Event Experiences in Year 4
The Disraeli School and Children’s Centre
“They didn’t even realise the amount of grammar skills they were displaying as they wrote their reviews.”
“I have never seen the children so engaged in writing.”
Focus Group and the reason for choice
· I am currently the team leader for Years three and four, and decided to base my focus group on my Year Four Literacy groups. At Disraeli, a class teacher will either teach Literacy or Numeracy exclusively. We feel this gives a teacher greater awareness, responsibility and impact in terms of planning, teaching and assessment. I teach Literacy to two groups in Year Four.
· We set three ways in Year Four, so that teachers can target children more specifically, challenge and support more able and less able children and to allow a greater range of differentiation.
In this smaller group of 16 pupils, the ability range is from a 3b to 4b.
In my second Literacy group I teach 20 pupils with an ability range from 1c to a 3c.
· We decided to use these two groups in the Grammar project because I could trial different ideas myself and see what impact they had on a more able and a less able grouping. We understood that grammar has and will become a key element of the Primary Literacy curriculum and wanted to make sure that our current teaching strategies were appropriate and covered enough of the grammar requirement in the proposed new curriculum.
Activities undertaken – description
We continued with our current strategies of learning grammar through mental oral starters. We endeavour to use grammar focused mental oral starters at least three times a week. These include word association games, songs and rhymes, acting and sentence and word level investigations. We also took opportunities to use our Radio and TV equipment to engage the children with grammar learning.
Our main focus through the Grammar Project was to use event experiences to engage the children and explicitly teach grammar. We adopted event experience teaching, after we discovered that a proportion of our children have very few real life experiences and find little purpose in some of the writing genres we wish them to learn.
We decided to base our learning of review and newspaper report writing in Year Four through a series of experience weeks. This included a restaurant, a cinema and a crime scene. This allowed the children to experience first-hand what they were expected to write about.
My fellow Year Four Literacy teacher and I began our two weeks of Literacy work by looking at a restaurant review. We text marked the reviews for word, sentence and text level features and created a glossary in our Literacy books. The next day we set up Luigi’s Restaurant in our classrooms. We had paper tablecloths, cutlery, napkins and Italian music playing. The teaching staff had aprons on and were in character for the whole lesson as the waiters. The children were given a ‘set menu’ of three courses. They had olives and bread to start, pizza and salad to follow and Italian Ice cream for dessert.
For some of the children the opportunity to enjoy a restaurant was very novel and many of the children were reluctant to eat the olives at first. As the children enjoyed their food, they were asked to describe the food they were tasting using adjectives and similes. We wrote these up on our working wall. At the end of the lesson the children were asked to fill in their experience questionnaires, giving the restaurant a star rating and say whether they would recommend the establishment to others.
The next day the children were asked to review the restaurant. To continue their learning they were asked to describe their experience using the power of three, always asking them to up level their word choices. We played the children a ‘voicemail’ from Luigi himself, explaining that his business was in trouble and he needed the children to write him a restaurant review promoting the business. So in the lesson we planned our restaurant review. The children had to use adjectives, punctuation, metaphors, alliteration, similes and clauses in their planning. We continued throughout the lesson to build our working wall.
For the rest of the week children wrote up their restaurant reviews. Group three focused on using effective vocabulary and appropriate punctuation. Group one focused on using more complex sentences and a wider range of imagery. They worked quite independently on this task and found as they were writing they were able to review their work more effectively, often by swapping books with their peers and using their feedback to improve their writing. This allowed the children to identify grammatically correct sentences by proof reading someone else’s work.
The following week, on Monday we finished off and evaluated our writing using a checklist to edit our work, we took a sentence we were not happy with, and wrote it out on a whiteboard, and improved it. We were able to use our skills with a thesaurus too in this lesson, and explained the term synonym. The children in Group one, were able then to find synonyms for a variety of dull adjectives confidently.
In the following lessons the children, thought of other marketing strategies to save Luigi’s restaurant. The children thought the menu sounded boring and unappealing, so they wanted to change the menu. Using similes, metaphors and powerful adjectives the children improved and presented their menus. They finished the week by completing an advert for the restaurant, describing the food, atmosphere and including special offers, using persuasive language. We discussed formal and informal language throughout, working out what was appropriate for an advert and compared it to what is appropriate for a newspaper article. At the end of the lesson we had a gallery of posters to share our good work.
In future use of the restaurant theme I would also include a radio or TV advert so the children have the opportunity to use formal and informal language and model some of the descriptive language they have used in the last two week.
We continued with the themed weeks of experiences, including setting up the classroom as a cinema, where we gave the children cinema tickets in their trays and gave them popcorn in cones (only a small amount of popcorn!) The children watched the film ‘Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave’ which was perfect for its range of characters and also it’s short running time. The children used their restaurant review skills to write up a film review, following a similar format including text marking an existing review (and also one which the teachers wrote, so that they included all the necessary language features)
Another experience week was based on a fake crime scene which we set up in the classroom. The children had no idea of the scene until they came in the classroom after assembly. We had set up yellow police tape, footprints with talcum powder, ink finger prints, and quite a lot of mess. The children discovered a laptop was ‘missing’ and the children became news reporters. They took notes at the crime scene and worked in groups to write up a news report. One child was the newsreader, a second child was the reporter, reporting back from the crime scene, and the final two children were eye witnesses who were interviewed. This themed week allowed for a lot of drama, but also improved their understanding of formal and informal language.
Evaluation of impact on progress / writing
My personal evaluation
I think that teaching grammar explicitly through events has helped the children use vocabulary and understand different word classes that they would normally have felt daunted to use in lessons. The children have definitely written longer pieces of writing of a higher quality (especially in lower abilities groups) because they have been able to touch, taste and more importantly enjoy an experience they are writing about. The event experiences gave purpose to the children’s writing. I found the format of these lessons to be very flexible with the opportunity to include most of the grammar expectations featured in the proposed curriculum. I would be cautious to continually use these themed weeks, so as to avoid wearing out the format, but it can be used regularly, especially if the children are showing a specific difficulty with a word class or concept, e.g. longer passages with cohesion, increased complexity of sentences or editing skills.
Quotes from children
· Teaching/Support staff comments
“The children thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to experience something first hand, and then use it in their writing. I definitely saw an improvement in their choice of vocabulary, I even had a child race over to me saying, “I used personification, come and look”.” Year 4 Teacher
“They didn’t even realise the amount of grammar skills they were displaying as they wrote their reviews.” Year 4 Teacher
“The children found they could describe and produce more effective sentences by actually tasting and touching what they were describing.” Learning support assistant
“The children gained an understanding of how to make their writing persuasive and engaging.” Learning support assistant
“I have never seen the children so engaged in writing.” Year 6 Teacher
The next steps we will take is to look at Literacy planning as a whole school, whilst maintaining our current grammar teaching approach of learning through fun mental oral starters, followed by more specific teaching in Year 6. We will look at opportunities in other year groups for different event experiences that could enhance the children’s understanding of grammar. We also plan to work with Literacy teachers to make sure all the staff are confident with their grammar subject knowledge.