Making sense of spelling


Today, we were directed towards Millar, R. & Klein, C. (2002) Making Sense of Spelling: A guide to teaching and learning how to spell. SENJIT: London. I love books like this that give you easy to follow checklists and methods to use in class. The following are ‘instructions’ slightly adapted so I can print them off easily (my memory is rubbish mid-class sometimes!), but all ideas are taken from pages 15-18.

Step 1

  • Looking at a piece of the learner’s own writing, group errors to find patterns such as rules, letter patterns, suffixes and prefixes (catalogue errors on the Spelling analysis learner self assessment for your file to help you select words to be learned). An example of the spelling assessment, and a piece of learner writing are below.
  •   2014-12-27 09.39.032014-12-27 09.39.15
  • Select a maximum of 10-12 words with the learner
    • choose words which learners spell nearly right/learner already knows similar word
    • choose words which the learner uses often
    • choose ones they want to learn
    • choose common words
    • choose words with common patterns (but don’t present confusing ones in the same week)

Step 2

  • Make a list of appropriate words for learners to spell. You could use the ‘spelling’ column on the Spelling and dictation record sheet I made, along with a few other documents in here that I find useful. I also find it useful to print all spelling stuff on coloured paper. Working anywhere, nevermind on outreach, colours help my organisation(slightly).

Step 3

Use Look say cover write check with the learners. They can keep this to practise at home (as I only see my group at the moment once per week) but I usually take a photo of it (just in case they lose it, and also for evidence of their progression).

Step 4

The following week,  using the dictation columns of the Spelling and dictation record sheet complete a dictation exercise with learners, ensuring that the learner:

  • repeats the word aloud
  • writes it
  • spells it orally
  • if a learner makes a mistake
    • ask them if they can find it, but don’t let them struggle. Show them the right spelling, compare and discuss. Make a note of any difficulties on the spelling record sheet.
    • get them to look at it again, and write it from memory – add the word to next week’s list (on the spelling record sheet)
  • add words learned to a personal dictionary (usually an exercise book that they can keep with them).

They suggest that dictations should also involve writing sentences using words that they already know to give practice.

  • dictate a sentence
  • get the learner to repeat it and write it from memory
  • get them to proof read immediately and correct errors
  • point out any errors and encourage them to correct them
  • if it’s not corrected, show the correct version and ask them to write it again from memory


Sometimes I’ve found it difficult to keep track of learner’s errors, so have at times not completed the spelling analysis. Also, even though class sizes are small, it can be hard to capture what is really happening, especially if you’re working with someone else. I’ve ‘caught’ learners throwing pieces of work away or changing their selections to synonyms they can spell, even with good levels of rapport and trust. This, of course, is a completely understandable coping mechanism for a skill which some have hidden away from others for years. Sometimes you have to encourage learners to take risks. Sometimes there’s just stuff you’ll miss, no matter how hard you try. People often come and go, depending on what is happening in the rest of their lives. I feel I need to get better at processes in an environment which doesn’t lend itself to processes sometimes.

Sometimes, I don’t get enough words per session from learners as the pace of work produced is slow, the words they find difficult are topic-specific, aren’t used frequently enough, or sometimes, they just don’t want to learn the words they’ve made mistakes with. I negotiate a lot with my learners. Sometimes possibly too much, but I’m always aware that they find it difficult, and there are often a lot of disputes in class, so sometimes it’s about making the best of what we’ve got on the day.

I’m going to try to use the above documents more, and print this page off as my ‘checklist’. I also have a volunteer, but with learners needing a lot of individual attention, it’s sometimes a bit thin on the ground with a tutor, a volunteer, and 5 learners.

I think I need to implement this more next term, and I’ll then be in a better place to reflect on my findings, as at the moment it kind of works, but the system doesn’t get followed. You might see this as my inability to control my classroom, or as adequate reflection in action. If a learner tells me they haven’t practised their spellings and can’t be bothered with them that day because their medication has changed too, then I don’t think I’m in a position to insist, but encourage.

