How to improve writing in secondary English

Head of English Chris Curtis joins Jamie Thom for this month’s Tes English podcast bringing some top tips to get teens writing wonderfully

writing in secondary

The perfect English classroom would surely involve our students keen and interested in writing regularly. It would see precise and careful writers, who take full responsibility to proof read carefully and have a confident understanding of the rules of grammar. 

So, how do we do just that?

On this month’s Tes English podcast (listen below) Chris Curtis, head of English in a secondary school and author of How to Teach English: Novels, Non-Fiction and their Artful Navigation, provides listeners with guidance on exactly how to achieve this utopian vision.

Here is a brief overview of his advice.  

1. The 200-word challenge

Chris decided that “students were not writing enough”, so he set up a weekly 200-word challenge in order to encourage pupils to write more and in different styles. 

“The format is quite clear,” he explains. “They know they are going to get a task that has to feature certain words and certain techniques but the stimulus and the genre changes, and the pupils love it.”

So, for example, he may set a task of writing the start of a magazine article or a commentary on something. 

He highlights how these tasks not only have a positive impact on planning and workload for his department but “build writing speed, concentration, immediacy and ownership of writing” for students.

2. Marking less with more impact

Chris argues that “our fetishism for marking has warped the writing process”. He highlights how he “will not go through and correct every mistake in students’ work”.

Instead, he believes we should hand the responsibility back to our students. They go through, edit and try to find the errors. And only then does he look at it.

 “I try to make students work harder and set the bar higher,” he says. 

Chris also argues that accuracy and grammar should be explored in every lesson and “be bubbling under the surface all the time”.

3. Analytical writing 

Chris suggests that writing analytical essays has become overly complicated. 

“When you look at students’ writing, they are chucking everything but the kitchen sink at every paragraph,” he says.  

Instead, he encourages his students to focus on the ideas rather than a “tick-list approach”.  

You can listen via your podcast platform or Spotify – just type in “Tes - The education podcast”. You can also listen via the player above.


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