Reading as a writer; writing as a reader

Reading informs writing but sometimes this relationship does need to be taught explicitly.

Most teachers are comfortable with the practice of sharing a text with a class, teasing out its features and exploring their impact on the reader. But modelling writing – that is, actively demonstrating the writing process with a class – can take some of us out of our comfort zone. This ‘reading into writing’ approach really needs to be part of every teacher’s toolkit, so what’s the best way to establish and embed it into our classroom practice?

Reading with a writer’s eye

Reading as a writer – with a ‘writerly’ eye – can really help pupils to understand the constructed nature of text.

It helps if you can share a text with the class, perhaps on a visualiser or an interactive whiteboard if you have one, so that it’s very much a whole class shared experience. One way is to annotate the text with the class, actively demonstrating the choices made by the writer – and their impact on the reader – whilst keeping a close eye on its purpose, audience and effect.

Of course, you’ll need to be clear about your focus. Do you want to explore the features of a particular text type, such as persuasion, information or recount? (Most texts are hybrids, containing elements of more than one text type.) Or perhaps you have a whole class priority that you want to address, such as cohesion in writing.

Bite into Writing features six Spotlight texts across the three teacher resource books and they’re ideal if you want to help pupils ‘read as a writer’ in this way. The accompanying teaching prompts focus on the way text structure and organisation (including cohesion), vocabulary choices, grammatical structures, punctuation and the writer’s voice all work together to support purpose and audience.

Linked to and complementing the quality published text in each resource, they comprise the following:

  • A flashback narrative
  • A formal incident report
  • A semi-formal letter of request, comprising recount, information and description
  • A recount in the form of a newspaper report with a clear reporting stance
  • An information text
  • A persuasive leaflet.

Writing with a reader’s eye 

Writing as a reader – with a readerly eye – is a powerful way of demonstrating the choices writers make. It can really help young writers to understand the craft of writing, and the importance of purpose and audience.

Sometimes referred to as shared writing or modelling, this approach has two elements:

  1. Active demonstration of the writing process by the teacher, thinking aloud as you write, orally rehearsing sentences and articulating the choices you’re making as a writer.
  2. Shared composition, where you invite the pupils to join in the process: the teacher still leads, but the process is shared, with pupils making contributions and suggestions which you sift and analyse, selecting and rejecting as appropriate.

To many pupils, writing can seem a largely silent and invisible experience. So by verbalising and articulating the process, we’re actually modelling what good writers do inside their heads when they write. What better way to help pupils develop their own writer’s voice?

It’s also a great way to introduce and explore new vocabulary, and to teach grammar and punctuation in the context of real writing.

But, quite frankly, it can feel a little daunting at first – as a teacher, you’re more ‘on the spot’ and less in control than you might prefer.

So what helps when doing shared writing?

The more shared writing becomes part of your toolkit, the more natural the practice will become. Pupils will grow accustomed to it too, and will be happy to share in the process with you.

But while you’re getting started, there are things that can help.

  • Prepare some text in advance and jot down what you want to say as part of your lesson planning. You can still be spontaneous as you model the writing, but a few notes will help you feel more secure in explaining your language choices.
  • Keep it short – model just a few sentences or a paragraph. Little and often is best.
  • Don’t feel you always have to start at the beginning of a piece of writing – you could model a paragraph midway through a piece, reading backwards and forwards to focus on cohesion and coherence.
  • Rehearse sentences aloud and constantly re-read to evaluate as you write – this is exactly what good writers do, but it will also allow you valuable thinking time.
  • Remember to model ‘one step up’. In other words, demonstrate writing that is within your pupils’ reach, not a standard that is way beyond them at the moment.
  • Have a piece of writing pre-prepared and ask pupils to help you improve it – it’s less daunting than composing from scratch.

Does modelling mean the pupils’ writing is not independent?

Quite simply, when you model writing, you are teaching writing. There’s no particular need for pupils to copy what you’ve modelled into their books. However, if they do, then that particular section won’t be independent.

As a follow-through, you’ll need to give them a choice of independent writing tasks so that they can progress to independent application, transferring what they’ve learnt from your teacher modelling and applying it to their own writing. Remember – good teaching is sealed when pupils can apply their learning in the context of their work.

Written by Jo Shackleton and Margaret Fennell – highly experienced writing moderators and authors of NFER's Bite into Writing