Reflection on 2 first day warmers


Looking back at my PGDE, I realised at how useful reflection is, and whilst we may do it in our heads, there is a benefit to writing it all down. Sometimes, I still fall into the trap. Mine is more showing consequences of not reflecting and the reasons why I didn’t at the time. Because I am nervous in my lessons, I have found that I have an unfortunate ability to talk too much and not give clear instructions sometimes. I have opted for the plan, implement, reflect process as I understand it! As Scrivener (1994, p.25) points out when he first started teaching ‘I found it hard to worry about the ‘bigger’ questions until I had gained at least some initial confidence in the basic mechanics of running activities and working with students’, which I have also found sometimes, even after a few years of being out in the big bad world of teaching on your own.


I decided to use a warmer activity that we had done in one of our lessons with our tutor Karen, mainly because I found it enjoyable, and I saw the benefit that this activity was to take lots of pictures to elicit how the students feel about learning literacy. I had a quiet class of 3, with one ESOL E1 learner who had been unexpectedly rough sleeping for a few weeks (when he has previously come to class, he has been eager, although not accurate), a L1 learner who won’t write and a L1 learner who is arguably consolidating E3 but has recently passed an E3 Functional Skills qualification. Then the learners were to move on to an activity where they complete sentence starters ‘Learning is…/I like to learn…/learn best when…’ One learner picked a picture of an eye test, reporting that learning literacy is ‘knowing your ABCs and then trying to make sense of the bigger picture. Impressed, I asked my ESOL learner why he chose a picture. He said he chose a picture of the docks because he likes Liverpool. The other learner refused to pick a picture or get involved. This happens every now and again, and I usually set a productive writing task using their lives as a stimulus. Usually, these are the learners who have little intention of coming back to class and can be disruptive to the rest of the group (edit: I was feeling frustrated this day. The learners I work with often aren’t in a position where literacy is the highest priority and I have a high drop-out rate). Last week I had a list of questions, with the subject omitted, had the students fold the paper in 3 to hide the questions and write their name on the sheet before passing it to their left. They then continued to write their name in the next question. They then had to open it up, guess what the answer to the questions were, then go and ask other students what their answers would have been.

Learning is…

Warmer – What’s xyz ‘s favourite colour


I noticed because of the lack of focus my learners had as a group, it was difficult to elicit discussion about their pictures and also after they’d finished writing their sentences. The learners were not interested in each other, or the activity at all. I noticed that my instructions may not have been clear as they students seemed to be confused about what they had to do and also seemed bored of having to write their name ten times. This stage seemed to drag on a little too. The students asked each other questions to find out if they were right or not. The activity ended up successful in the class, but left me wondering the purpose as it seemed difficult from start to finish.


In the first warmer:

1. I could have changed the activity when I knew the learners I had. Saying that though, I don’t regret doing the activity as to encourage group dynamics in future, changing activities to non-discussion ones probably isn’t the best idea if I actually want them to develop their speaking and listening skills.

2. Appropriateness: I knew before I undertook the activity that the learners aren’t familiar with working with each other. I knew the ESOL learner might find it difficult, but thought with explanation it would be ok. I didn’t anticipate a learner being completely disinterested and under the influence of alcohol.

3. I need to discuss with the drop in service the tyoe of learner that is appropriate. It is difficult though as I do not want to exclude any learner from participating. Sometimes because they are not in the right frame of mind for a session, and lack their own motivation, it has a serious impact of the progress made in the session which is always difficult to manage.

With the second warmer, on reflection I could see a number of problems:

1. Give students clearer instructions, INCLUDING PURPOSE: by setting up the activity better/simplifying it/writing instructions on the board ‘pass to your left’.

2. Clarification/classroom management: Ensure that students know what they have to do next by asking a student to tell me before letting them get on with the activity, make sure everyone is listening to the explanation.

3. Appropriateness: The students knew each other better than I thought, so choose activities carefully. Maybe a simpler warmer would be more appropriate. I can also see that what I found enjoyable when I’ve done the activity before, students may not!

4. Time management: If clearer instructions are given, the activity would not have lasted so long. I could also introduce a time limit for the learners to complete the activity in.

