Whole school writing projects are a fun, creative and simple way to enthuse children and promote writing across the curriculum.
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When children are engaged, they write more and the writing they produce is of a much higher quality – we know this is a fact. Whole school writing projects can inspire even the most reluctant of writers to create work of which they can be proud and motivate the highest achieving to experiment with language in new, challenging ways. Whole school writing projects are a fantastic way to promote writing across the school and curriculum, creating a buzz about a topic and generating a positive atmosphere. Now, more than ever, as the curriculum focuses so relentlessly and narrowly on grammar and spelling, a project like this can be just what a school needs to inspire and motivate children to write for a real purpose.
Choose your stimulus and outcomes carefully
It is important to find an engrossing stimulus or ‘hook’ to grab your children’s attention. The resource, whether it’s a video clip, piece of music, art work, email or letter to the children must be appealing to all age groups and genders and initiate a range of activities and tasks that are age-appropriate and meaningful to all the children. Think carefully about what you want to achieve at the end of the project – it could be writing activities carried out alongside parents, creating a display for your school’s entrance hall, publishing a school book showcasing every child and adult’s writing, using new technology to promote writing or even delivering a podcast or blog for the school website.
A fantastic resource to use, if you’re thinking about writing opportunities for a new class or new school year, is the inspiring and moving book, The Matchbox Diary written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. This is a lovingly told story about a grandfather’s journey from Italy to America as a young boy -as told to his granddaughter – and perfect for inspiring writing of all genres. In the story, a memory is tucked away in each of the Grandfather’s matchboxes; a photo, a letter, a tooth and even an olive stone become a portal into the past as he tells his granddaughter why they are special to him and their significance in his journey.
Invite every child and adult to bring in an object which has a special memory attached to it, thus initiating some wonderful storytelling and writing opportunities. To celebrate, create a dazzling whole school display, where the objects are hidden away in matchboxes (or any type of small box) and surrounded by a range of writing.
Get everyone involved in the planning
Schedule a meeting to introduce colleagues to the resource. The Matchbox Diary is a complex, multi-layered text and you need to allow time to explore the book, discuss it and plan writing opportunities relevant to each year group and class. Agree on how long you want the project to run – a day, a week, a term? As a team you may wish to collapse the curriculum for a few days in order to immerse the children in the project. Agree on the areas that you feel need your focus. Shared planning is a great opportunity to reflect on your school priorities, how writing is viewed across the school and in the wider community.
However, too often, we spend time planning exciting projects for the children, without ever asking their views, meaning that projects can become flat and uninspiring. Before starting your project, you can inject some energy by soliciting pupils’ views on writing – what do they enjoy about it and what do they find challenging? You might use Just Imagine’s pupil perception survey or the Everybody Writes auditing tool.
Give each class an overview of the resource you have in mind to stimulate writing and ask for their feedback. Do they think everyone will engage with the stimulus? What writing would they like to do in relation to it? Record the children’s ideas on sugar paper and create a display in your staff room, which everyone can add to – LSAs, governors, MDAs etc.
If using ‘The Matchbox Diary’, ask the parents to send in a matchbox with a special object hidden within and a note to explain why it is special to them. You may even wish to invite parents in to write alongside their child and create their own matchbox diary. These can be added to displays around the school. Matchboxes are less common these days, so if it proves problematic, you can purchase blank craft boxes cheaply
You may wish to invite local senior citizens into the school to discuss and share their memories.
Ensure progression of outcomes
Whilst planning writing opportunities relating to your event or stimulus, it is vital that you ensure progression across the year groups and within each class – the writing opportunities should be sufficiently challenging for all pupils whilst encouraging them to be creative. Look at your class and tailor the tasks to their needs and interests. In my opinion, it would be disappointing to see the same display in every class and corridor, showing the same type of writing on the same worksheet or proforma.
Using The Matchbox Diary as a starting point, reception children could label their own objects, Key Stage One children could write about why their object is special to them, some children could write riddles which encourage the reader to guess the object hidden inside and older children may be inspired to write their own diary extract or book based on the objects they bring in. Classes could even work alongside each other and work collaboratively. The great thing about this book is that it provides writing opportunities that are easy to differentiate throughout the school and will lead to compositions that are personal to each child.
Creating a buzz
Creating a buzz about the whole school writing project is important, firing up children’s imagination and curiosity. Display posters about it or hint at it in the weekly newsletter, for example. If using The Matchbox Diary, send out a letter to all parents asking them to ensure their child bring in an object that reminds them of something special in a labelled bag for a ‘special,’ writing project. Photos can then be taken of the objects in advance if children are worried about not having their item returned. Set an agreed date for when you are going to introduce the topic to the children and introduce it to them enthusiastically in a whole school assembly. Ask all colleagues to attend and show their interest and support.
Share, celebrate and review
Allow time to share and celebrate the writing that has been created, both in your class and across the school. Children could explore each other’s matchboxes and writing in class and guess which object belongs to whom. Year 6 children could go and share their writing and matchbox diaries with younger children, parents could be invited in to listen to their child’s work or you could create a whole school, interactive display where children can read about each other’s special memories, open the matchbox diaries and see, touch and smell a range of ‘memories’ and artefacts.
Finally, to gauge impact, ask the children once more about the project and what they enjoyed and if they have any ideas for future whole school writing opportunities. I can guarantee they will.