I've created a series of question cards that could accompany a role-playing exercise on the emergency services, created to support Year 1 and 2 independent and guided writing. I set up a role-play area with a bookcase as a divider, some old phones and computer headsets with microphones on, a table and chairs, some buckets and a hose from a vacuum cleaner that can be used by potential firemen and women.
The pupils can take the role of the person who needs help, the operator or the rescuer, using the prompt cards to give them ideas and scenarios. One child "dials" 999 and describes an emergency, while the operator on the other end of the line writes down the details and then dispatches the appropriate emergency service.
Questions such as "Do you need a firefighter to help you?" and "Can you write a message for the firefighters?", accompanied by photographs of various emergency services personnel, seemed to spark the children's imaginations, and they came up with all kinds of situations where help was needed.
When using the role-play area, pupils can let their imaginations run riot. One boy was overheard saying "Quick, send everyone! Mrs M's purse has been stolen by a robber!" When my classroom assistant had been found by the "policeman" and the "robber" arrested, all the children involved wanted to record what had happened. The stories and reports that the pupils produced were of a higher quality than some of their earlier pieces because they had the chance to experience the situation before writing.
Would-be novelists are often advised to write what they know, and the same applies to young children. Having real and role-play experiences gives their written work a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
Julie Harris teaches at Strawberry Fields Primary School in Leeds.