Plan & implement

In different activities in the following lessons, I had planned to write down and give clearer instructions to students. I asked a learner to tell me what they had to do before letting them continue with an activity. I had alas decided that dependant on the activity, I would choose either to give, or not to give time limits, depending on the purpose. For warmers, I need to continue to introduce time limits. I spoke to the drop in and discussed the referrals up to the class that they make. I am hopeful this will be taken forward, however I am still not comfortable where the whether a learner is allowed to participate line lies. We have our code of conduct (below) however we are also operating on an outreach basis and also have to comply with the venue’s rules. In this particular drop-in, it is for rough sleepers. Whilst it isn’t a wet drop-in, many clients may be under the influence, suffer from mental health problems, health problems and are waiting to see the nurse (the same night as my class) rough sleep, are hungry, disengaged, and have one or more than one of these challenges. It is easy to see why the environment and their situation in general may not be conducive to learning. This doesn’t make me want to try less, but be more assertive and confident in my teaching.

Code of conduct

• Participate in classes and have a positive attitude towards learning
• Treat everyone with equal respect, courtesy and consideration
• Under no circumstance to display racist or sexist behaviour or language
• To respect the learning environment and share resources
• To respect confidentiality in a group setting
• Under no circumstances to possess or be under the influence of alcohol or drugs
• Under no circumstances to engage in any illegal or offensive activity
• Under no circumstances to display abusive or aggressive behaviour towards anyone


By writing down my instructions and staging them better, I have found this has helped the students understand what they have to do better and the lesson flowed better. By learners repeating what they had to do, it helped me to see whether I needed to step in or take a step back and let them get on with it. Time management was improved and I found it a useful tool to ask students how long they needed as it helped me to get to know the students and their capabilities a little better, improving my formative assessment too. I have also found a quote that I like. It’s a little wordy but when I started writing this post, I was worried whether I have actually improved on anything but this showed me that it becomes easier to find and analyse practice. This is taken from Scrivener (1994, p.19). It comes at the end of a chapter reviewing potential problems and reads, ‘These are the kind of problems we all have. You’ll find yourself doing these things – so notice yourself doing them and note the ways in which they do or don’t seem to ‘prevent’ learning. But also accept that this is part of the natural process of your own learning and development. As your awareness and confidence grow you’ll find that you not only become more able to recognise such problems in your own teaching, but that you can also start to find effective alternative options that can enable rather than hinder learning’. I can completely relate to this quote as I feel swamped relatively often. I suppose it’s the same as when learners’ filters are up, they find it difficult to see the wood for the trees. I feel the same sometimes, but will try to reflect more and liaise with colleagues more regularly with peers.


Scrivener, J. (1994) Learning Teaching. Heninmann:Oxford



Today, we were given a text each to read in pairs. On one side the title was ‘text 1’, on the other side the title was ‘Washing Clothes’.

I was given ‘text 1’ and read it to my partner. I tried to guess what the text was about, but couldn’t. When I was given the title, I kicked myself. It really highlighted the importance of telling learners what they’re going to be doing, before actually doing it. This way, a discussion can be made, a brainstorming session, a KWL grid, or a short introduction activity. This enables learners to collect information, making the process less challenging if you are unaware of the topic, and allows learners to share their knowledge.

This can also support soft skills such as confidence in class, peer cohesion and study skills.

How do we learn the conventions of writing?


We completed this activity in college which I found useful, so decided to use it as a basic for further research in future. As always, I’ll get around to reviewing it at some point!


These are some questions we looked at today. I also think this could be a good activity when covering audience and purpose with learners.

What kinds of texts have you written in the last month?

In the last month, I’ve written text messages, essays, a Police statement, signed a tenancy agreement, written a complaint email, and written a multitude of lists!

What was the purpose of the writing?

There were many purposes, with some having dual purposes. For example, the purpose of the Police statement was to log a crime, and the purpose of my complaint letter was to firstly complain, secondly to provide my own entertainment, and thirdly to ask for compensation!

Who was your audience?

