often given words to practise so they can recognize  them quickly. As they learn them, reading becomes easier and although they are not yet spelling the words they can find them on word cards designed to help early writers. This provides a feeling of accomplishment and independence to early writers.

Planning Writing

Motivation for writing can be from a multitude of sources, a recent event in the students life, a class trip, builders working in the school, a favourite sport or activity, a funny picture or YouTube etc. The students will generally get the opportunity to share their ideas with a learning buddy or the group or class. The teacher will generally model the writing, including 'sounding out' for the class, which also reinforces the conventions. Early writers then begin their planning with a picture. Pictures help to spark and express ideas and can provide details for their writing. The color of the car or the size of the animal.



The Writing

Parents have expressed to teachers over the years how their child's handwriting is quite tidy and yet their story writing can be messy. When students are handwriting there is usually a very specific formula to follow or copy and the focus is on correct formation and neatness. However when a student is story writing there is so much to think about. The sentence or sentences that tell the story, how to sound out the words, as well as all the conventions. 

Students are supported through the process by the teacher, who will work with groups who have specific goals. It may be to sound out words, or have finger spaces between words etc. The aim is that over time students develop sufficient skill to begin writing independently. They may be only sounding out the dominant sounds in words but can write from left to right, leave spaces between words, start their sentence with a capital letter and end it with a full stop. Gradually  and with increased phonics knowledge students can sound out the beginning of words, then the end and finally those pesky vowels in the middle.



Writing Reflection

For our beginning writers, reflection is usually around the skills of writing rather than the content.  Visual prompts are provided so the student can check they have begun with a capital letter, ended with a full stop etc. With practise the student is able to understand and share what they are good at doing and what they need to work on.

Liam said, I like to tell a story.

Ella said, I like to think and concentrate when I write.

Lucian said, I learn new things when I write.

Kaylah said, I like how I sound out words to try to get them right.

Key Words

Phonics, oral language, high frequency words, writing conventions, scribing

English Curriculum. Poihipi Team Writing Boys No 4