Ready, Set, Write

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After a few months at school, these new entrant students are already accomplished writers.

Writing in the first year of school is initially characterised by random mark making followed by repetitive use of simple sight words, approximated spelling using dominant sounds, and the introduction of simple punctuation.

Students in Room 15 are exposed to written language in a text rich environment from the very first day of school. Writing cannot be taught in isolation and therefore, listening and speaking (oral language), and reading are crucial when teaching students to write. Before starting school, most students know that letters and words represent language, and students that have a broad vocabulary range will find reading and writing easier. This is a generalisation and of course there are exceptions.  

Letter-sound knowledge is a crucial part of learning to write, and students in the junior school at Wairakei Primary participate in a tailored phonics programme catered to their stage of learning. Students begin by learning about the different letters of the alphabet, their corresponding sound, and the correct way to form the letters. 

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Lily writes her sentence on a whiteboard - My cat likes catching mice.

Handwriting is another branch of the writing programme and lessons begin with students tracing over the top of teacher-written letters. They then transition to independent handwriting when they are ready. Simultaneously, students will begin ‘writing’ by copying letters on whiteboards and also making marks representative of letters and words. 

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Although Axel doesn’t yet know the names of the letters or the sounds they make, he understands that letters carry meaning and will independently copy letters on the whiteboard during discovery time.

Once students have developed some letter sound knowledge and are able to record the letter in written format, they then begin more formal writing instruction.

This particular group of students began by co-constructing texts with the teacher in shared writing sessions to increase confidence and to have the writing process modelled to them before writing independently. 

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The teacher has modelled the writing process, from gathering ideas and information to form a plan, to the correct formation of letters and how to record dominant sounds in words. 

At this stage of writing, the students begin with a picture. The picture acts as a prompt and a plan, and gives the students a starting point for their writing. The session starts with a discussion about what is happening in the picture, and the teacher records any words or ideas the students come up with. Some topic specific words are recorded here to help the students with spelling and to enable them to experience success. The students use word cards to help them to write high frequency words correctly, and alphabet cards to help them record the dominant sounds in words. The latter is known as spelling approximation and is an important step in learning to write. 

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Paige uses her word card to help her spell high frequency words.

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Eilidh shows a strong understanding of the letter-sound relationship in her approximation of the word ‘gymnastics’. 

The students are encouraged to regularly read through their writing to ensure it makes sense and to help them remember their intended message. A piece of writing begins with a sentence or two in mind but will often evolve as the child continues to think and form new ideas. 

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Oliver reads back over his writing to check that it makes sense and to remind him of his next word. 

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Zoey checks that her writing makes sense before moving onto the next sentence. 

This group of students have progressed quickly from writing simple sentences about their picture prompt to adding detail with descriptive language, and forming compound sentences by using conjunctions such as ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘because’. The shift from simple sentences to compound, and then complex sentences are important indicators of progress in the writing curriculum. 

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Oliver uses the conjunction ‘because’ to explain why his lion is hungry. His writing also shows he is able to hear the dominant sounds in the word ‘breakfast’ and record them accurately. 

As students increase their knowledge of letter sound relationships, develop their letter formation, and commit simple sight words to memory, the writing process becomes quicker. This in turn increases their confidence and makes writing less laborious. At this point, students can explore different genres of writing and ultimately transition from learning to write, to writing to learn.

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Lucy’s firm grasp on letter formation, basic sight word and letter-sound knowledge is allowing her to write increasingly freely. 

For more information on the writing curriculum, go to: https://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum/English

Keywords: English, Writing, Phonics, Written Language, New entrant

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