There were many audiences including friends, family, landlords, managers and the Police.

What was the context?

The context of the text messages were personal (e.g. to ask how people were, to ask for help and say happy birthday).

The context of the Police statement was to document items that were stolen.

The context of the complaint letter was appalling customer service from a well-known electrical’s supplier.

Two views of writing

  • Writing as a product
  • Writing as a process
    • The process can be split into stages – they may differ person to person. Learners should be supported throughout but they should retain ownership.

Genre Approach

Genres have different structures depending on audience/purpose/social context and learners need to be taught conventions of different genres explicitly.

  • Focus on how to construct different types of texts through modelling/sharing/scaffolding. An example of this could be an email/letter writing template.

A list of strategies to support writing composition

  • KWL grid
  • Using discussion beforehand
  • Mind map
  • Complete chart
  • Sequencing words/activities
  • Language experience
  • Scaffolding/starter sentences
  • Photos
  • Wh- questions
  • Character creation chart
  • Story boards
  • Lists/sticky notes

Further reading

  • Kernel sentences
  • Consequences game.


We were asked to complete the following chart. The chart can also be used in lessons. It’ll be going on my list of things to try!

Text type Purpose Audience Context
Text messageBoard writingPost-it notes To persuade someone to ring me so I could get them to give me their washing machine!To inform learners of the difference between present simple and present continuous.To inform me of what clothes I had in each washing basket. LandlordLearnersMyself Landlord

How do we learn to write?

It’s important to acknowledge how learners would naturally pick up the conventions of writing. For example:

  • Greetings cards – how do we learn to write greetings cards?
    • We get a lot throughout our lives, even before we can read ourselves, so we may use modelling
    • We might write our name at first
    • Pick up the conventions of greetings cards from home context and receiving themAssignment writing – how do we learn to write assignments?
      • From reading examples
      • From using scaffolded activities
      • From modelling
      • Learning methods such as point, proof, analysis
      • Learn how to structure at school – every story needs a beginning, middle and end
      • Through feedback from our tutors

I will tag this under ‘things to try in the classroom’ to ensure I’m applying some of the theory to practice.

Literacy as a social practice


There are different domains of literacy such as work, social and the home. Within these domains, people use what Barton & Hamilton (1994, p.4) term as literacy ‘events’ and ‘practices’ as opposed to ‘skills’. They suggest that by ‘using an everyday event as a starting point provides a distinct view of literacy’. The continue to suggest that most literacy interactions are thought to come from the contexts in which we learn in classrooms, however, these don’t always match the settings in which we actually use literacy. Barton & Hamilton (1994, p.4) note that ‘everyday literacy gives a richer view of literacy which demands a new definition of literacy, a new way of thinking about what is involved in reading and writing’. We did an activity that demonstrated the benefits of viewing literacy in this way where we had to think about different literacy skills, and then think of the events concerned. I chose to look only at emails in the ‘events’ column.

Skills Event/practices we follow
Writing·         How to respond

·         Etiquette – register

·         Audience/purpose


·         Skim

·         Scan

·         Gist

·         Detail

Computer skills

·         Thesaurus

·         Spell checking

·         Using the internet to generate ideas/proof read

Emails – How often you access themSemantic fields/jargon

Deleting junk

Don’t read/open everything

Organising emails into folders etc

Use email, bookmarks, books, leaflets etc to ‘park’ information

Link between devices/technology increase

The benefit of this was even as a tutor, it was far easier for me to generate ideas, contexts and set my mind rolling through the possibilities. It’s common sense to try this approach in the classroom. Learners often report that they were bored in school, and saw no point in learning grammar, or writing stories a they had little connection to their real-life practices. Some learners make the link between planning a story, and planning a letter and can easily transfer these skills to different situations subconsciously, however, not everyone’s the same.

In that case then, with adult learners, it seems natural to focus on ways in which they actually use language, or are likely to in future rather than futile attempts to teach/learn something socially worthless at that time. Something which I have always thought of with ESOL is the bottom line of language is to communicate. Every time I had a ‘bad’ lesson, or thought I’d not covered much, or to much success, I resorted back to this as a positive; they had some practice with a native speaker, which yes could have had more worth, but they still had an experience that more likely than not reinforced particular points.

