Giving children the confidence to Write – A Sentence A Day
I remember many things about the first headteacher I worked for, but two pieces of advice she gave me made a lasting impact on my teaching career: firstly, teach the children to be independent and, secondly, give them opportunities to write every day. The former required a long-term strategy; the latter I put into place the next day.
Now fourteen years, five schools and many thousands of sentences later, WASAD is still making an impact.
WASAD is so simple, it barely requires explanation: it simply is what it says: Write A Sentence A Day. As a Year 5 NQT, I gave the children special exercise books and announced that each day would begin with WASAD: I gave the children a new title each day - or they came up with one - and they wrote a sentence or more. Being Year 5, it took just minutes – the time it took to take the register, in fact. They enjoyed the opportunity to write about subjects that were topical (Our Class Assembly), familiar (My Long Weekend), unusual (England 4, Spain 2), or just plain funny (My Favourite Joke), but what they were desperate to do - and which took considerably longer - was to read their WASAD to the rest of the class.
This opportunity to read their writing to an audience provided unexpected outcomes: the motivation to write for a real audience, the determination to finish and check their writing ready for reading out loud, the confidence to read aloud their own writing without embarrassment and the pride of having shared their writing with an audience.
The impact was immediate, so now, many years down the line, and as a headteacher of a large inner-city primary school in Birmingham, we still do WASAD: it isn’t always daily - timetables are busy - but Reception and Year 1 are trialling a near-daily shared writing experience with lots of paired talk about what to write; Year 2 teachers model the sentence-writing using children’s ideas and then give the independent writers a chance to write their own (the beginning writers copy the class-constructed sentence).
From Year 3, children are writing much more independently: teachers give children ‘sentence openers’ and titles to develop thinking skills - a picture or an artefact to stimulate observational writing. Some classes develop a theme over a week. Many follow up school activities, events or assembly themes (SEAL lends itself well to WASAD) and many also reinforce cross-curricular topics with focused WASAD titles: Why DID the Ancient Egyptians build the pyramids?
The children like WASAD because it gives them something to do as soon as they come into school: ‘it starts your brain off’. They like the fact that it helps to improve their concentration, their handwriting, their confidence, their ideas. They like expressing opinions in writing, talking about what to write, hearing each other read, commenting on each other’s writing – and thinking of titles ‘when Miss has no ideas’.
And everyone likes the immediacy of WASAD. It’s so immediate, in fact, you could start it tomorrow - here’s a title idea: What if it rained baked beans?
Phil Thomas, November 2009
City Road Primary School