Extended writing is when children are expected to produce a piece of independent paper (without the help of an adult) within a set time frame.
Usually, extended writing tasks are completed at the end of a literacy teaching unit to test knowledge and understanding.
Some examples of extended writing tasks:
Students may have been learning about information reports. They will have practiced researching information for their accounts and the key features of writing them. At the end of the unit, they may be set an extended writing task in which they have to write their information report within a time limit to show what they have learned over the unit.
Teachers may have spent an extended period on the topic of short stories. Children will have enjoyed reading and listening to stories and may have acted out short scenes. Then they may move on to coming up with ideas for their own short stories, forming scenes and dialogue. As an extended writing task, teachers may ask students to write their short stories in a timed format fully. This is a great way to test students’ creativity and check their learning progress.
Extended writing tasks can take many forms, but they usually relate to specific topics children have been learning about in class.
How can children enjoy extended writing tasks?
‘The Big Write’
One of the most common ways extended writing is taught in schools is through ‘The Big Write.’ This is a great way to get children excited about the event and to treat it more like a fun and engaging activity for everyone rather than an otherwise daunting task.
Methods for The Big Write include:
- Accurate basic literacy skills – spelling, punctuation, grammar, and handwriting.
- Grammar — Students should use correct grammar at all times in extended writing.
- Handwriting — At a minimum, this should be neat and legible. Cursive writing is encouraged.
- Spelling — This should be accurate in all sight-words.
- Punctuation — This should be accurate in terms of sentence creation and for creating ‘voice’ and effect.
- A good foundational framework.
- Target setting and regular assessment.
- High expectations for students.
- The importance of revision and rehearsal
- Making writing fun!
The amount of time spent on their ‘Big Write’ depends on age, but schools that use the Big Write program are encouraged to follow a specific routine.
There must be homework time the night before to help children discuss their ‘Big Write’ and mentally prepare for it.
Then, the teachers much ensure the first half of their extended writing task focuses on grammar and the V.C.O.P acronym:
- Vocabulary — Children are encouraged to use descriptive language (adjectives first, and then powerful verbs and adverbs)
- Connectives— Children should practice using connectives in their writing, including conjunctions, prepositions, and adverbs.
- Sentence Openers — Children should use several sentence openers to keep their writing varied and avoid repetitive writing.
- Punctuation — Children should use punctuation accurately. For Year 1, this means capital letters and full stops; in lower Year 2, this includes question marks and exclamation marks. Later in Year 2, children also need to punctuate speech correctly and use apostrophes and commas in the right places.
The Big Write framework provides a school with a comprehensive model that ensures teachers and children know what they can do when organizing an extended writing event. The Big Writing messages are laid out with V.C.O.P displays and punctuation pyramids used in classrooms.
In Foundation – Year 2, children are given about 10 minutes to plan their extended writing piece and 30 minutes to write it.
In Years 3 – 6, children are given about 45 minutes of writing time.
Writing should be done in a calm and quiet environment that encourages concentration.
How is extended writing marked?
The writing that children produce in extended writing sessions is a valuable way for teachers to evaluate a child’s writing skills. They can see where children have implemented what they’ve been taught and the areas where they still need more support to improve.
Some schools follow up an extended writing session with feedback from the teacher. A common method is the ‘two stars and a wish’ way.
For this method, teachers will write two good things about the writing (two ‘stars’) and then something the child could improve on (a ‘wish’). For example, they might write:
- Great job on using a variety of adjectives in your description!
- Well done for using lots of different sentence openers.
- Next time, use apostrophes for words such as ‘can’t’ and ‘don’t.’
Then, children are given feedback and usually asked to edit their work to improve it. They might do this individually, or the teacher might divide the group into pairs for a peer feedback session.
Extended writing preparation step-by-step
Introduce a stimulus
For children in Foundation, extended writing stimulus may be a short story, a video, or a biography fact file. There are many topics to choose from depending on the level of your class and the current teaching topic.
Preparation for an extended writing practice should first involve direct instruction. Children should be taught about the source material and join in a discussion of key points.
For example – if the chosen stimulus is a biography fact file, children should learn all about the person in the fact file in lessons. This could be through various materials such as PowerPoints, games, activities, fact file reading and writing worksheets, or role-play activities. This ensures children have an essential ‘toolkit’ of knowledge to draw from when it comes to the extended writing task.
Planning and practice
Use a structured framework to allow students to prepare for the extended writing task. Use worksheets or revisions practice documents, so students can plan a system for themselves in preparation for writing the final timed piece. Students can jot down notes and references or practice writing the full amount before the assessment.
Planning and practice could mean setting one writing task weekly on the lesson’s topic so that children can become familiar with the extended writing format.
The Big Write
Revisit the toolkit and go through plans with students. Perhaps share a good WAGOL (what a good one looks like) to inspire students to shine.
All that’s left to do is write, write, write. Students will write independently for 30 mins – 1 hour. Children should have done all the thinking and working out in their weeks of practice and can now exercise their creative flair in an assessed environment.
Some children will need more support in the process than others, so it’s a good idea to use differentiated activities and ensure students communicate about the help they need.
Benefits of extended writing for children
Extended writing tasks allow students to test their skills and recognize their strengths and weaknesses when writing. Complete writing tasks allow students to:
- Engage in deep learning
- Observe their time management
- Develop critical and creative reasoning skills
- Practice and refine written communication skills