I see literacy in a similar way, but with a different aspect. The purpose of language is to communicate. So, if classes are difficult because learners don’t fit neatly into a little box and in many ways they’re not ‘ready to fully engage, why insist they practice writing emails or complete a worksheet they will struggle to use as a point of reference? We’ve already established that language is not fixed, and there are new and emerging literacies enabling us to take the language to places it’s not been before. This 2010 article from The Guardian highlights how literacy as a social practice has changed how this household operates. Use of the internet and social medias are a new can now be considered a new literacy and domain in which we operate on a daily basis. Subsequently, a new set of ‘rules’ have been constructed and their ‘best practice’ is constantly evolving. Even if you compare both Facebook literacy with Twitter literacy best practices, we can see there are distinct differences between the two such as layout features, grammar and new leases of life for punctuation, in particular ‘#’.

Why not just ask learners what they use literacy for and start from there? To many this might seem obvious, but as I’ve mentioned before, since I started teacher training (since 2007) I have witnessed countless ‘worksheet workshops’. It still happens and is imposed, doing nothing for those trying to bring individuality to literacy.

Social Practices

Some examples of social practices, with sometimes differing purposes could be:

  • signs and notices, and the language used in them
  • newspapers
  • reading aloud with others potentially listening
  • learners might need the tutor in a similar way as they might use a friend or neighbour – they need to know what to do, but their attitude and language towards an authoritative figure as opposed to a friend or someone they trust may change how this is spoken about
  • social practices in life/in the classroom are often different
  • finding/researching prices etc
  • recording an answerphone message
  • taking notes from an answerphone message

Social Networks

We started to think of our social networks and thought about the following points:

How do your emails reflect the different social networks to which you belong?

Thinking, and reading just my work emails, it is evident that I belong to a number of social networks, with slight shifts being seen depending on the purpose of the email and my feelings at the time. For example, I am quite a chatty and informal person and try to be that way with the people I work with. When I was studying for my degree, the power exuded from text quite frankly freaked me out. I saw language as not only a means of communication, but a tool to control. And since language is all around us, it made me take a step back to think about how I communicate with people. I spent some time in my early twenties trying to show myself in the best light. That was until I realised that I’d rather be a ‘say it how it is’ kind of person, than a bullshitter who uses big words to confuddle others.

Getting back to my work emails, this has had an influence on how I choose to put myself across in my later twenties. I try not to show power, and adapt my language to my audience. That said, in this blog, I think I’m mainly writing for myself, as a way for me to understand what I’m doing on this course. I do sometimes flip my register, but try to be as true as I can.

With managers, I try to use contractions, say my points politely, but bluntly, and convey my thought processes through my messages. There have only been a handful of times that I’ve been really formal, and that’s usually when I’m approaching new people, people in very corporate roles, or when I’m asking one of my team to do something. On the whole though, I’m as informal as I’d be when talking to my friends, with the odd joke and light-heartedness here and there.


Do any of your emails or literacy practices associated with them reflect a particular balance of power?

I noticed that the purpose in some received emails in my inbox are to instruct, however this is done in different ways, depending on the task being instructed and by who. Their mood at the time of writing is also conveyed, with one email being quite short and to the point, depicting a formal and decisive tone. This tone gave the impression that they were not to be ‘messed’ with. Whether I had annoyed this person prior to them sending the email, or whether they were affected by others before the email was sent are contributing factors to how the message has been put across, my understanding of it, and therefore how it was received and actioned.

A reprimand from a manager can display power, but also emails from others, including emails from staff. I know I have kept instructional emails short and to the point when I have asked someone to do something, and it hasn’t been done. One reason is to reduce ambiguity and convey more subconscious messages about my intentions, and another to ensure the text can’t be mis-read.

