The chicken or the egg. What comes first, reading or writing? In this blog Ben Connor discusses how reading supports successful writing.
An experienced colleague once said that when assessing writing you could instantly split a class into two piles: Readers and Non-Readers. By Readers, she meant those children who read voraciously at home. I can’t disagree. As much as you can teach discrete writing skills, the best writers are influenced by what they have read.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” —Stephen King
For all that you can teach children grammatical forms, feed them high-level vocabulary and model writing, a vast part of writing flows from within the child. To a non-reader, any new grammar will be new. For example, introducing fronted adverbials in Year 4 blows some children’s minds. It’s like starting to learn to drive a car when you’ve only ever ridden a space hopper. But a child with a wealth of reading experience will take those new statements in their stride as they have read sentences containing those techniques over and over. The only way to create this innate ability to apply grammar techniques is to get children to: 1) read, 2) read a lot, 3) read a high standard of text. Once a child has begun to read well, regularly, they develop a natural style to their writing, whereby the techniques that they are subconsciously understanding in their reading become tools at their fingertips for writing.
Easier said than done? Too true. But it is a battle worth fighting. Improving writing needs a two-pronged attack. Firstly, focus on teaching the mechanics (basic writing skills, age-appropriate grammar, text structure, etc.), equipping children with the tools to write. Secondly, help them become fluent, confident readers. The investment in Phonics by the Government is a clear indicator of the importance of early reading. That early reading should then influence early writing. Children in EYFS and Year 1 still need to be hearing high quality texts constantly so that even when their focus is segmenting and blending or writing simple sentences, they can see where the word or sentences fit within a narrative. Those texts need to be relevant, challenging and engaging so that our youngest pupils not only have the skills to read and write effectively but are filled with a desire to do so.
Not every child will want to read high-quality texts. It may be that teachers have to suffer their pupil reading whichever series of celebrity-endorsed easy-reading book is popular at that time. Teachers need to be equipped with the knowledge, and the resources (i.e. books), to be able to lead children on from the popular texts to the ones that will make that difference to their writing. Once you have the children reading regularly, it’s time to put a book in their hands that will change their lives. As well as the knowledge of high-quality texts, this also requires teachers to know their pupils well.
For children to have an innate understanding of how to structure sentences, create magic with words and describe realistic characters, they need to have experienced what it is like to read their way into another world or another person’s shoes. Careful teaching of grammar in isolation is important but only as a tool with which to crystalise what a child already knows from having been read to and then reading themselves.
If we want a generation of children who have the ability to write, the importance of which will never diminish (despite the impact of technology), we need a generation of readers. Children need to know how to read, read well and often and then be given the chance to filter that experience through their own imagination to create their own stories.
This blog is from the perspective of Ben Connor.
The Pearson Primary team want all children to be able to develop a lifelong love of reading, and to feel that our books are for them, whatever their ability, background or identity. That's why we've made Bug Club even better including adding our new Bug Club Reading Corner, an online library of books that children can choose according to their interests, encouraging them to read for pleasure!