About Talk for Writing

Talk for Writing enables children to imitate the key language they need for a particular topic orally before they try reading and analysing it.  Through fun activities that help them rehearse the tune of the language they need, followed by shared writing to show them how to craft their writing, children are helped to write in the same style.  Schools that have adopted the approach have not only increased their children's progress but have found that children and teachers alike love it and their writing flourishes as a result.  It not only works throughout primary schools from the Early Years to Year 6 but also in secondary schools where it is key to making literacy across the curriculum really work.

Talk for Writing, developed by Pie Corbett supported by Julia Strong is powerful because it is based on the principles of how children learn.

The Method

Talk for Writing is a three-stage approach to suporting children to develop, embed and independently apply the key knowledge and skills that will enable them to become good writers.

Stage 1 - Imitation

Once the teacher has established a creative context and an engaging start, a typical Talk for Writing unit would begin with some engaging activities warming up the tune of the text, as well as the topic focused on, to help children internalise the pattern of the language required.  This is often followed by talking an exemplar text, supported visually by a text map and physical movements to help the children recall the story or non-fiction piece.  In this way the children hear the text, say it for themselves and enjoy it before seeing it written down.  Once they have internalised the language of the text, they are in a position to read the text and start to think about the key ingredients that help to make it work.  This stage could include a range of reading-as-a-reader and reading-as-a-writer activities.  Children are supported to understand the structure of the text using a technique called 'boxing-up' - a way to support children to accurately plan the structure of their writing,  They analyse the features that have helped to make the text work, and the class starts to co-construct a toolkit for this type of text so that they can talk about the ingredients that make text work - a key stage in internalising the toolkit in their heads.

Stage 2 - Innovation

Once the children have internalised the text, they are then ready to start innovating on the pattern on the text i.e. making changes to a text they know well in order to create something new of their own.  This may begin with more advanced activites to warm up the key words and phrases of the type of text focused on so the children can magpie ideas.  Younger children and less confident writers alter their text maps and orally rehearse what they want to say, creating their own version.  The key activity in this stage is shared writing, helping the children to write their own by "doing one together" first.  This could begin with using a boxed-up grid (innovating on the exemplar plan) to show how to plan the text and then turning the plan into writing.  This allows the children to see how you can innovate on the exemplar text and select words and phrases that really work.  Demonstrating how to regularly read your work aloud to see if it works is important here.  This process enables the children to write their own versions through developing their ability to generate good words and phrases and also, hopefully, develops the inner judge when they start to decide why one word or phrase is best.  Throughout the shared writing, the children will be strengthening the toolkit so they start to understand the type of ingredients that may help to make their writing good.  Once they have finished their own paragraph/s children are encoraged to swap their work with a response partner plus the whole class also discusses some of the more successful work.  Children now need time to give their own work a 'polish' in the light of these discussions and perhaps to begin the dialouge about what works by writing their own comment on their work for the teacher to comment on.

Stage 3 - Independent Application

By this point the teacher has had the opportunity to assess the children's work and to adapt their planning in the light of what they know children can actually do and where they need to improve.  This stage may begin with some activities focused on helping the children understand aspects that they were having difficulty with and includes time for the children to have a go at reviewing and altering their work (editing) in light of what they have just learnt so that they start to make progress.  This stage will continue to focus on the next steps needed to support progress so the children can become independent speakers and writers of the type of text being studied.  Further examples of the text are compared, followed by more shared writing on a related topic; then the children can have a go themselves a related topic of ther choosing.  Typically, teachers work with the children to set' tickable targets' which focus on aspects that they need to attend to.  Again this section will end with response partner and whole class discussion about what feaurues really worked, followed by an opportunity for children to polish their work.  This process also helps the children internalise the toolkit for such writing so that it becomes a practical flexible toolkit in their head, rather than a list to be looked at and blindly followed.  At the end of the unit, the children's work should be published or displayed so that the children see that their writing has a purpose.  The teacher will now have a good picture of what features to focus on in the next unit to move the children forward.

Summary of the principles underlying Talk for Writing

Good writers:

  • Read - reading is an integral part of the Talk for Writing process and is woven in throughout each stage;

  • Read as writers - as they read and discover books for themselves; they become increasingly aware of what the writer is doing that makes them as a reader feel, see and understand what the writer is communicating;

  • Plan - with awareness of audience and purpose;

  • Draft and craft writing - they learn through strong modeling from teachers in shared writing of their thought processes as a writer;

  • Re-read - reading aloud supports children to hear how it sounds to the reader;

  • Transcribe efficiently - daily attention to handwriting, presentation and spelling to support children to become fluent, neat writers;

  • Are reslient - they persevere in order to gain the satisfaction pf producinng writing that is appreciated by their audience.