A Parents guide to `Big Writing`

What is it?

‘Big Writing’ is a highly effective approach to the teaching of writing.  The method is based on fast, fun and lively teaching of the writing voice through talking. It focuses on 4 main aspects of the writing process and it gives the children the skills to improve their own writing.

Big Writing is used by thousands of teachers across the country.  It has been praised by HMI and its impact has been recognised in OFSTED reports.

What do the children do?

The children are given lots of opportunities to talk before writing; if they cannot say it then we cannot expect them to write it.

The four main aspects of writing, VCOP, are practised through fast paced, exciting, oracy-based activities in 10 minute sessions at the start of the children’s daily English lesson.  On a Monday the children also take part in a ‘Big Writing’ session.

In Years 1-6 there are VCOP displays which are added to throughout the year. The children’s increasing knowledge of VCOP helps them to write better texts.

The children learn a chant….. The V.C.O.P.

What have you got to remember ….

VCOP can also be sung to YMCA!

What is VCOP?

Vocabulary: Exciting and ambitious words that are well chosen. Also called ‘wow words’

Connectives: Adventurous and varied connecting words to make simple sentences into longer more sophisticated words.

Openers: A variety of words to start sentences to make the writing interesting to read.

Punctuation:  Well used punctuation creates different effects in writing. The punctuation pyramid is a feature of all classrooms and children are encouraged to try out a wider range of punctuation. The use of each type of punctuation becomes more accurate through regular teaching. 

The children also use Kung-Fu punctuation which they should also be able to teach you!

What is the ‘Big Writing’ session?

On Fridays the children in Years 1-6 will come home with a Talk Homework sheet.  This will inform you about the writing the children will be doing in their Big Writing session on Monday morning. It will give prompts to help guide the talking that you do.

During the weekend you will need to talk about the piece of writing and share ideas. This warms the child up so they have plenty to write about.   It is a ‘Talk’ homework; nothing needs to be written down.  It is best to talk freely about ideas rather than rehearse a text, as children forget and panic because they can not remember what they have prepared.

Talk homework does benefit the children.  At East Wittering we have been doing Big Writing for 18 months and the children who actively complete their Talk Homework in preparation for big write produce better writing than those who do not.

The Monday session is 1 ½ hours long, except in Year 1.  It begins with a fast paced exciting oracy based warm up which will involve many aspects of VCOP in the form of games and challenges. It usually has a competitive element which is something many children enjoy, in particular the boys.

The children will have a chance to share their talk homework ideas and they are then given 5 minutes to make a plan.  They are taught different planning methods during the year so they can find the best one for them.

Lastly they set up the classroom with the special pens, pencils, books and pencil sharpeners which are kept in their class Big Writing box.

The children also have their writing target card on the table; the same as in most English lessons.  This card highlights the particular aspects of writing each child is currently working on.  You will receive a copy of your child’s target card at each Open Evening during the school year.

The children then go out for morning break. 

On returning to the classroom it will feel calmer – with atmospheric lighting and a lit candle.   Very quiet music plays in the background, so quiet it can only be heard when the whole class is silent. The children are calmed by this atmosphere and many comment on how they love the silence!

The children complete their piece of writing.  During the quiet writing session the class teacher will give children the opportunity to share work in progress.  The children are able to pause and relax, listen to others and contribute if they want to, before returning to their writing. 

The teacher may stop ask children to volunteer their best phrase, an example of good punctuation or perhaps the most sophisticated opener used in their text.  The children hear what others are writing and which excellent words are being used. It encourages them to steal words from each other; this is not copying, it is a great way to widen their vocabulary.  We also like children to steal words from the texts they are reading.

During the session the class teacher will quietly offer individuals feedback and encouragement on what they are doing.    Children may be given stickers for good words and phrases or there may be a class hat or object to wear or have on the table.  In some classes the special hat is a sign of a genius writer and can be ‘stolen’ from the wearer by using a better word or more sophisticated sentence.  This again appeals to the competitive nature of many children.

At the end of the Big Writing session the children will be encouraged to check their target card (individually or with the help of their teacher) to see if they have reached their targets.  They may also be invited to share their writing. All writing is marked and leveled giving the child feedback and feed-forward. (What they should do next to get better at writing) The children’s Big Writing books will be on display at Open Evenings.

What do the children do in the rest of their English lessons?

The children are taught English from the Primary National Framework. They learn more about word choices, punctuation, grammar and different text types.

What about handwriting and spelling?

Handwriting and spelling are taught separately but they can be reinforced throughout these sessions.

What about the children in the Reception Classes? 

Our youngest children experience Big Writing in a different way.  The children have an early introduction to VCOP through oral activities called BIG TALK. They will be encouraged to use wow words, connectives and openers.  The development of this extended speech and encouragement of all children to become confident and articulate talkers prepares them for Big Writing.

Monitoring Children’s Progress

Every week the writing is checked against children’s individual targets. Stickers are given and new targets when necessary.

Once during each half term the children will not bring home a Talk Homework.  This is because they are going to complete a piece of special writing that will be looked at in more detail. It has to be completely independent. This helps the class teacher to see how they are getting on and to check that the child’s targets and the levels of challenge and support are accurate.  The progress being made in writing, as well as Reading and Maths, is shared with parents at Open Evening but it can be discussed at other times if you are concerned.

If you would like any further information then please ask your child’s class teacher or come and see me.

(Literacy Co-ordinator)