The perils of greater depth…

During our most recent Year 6 cross-trust moderation there was one common sticking point….one little statement on the ‘interim’ framework that even those of us who have been teaching for longer than they care to remember (where did 20 years go – wasn’t that long ago I was the cool-kid on the block?!) struggled to find evidence of or even know how to effectively plan for it:


Luckily, I work with some amazing teachers where the true joy of collaborative working is experienced regularly and fabulous ideas and resources were pooled and shared.  I will share some of the more useful approaches below as I am pretty sure many more of you are struggling too…!

Firstly, if you have the financial means, a subscription to ‘Grammarsaurus’ is invaluable. New resources are added regularly and they often tackle meaty EGPS issues in child-friendly, easily accessible ways.


One of the most inspiring CPD events you can attend is any run by Alan Peat.  The man is a font of knowledge plus he is extremely interesting and a brilliant teller of stories.  He is running events which focus on writing at greater depth…

He is also well worth a follow on twitter or Facebook as he has shared super ideas on shifts in formality…


Remember it is about managing several shifts within one piece of writing and also across a range of texts…

Here are some features to identify in reading and use in writing:

  • the subjunctive – I wish I were… If I were you…
  • passive constructions – It is widely believed that…
  • use of ‘one’ – One should consider…
  • technical vocab
  • Nominalisation – The arrival of the VIP caused much excitement. (use nouns rather than verbs or adjectives)
  • Abstract nouns – Darkness crept in
  • Stack your verbs – I propose to change….I demand to see
  • Avoid contractions
  • Avoid slang
  • Use colons to add detail to an independent clause (use it to summarise or detail why)

Opportunities in writing:

  • Newspaper Reports can provide great opportunities for these shifts.  Formal statements can set the tone for the report which can then be contrasted against the informality of a direct quotation from a witness.
  • Diaries are another useful text type for shifts.  Reflection can add an element of formality to an otherwise personal, chatty and immediate piece of writing.
  • In letter writing personal reflection can also add formality and contrast.
  • In narrative the contrast between informal direct speech from characters and the narrators more formal tone can be effective.

I am sure more ideas and inspiration will occur to me, feel free to share your thoughts below.




Grammar and spelling ideas to wake up writing…


I recently delivered some SPaG training (Spelling, punctuation and grammar) for both NQTs and experienced staff, which was all too necessary due to the fact that in the UK the KS2 SPaG test has changed AGAIN to include far more complex objectives.  In fact, as a child of the 70s grammar was something of a mystery to me…I seem to remember school was somewhere I enjoyed going to play, sing and make things.  Recently I find myself constantly have to ‘up-skill’ just so I can keep teachers updated.

I am becoming more concerned that instead of us teaching grammar and punctuation to allow children to write more effectively we are simply preparing them for tests.  This is really rather unavoidable when the subjunctive is on the list of things to learn….!!!!!  So instead of delighting in the beauty of the language and playing and experimenting with words and phrases grammar can become dull, dry and time to turn off.

Some of the ideas I shared in my training sessions are, hopefully, a way to shake things up and embed and excite.

Image from

Would you pass your SATs in 2016?

Go on, try it.  The staff were shocked.  Especially those who do not teach the top end of KS2.

Multi-sensory spelling…

When it comes to spelling make it multi-sensory. I have a box full of pipe-cleaners, glitter trays, play-dough, silver foil…anything that can be used to make or feel words. Repetition is also key.


  • Create a rainbow (use a different colour for each letter)
  • Drill across the page
  • Fill the page
  • Beat the clock

Always make the children say the letter name or sound as they write it out.  Find words in words, emphasise it Wed -nes – day…use magnetic letters.  The more active the more effective.

Investigate words…

word Alan Peat’s Word Games is really useful.

wordsTry ‘Teachers pay Teachers’ for some fantastic word investigation mats.  They are free and created by Jen Bengel.


