A while ago I wrote about the difficulties of finding interesting topics for explanatory writing. The next day, I found myself in Charlton Kings Junior School, in Cheltenham, where Stuart Gaston Nash, the literacy teacher, showed me his latest ploy.
His Year 6 children have been consuming the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz. The series is accompanied by a non-fiction book, Alex Rider's Gadgets. The book looks at technical gadgets. These are supplied by the Q figure, Smithers. Each item is shown as a labelled diagram, with the workings cut away, plus an explanation of how the gadget works. First the children looked at an example from the book in detail. They studied the diagrams and the explanation, turning it into a flow chart using one of Sue Palmer's skeletons (see www.literacytrust.org.ukpubs palmer2.html for details).
They then devised their own gadgets for Alex, from exploding toothpaste to razor wire shoelaces. The skeletons helped with planning the paragraphs, and the causal language had to be included to explain how their gadgets worked. Working in pairs, one child could be in role as Smithers, explaining to Alex how their gadget works before moving into writing
Pie Corbett is a literacy consultant