Case study: Shirley Warren primary, Southampton

1st July 2005 at 01:00
This year I've focused on speaking and listening with my 31 Year 3 children. After an Inset day on the primary strategy speaking and listening materials, I aligned the learning objectives from its four strands - speaking, listening, drama and group discussion, and interaction - into my curriculum map. I then selected appropriate techniques to deliver them.

Many children start at Shirley Warren with limited literacy skills.

Improving talk raises standards in reading and writing, and using these techniques across the curriculum (linked learning) gives a meaningful context for the children; there is a reason for doing them.

Using Jigsaw - where I explain the lesson to groups of "expert" children who then report back to their home groups - encourages children to get involved and increases confidence. A trip to Tesco as part of teeth and healthy eating allowed them to choose their foods, taste them and try to describe them to their team-mates - although one child's contribution of, "It smells like a bum" probably isn't what inspectors would want to hear.

But you sniff a butter bean and try to convey the aroma!

Teacher in role is an invaluable tool for teaching history as well as literacy. "Can't we interview Boudicca?" asked Billie, a more refreshing approach than fact-finding in a book, even if it means donning wig and woad. At present I am teaching character description and I've planned Role on the Wall using "The Firework Maker's Daughter". We draw around the smallest child on cardboard and cut it out. This is then our character from the book. On the outside we write all the facts we know about them, what they look like, hobbies, etc; and on the inside how we think they feel.

This gives the children a chance to explore not only the physical but the emotional attributes of the characters. I also find this useful for supporting inference and deduction work, as you can ask the children why a character behaves in a certain way.

We use Babble Gabble, where I tell a story and the children retell it to a partner as fast as they can, with as much attention to detail as possible.

I use it before story-writing to familiarise them with the structure. They think of freeze-frames for the key events in the story and take photographs to make visual storyboards.

Hot-seating is particularly good for investigating character perspective and writing first-person reports. My class are now really confident in taking part. However, I find it helps increase their confidence if they discuss ideas with a response partner first. Decision Alley is a technique we use to support dilemma writing or where an important decision needs exploring in PSHE:"Should Peter carry out a dare in order to join a gang?"

I have also tried using speaking frames. These have structured presentations where the children can replace parts of the talk with their own. They can memorise the presentations or read them. At first I worried whether they would be too dry, but have found, in fact, that they provide a safe way for children to talk: there are no surprises, so their fear of failure is reduced. My class now happily join in presentations and discussions as they know the rules for listening and know that their contributions are valued. They are positive and supportive of others' talk.

In fact, they actually asked to carry on their presentations of a mystery object instead of playing bench ball. Almost unheard of!

What effect has this had? We are more aware of our talk. I talk the text, they talk the text, we read and then write. I have found that "talking the text" embeds it and empowers their writing. They want to write because they are confident of the outcome and can comment on each other's writing, thus giving it value and worth. This focus enriches their talk, produces a better standard of writing, and enhances enjoyment both for me as a teacher, and for my class.

Emma Carrington teaches at Shirley Warren nursery and primary school, Southampton

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