Talk for Writing is an engaging teaching framework developed by Pie Corbett, supported by Julia Strong. It is powerful because it is based on the principles of how children learn. It enables children to imitate the language they need for a particular topic orally, before reading and analysing it, and then writing their own version. The movement from imitation to innovation to independent application can be adapted to suit the needs of learners of any stage.
The Talk for Writing approach enables children to read and write independently for a variety of audiences and purposes within different subjects. A key feature is that children internalise the language structures needed to write through ‘talking the text’, as well as close reading. The approach moves from dependence towards independence, with the teacher using shared and guided teaching to develop the ability in children to write creatively and powerfully.
Teaching is always focused by initial assessment. Assessment of children's writing helps the teacher work out what to teach the whole class, different groups and adapt the model text and plan. Targets can then be set for individuals.
The teaching begins with some sort of creative ‘hook’ which engages the pupils, often with a sense of enjoyment, audience and purpose. The model text is pitched beyond the pupils’ level and has built into it the underlying, transferable structures and language patterns that students will need when they are writing. This is learned using a ‘text map’ and actions to strengthen memory and help students internalise the text. Activities such as drama are used to deepen understanding of the text.
Once students can ‘talk like the text’, the model, and other examples, are then read for vocabulary and comprehension, before being analysed for the basic text (boxing up) and language patterns, as well as writing techniques or toolkits.
During the innovation stage, children are presented with a new focus for their writing while maintaining the genre introduced.
The start of this phase is underpinned by rehearsing key spellings and grammatical patterns linked to the new topic. Short-burst writing is used to practise key focuses such as description, persuasion or scientific explanation using appropriate vocabulary and grammatical features.
Once students are familiar with new topic area and have practised applying their writer tools, then the teacher leads them into creating their own versions. With younger pupils, this is based on changing the basic map and retelling new versions.
Older students use boxed-up planners and the teacher demonstrates how to create simple plans and orally develop ideas prior to writing. Ideas may need to be generated and organised or information researched and added to a planner.
Shared and guided writing is then used to stage writing over a number of days so that students are writing texts bit by bit, concentrating on bringing all the elements together, writing effectively and accurately.
Feedback is given during the lessons, as well as using some form of visualiser on a daily basis, so that students can be taught how to improve their writing, make it more accurate, until they can increasingly edit in pairs or on their own.
Eventually, students move on to the third phase, which is when they apply independently what has been taught and practised. Students are guided through planning, drafting and revising their work independently.
Rich starting points that tap into what students know and what matters, ensure their writing is purposeful.
With non-fiction, students apply what they have been taught across the curriculum. The final piece is used as the ‘hot’ task, which clearly shows progress across the unit.
It is important that at the innovation and independent application stages, the writing becomes increasingly independent of the original model rather than a pale copy. Whilst younger children may only make a few simple changes, older students will be adding, embellishing, altering and manipulating the original structure.
The aim of Talk for Writing is to develop imaginative, creative and effective writers. No student can be said to really be a reader until they make their own choices about what to read and begin to develop a taste. In the same vein, children are not really writers until they decide what they want to write and have opportunities to create their own writing tasks and write about their interests and lives creating stories, poems and informative writing for themselves.
For this reason, schools plan ‘invention’ units which often sit between taught units. These ‘invention’ units are when students have time for their own writing. Teachers may provide a stimulus such as a film clip, interesting object, drama, wordless picture book, work of art, music, visitor or visit as a starting point but the students decide what and how to write. This is truly independent writing.