Mme G.C. -Work in Progress

Independent Consultant sharing my learning with others. Please scroll way down to follow me!!


July 2011

Et en francais?? Big Writing Ecrire Gros

So we asked ourselves-would Big Writing work in French Immersion???

We think it would for sure!!!


(adapted by Sylvie Pauze and Lezlie Goudie-Cloutier  July 2011 from Big Writing by Ros Wilson)

Les quatre buts généraux



Vocabulaire L’étendue du vocabulaire ambitieux connu par l’élève (mots dynamiques)
Connecteurs L’étendue des structures déjà acquises par l’élève pour connecter idées, segments de phrases et  phrases.
Démarreurs Les stratégies  déjà acquises par l’ élève pour démarrer les phrases: surtout les démarreurs clé: connecteurs, mots se terminant par ment et  ant(inf. pres)
Ponctuation L’étendue de la ponctuation déjà acquise par l’élève.

Big Writing

My discovery of the summer…Not sure what to think of it yet. I need to do some more research and try it out …

Big Writing

A Ros Wilson Strategy

If a Child Can Say It,

A Child Can Write It


     Big Writing is teaching method or strategy developed by UK based Ros Wilson in order to raise writing standards with children aged 5-11.  It is the development of the “writing voice” largely though oral activities. The aim of Big Writing is to advise schools on how to raise a child’s attainment level in speaking, listening and writing.

      The premise for BIG WRITING is: If a Child Can Say It,A Child Can Write It .Some people say if the kids can’t say it the kids can’t write it-either way- We need to teach them how to say it , so that they can write it.

Ros believes that there are four points that are key to improving anyone’s writing: vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation which she shortened to V.C.O.P.


The Four Generic Targets of Big Writing




The range of ambitious vocabulary a pupil knows ( WOW words) 


The range of ways pupils have of joining  ideas ,phrases and sentences 


The strategies pupils have for opening sentences: especially the key openers: connectives, ly words and ingwords 


The range of punctuation a pupil can use and the accuracy with which they use it. 

Big Writing is being implemented in the UK and around the world. I learned about it from my sister-in-law who teaches with International schools.


 I was given the following Description of Big Writing:

  • part one Big Writing developed ( Criterion Scale) From October 1999 Ros spent three years working with the Kirklees LEA re-assessing work other teachers had already graded. She read through and marked around 20,000 pieces of writing and began to notice a trend , observing that some teachers struggled to properly assess work, /often with too high of an opinion of their pupils’ work. She noticed the students who were  under achieving, and especially the ones that teachers had given too high a grade, were failing for the same reasons. Problems appeared to be common. Ros decided to develop a standard which could be used by teachers to more accurately assess their pupils. It was from this Ros created the Criterion Scale, which takes a more scientific approach to assessing writing. Using this Ros believes teachers can more accurately critique a students work, and therefore better able to help their students.
  • An additional facet of big writing is that the pupils are taught to speak during Big Writing session and at certain other times during a week. The idea behind this is that if a child learns to speak properly, it will lead to fewer errors in spelling and grammar. These Big Writing sessions are advised to be consistently held during a chosen period, with the recommended being 1.5 hours across morning break plus daily ‘stocking fillers’ (5 minutes at the end of other lessons). Through Big Writing pupils are encouraged to be ambitious, to see where they need to improve their work and pay attention to their use of V.C.O.P., the toolkit for writing at a higher level. Stealing and borrowing are also encouraged when pupils see elements of V.C.O.P. in peers’ work that they like.

‘Big Writing’ – Wiki

‘Big Writing’ is a strategy for raising standards in writing developed by Ros Wilson, that has been implemented in thousands of primary schools throughout the United Kingdom and around the world. The method relates to the English language only.

Ros Wilson developed her Criterion Scale to standardise the assessment of over twenty thousand pieces of children’s writing between October 1999 and October 2002. As an associated project setting short-term targets for children, it became evident that there were ‘Four Generic Targets’ for writing, Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers and Punctuation or V.C.O.P.. This was true regardless of the age or level of writing skill. Further work and assessment led to the realisation that the Four Generic Targets that ‘grow’ as the pupil’s writing skill grows.

