When I started writing this article, my first instinct was to do a quick Google search, just to see what online experts were suggesting, in addition to what is working well at my school and there it was, the clarification that none of my ideas are particularly new or original.
Oddly, I didn’t let this bother me, I took comfort in this and found it reassuring that many of the things we have tried over the years are supported ideas. We must be doing something right if others are doing this too. However, I believe there are three overarching/fundamental areas which spread the excitement of reading and writing amongst primary aged children.
Enthusiasm is catching
I’m blessed with colleagues who fully participate in all activities aimed at encouraging the love of reading and writing. Whether it’s participating in an Extreme Reading competition, writing themselves during our weekly big write lessons, swapping books or dressing up for World Book Day, everyone in school participates, even the office staff! The buzz and atmosphere created around the school is electrifying. And in my mind that’s half the battle won already. Just as easy as spreading a smile, if a child observes adults enthusiasm for reading and writing, it’s going to rub off.
I have found talking to the children the most useful. This might sound simple and even obvious, but the feedback, input and ideas they have given me have been invaluable. As a school we want to improve the reading and writing outcomes for boys, so I conducted an investigation, created a questionnaire, spoke to a target group of pupils and gathered ideas on how to help them. This did take a bit of time, but the findings were worth it. We were able to tailor writing lessons (writing a diary entry or sport reports) with themes that interested them such as football, trains and space.
Another great way, which is a much quicker process, is just asking the children a question before taking the register, giving me their answer when I call their name. Drama, writing playscripts and acting them out, having a whole class text with writing activities, author visits (especially the zoom visits), reading buddies with children from different classes, debates and discussions, are all things which the children have told me that have in turn, encouraged them to read and write.
Argh no! The extra workload I hear you say. Ultimately, this is what got me writing this article in the first place as one of our children won Pearson’s My Twist on a Tale writing competition, and I would have to whole-heartedly disagree with any screams of horror. Yes, it does take a little time, but I’ve found if you are selective and smart about which competitions to enter it is so easy and the children love it because the prizes are often way cooler or more impressive than what I could offer!
The first thing to consider is how entries are submitted to the competition provider, can you simply upload a Word document, PDF or Zip File? Then I look at the theme, the age group and whether it would be suitable as a whole school or individual class and finally, I decide whether it should be set as a class activity or set as homework and, truth be told, I have had the most success by setting competitions as homework tasks. I launch it in school, get the children excited, provide and send home all the details with a deadline of at least a month. Once the deadline arrives, I simply upload the entries and wait.
I truly believe these three overarching areas are imperative to encouraging children to be excited about reading and writing. External competitions can offer prizes that a class teacher or a school can’t provide. Talking to the children is easy, free and provides invaluable ideas, at times real gems. And as my headteacher always says, lead by example. It really is key to spreading the excitement of reading and writing.
Victoria Brooks is a Year 6 Class Teacher and English Subject Leader at St Joseph’s Catholic School in London. For more information on the school, visit: stjosephsschool.org.uk. Victoria’s pupil, 10-year-old Stamford Bottomley, won the Key Stage 2 category of Pearson’s national My Twist on a Tale: Everyday Heroes writing competition for his story about the heroic power of epilepsy medication.