Tuesday 19 November 2019

I am so glad I managed to get everything done this week… said no teacher ever!

Guest Blog written by Judy Dawson

Milepost 1 Teacher, Greengates School in Mexico

All too often teachers feel guilty for cutting an investigation, inquiry or creative activities short in order to fit in more academic tasks. One way to free up some precious time is to embed English writing into the body of the unit of work. Teachers should be trying to give students real life experiences for writing and the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) units provide the perfect framework. Encourage the children to take the enthusiasm that they have for their investigations and direct that energy into their writing. Here are a few easy tips I have picked up along the way for creating connections with writing in your favourite IPC units.

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In the unit, ‘The Circus is Coming to Town’ the children wrote post-its to simulate a tug of war debate about animals in the circus followed by watching a short report on seals. The children broke this down into sections; ordered the report and added a personal comment or advice according to their view about circus animals. They then looked at non-fiction books about elephants, watched a short informative video and shared their knowledge of elephants. During Art, the learners drew their own elephants, and this added to their understanding and vocabulary. At the end of the week the children wrote their own report about elephants to create a class book. Some children needed the scaffold of a sentence stem to help create the report; while others used the books and the vocabulary pasted around the classroom, of course there were other children who wrote independently. By the end of the unit all the students could express an opinion about elephants in the circus and recall some information that they had learnt.

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When writing with young children it is important to model what you expect and then make sure they have time to talk through what they will write. Front loading vocabulary is crucial too. It is not cheating to give the students the language they need. A picture of an elephant with labels will help them construct meaningful sentences. Publishing a final product such as a class book is an excellent way to showcase and value children’s work.

In the unit, ‘How are You?’ learners were encouraged to think about how to stay healthy and what to do if they become ill. They discussed visits to the doctor and what made them feel better if they are sick. In the following role play activity the children took turns to play the doctor or patient and use real stethoscopes to listen to each other’s hearts. The next day the children looked at the photographs of the role play and wrote speech bubbles to say what they were doing. For beginner writers one sentence if often enough, so long as it is a sentence, they have ownership over and can re-read for themselves. Children who are still writing letter strings should be encouraged to try to sound out simple words; copy useful vocabulary and read their work aloud to their peers.

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Using an attention grabbing story is another valuable way to encourage writing in young children. Finding the right story is important and varying versions of traditional tales often provides a good starting point. In the unit ‘Building’ it is might seem too obvious to start with the story of the Three Pigs, but this could provide second or third language students with a connection to something familiar that they already know and it is easy to extend your confident students with different versions of the story. For the unit ‘Push Me, Pull You?’ why not try something like, Mrs. Armitage on Wheels or The Lighthouse Keepers Lunch to inspire writing. Diagrams have essential writing on them and the children didn’t even realise they are writing when they were labelling their plans for amazing bicycles or pully systems.

Lastly letters to the class have proven a great way to engaged the young learners and the ability of children to get into the spirit of things is wonderous. During the unit ‘The Toy Maker’ the teachers wrote to their classes to tell that a treasured class teddy had been lost/stolen. The children took on the task find the lost bear and made wanted posters to put up around school. Thinking of catchy phrases and interesting lettering helped reticent writers to shine.

These are just a few tried and tested ways that have been a hit in my class that I thought I would share with the wonderful IPC global community. I’m sure I will find even more over the years to come. 

Find out more about the International Primary Curriculum