In the classroom, the balance of power can be seen through the documents we put in front of our learners. From enrollment forms, to feedback, ILPs to classroom displays. It all contributes to the power relationships of language and its users. Students don’t often chose their reading material and power is maintained often by register; it can unknowingly exclude. This is something I haven’t thought of in too much depth before to be honest but it is a completely valid point, and something which I’m going to try to take forward to my lessons by taking a selection of material/a box of leaflets etc that they can choose from. In terms of the forms which we use as an organisation, I usually use a mix of using the form as a type of initial assessment, but I always speak to the learner to see if they are comfortable in completing it orally with me acting as scribe, and even if there’s a hint of difficulty, I won’t let them struggle. It’s important to recognise and ask learners to discuss the literacy practices they do already to determine the steps going forward, and to use any information on the learner from form filling to inform future practice.

Things to think about, and take forward

  • We need to recognise what practices learners have, rather than it always coming from the tutor. I could ask them what they already do, and what they could do to explore possible work for the future.
  • We need to recongise learners’ feelings and how to potentially diffuse them if needed. Quite often, I’ve found literacy learners to have some behavioural issues, difficulties with power (not only confined to literacy practices), possible undiagnosed conditions, substance use (and misuse).
  • Discuss what makes them feel uncomfortable, and why, and strategies they can come up with to use when those difficulties arise.
  • Social practices in life and in the classroom are often different
  • Post on getting learners to select their own texts and to discuss how they use literacy already
  • Look at CC and evidence of lit as social practices
  • Apply this approach to own teaching practice


Barton, D. & Hamilton, M. (1994) Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Oxford: Routledge

Language and literacy development & models of writing


Today we worked in pairs and discussed/listed the factors which influence language and literacy development both in children and adults. One of our objectives was to describe how literacy skills are acquired and learnt. We formed the table below.

 Children  Adults
learning difficulties (possibly undiagnosed)
Chomsky’s genetic blueprint/LAD
social/peer/parental influences
background/school they go to
background – abuse etc
religion/other cultural groups and norms within these
approaches taught through – top-down/bottom-up, whether phonics is “in” at the time etc
speech difficulties
technology dependency
access to reading/norm of this at home – how often parents read
parents’ first language
highly prized handwriting culture
how literacy is valued in their multidimensional cultures
skills of the teacher/rapport
literacy levels of parents
gender – boys read fact-based/girls read stories
learning difficulties (possibly undiagnosed)
” especially if bilingual
social/peer/employer/media and wider society influences
background/school they went to
background – abuse etc
political opinions, economic status, identity and perceived identity
religion/other cultural groups and norms within these
approaches might need to be similar, or completely different to school depending on the learner
speech difficulties
technology dependency/lack of skills
access to reading/norm of this at home – how often parents read
parents’ first language
highly prized handwriting culture
how literacy is valued in their multidimensional cultures
skills of the teacher/rapport
literacy levels of parents
skills required at work
gender – stereotyping as adults – e.g. advertising, social norms

Many factors which affect children also affect adults, and sometimes in different ways. Making this list highlights the need to acknowledge the wider issues in literacy teaching which might not be so apparent in other subjects. For example, a learner who had a hard time at school, often with basic skills, comes to a literacy class with many assumptions, where as if they are studying a new subject, they might not have the same reservations. It also highlights that teaching and learning are not stand alone things we do outside of contexts, and it is easy to see why teaching literacy as a social practice can help give it more weight as a subject for both adults and children alike. It also shows the importance of knowing your learners and being able to relate to people in different ways. Sometimes it is necessary to get away from the ‘teacher-like’ behaviour, and sometimes learners like, work well and even expect this. Children often don’t get a chance to negotiate learning so much, but with adults you kind of have to due to the lack of contact time you typically get with them.

