If a student is unable to say something, how can we assume that they can write it? We can use strategies such as probing questions and restating techniques to help them develop their spoken responses, but how can we be sure that they will be able to translate that into sophisticated writing? One idea is that we can ask them to use rehearsing strategies to practise their answers verbally before they reach the writing stage. This strategy can be used effectively both by teachers of large classes and by tutors in a one-to-one interaction.
Talk for Writing
‘Talk for Writing’ is a process developed by Pie Corbett and Julia Strong (2016) during which students ‘imitate the language they need for a particular topic orally before reading and analysing it and then writing their own version’. The idea behind this technique is that students should practise aloud the language they will need to use for their writing, making them more confident about the language before they put pen to paper.
A huge added benefit is that by rehearsing their writing, they also start to form the structure of that writing as they talk. This means that (probably without even realising it) they are also planning their writing through rehearsal.
Suggested Activities for Different Subjects
Rehearsal for writing can be conducted in various different ways and across all subjects. The elements that they all have in common is that they are structured and focused: students have a clear aim as well as signposts for their speech. Here are some suggestions for activities in different contexts:
- Ask students to commentate a Chemistry experiment as it is being conducted – they will need to describe it in a report later, so why not rehearse during the event itself?
- Create a gallery walk for Geography using photographs and ask students to take the role of the tour guide, explaining a natural process in each photograph (with a specific focus).
- Create a war map (perhaps from a board game) for History and ask students to gather around a ‘commanding officer’ to discuss the route/tactics they will use in a specific war.
- Put pictures of ‘suspects’ on the wall for English Literature and ask students to prove that the evidence points towards a character’s guilt or towards another trait.
- Appoint a ‘student teacher’ for Maths problems, asking them to guide you or other students through solutions on the board like a real teacher.
- Encourage a joint construction of stories in English Language, where students come up with a story together and must retell it to you or the class, taking turns to speak.
These are just some rehearsal activities you could use – I’m sure you can think of many more that are relevant to your subject. The important thing is that the spoken task closely matches the upcoming written one. These techniques are not limited to teaching students in large classes: tutors also have an excellent opportunity for writing rehearsal with their students because they can talk with them on a one-to-one basis.
You can also add a stage by questioning the students about their rehearsals before they move onto the writing task. Did they miss anything? How could they expand, clarify, or contextualise their ideas more clearly? Could they restate a particular sentence to make it more sophisticated? What keywords might be needed to make their answers more developed? By asking them to elaborate on their answers, you are actually helping to strengthen the connections the students are creating in their brains, making it much more likely that they remember the information later on.
See the next blog in our series for advice on how to scaffold these rehearsal activities to meet the needs of all your learners and to ensure that students have enough support to create well-structured spoken – and then written – responses. At Get My Grades, we have been putting a lot of work into making sure that our educational content is based on educational research like the research discussed on this page. You can sign up for a tutor account here (with a 7-day free trial for each of your students) or find out more information about our platform on our website.
Corbett, P. & Strong, J. (2011). Talk for Writing across the curriculum. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
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