What about creating a display were children can place their spellings in the box that reflects their knowledge of the words….over the week they should gradually all move into the green zone!

I always find that the Babcock Consultants’ website has really good ideas for what spellings to teach, when to teach them and how.  They also have links to old National Strategy resources such as Spelling Bank, that are really useful.


As a school we use Alan Peat’s ‘Exciting Sentences’ app and books.  They are fantastically simple sentence types to introduce throughout school.  It ensures that year after year there is consistency in language used to describe sentence types and that there is progress across the key stages.  If you ever get chance to attend any of Alan’s training grab it with both hands.  The man is hugely relevant and is a brilliant presenter.


There are Alan Peat sentence type posters on TES and videos on Youtube.  His punctuation app is brilliant too.

I love using film extracts as a stimulus to model sentences.  I always use The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to support teaching quest myths.  I have used this clip for fronted adverbial sentences…’Gently cradling the ring, Bilbo wept.’

Again, I highly recommend using The Literacy Shed for hundreds of fantastic film clips.

Pobble is another fantastic resource that has daily grammar activities to go with exciting pictures.  The story ideas are brilliant for writing too.

Grammar Puss for Parents has lovely explanations to support home learning, with some super activities.

The one above addresses the past progressive verb form.

I like to use music wherever possible…

This is a fun figurative language song.

Lots of songs have figurative language in them the fun is getting the children to listen and spot it!  The one above contains hyperbole.

I also enjoy using TESSpag.  This resource costs £9.99 for a year and has loads of interactive quizzes (great for up-skilling adults as it goes right up to Secondary level), plus explanatory powerpoints.


On the theme of tough concepts this is the best way I have found to explain the subjunctive.  Basically, Skee-Lo got it wrong but Beyonce got it right…it should be ‘If I were…’ not ‘If I was…’!!!

The most important points I want to make are that grammar should be embedded and it should be exciting and playful…Enjoy!!



Playing with words.

I have started to collect together lots of different ideas for warming up words.  My children have very limited vocabulary so it essential that new words are introduced and played with on a regular basis.  Pie Corbett suggests 5 new words are introduced weekly.  Even though my children mainly speak English as a second language I never set a ceiling on the words used as I want my children to become familiar with the nuances of the language.


See the Picture

This is an imaging game, designed to help children use the images in their own minds and attach words to them.

Ask all children to create an image in their heads.  This might be a setting in a story they are writing, something that they are writing a poem about or an experience that the whole class have had on a trip.  Ask them to hold the image in their head and then ask:

  • What can you see?
  • What colours stand out most?
  • How does it feel?
  • Walk around your image.  What other things do you see?

Children then share with a partner their image and things that they noticed.  Finally jot down a list of words and phrases form their image.

When children start this keep the walk around the image short and build up what they do over time.

How does it go together?

With the children generate a list of nouns and then a separate list of verbs and to put a noun and verb together in an unusual way.  Looking out of my window I can see tree, grasses, street light, road sign and a randomly selected list of verbs rushed, slithered, dreamed, sat, wheeled…

Now I can start to put them together:

the streetlight dreamed, the grasses rushed etc.

The children can then go on to create sentences  choosing the ones that most appeal to them.  The sentences could be collected and made into poems.

You could play the same game with adjectives and nouns.

Chain Link

This game is based around vocabulary generation and using the vocabulary.  It is a game that I first read about in  What Rhymes with Secret by Sandy Brownjohn printed in 1982..  Start the children off with a statement such as:

The birds swooping in the clear blue sky.

Sky like an azure gem.

Gem of an idea in the air

Here, the children must take the last word and start off the next line/statement with it.  It  demands that children think and use words flexibly.


Using paint colour samples (just ask nicely at your local DIY store) children can write shades of meaning below a key word.


