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Motivating A Reluctant Writer: A Year 5 Story From Stratford School

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Stratford School is a reasonably large, decile 5, full primary school in provincial Taranaki where I have been leading a PLD project in writing since the beginning of this year.

As part of this project, I have been demonstrating the launch of writing topics as well as shared writing across several diverse classrooms.  In one of the Year 5-6 classrooms, I used the wonderful and very funny picture book Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin to motivate students toward an imaginative writing task that I thought would engage them. 

I read the text to them, we discussed it, and we decided that a good task would be to nominate a creature and write a set of diary entries from that creature’s perspective.  To help with this, I shared a piece of writing with them that I’d begun entitled Diary of a Sparrow (a set of four diary entries from a sparrow’s perspective) and we worked out that I’d used humour as well as my imagination in my writing, that I’d written the entries in a chatty style and that I’d used some great, descriptive vocabulary.  These became our criteria for success.  If you want to get a clearer picture of the lesson, you might want to click on a video of me leading it.

Diary Of a Banana

Before moving off to write, each student shared with me the creature they had selected and the context of their first diary entry; for example, a classroom; a restaurant; at the movies. Tiare, a Year 5 boy who the teacher Finn Zeylemaker later described to me as highly artistic but very reluctant to write, declared that his creature was a banana.  When I protested that a banana ‘wasn’t a creature’ his teacher looked at me in way that suggested: Just let him go for it.  So I agreed, Yes you can write Diary of a Banana but on condition that I get to read it – because I am dying to know what a banana might get up to!!  I can’t imagine.

I was so pleased that I did.  At morning tea, Finn and Tiare arrived in the staffroom with Finn excitedly telling me that Tiare had something he wanted to share with me.  Interesting enough, he didn’t want me to look at his writing but was happy to read it to me.

Watch The Video 

Read The Text

Motivating A Reluctant Writer

The Importance of Drafts & Re-Writes

Tiare draft writingI then realised why Tiare didn’t want me to look at his writing as he read it.  It was his first draft rather than his published writing.  Looking at his first draft afterwards, I realised that Tiare struggled with word formation – he could hear many of the key sounds in words and worked hard at recording them as best he could, but he was missing many spelling patterns that would lead him toward spelling accuracy.  And when you see that others in your class can largely achieve that accuracy and you can’t, it can become pretty demoralising.  This is what had happened to Tiare.

But because I (as audience) raved so much about the content of his writing, Tiare agreed to publish it with his teacher’s support.  This meant Finn correcting most of Tiare’s spelling for him, but Tiare copying it in his best handwriting and (very importantly for him) illustrating it as in the published version above.

Major Improvements

“I’m lucky if I get a sentence or two from him usually….But this particular task really inspired him and we got a lot more from him than I usually do….And since then he’s wanted to continue writing about the banana.  He sits by me as he writes and when he comes to a word he doesn’t know, he looks to me for clarification.  I always ask him what sounds he can hear and he then attempts the word himself….

I’ve since seen major improvements and I’m really pleased with his progress and his attitude”.

Teacher Finn Zeylemaker


The following are transcribed and published versions of his follow-up writing that he willingly allowed Finn to send to me:

3rd March

Hi banana’s diary.  It’s me apple.  Banana was eaten yesterday.  It’s just me left.  I’ve got no hard feelings though.  Suddenly, another troublemaker has arrived in the fruit bowl.  It’s lemon.  My eyes start watering.

4th March

Hello banana’s diary.  It’s me lemon.  I’m coming to destroy apple with my deadly friend kiwi.  I hope you have no cuts, my juice will burn you.  My friend kiwi is not only a piece of fruit but he is also an actual kiwi bird.  What’s his favourite food you ask?  APPLES! 

 

Despite his issues with spelling, I believe that Tiare IS a writer and it’s been so good to see him become excited about this task.

Well done to Tiare, Finn and all at Stratford School – and thank you for sharing!


Do you have a classroom story that you’d like to share with us and the world ?  We’d be delighted to hear from you!  Get in touch for more info.

  1. Ellie Smith
    | Reply

    Dear Tiare, I live in London and I teach English to students who speak other languages but who cannot speak any English at all. I love reading what children in New Zealand are writing. I read your story about the banana diary and really enjoyed it. It made me laugh too! So thank you for taking the time to write a wonderful story for us all to enjoy.
    Ellie Smith
    London 23rd May 2022

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