Great Idea: From talk to writing

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What is talk to writing?

Talk to writing occurs when a teacher plans scaffolded activities that allow learners to orally rehearse explicit vocabulary, sentence, and language structures that they require in order to write.

The type of scaffolding activities that can be used to support this include: 

  • Collaborative tasks; 
  • Developing vocabulary; 
  • Using visuals; 
  • Modelling.

Talk to writing activities can be set up using the following teaching and learning cycle: 

  1. Building up knowledge of a specific context; 
  2. Shared reading of models of texts; 
  3. Joint construction of the text (shared writing).

Such learning cycles allow learners to integrate developing concepts and language which supports them to progress from informal, spoken language to the more formal and academic language, which is required for written language. This progress trajectory has been called mode continuum.

Examples of activities

Activities that encourage oracy are crucial to the development of writing skills in learners of all ages. The ideas presented below can be used in any subject, text genre and at all levels of English language proficiency. Many of the activities suggested can be used for different parts of the mode continuum. For example, collaborative tasks can be used when building up the knowledge of the subject or when sharing reading of model texts. 

1. Collaborative activities

Learners who use English as an Additional Language (EAL) need plenty of hands-on and interactive experiences in meaningful contexts to build up concepts. They also need encouragement to use new and explicit vocabulary of the curriculum area. Collaborative talk also provides active listening practice.

  • Working collaboratively on shared tasks: for example, school trips and educational visits, science experiments, following directions, giving and following instructions, matching, sorting, sequencing activities, and competitive games. 
  • Group or paired discussion: for example, recalling and reporting learning back to the class, paired or individual presentations, talk partners, listening triangles, think-pair-share, snowballing, and rainbowing.

2. Developing vocabulary

  • Introducing and rehearsing vocabulary: for example, pre-teaching key vocabulary. 
  • Applying some simple quick wins such as prompting vocabulary by providing options in the choice of vocabulary required for learners to recall alongside talk. This can also be achieved using visuals, finger talk, actions, and gestures.  
  • Memorising chunks of language using language drills. 
  • Playing well known adapted games using flashcards (snap, bingo). 
  • Using speaking frames, with gap fills, to recall new vocabulary in context. 

3. Visuals

Visuals provide context for taught content. Use visuals that scaffold and prompt talk such as: 

  • Story props or story sacks (visual and objects) - helpful to scaffold the retelling of a story in sequence. 
  • Concrete objects (realia) - e.g., to scaffold identifying and naming objects.  
  • Flashcards, with pictures and words - to play collaborative matching games. 
  • Media (for instance, videos).  
  • Visual word mats. 
  • Bilingual keywords or glossaries, particularly for learners who are literate in their first language.

4. Modelling

Modelling provides learners with a written or oral model of the language that the teacher would like the learner to produce. Here are some examples of activities that model oral structures prior to writing taking place: 

  • Speaking frames: A speaking frame can be used orally to scaffold and practice models of vocabulary, language, and sentence structures for specific writing genres. For example, a sentence with a language pattern with gaps to complete not only provides the opportunity for learners to rehearse the language form, but also allows them to practise recalling the vocabulary in the gaps. Speaking frames can be adapted for different levels of English language proficiency. Roman soldiers is an example of a resource that performs this function. 
  • Shared reading: This can be carried out with the teacher first preparing a model of the text to write (for example, an instruction text). The teacher and the whole class or small groups of learners can read such a text together. The sentences in the text can have gaps for learners to fill in. This provides opportunity for the teacher to bring learners’ close attention to the specific language structures of the genre being taught.  
  • Substitution tables: A substitution table is a type of activity where a teacher provides a table giving model sentences with a range of choices for learners to select from, using a set pattern. It is a useful scaffolding resource which provides opportunity to rehearse and extend speaking skills, and in turn prepares learners for writing. A substitution table can be easily adapted for different levels of English language proficiency by providing visuals or sentences with different levels of complexity. Here is an example, from the resource How to Grow a Plant. 
  • Sequencing jumbled up sentences: Learners work in pairs to sequence a set of sentences. These sentences can be matched to a corresponding visual.  
  • Joint construction of text: This involves the teacher and the learners writing together (shared writing). Learners are encouraged to contribute orally to the writing and act as scribes alongside the teacher to construct the text. During this process, you can use oracy strategies, for instance, prompt words or phrases, provide a choice of vocabulary to include, visual word banks, and recasting modelled language. This will scaffold language and support the participation of learners who use EAL. 

How talk to writing works

For talk to writing to be effective in the classroom teachers are advised to:

  • Plan for activities that ensure that the talk is embedded in meaningful contexts and is purposeful.  
  • Plan for talk that supports learners to develop and organise their ideas before writing. 
  • Carefully consider grouping learners. For example, place early English language proficiency band learners with peers who can provide good models of English and/or who share the same first language. 
  • Bear in mind that group discussions can take place in English or in the learners’ first language(s). Think about what they need to get from the discussion and decide which language(s) the learners should use. 
  • Establish and model group work rules with learners ahead of the talk to write activities.

Top Tip

Make sure that collaborative talk extends and challenges learners to use new language and to promote effective peer interactions, resulting in increasing oral independence.

Why is talking to write a Great Idea for learners using EAL?

The mode continuum sequence of spoken language to written language is a way for learners who use EAL to make full use of their current language resources and skills at the start of learning a new curriculum topic or concept. They can then build on it to acquire and apply the new language of the curriculum as the topic progresses as written language. This process has been described by researchers such as Gibbons (2002, 2015), Martin (1984) and Halliday (1993, in Gibbons, 2002). 

Sharples (2021) suggests that a solid grounding in speaking skills is essential for the development of writing and the understanding of curriculum concepts. Talking to write affords the opportunity for learners to: 

  • Hear effective language models and structures in context; 
  • Encourage practice (language output and interaction) of new language structures safely;  
  • Develop and organise their ideas to write. 

The teaching and learning cycle (Derewianka & Jones, 2016) allows for scaffolding to occur. It enables a learner who uses EAL to progress through the mode continuum from informal (spoken-like) register to formal (written-like) register. Scaffolding is a key concept in Vygotsky’s work on the relationship between thought and language (e.g., Vygotsky 1962). Bruner’s research (Bruner, 1975) also looked at this area and suggested that language learning is scaffolded by what he termed the learner’s Language Acquisition Support System. More recently, Gibbons emphasised the importance of scaffolding language to support and enable access to learning when working with learners who use EAL (Gibbons, 2015). 

References

Bruner, J., 1975. Language as an instrument of thought. In Davies, A. ed. 1975. Problems of Language and Learning. London: Heinemann. 

Derewianka, B. and Jones, P., 2016. Teaching Language in Context. 2nd ed. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press. 

Gibbons, P., 2002. Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching second language learners in the mainstream classroom. 2nd ed. Portsmouth: Heinemann. 

Martin, J., 1984. Language, Register and Genre. In Children Writing: Study Guide. In Christie, F. ed. 1984. Children writing: a reader. Geelong, Victoria, AU: Deakin University Press. 

Sharples, R., 2021. Teaching EAL; Evidence based strategies for the Classroom and School. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. 

Vygotsky L.S., 1962. Thought and language. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 

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