Sunday, 9 May 2010

Supporting Writing

Each time I produce one of my
Primary Newsletters, I put a free resource at the end to tempt the readers and to disseminate good practice. The resource for the latest issue is a lily-pad writing frame, and I got the idea from one of my own previous posts. It's essentially a basic writing frame, designed to help KS2 students to write short sentences to express their likes and dislikes:

The idea is that the frog hops from one side of the pond to the other, picking up words and phrases as he goes, to make up a complete and correct sentence.  (If you'd like to download the lily-pads to try for yourself, it's here under "Opinions".)  Prior to using this, students will probably have practised basic opinions such as "J'aime le chocolat" and "Je déteste le thé", but may not have had the opportunity to join two opinion phrases together to make a more complex sentence using a conjunction. 

During the Easter holidays there was some discussion on the TES Forum about the value of teaching writing in a foreign language to KS2 students. One contributor in particular thought that KS2s should only be taught listening and speaking, because writing in a foreign language will just confuse children who are still trying to get to grips with English Literacy, and, anyway, it will be taught so appallingly badly that it will take ages for the secondary teachers to undo the damage.

This is not an opinion that I share. I've had some successes with writing across not only KS2 but also KS1.  When I was in secondary, my KS3 and KS4 students used to face approach writing tasks with apprehension, fear and dread - "I can't write French, Miss" - because they seemed to think that writing in French had to be like writing in their English lessons, where they are expected to be fluent and to write at length.  Writing needs to be de-mystified for secondary and for primary learners.  A piece of writing in a foreign language does not have to be a whole side of A4 - it could just be a single sentence on a post-it.  And you don't have to invent the whole thing off the top of your head - there will always be some sort of model that you can adapt.  (I can't be the only one who resorts to the back of Collins Robert to put together a formal letter in French!)

I am a firm believer in scaffolding activities to support writing.  Scaffolding on a building is a temporary support, and the teacher's support is given for a limited time to enable the learner to be able to write independently and confidently.  Writing frames are one way of providing this support to learners, of making sentence structure explicit, and they can use them and experiment with them until such a time as they feel that they can branch out on their own.

One way that you can use writing frames is to number each word or phrase, like this:
Give your students a series of numbers, which they use to write a correct sentence.  For example, 2-7-10-16-20 will give "J'aime le chocolat mais je déteste les carottes."  Deciphering a few of these will allow the students to see how the frame works, and then they can start formulating their own sentences, and writing the codes to give to other students to help them to practise.  If you are interested in using writing frames like this, there are a number of examples for KS3 and KS4 on MFL Sunderland - just do a search via the homepage.

Just as my car won't go from 0 to 60 without me working through the gears, so I can't expect my students to be able to write confidently in a foreign language without working through some small, supportive steps first.

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