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Reluctant Writers Part 2 - Writing in the moment and during play

At my school we follow something called 'in the moment planning'. We plan our phonics sessions, guided reading and maths but we don't really plan for activity time. Rather than starting the day knowing exactly what we are going to do and setting up activities on every table, we try to let the children lead the activities and follow their interests. The staff observe the children playing and look for 'teachable moments' where we can move their learning on while they play.

We set up the classroom so that they have access to open ended resources. For example, I have a selection of different pens, notebooks, card, paper, stickers, post it notes and envelopes out rather than printed out worksheets to complete. That way the children can make or write anything that interests them. I might add enhancements e.g. some treasure and a note but I wouldn’t call each child over to the table and ask them to design a treasure map. If the children discovered the note, I might say ‘I wonder who left this note?’ and offer suggestions like ‘oh I wonder if we could write a note back’ but it’s up to the children what happens next. I usually find their ideas are way better than anything I would have come up with and they are so much more engaged because they have thought of them.

It’s a different way of working and it requires you to think on your feet. For years I planned my week in detail and prepared all of my resources in advance, so starting the day with no idea of what we will be doing can feel daunting. What if we run out of ideas? How will I know if they are learning? But I love this style of learning and I wanted to share an example of how I have used ‘in the moment planning’ at home in case anyone wants to try it.

Today Sophie and Benji were playing together really nicely. When this happens, I leave them to it! But I try to listen and find out what they are playing and what they are interested in. They had put on their superhero outfits and were running though the (messy!) house on various missions!

They ended up in Craig's office and pretended to be at work. At the back of my mind I started to think about how I could extend their play and how I might be able to sneak some writing in. I thought that Craig's office could be the Superhero HQ but I left them to it while I made lunch.

While we ate lunch, I asked them what their superhero powers were. I made up a story about how a superhero needs a special ID badges if they want to visit the HQ. I asked Sophie if she wanted to make one and she did, before she had even finished eating lunch! Never wanting to miss an opportunity for writing I grabbed a notebook and some pens. I always have these on the top of a cupboard ready to use. I made one at the same time so that it felt like a game rather than a school lesson. Really, I was modelling what an ID badge might look like and getting her to write! I helped her to sound out words and reminded her how to write down sounds she couldn't remember. This piece of writing was supported rather than independent but she was writing, willingly!

She wanted to stick the ID badge to her dress but the tape didn't hold it. So she packed it in a backpack. Sophie loves packing bags full of toys so started to pack for a superhero adventure.

She added some other items to her bag - a telescope and a dagger! Then she added her superhero pouch which contained one of our invisible ink pens (affiliate link). Which gave me an idea about how to include another teachable moment.

I said I was going to give her a secret mission. I wrote a note using the pen and we read it together using the UV torch in the lid.

We talked about the superhero HQ and decided to use Craig's office to find out more about the mission. I pretended to phone her and asked her to write down some important information.

She wrote 'check the trees'. I know that she is able to write sentences but for the purpose of note taking a short caption worked perfectly and again she was writing without a fight!

I sent her outside to go and investigate the clue. Craig and Benji were outside so I left her to it at this point. A little while later, she came running back in and wanted to tell me what she found out. I suggested we wrote down the information so we could send it to HQ. She wasn't interested in writing so I suggested we made a voice note on my phone. She had way more ideas than she would have been able to write down. Recording them gave her chance to develop her sentences structures and to begin to use joining words like and, so and unless.

She said that we wouldn't be able to catch the burglar because we didn't know what they looked like. I suggested we made a big poster to ask for help. She made this poster by herself and chose a large sheet of paper and bingo dabbers.

She stuck it on to the door so that everyone could read it. Then she went out to play in the garden while keeping an eye out for clues!

Later on while we were in the garden Benji spotted a bee flying out of the netting in the vegetable patch. They were so excited that it was a clue! I said "shall we let HQ know?" She fetched her backpack and she said we should write it using the magic pen so the burglar wouldn't see. She chose to write because she was so engaged in the theme and game that we had come back to again and again all day!

I was so excited because she wrote the letter d correctly! Our letter reversal activities have definitely paid off! I noticed that she has started to use a capital B. This is quite common when children struggle with b/d because it makes the letter different and easier to remember. So I think it's time for us to start looking at how to form a b next.

We started off by doing the same writing, where I was doing most of the sounding out, and ended up with Sophie writing a sentence by herself. Not once did we have tears or a battle to get her to do it and I know what to work on next. I call that a win! It doesn't always work that way though. Sometimes they see right through you and know you are trying to get them to write! But when it works, it really works.

The key points are:

  • Provide open ended resources and see if they initiate the play

  • Stand back and observe. What are they interested in?

  • Look for opportunities to teach.

  • Get on the floor and join in with their play.

  • Make suggestions but don't push it if they are not engaging.

  • Have fun and watch as your child learns through play.

If you have a go, remember to go with the flow. Sometimes it will feel like it's working perfectly and other times it might not. Knowing your child and their interests is the key. I can teach children to sound out words by sitting a table with a piece of paper and pencil. But I can also teach them to sound out as we write labels for a town they have created with blocks, as we create cinema tickets for the movie we are going to watch or as we write down an McDonalds order as we drive thru on our toy car. The best writing is writing that is purposeful.

I hope that has been useful. Let me know if you have a go at writing 'in the moment' and let me know if you have any questions. The next part of my writing series I will talk about how to support children with writing and how to work out their next steps.



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