Trying out a stimulus for writing

I am now into the second literacy unit of the term, recounts and newspapers. For a change, this is a unit I taught part of before, when I was on my second teaching placement. That has really helped me feel much more comfortable with the content and what the children may be expected to know already and where they may have problems. During my placement, we linked the final writing phase to our theme, which was Tudors, and the children wrote about the sinking of the Mary Rose. Whilst they coped well with the technical aspects of newspaper writing (using a headline, paragraphs, reported speech) they had a lot of questions about the actual facts of the story.

When discussing the timing of my unit with my mentor last week, I realised that I needed to condense the unit a little to make space for us to write our Christmas play next week (yes, Christmas already!!). I was worried that I would not have enough time for the children to get to know the story I wanted them to report on. Our theme this half term is aliens, so I was looking to Newsround’s space week to get some ideas, and a twitter colleague (TeaKayB) had kindly offered to answer any astronomy questions we had (by the way, I highly recommend his blog for any space questions you may have!!).  Unfortunately we felt I didn’t have time to investigate a story, think of questions and get answers, so my mentor suggested a situation stimulus instead. I was a little hesitant as I had tried to set something up like this before and the children didn’t seem to want to suspend their disbelief to get into it and fire their imagination. However, I wanted to give it another try and my mentor encouraged me to give it a go.

So this morning, I set up the classroom. I used only a few props – an old hard drive that was broken and in pieces, a clockwork toy, a stone, some slime that my daughters had made in mad science and some dry porridge oats. I turned over a few chairs and opened a window. I then took some photos using the class iPad, making them from odd angles and blurring them. I had made some ‘tentacles’ from play dough rolled in oats, and used these to add into the photos. I left a talk tracker on the table with a message from the intruder (this sounded brilliant – it was the text-to-speech accessibility option on our old mac on a robot sounding voice that read a sentence I wrote).

I shut the classroom door and just told the children that there was a problem with the classroom and that  they needed to go into the hall for registration. I explained that something had happened and the classroom was in a mess. I asked them to investigate with me and let them into the room altogether. The buzz and the questions were amazing! They found the talk tracker and the message straight away and the children were very concerned about my iPad, as they knew I didn’t let it out of the case and it was discarded on the windowsill.

I uploaded the photos from the iPad to the whiteboard and this gave us a chance to come together and think about what might have happened. I put four pieces of paper around the room labelled  who, where, what and when and asked them to write their ideas down. We gathered these together and I created a plan for the article whilst the children magpied ideas on their whiteboards.

We set up blogs for some of our classes at the weekend, so I’ve added an entry on our class blog tonight (you can see the iPad photos and listen to the message from the alien there). To encourage writing for an audience I’ve told the children their final articles will be shared on that blog, and we will choose the best one to go in the school newspaper. The rest will be copied and bound into a class newspaper.

I can’t wait to see what effect this stimulus has on their writing! It certainly inspired me, and the children were full of questions all day. I always assumed before that stimuli like this for writing needed to be spectacular, with masses of props that took ages to set up. In fact, with just a few props from home, a bit of technology and a genuine look of shock on my face, the children were completely taken up in what we were doing.


3 thoughts on “Trying out a stimulus for writing”

  1. I have just done something similar with a ‘who dunnit’ crime scene. The children knew it probably was not true, but they loved it. We were also doing newspapers, so they interviewed the adults and wrote statements to help the police using reported speech. They then used this to write an article including reported speech. Another teacher confessed and they wrote a second newspaper article (Big Write) about the discovery of the culprit. They wrote two brilliant articles and were talking about it all week. It only cost me £5 for some crime scene tape. Children even brought their parents in to see the crime scene.

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