Talk for Writing

You may remember that a few months ago, I worked with Medlock Primary School, one of our nearest neighbour schools, on a mini-project to help children create new stories inspired by The Gruffalo.

A large part of this work was based on the ‘imitation, innovation, invention’ storymaking element of a strategy known as ‘Talk for Writing‘* (or more recently ‘Talk for Learning’), which was developed by Pie Corbett of the National Literacy Trust and then adopted by the last government as part of the National Primary Framework.

That last paragraph sounds really dry, but in fact ‘imitation, innovation, invention’ is a very effective way of supporting children in internalising story structures and language – and yes, it’s also darn good fun!

Recently, I worked with a lovely group of Year 5 children from St Chrysostom Primary School (another of our near neighbours) on creating quest myths. We started the imitation by using a ‘story map’.

image, story map for the myth 'Odysseus and the Cyclops'

Even if you are familiar with the use of story maps or similar devices for retelling or planning stories, the ‘imitation, innovation, invention’ approach adds an extra level. Each element of the story is accompanied by the leader retelling it in consistent language with actions to suit the element.

The children imitate this as the story builds up in segments, using the actions as well as the language (great for those kinaesthetic learners!) until they are able to retell the story to partners.

The innovation phase then uses the structure of the original story, but alters elements of it. In the ‘new myths’ we built up during the day, we created:

  • new heroes (based on characters on Greek pots not usually seen by the public)
  • a different reason for the hero’s journey (to find a powerful object lost by Zeus – which the children chose from objects in the Mediterranean Gallery)
  • a new monster (created from different parts of animals in the Mammals Gallery)
  • a unique, non-violent way to defeat or get past the monster (inspired by Greek objects the children handled and the discussions they had around them)

By the end of the day, the children all had adapted stories that they were beginning to confidentlyretell (with actions) to others in their class. The next step, back in school, will be the invention phase, where they can expand on their story ideas and develop them further. I’m looking forward to seeing the final stories they create and hope to post some on this blog in coming weeks.

It was a fantastic day and I’m really impressed with the hard work the children put into creating their new myths.

Image, jug with scene from the 'Odysseus and the Cyclops' story

*The full Department for Education pdf outlining ‘Talk for Writing’ can be downloaded by clicking here

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