14 September 2013

Running and Writing: Inspiring Year 8 Descriptive Writing

My Year 8s are working on autobiographical writing in a unit I have called, 'Scraps of Me'.

The final outcome is a scrapbook of five important life events. They will create a scrapbook and each page features an image and a paragraph describing the event and the impact it had on their life.

A final paragraph explores how these events have contributed to their sense of self; of who they believe they are.

Scaffolding up to this, we have been working on time lines that graph out positive and negative experiences with short descriptions. We have also been focusing on nouns and adjectives, as our assessment focus is to write imaginative and interesting texts.

Yesterday, I tried "Running Dictation", an idea suggested to me by a colleague.

Learners were in differentiated teams according to ability and given a team colour - red, blue, green and orange. Each team was given a space in the classroom, a large piece of paper, a marker and a set of (differentiated) instructions. Click here to see a Vine of them in action.

Around the space outside of the classroom, I had stuck up the previous evening, coloured sets of sentences. They were all based on the same information but differentiated according to the tasks required by each team.

The aim was to take turns to run out of the classroom (they made sure their pathways were clear before we started and I emphasised safety) and find a sentence of their team's colour. They had to memorise it and run back and dictate it to another team member, who recorded it on their large paper. They tagged another team member who went out to find more. They had ten to find in total. Click here for another Vine.

They quickly realised the need to communicate, as they runners were not paying attention to the sentences the others were dictating so they were duplicating the same ones.

Once all ten were collected, they followed the instructions on their sheet. Some had to find the noun phrases and underline them. Some had to find the nouns and then make nouns phrases. All teams then tried to use the sentences to make a story - this was originally an activity reserved for only the higher level tasks, but all teams did so well, I asked them all to do it.

We gathered on the mat with the visualiser and teams then showed their stories and explained why they chose the sentence order they did. They were really thinking about the story and how to build tension through the order of their sentences. We talked about how the sentences with the subject had to go before those with the pronouns, so the reader would know who 'he' was. We talked about the order of adjectives and their impact; we discussed how to build a sense of atmosphere and how to create effective open endings that left us wanting more rather than left us feeling the story just hadn't been finished. All using only ten sentences. It was a great opportunity to discuss writing at word, sentence and text level.

The whole activity was great - there was lots of movement and more importantly, lots of learning. It is a technique I think I will use again to engage and inspire deep thinking and effective writing.