Clines is another activity where shades of meaning can be discussed and then ordered from least to most e.g. sad, morbid, gloomy, depressed…

A really handy list of feeling words can be downloaded from the Primary Resources website:

Random words

Choose a book. Ask for a number – this gives you a page to turn to. Now ask for a number – this gives you the line. Then ask for a small number – this will select a word. The children then have 15 seconds to write a sentence using the selected word. Then use the same sort of process to randomly select two or three words – can they make a sentence using the words… Be ruthless on capital letter, sense and full stop.


Use the animal list to create alliterative sentences – one per animal, e.g. the tiny tiger tickled the terrified terrapin’s two toes with torn tinsel.

Ink Waster

To warm up the brain and get into a creative mood – give the children a topic and ask them to write as much as they can in say, one minute. Time them and ask them to count the number of words then try again with another topic. They should write as rapidly as possible. This limbers up and frees up the mind.

Poems and reading poetry is one of the best ways to play with words.  Lots of ideas for playing with poems in the next blog!

Really useful literacy resources…

I have listed below all the resources that over the years I have found have enhanced my teaching of literacy.  I am pretty sure I have not remembered everything and I would love to hear your ideas too. Some of the resources are more important as ideas, like the box of fairies.  A shoe box can be made into a magical box full of endless surprises that I will discuss more in a future blog post…


Sentence strips

24-Inch Multicolor Pack Wipe-Off® Sentence Strips By Trend

For modelling sentence types and to display and share children’s ideas.  Adult monitoring of handwriting.

Tell-a-story board

Encourages discussion of story structures and easily editable ideas.

Recordable Pegs

Great for instructions or challenges. Useful for children with EAL or SEN or young children.

Talking point

Useful to record sounds / phonemes


As above but has a space for an image

Talk-Time Postcards

Various sizes and length of time available. Great for making the link between speaking and writing. Record, listen, write.

Box of fairies

This can be made with various bits and pieces for less money but gives a good idea of what you could collect in a shoe-box

Writing tool belt

This could be made more cheaply using aprons or tool belts and resources added.  Excellent for writing in areas of provision or just anywhere outside.

Pick-a-Question Comprehension Tub

To challenge and develop comprehension strategies both in groups and individually

Re-tell A Story Cubes

As above.

Talk for Writing Across the Curriculum

Brilliant book to guide you through using talk for writing in non-fiction writing.

Jumpstart! Grammar: Games and actvities for ages 6-14

Vital book to support teaching of grammar!

Jumpstart!: Literacy – Games and Activities for Ages 7-14

Another hugely useful book for word and sentence level games and activities.



Post-its (of all shapes and sizes)

Many, many uses…see my previous blog psot!

Highlighter Pens

Essential for text marking.

Descriptosaurus: Supporting Creative Writing for Ages 8-14

Fantastic book to develop the use of exciting and juicy vocabulary

Easi Speak® MP3 Recorder / Player

Encourages talk and oral rehearsal

Lego learning.


My son is obsessed with Lego.  Lego everything…Harry Potter. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Marvel Superheroes, dinosaurs…the list is endless.  This means he has boxes and boxes of it…this also means he doesn’t notice if I ‘borrow’ some of it (but never ever take Bilbo or Gandalf).

I have used some of this ‘borrowed’ Lego with great success in school.


You can buy Lego Education Story Starter kits and they have some fantastic ideas in the handbook that comes with the sets.  Depending on your budget second-hand Lego from Ebay might be a better option.

I have used it in a variety of different ways, each time engaging and motivating children throughout the primary age range.

The most obvious way to use it is to create story settings which can be used to role play with, developing language and understanding of story structure.  These scenes can be used as a stimulus for story writing or story telling, writing wanted posters for baddies, drawing treasure maps, creating scrolls with declarations of war, marriages, challenges or quests.

My son enjoys making machines and transportation devices with his Lego.  He hates writing more than almost anything else ever.  However, he made an inventor’s book of Lego creations where he documents his models through drawings which he labels and sometimes expands upon with explanations of how they work.  He doesn’t see this as writing – nor will the children in your class!