Stages of writing development 

We also looked at the stages of writing development from Abbots Langley Primary School. It was interesting to look at the typical patterns of mark making. I did think about how we can relate this to our adult learners who may have missed this step. On average, the adult literacy learners I have encountered have been able to formulate letters, even if they have extremely low reading skills. I have experienced learners who have had unusual letter formation, which includes a guy who was from a travelling family. He does ‘need’ to work on handwriting skills, but I’m not sure how I feel about addressing this yet, and whether it’s something which will help him in the long run. We did start to look at letter formation, however he stopped attending. I’m not sure whether this was due to something that happened with the class, or external factors, but it got me thinking about how to approach handwriting with adult learners. When we were ESOL trainees, we looked at teaching learners cursive script as it built muscle memory and involved taking the pen from paper less times. I have yet to actually complete a handwriting programme with someone. I can totally see how the theory works, but in practice? I’m going to add this to my action plan of things to look at again as I’ve got a million other things to focus on at the moment. Food for thought though.

Writing activity

We then were asked to consider how we would write a letter of complaint, including think about what would we need to do to prepare, to complete the letter and note what skills were involved in this.

2014-12-29 20.36.59

In order to prepare for the task, I drew upon previous knowledge such as accessing my memory of how a letter looks and we started to discuss the task. I noted in my group that I needed to think of the audience, purpose, and draw up a plan in order for me personally to think of how to complete the task. I’m unsure whether this is because this is the way I encourage learners to do it, or whether this is actually my preferred method. In my plan, I noted that I had to decide on the register, greetings and endings, facts and nature of the complaint, answering who/what/when/where/why/how if applicable, state my expected outcome and say that I wanted a reply.

We then split the activities/skills we noted into:

Composition, which The National Literacy Strategy (2001) (available on Sassoon Fonts website), describes as:

● Planning: What am I writing about and who is it for? i.e. content, purpose and audience
● Composing: How do I say it in writing? i.e. word
choice, sentence grammar and text organisation

Frank Smith (1994) Ch.3. Writing and The Writer. Routledge:London, describes composition as ‘getting ideas, selecting words, grammar’.

In the above task, we noted that choosing the following were examples of composition:

  • deciding who the audience was
  • what the purpose was
  • what the context of the letter was e.g. a serious complaint, or a more trivial one
  • thinking about content e.g. setting ourselves who/what/when/where/why/how questions in order to help us plan
  • deciding on the register, and therefore word choice such as greetings and endings conforming to genre-based expectations of how the letter should be written
  • deciding that there needed to be an opening and an ending saying what we expected from the complaint, and saying that we wanted a reply at the end of the letter
  • research to inform what address etc I write (transcription)
  • choosing the vocabulary to ‘fit’ with the tone, context, audience and purpose, or to choose to not ‘fit’ by using sarcasm etc.

Transcription, which The National Literacy Strategy (2001) shows transcription as:

● How do I write it down? i.e. spelling and handwriting
Frank Smith (1994) Ch.3. Writing and The Writer. Routledge:London, describes transcription as ‘physical effort of writing, spelling, capitalisation, punctuation, paragraphs, legibility’.

In the task above, there were some examples of transcription such as:

  • knowing how to complete a mind map
  • using some punctuation e.g. forward slash to separate ideas, additional information in brackets, however as these notes were just for myself in the session, I used no capital letters or full stops. I did use a few question marks though and some commas and dashes too as bullet points, and to separate ideas.
  • I used very rough handwriting, and as it was only for myself, it wasn’t very legible. Sometimes I have a problem with this. I tend to take notes, take them home and wonder what the hell I wrote. I also have a habit of randomly abbreviating things too!

If we actually wrote the letter, these are the transcription skills that would be involved:

  • layout of a formal letter (genre)
  • choosing the mode (writing on paper possibly first, then on a computer as it is the norm to write letters via word processing now)
  • organising it into paragraphs – choosing that the greeting goes first, then an opening sentence, main body, expectations, end, signature, researching and writing the address on the envelope
  • proof-reading skills – spelling, punctuation, grammar

Evidence of composition and transcription in CC

Learners are expected to be able to plan, an example of composition. They are then expected to draft, re-draft, proof-read for grammar, spelling and punctuation which are examples of transcription.

We then discussed how to support compositon with our learners. We decided that the following would help:

  • brainstorming ideas in pairs or groups
  • mind mapping/spider diagrams (lone-working)
  • scaffolding – providing starter sentences
  • discussion
  • language experience approach
  • photographs/pictures
  • story boards/vision boards/graphic organisers/collages
  • consequences
  • kernel sentences
  • who, what, when, where, why, how questions
  • decide on purpose and audience.