Wilson was able to refine her method during a period working in Qatar, whilst helping to establish an English speaking school near the city of Doha. All of the staff were trained to employ her method for teaching writing across the school and the results were remarkable. Upon her return to the U.K., she published her first book with Kirklees LEA and subsequent titles documenting the method with Andrell Education Ltd.

‘Big Writing’ is the development of the ‘writing voice’ through fast, fun, lively and predominantly oral activities. Pupils talk the ‘writing voice’, which becomes known as ‘Posh Talk’ in a dedicated ‘Big Writing’ session & at other points in a week. Schools introducing ‘Big Writing’ are advised to make it special, designating a session of one and a half hours per week split across morning break, with daily ‘stocking fillers’ (5 minutes at the end of other lessons).

‘Big Writing’ is based on the premises:Creating a positive ethos for writing is crucial.If a child can’t say it, they can’t write it!. ‘Big Writing’ and its associated strategies stress the importance of talk and that ‘boys love to talk and what is good for the boys is good for the girls!’.Sharing the secret garden of assessment with pupils, and explaining exactly targeted assessment and measuring of progress, empowers and excites them.Most pupils can succeed as writers far beyond levels usually expected for their age when taught the skills of writing scientifically. If pupils do not use their writing skills regularly they will lose them.

As Ros Wilson said:
Ask yourself;
“Do all the children in your class feel excited and empowered about writing?”
You make the difference! Keep it lively, engaging and exciting for those pupils in your classes!

Creating a positive environment for writing will help to embed learning, to raise the status of writing as an activity in the classroom and to motivate pupils. Changing the environment by:

  • Introducing soft, classical music
  • Dimming or changing the lighting, possibly introducing a lava lamp
  • Creating displays celebrating successes and targets
  • Making water freely available for writing sessions
  • Ensuring that examples of work, guidelines, any written work is of good quality and clear. The care that you take and example set give a sub-conscious message about the importance of writing.

Through ‘Big Writing’ pupils are encouraged to be ambitious, to up-level their work and pay attention to their use of V.C.O.P., which with The Punctuation Pyramid, becomes a toolkit for writing at a higher level. Stealing and borrowing are encouraged when pupils see elements of V.C.O.P. in peers’ work that they like. The concept is simple, that children do not need to understand the educationalist terminology to use the skills in their work.

Phase 5 Composing Think Aloud (paragraph writing)

 Phase 5 Paragraph Writing (Composing Think Aloud)

Once the students have had some time to generate sentences as a group, and practicing them for fluency, it is time to have them classify and compose paragraphs.

 Students will naturally classify by structure and mechanics (Starts with The, They, # of words in the sentence, capitals ,) but it is very  important that they begin to categorize the sentences by content because these categories are necessary for generating good paragraphs.

I like to have the students name an important component in the photograph-in this case let’s say sharks. Then the students look carefully for all the sentences that talk about the sharks. We take the sentences about sharks and write down the # of each sentence onto chart paper under the title sharks. I tell the students that this is a category and the title is sharks.I expain my thinking as to how I chose the sentences. This is the kind of metacognitive thinking I want my students to develop. Then I ask students to see if there are any other sentence categories. With young children ( k-1) I might keep this as a group activity initially. As the students are able to read more on their own, I like to lean more to letting them find the categories on their own. After a cycle or two, even kindergarten and grade one and two students will be able to do this inductively. Gradual release of responsibility!!!

Once many categories have been generated by the students and the teacher over a few days, and are shared with the class, the teacher composes a paragraph. Emily Calhoun calls this a Composing Think Aloud. This composing think aloud is based o the people in the water. Ll the student sentences about the people are used to build the paragraph. Sentence combining and varied sentence starters are introduced. With younger children I write each sentences in a different colour. This helps to visualize how sentences sweep back and forth across the page and that sentences do not end at the ned of the page.

The teacher shares their own paragraph with the students, showing the category they used and sharing their thinking as the writer. It provides a good model to help students move toward practice of their own. It also demonstrates the thinking that is involved as a writer writes for his reader. In early grades this may be forming categories together and titling them.  The students will choose sentences which they think will go together and add a title. The teacher must make sure to model several paragraphs every cycle. It is important to have students share their categories, their paragraphs, and their thinking as often as possible. We want students to practice reading these paragraphs orally to increase fluency as well as to gain a comfortable understanding of basic paragraph construction.

