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How to Teach Writing and Reading to Early Years Students

LATEST BLOG: Renowned educator Diane Snowball provides insights and examples on how to effectively teach young students writing and reading.

On Episode 85 of The Teacher's Toolkit for Literacy, Diane answered common questions from teachers regarding how to better explore the Language Experience approach, use shared writing, and build upon shared texts with early primary students.

What is the balance between teachers writing for students, and students writing for themselves?

Diane warned that if teachers spend too much time as a scribe for their students, they will miss out on vital skills and confidence needed for independent work and growth.

"The thing about writing for children is that whole notion about, what you say can be written down and then you'll be able to read it. So I'm just showing them that relationship between what you say and what you write and what you read. But that's not what I'm going to go on doing because that's not them writing. That is giving them something to read that they have spoken about, but it's not helping their writing," Diane said.

"I have to be very careful about how often I write for a child. So for some children, I would never write for them because their greatest problem is that they won't write for themselves. And they're always saying, how do you spell this? How do you spell that? And so my greatest goal for them is to get them to have a go and to realise it doesn't matter if they don't know how to spell. They can still use whatever scribing they're doing, wherever they're at in their stage of development.

"After all, they're only at the beginning of grade one. So how many words do they know how to spell correctly? I'm very much encouraging every child to have a go, because it's that experimentation that's actually going to help them learn a lot about how words work. And it also helps me to know what they know and what they don't know."

How do teachers use the Language Experience approach in the classroom?

Diane provided a high quality example of how teachers can utilise everything the Language Experience approach has to offer.

"One of the most successful teachers I've ever worked with would actually do so much with a piece of language, even when they were constructing it. She would leave a word blank for the kids to work out what it could be, and then she would purposely choose that word as being one that might be a high frequency word or a word they could do onset rhyme work with," Diane explained.

"And so then they would use that to jump off and do their onset rhyme work or learn high frequency words, but they always read what they had written together, and re-read it the next day. So they had two lots to read. By the third day they had three lots to read. They were just re-reading and therefore learning so much about how to be a reader.

"They were learning high frequency words, they were learning onset and rhyme. They would do their sound explorations. She would take what they'd written and make sentence strips and cut them up and they'd reconstruct them. So everything about reading and writing and the spelling aspect of it, they were learning through that language experience work."

What is an effective way for young students to share their ideas?

While many teachers will designate students into pairs or small groups to discuss ideas, Diane said educators should also provide opportunities for young children to simply share their stories with everyone.

She provided reference to the success of author Paul Jennings, who explained the power of verbal storytelling before putting it in writing.

"For example, Paul Jennings is a very famous and very competent short story writer. And Paul would share an experience, but for the audience to be interested, the experience needs to be funny, or sad, or surprising," Diane revealed.

"Now the more that I tell a simple story, the more I embellish it and the more I make it interesting for someone. And that's what Paul said. He would come up with a story and then he would retell it to himself in the shower, he'd tell it to his wife and he'd tell it to his kids. And every time he told it, it got better, and then he was willing to write it down.

"Similarly, I have found if I let the kids tell their story, so not just share an idea but actually tell their story, and then go off and tell it again and again, by the time they've told it a few times, it's better. And so I don't think we let kids do enough of that talking before they write. Now, of course, they need to actually think about what's worth telling. It's got to have some sort of emotive thing to it to get other people interested. So I would give that a try."

How can teachers build upon a shared text over time?

Frequently referring back to one particular shared text or piece of writing will show greater results than quickly jumping between multiple tasks without providing the opportunity to delve deeper.

"There's nothing time consuming about re-reading. That's why shared reading works so well, because you are re-reading, re-reading, re-reading. And I would question why are the kids thinking about something new to write every day? I would prefer to model for them that we go on with what we were doing the day before," Diane advised.

"If we had an experience, we don't have to write the whole thing that day. We can write some today, then we'll go on with the rest of the instructions tomorrow and the day after. It's not just writing a couple of sentences about something. It's actually building on it. And I often think that as teachers, we don't make enough use of the print that we have. We sort of write something and then it's, off you go as soon as something else comes up, whereas you can get so much out of what you've already got.

"So if you want to have different experiences every day, there's nothing wrong with that, but I would at least take one of those experiences and build on it and show how you would develop that into a whole piece, not just one day's worth of writing."

Learn more on this topic

Find out more on Episode 85 of The Teacher's Tool Kit for Literacy below and subscribe on Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts.