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From role play to writing

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By Amy ArnoldPrimary teacher

Amy Arnold needed a reason to get her children writing. It came in the form of a cave for Meg and Mog

At times it can be a challenge to inspire children to have the drive and confidence to independently initiate writing. It is crucial that they are given contexts, purpose and meaning for their writing; after all, as adults we never write anything without a reason.

Children playing in the role-play corner

I have found that using role-play areas provides the excitement and stimulation for children to write naturally, freely and with purpose. In a role-play area children can let their imaginations go and be in control of the direction and purpose of their writing. The role-play area is also wonderful for igniting the spark to being a ‘real’ writer – writing with passion, excitement and conviction.

That spooky time of year

As that spooky time of year approaches, I decided to utilise Halloween to full effect by capturing the children’s imaginations through stories and role play. Together we spent days studying Halloween-linked texts, from the classic Meg and Mog books by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski (Puffin) through to the more recent Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Macmillan Children’s Books, ISBN 9780333903384). As the children listened and responded with great enthusiasm and imagination, we explored the spooky language, characters, rhyme, rhythm and settings through guided and shared reading. This culminated in some wonderful story sessions and activities, with the children excitedly joining in with sound effects, taking on character roles, and using props.

The learning, while it was exploring texts, storytelling and re-enacting, was immense and covered a range of objectives, focusing on the following:

  • Retell stories, ordering events using story language.
  • Tell stories and describe incidents from their own experience in an audible voice.
  • Listen with sustained concentration, building new stores of words in different contexts.
  • Explore familiar themes and characters through improvisation and role-play.
  • Act out their own and well known stories, using voices for characters.

One afternoon, the children returned from lunch to find a letter addressed to them on the carpet. On the corner of the envelope was an intriguing cobweb, which stimulated a wonderful discussion about who the letter could be from. The children were actively drawing on their experiences and own interests as they offered ideas ranging from Spiderman to pink sparkly web fairies. The letter was opened and read together:

Dear Lion Class,

We have loved listening to your fantastic spooky stories; you are such wonderful readers and storytellers. We were wondering if you may be able to help us. The Witch Society is going to help us look after our world, by fitting solar panels to our house (just like the ones at your school). But Owl will be very scared with people working on the roof, so we will need somewhere to live for a few weeks. Could you make a little space for us in your classroom? We promise to be on our best behaviour and will only cast good spells.

We can’t wait to come and spend some time with you! Please can we come and stay with you? I’m sure you will have lots of ideas about the things we may need.

Thank you very much.

Love from,

Meg & Mog

PS Owl will be happy to stay on the school roof.

The children were buzzing with excitement at the thought of a witch’s house in their classroom. As they busily discussed their ideas in small groups, it was evident that they were drawing upon their recent experiences from the books they had explored. They related back to the wide and rich language we had shared through the spooky-themed texts, and discussed the possibilities of how we could accommodate our visitors.

The children were engrossed in their learning, covering the following:

  • Experiment with and build new stores of words to communicate in different contexts.
  • Take turns to speak, listen to others’ suggestions and talk about what they are going to do.
  • Convey information and ideas in simple non-narrative forms.
  • Visualise and comment on events, characters and ideas, making imaginative links to their own experiences.
  • Make predictions showing an understanding of ideas, events and characters.

Each group shared their ideas with the rest of the class, and together we scribed a list. The class list was wide-ranging, and included frogs, rhyming words and darkness as essentials! Over the next few days, the children set to work creating the role-play area. There were bats to make, spells to write, play dough characters to create, and pumpkins to carve. The buzz of learning was infectious as the children eagerly created Meg’s cave. Indeed, with the whoooossssh of a wand and the stir of a cauldron, all of a sudden my Year 1 class were absorbed and engaged in creative writing before you could say ‘Zabracadabrazoo!’

Instinctively, the children began using Meg’s cave as a base for their learning, for both guided and self-directed activities. Their imaginations spiralled as they created their own spells, using words and pictures to show their ingredients.

The space just next to the role-play area became a broomstick, wand and hat park! (Perfect for some well-timed adult intervention to create number labels, and great for assessing children’s independent number ordering skills.) The children independently selected their own resources and used these to re-enact their favourite spooky story or create their very own tale.

Meg’s cave became the hub of the classroom. During the night Meg would write to the children with a task for them. The tasks requested by Meg were very often the guided activities for the following day, and the children all scrambled to write back to Meg in the form of notes, postcards, or letters in spell bottles!

Sparkling spellbinding activities

Maps for Meg and Mog

This guided activity arose from the great interest the class had shown in an illustration of ‘Magic Wood’ at the beginning of the storybook, The Three Little Witches by Georgie Adams and Emily Bolam (Orion, ISBN 9780752874500). Meg had requested a map of the area to check whether there were enough amenities; this provided the basis for a wonderful geographical discussion.

Using the ‘Magic Wood’ illustration as a stimulus, the children worked in groups to design, create and label their very own large-scale maps. The maps featured some wonderfully original ideas including The Broomstick Factory, Sparkly Spell Lake and Black Cat Café! The maps proved to be invaluable for inspiring the children’s learning across all curriculum areas, including finding out about coordinates and controlling remote-controlled toys.

Learning objectives: The guided focus for map making provided an opportunity for the following learning:

  • Take turns to speak, listen to others’ suggestions and talk about what they are going to do.
  • Explain their views in a small group, decide how to report the group’s views and ideas to the class.
  • Spell new words using phonics as the prime approach.
  • Write most letters, correctly formed and orientated, using a comfortable and efficient grip.
  • Visualise and comment on events, characters and ideas, making imaginative links to their own experiences.
  • Convey simple information and ideas in simple non-narrative forms.

Time for a rhyme!

The children delighted in both identifying and finding alternative rhyming words when reading Room on the Broom and Meg and Mog. They decided it was essential to include rhyming words in their role-play area. This offered a great starting point for a guided rhyming activity. Children would simply select a spooky picture card and then create a string of words to rhyme with it; giggles were heard as they created their own nonsense words and recorded them on their whiteboards. Using the word banks they had made, the children were then able to create their own rhyming sentences. They loved writing in Meg and Mog-style ‘bang bubbles’!

Learning objectives: Throughout the rhyme time activity the children were learning and consolidating the following:

  • Experiment with and build new stores of words to communicate in different contexts.
  • Segment sounds into their constituent phonemes in order to spell them correctly.
  • Compose and write simple sentences independently to communicate meaning.
  • Use capital letters and full stops when punctuating simple sentences.

Super strong finger muscles

To ensure the children continue on their development journey to becoming confident and competent writers, the strength in their finger, hand and wrist muscles also need to be developed. Working the fingers and hands enhances a child’s ability to write, form letters correctly, grip a wide range of writing tools, and prepare them for extended writing in the future. This activity was a huge hit with the children and a chance to work some of the muscles essential for controlling and developing their fine motor skills.

A variety of spooky Halloween sequins were set in orange jelly. The children set to work carefully removing the shapes using tweezers – the challenge was to take the shapes out with hardly any jelly on them. After the children had experimented using the tweezers, the activity turned into a game. Using a sand timer, the children recorded how many shapes they had collected in two minutes. They loved having ownership over scoring their results by writing their name and score on the spooky paper! At the end of the day we took the opportunity to order the scores and consolidate our numeracy skills of ‘more than’ and ‘less than’.

Ooh that witch was…

While sharing Room on the Broom, the children noticed all the different facial expressions of the witch. They readily mirrored these expressions during their re-enacting of the story. Each child had so many different words to describe the witch throughout the story, that we captured these by carrying out a character analysis of her using a ‘bubble map’.

Learning objectives: While using words and pictures to analysis the traits of the witch throughout the story and creating bubble maps to communicate their ideas, the children were engaged in the following learning:

  • Listen with sustained concentration, building new stores of words in different contexts.
  • Make predictions showing an understanding of ideas, events and characters.
  • Visualise and comment on events, characters and ideas, making imaginative links to their own experiences.
  • Spell new words using phonics as the prime approach.
  • Segment sounds into their constituent phonemes in order to spell them correctly.

Success story!

The role-play area provided the rich context, purpose and meaning for the children’s learning. They loved corresponding with Meg and Mog and would readily write notes, letters and spells to post in her post box. They carried out Meg’s requests with enthusiasm, and delighted in proudly displaying their results around the role-play area.

Children were able to use the resources and stimuli of the role play to have ownership and direction in their learning, and would initiate their own activities. The children’s self-directed activities showed great use of the language, skills and understanding they had gained through shared and guided activities.

Reviews

  1. NATASHA LANGLEY
    on 12 October 2010

    FAB|!

    Wow these ideas sound just great – I am a student teacher & am looking to carry out my research project based on improving literacy through role-play in key stage one – your ideas have confirmed to me how important this area is for children in key stage one! Thanks!!

  2. sarah evans
    on 11 May 2010

    great stuff

    how enthusiastic you are – great to read and adapt in my class.

    thanks

    5out of 5
  3. Mikki
    on 10 February 2010

    Adapting idea for my own child

    I am looking to develop boys writing and would like to introduce free/independent writing into a fairly structured year 1 class. This will be my first class as I am an NQT. Your ideas sound great and I am already thinking how I can adapt this for my own children boys and girls. Thanks.