I enjoy using the Lego faces with my children in Year 5 to expand their use of emotions words.  I give them a selection of heads which they write an emotion sentence about.  I then challenge them to use a thesaurus to improve their choice of word and to further develop their sentence.  Sometimes they will continue to write a paragraph about their character.  The heads can be bought as a job lot on Ebay – just check you get a variety of expressions!  A similar activity can be done with the pictures of scenes off the front of Lego kit boxes – this time creating an atmosphere for a specific genre type.

Another grammar objective that can be taught through Lego is prepositions – The Literacy Shed blog talks more about this.


Children can say sentences containing prepositions about the Lego character e.g. ‘The man stood on the bridge’ ‘The orc is under the bridge’.  These can be written and expanded into short action scenes or a comic creating app can be used to record and create a storyboard.


I stumbled across this website with some amazing photographs that can be used as a writing or discussion stimulus.


Younger children can develop their fine motor skills by taking part in a race to build a mini figure.  The different fiddly, little parts can be hidden in sand, water, lentils or something gooey. A variety of parts means an endless variety of Lego characters can be created.

Get some Lego and start playing…

Improving writing…?

Having been a Literacy specialist and teacher for too many years I am fully aware of the pressures on schools and teachers to make children’s writing better.  The goal posts move and so do expectations.  Some classes have children who speak little or no English.  Some have pupils who have poor literacy just because it isn’t modelled well at home.  Some have very able children who are verbally bright, but have no desire to write. Yes, it is a continually tricky problem that I am constantly trying to find ways to solve…

I have had some successes and I will share what has worked so far…


The curriculum is key – I linked all our topics to quality texts, making them visual where possible.  I try to keep my knowledge of children’s books as up to date as possible and keep a running list on my Pinterest board –

I ensured that story time was timetabled throughout school several times per week (daily if possible) and that ‘Guided Reading’ schemes were thrown away and real books used in their place (this costs lots of money and probably needs doing gradually – I am still adding to ours).  I know this is all reading based so far, but our children didn’t have internal stories to call upon to use as models or inspiration for writing, they had little experience of fantasy worlds or far-away place, magic, dreams, dragons, King Arthur, fairy-stories, folk tales, adventures, love stories, tragic tales…It was our job to give them these internal structures.

Talk 4 Writing was next.  It allowed our EAL children to rehearse and internalise sentences and text.  It allowed boys and very kinaesthetic children to move in their learning and be very physical.  We base everything on the idea that if you can’t say it you can’t write it!  If you want to know more about T4W then take at look at this website –

We focus on grammar and make sure that specific sessions are timetabled daily.  It is always linked to the text type we teach (context is really important for our pupils) and we all use Alan Peat resources so we call the sentence types the same name and year by year are building on prior knowledge.  They are fabulous resources because you can download them as apps for your IPads plus they are ridiculously easy to understand!  Alan is a genius…


If you use the TES website for resources there are a few people who have made posters for each of Alan’s sentences which are really handy to put up on your working wall when you are teaching them.

Using ICT is vital too. Films are fabulous for engagement and questioning at a high level.  Websites like ‘The Literacy Shed’ are invaluable.  It is full of fantastic videos and brilliant ideas to stimulate writing, all free to use!!  It is organised into ‘Sheds’ which cover particular topics e.g. ‘The Fantasy Shed’, ‘The Inspiration Shed’..


I also find using talking post cards or EasySpeak microphones as an essential step to make the link between speaking and writing.  Children can rehearse their sentences, listen to them and then have a go at writing them.


Our children love blogging and Tweeting – often a brilliant incentive for boys who don’t see it as ‘writing’ and gives them a real purpose and an audience that is potentially world-wide.

Other things to consider are consistent use of models and images on working walls, beautiful book corners, text rich environments, effective use of feedback (I like using ‘Marking ladders’) and revisiting whole school approaches on a constant cycle so everyone knows what they are doing!