Frank Smith (1994) Ch.3. Writing and The Writer. Routledge:London, discusses that, ‘compositon and transcription can interfere with each other’, and that ‘the more attention you give to one, the more likely the other will suffer’. He discussed that both ideas compete against each other for attention and that writing is the most tiring and effort-heavy skill of them all. He suggests that being able to use word processors may help as ‘anything that can reduce the effort of writing is likely to improve its quality’. He also notes that writing has the slowest number of words per minute compared to speaking, listening and reading, increasing the likelihood of people forgetting what they’re writing because there is so much going on. He suggests that if we try to concentrate on legibility, thoughts slow down, but if we concentrate on thoughts, then accuracy in spelling and handwriting is diminished.

Smith suggests only one answer, that the ‘two aspects of writing have to be separated. Thus rewriting and editing can be as important as writing’ and that transcription must come last. On the face of it, I must say I agree with him. I have often thought that the skills I needed to cover in order for a piece to be successful were too much. I felt a pressure to ensure that I covered everything in the CC and panicked when I was nowhere near. Over the past year, I have relaxed so much in my expectations of learners. I don’t mean that to sound negative! I mean that it’s apparent that I didn’t quite understand what constituted progress before.

If one of my learners manages to compose a text and make an attempt at transcription, I’m happy. I could ask for no better starting point. The rest is negotiated from there.

How we achieve competence in writing

  • Need to understand that we write for different purposes, audiences, contexts
  • Usually need a situation
  • composition – what?
  • transcription – how?
  • draft/re-draft – different stages of the process
  • Writing as a product
  • Writing as a process – your first thought isn’t always your best thought
  • research – staged writing – where you work through a text together as a class (Genre theory)
  • differentiated – already have writing and match heading (consequences, name of the game) a
    • by outcome
    • writing frame/sentence starters
    • depersonalising/personalising
    • fairytales – each think of a fairytale and then pass round etc, get teaching for progression: writing?




Frank Smith (1994) Ch.3. Writing and The Writer. Routledge:London

What did you learn?

The theory of composition v transcription really resonated with me when I thought of my learners. It immediately jumped out as I have often thought about whether I was trying to do too much in the way that I was staging activities in the past. I agree from practice that learners spend most of their time in composition skills, especially in lower levels and it can be useful to separate these. I think in terms of genre theory, I usually try to give learners and example of what they’re heading towards at the start, but with an emphasis on content. I then focus on facilitating composition skills and lastly in the editing phase, transcription skills.

Thinking about how I usually write something, I usually start thinking about transcription and if I need to write.type anything at the top first, before moving on to content. I tend to edit as I’m going and compose thinking about transcription. However, as stated, I think this is too much for learners when starting off, so maybe staging it as originally discussed above, and explaining how competent writers think would be more useful for them.

How will you apply it? Practical implications? Resources made/changed? For assignment? Meet with? Find out more about? By ___ in my teaching.

As above. I introduced a stages of writing sheet to help learners see the process which we usually go through.

I tried this on:

I try this virtually every lesson, but feel a bit more confident about when to bring transcription in and why.

What went well?

For competent writers, it helps me assess them in terms of what I naturally do to gauge where they’re up to in their competence levels, whilst for beginners, it helps me judge on a long-term basis – as they plan more and more and are visibly more comfortable with planning, more effort goes into draft and so on.

What would I change?

Nothing at the moment. For me, this helps.

How will I make changes?

Personal Dictionary


I ask my learners to create personal dictionaries if they feel spelling is something they need to improve, so why not do it myself? Also, as much as I like my plain English idiolect (ha!), I do want to improve my vocabulary. Mainly as I’m sick of Googling meanings and/or not being able to spell words so much so that it can take twice as long to read/write, and then understand later!

  • Lacune
  • Heuristic
  • bureaucratic / bureaucracy
  • subsidiary