Reading Habits

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”
Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou on getting Better

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” — Maya Angelou

Going Forward

Comprehension Going Forward -(Heinemann 2011) talks about how far teachers have come in teaching comprehension in the last twenty years.The main point of the book however is for us to realize there is so much more and where do we go next. Comprehension isn’t just about learning a bunch of strategies-it’s about going deeper.Much deeper. Fourteen current researchers each have a chapter explaining their thinking.

When I look at where I was twenty years ago, I know I  have made huge progress. I used to think if a child could decode and read quickly, that was all they needed. Now I know that is only half of what reading is-the visible side. I didn’t realize at the time , how important the invisible side was. I thought if the child could de-code they could read…

If you are working on your understanding of comprehension strategies you have to read this book. There is even a study guide provided on-line for groups to use. If you teach older students, this book explains why you must be teaching comprehension in context and if you are teaching -English Language Learners two chapters apply to you! See everybody should read it!!

Love this book several of my favourite researchers come together to have a “conversation” More of the Denver magic!!!

Word Study (phase two of PWIM)

what we noticed  chart                   

                                                             words added from read alouds

 Note: See Say Spell (attributes) at the picture word chart still continues daily and independent word study is then added on. Continue to build the rationale for this word work; that they are to learn the words and build their sight vocabulary for reading and writing.

Over the last few days, the teacher and students have worked together to study the picture, shake out the words and See Say Spell them. They have also had the opportunity to share what they are noticing about the words aloud in groups and with the entire class. Students have been tested for the first time.  Now, students are given their own set of word cards for reading practice and for classifying.

After a few days of reading practice the students should be given many opportunities for classifying the words. Physically manipulating the words and classifying them into groups is vital. The rationale for this is noting likenesses and differences to facilitate memory of the words as well as helping students to gain conceptual control of how words work.

 Dr. Bruce Joyce tells us: “We want them to paddle along, figuring things out, becoming little linguists” who study words and notice a large variety of attributes in words such as :

  • Phonetic: letters, consonant blends, double letters
  • Structural: root words and endings, plurals, and  Compound words
  • Phonemic/Sound: syllables, vowel sounds, rime
  • Content: based on meaning (nature)

Even kindergarten students are able to use the word attribute. Don’t dumb it down-they are proud to use such big words.

Word study in the PWIM is inductive because the students construct meaning for themselves. This is more powerful and lasting than when simply giving them the information. Sharing their categories reinforces the learning because many ideas are brought forth.

Teacher must model categories as well, to nudge the learning forward. These might be categories the students have made while the teacher was circulating or categories the teacher wants the students to start noticing to extend the learning.  (hand, sand-4 letters, rhyme, end in and…)The teacher acts as a coach, moving around the students and questioning, “Why did you put these words together?  This allows for immediate assessment of what they are noticing and what they are not noticing. The teacher leads them in testing the word categories. Students may be noticing how their words are like other words in the classroom as well.( The calendar, student names, the word wall, other PWIM cycles)  We do this because this encourages accurate thinking based on a set of criteria. To further deepen the learning have the students title their categories, compose sentences, stories, and poems.

The testing is based on instant recognition. I count to 5 and then give them the next word. I show the teacher word cards to the student. When they are done reading I check off all the words they know on my checklist. it is easy to detect patterns-which students know which words, which words are giving students problems-this enables me to decide where I want to go with my See Say Spell, more word study and phonics lessons.

Shake Out and See Say Spell (phase one of PWIM)

The First Phase of the Picture Word Inductive Model

                                                                 Shake out and See Say Spell


Shake out-It is important that the photograph be a representation of reality and a source of information. It should contain curricular content from any combination of the subject areas. The picture leads to research and critical thinking. It provides students with something from which to inquire, leading to further discussion and research.

The picture should build an understanding of our place in the world, showing children our similarities as human beings for example-many children have never been to the ocean but they will still be able to recognize and name familiar things in an unfamiliar place.(plant, flippers, shark,…) The picture can take them to faraway places thus creating global citizens.

Rather than referring to the photograph as the PWIM photograph use one of the titles created in class such as our Shark picture.

Information is pulled from out of the picture. Students provide us with words already in their listening, speaking vocabulary as opposed to contrived words, provided by the teacher that they have no connection to. Students orally contribute words one by one that represent pieces of information in the photo. As the students name an item or action, the teacher spells the words and prints them neatly onto the chart.

