Write ...and write again

25th May 2001 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh looks at how to improve pupils word-processing skills with - and without - computers. Illustrated by Katrina King.

We think of word processing as an information and communication technology activity. However, people process words all the time. When you write a note to the milkman, change your mind, cross something out and write a correction, you are word processing.

Even before computers, teachers were encouraging children to draft and redraft their work. The computer makes it easier to do.

This project aims to help junior children realise that word processing is part of the business of writing, and not an isolated ICT activity. It offers paper-based activities for pupils, leading to computer-oriented extension activities, and notes for teachers.




Joanne's has written about the day something went wrong at home. After talking to her teacher about how she might improve her story, Joanne tries to:

* find a different beginning from "One day". ("Maybe I can start with the word 'Bang'," she thinks.) * Watch for repeated words. ("Maybe I can lose one 'shouted', or even two.") * Think of a lively ending. ("Perhaps I'll put down what Mum said she'd do when she caught Tibby!") Can you write Jo's story for her as she now wants it? Do you agree with her changes? Can you make your own improvements?


Here's the same story, but it's told differently. It's in pictures, and it's not told from Joanne's point of view. Why would it be more difficult to tell it in pictures from Joanne's point of view?


Now, on a computer, make some notes about what's happening in each of the pictures on pages 30 and 31 that tell Joanne's story.

When you've finished, look at your notes. Use cut-and-paste or drag-and-drop, and carefully edit your notes to retell the story in your own words.


There is strong emphasis on planning, organising and reviewing work in the national curriculum for English.

Teachers have always wanted to teach children to draft and re-draft their work, to try out different ways of telling a story, revise the order of events, and look at various ways of tarting and ending a piece of writing. Until recently, this could be a tedious and time-consuming task - disheartening for some pupils and, for the teacher, often an obstacle to progress.

Thanks to the computer, it's now easier to move text about, change it, delete it and present it in interesting and exciting ways. It is the writing and the thinking behind it that needs to come first, however - the computer is simply a tool to remove some of the drudgery.

Tibby and the vase

On page 30, a child is grappling with the task of writing a story that's vivid in her mind. After discussing it with her teacher, she sees possible improvements and ways to do it differently.

You can use this text as it is - copy it, photocopy it or scan it, together with the suggestions for improvement - and ask your pupils to produce a further version, or you can use it as a model for a similar exercise.

It is important for the children to realise that this is word processing without a computer, and that the mental processes involved are the same whether they are using a pen or a keyboard. As an exercise, it can be done with old or new technology.

Picture story

On page 31, the task goes a step further. Ask children why the strip cartoon is not a straight retelling of Joanne's story - help them to see that the structure of the story, which starts with Joanne in bed on page 30, and then involves her parents telling her what happened earlier, is not easy to render in a linear sequence of pictures.

Extension activities

1. Ask the the children to create a version of the story on the computer, then retell it from different standpoints - Tibby's, mum's, dad's, a visiting neighbour's. Save time and effort by re-using existing text where possible, moving it by using cut-and-paste or drag-and-drop.

2. Help the children to make the story into an animated presentation, using Microsoft PowerPoint or other similar software, scanning either the cartoon strip or their own artistic interpretations as a basis. They could add sound or musical effects in the style of "Tom and Jerry".

3. Put the animated stories on the school website and ask visitors to the site to add ideas, or to contribute similar stories of their own.

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