Students do not write on the chart as it is essential that they are seeing correct letter formation and spelling being modeled. The words should be written in black marker with properly formed letters, in a large enough size to be seen from across the room. Straight lines should be drawn in black marker from the word to the picture while the children are watching. To avoid future confusion, the lines should not cross This provides an immediate connection for future word recognition. Students need to understand that their goal is to learn these letters and words therefore building their sight vocabulary. It is helpful to print the students’ names under their word. It creates another connection for students who struggle.

 See Say Spell (SSS) is a device to improve long-term memory. It provides daily reinforcement of the words as well as letters and letter sounds and properties. It is essential for young readers to begin to develop their phonemic awareness and phonics skills and SSS is the perfect vehicle with which to do it. See Say Spell time is word study time.

In kindergarten and grade one letter recognition and sounds of letters is essential word study time. As students progress: Syllables/ blends/ rimes/prefixes and word families are all studied during SSS. This reinforcement is done inductively where students are allowed to construct their own meaning, draw conclusions and share their findings. Students develop an interest in learning new words and begin to pay attention to words and word properties. A good rule of thumb-when 75% of the students know 75 % 0f the words, move onto sentences.

When studying words at the Picture word chart, teachers ask questions and provide feedback rather than going around the photograph spelling words in order. For example asking students what do you notice, what do you remember? Teachers may use properties noticed by students and then ask the students “Can you find another word in the photo with the same sound/attribute…” Example Starts w/b or double letters.

Create an anchor chart of word properties students have noticed. Allow students to share orally.”I noticed…flipper and fish start with the same letter.”

Teachers need to model an excitement for word study and vocabulary building. Inviting children to come study their shark words in an enthusiastic voice will lead students to be more enthusiastic about their word study. Being excited about what students notice about their words makes word study and word research very motivating.  Marzano states:  The teacher can communicate a positive demeanour in a number of ways, one of which is through demonstrating enthusiasm and intensity, both of which have been associated with student engagement and achievement.

Teachers must consistently explain rationale to students so that they understand why they are doing the SSS.Making analogies to athletes, musicians who need to practice to get good at what they do, just like we need to practice reading, are very helpful for students to understand why they must keep practicing. We want to instant recall with the words and word properties.

As the year progresses and more PWIM pictures appear, teachers and students need to constantly refer to the photographs around the room. It is a handy reference tool for both reading and writing. The children form connections to the words and know exactly where to go to find them. Because the chart is co-constructed with students and posted on light or white paper they are not a distraction to students. For this reason, the pictures should remain posted in the classroom all year long.

One of the major components of learning to read is reading by sight. As an adult reader I would not choose to read a book that required me to sound out most of the words.  A sight word is any word we read automatically. We recognize words by how they are spelled. As the words are spelled in SSS, spelling is emphasized through the reading- That is why we notice typos.  Shark will be s-h-a-r-k every time it will not change. When students understand this, it is a huge relief to them. Teachers need to emphasize that.. We read every letter-very quickly and not really consciously think about that the next time you read. It is much easier to recognize words we have really studied.

These words should be referred to as sight words not PWIM words. Teachers should avoid labels using the word PWIM as that is meaningless to students and parents.

As we shake the words out we are giving them their own picture dictionary. Adding a word wall of high frequency words in the classroom will enhance the student vocabulary when the sight words and high frequency words are later combined into sentences.

Co-constructing your classroom with students from the beginning of the year, rather than having a ready-made classroom is essential. The RTI is not an issue as The PWIM photograph and subsequent anchor charts become purposeful learning tools rather than a distraction to students.

Catching Readers Before They Fall

Catching Readers Before They Fall-Supporting Readers Who Struggle,k-4

byPat Johnson and Katie Keier  Stenhouse 2010

 The authors have done a terrific job of explaining what all teachers should know about teaching reading  in a classroom teacher friendly manner. They really get to the heart of the matter with solid ,current research from many well regarded people including Allington ,Debbie Miller, Marie Clay, Ellin Keene  and the two sisters  (among so many others)

I love it because it talks about assessment and the zone of proximal development. It makes everything to clear and fits perfectly with the PWIM-an instructional strategy I wholeheartedly believe in.

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