A new twist on Slow Writing

Since first writing about Slow Writing back in May 2012 the original post has had almost 12,000 views and I’ve received regular emails and tweets from teachers who have been inspired to use and adapt what is in essence an incredibly simple idea. Last week I got just such an email from primary teacher, Michael Lomas. His tweak is so simple and so good I thought I should share it with you.

Just thought I would fire off a quick email to let you know that I have been having a go at using Slow Writing in my Year 2 (age 6 and 7) English lessons after reading about it on your blog. My favourite incarnation of this activity starts with pulling apart a model text and getting inside its bones to find out what makes it work. Then we steal the structure, and use slow writing to create our own versions (usually on a different, but related topic).

For the examples below, we unpicked a piece of descriptive nature writing from Under the Sea about life in the oceans. We are studying oceans in science and geography, and this text is surprisingly rich in descriptive language, and is sprinkled liberally with some lovely alliteration – something I wanted to teach last week. It recounts a journey through the ocean. It’s factually accurate, but also vivid and descriptive (think Ice Bear by Nicola Davies – if you’re familiar with it). I used sentences from the book (and a few of my own lesser examples) to construct the model text and to create the following list of rules:

  1. Write a ‘did you know’ question
  2. Start the sentence with a preposition
  3. Describe something in the coral reef picture using alliteration
  4. Write an interesting simile
  5. Write a sentence with two adjectives before the noun and  that includes a scientific word
  6. Start with an adverb (___ly word)
  7. Pick a sea creature from the coral reef and describe how it moves with two powerful verbs.

Every time I have used Slow Writing, in a variety of different forms and contexts, it has always resulted in excellent writing. I find that the younger children especially become freed up a little bit by the rules, and can really focus on their language choices.

Attached are a few examples of work produced in the lesson. Not bad, eh!


Of course, Slow Writing isn’t complete until after work has been redrafted. Here is a finished example:

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 13.49.04

Thanks for the continued inspiration and occasional amusement!

I love the idea of using a mentor text to create bespoke writing prompts – so simple and yet so effective. I’m irritated I didn’t think of it myself! This could be an essential addition to any teacher’s toolkit when teaching students to construct subject specific, high-quality extended writing.

And if that doesn’t convince you to give it a go, have a look at this post on crafting beautiful analytic sentences.

16 Responses to A new twist on Slow Writing

  1. Theo Kuechel says:

    Hi David, I enjoyed reading this and found the results a pleasure to read, and also aesthetically pleasing. I would call your ‘Slow Writing’ concept a ‘Design for Learning’, as each stage is carefully considered to ensure the chances of a successful outcome, and allow a creative interpretation.

    My question is; In your view would this process be as applicable or as valuable using a word-processor or other technology – that included the facility to illustrate or annotate?

    • David Didau says:

      Hi Theo – yes, I think using a word processor might be even better as the editing and redrafting process is so much easier. I used the ‘track changes’ with A-level students when they submitted drafts of their essays for marking to great effect. Problem is that most teachers don’t have sufficient access to the technology to make this doable. Also, it works fine with paper and pencil.

      Thanks, David

      • Theo Kuechel says:

        Thanks David, I agree with you and probably best if pupils experience both. I am interested in your observation that “most teachers don’t have sufficient access to the technology.” I really thought that had been by addressed by now? Do you think those in learning technology are seeing a different picture, or is the lack of access more common to English courses?

        • David Didau says:

          All I know is that in English schools (especially primary schools) there is very little access to ICT – most schools will have a small number of suites which have to be booked weeks in advance.

  2. Hugo kerr says:

    Interesting. I teach literacy as a volunteer in primary school. All the kids I see are at basic level and all religiously join up their letters, at great cost in my view. The cognitive effort involved in joining up is obviously large and also obviously reduces capacity to think about the spellings themselves. I believe too much is being demanded too early. It is also striking that their tutor, me, does not, in fact, join his letters up. I think this is quite a big issue, in fact, acting to reduce kids’ confidence by deliberately enlarging the difficulties before them. I would be very interested in responses to this idea.

    • David Didau says:

      Hi Hugo

      This is an interesting point and one I’d not considered before – you may have a point.

      But are you aware of the concept of ‘desirable difficulties’? If not, this precis may be of interest: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/featured/deliberately-difficult-focussing-on-learning-rather-than-progress/

      • Hugo Kerr says:

        Hi David,
        Yes. By which I mean I have read with interest but feel unqualified, not being a classroom teacher, to understand fully, or wade into, the debate.

        In this context, though, I would say that being required to join letters up is in a different domain and one irrelevant, if not actually hostile, to the acts associated with learning spelling. These kids are not fluent enough to ‘just write’ words and the writing, as such, takes up the whole foreground of their already hectic and worried minds.

        i can feel an email coming on. Maybe I’ll write my thoughts (largely a series of questions) and you can pick sense, should there be any, from in there?

        • David Didau says:

          So you’re suggesting that joined up writing places unnecessary stress on working memory? That makes sense. Although I’m still trying to square the idea that reducing performance at the point of instruction & acquisition may actually produce better long-term retention and transfer.

          Please do email – I’d love to pick through your thoughts

          • Hugo kerr says:

            I am always slightly concerned when we attempt to specify very highly any mental ‘organs’ like STM. I think these are best left somewhat vaguely, or do I mean open-mindedly, involved in the debate. I am not sure we know enough to deploy such ideas and terminology as if they meant precise things. Which is why I fell back on terminology like ‘cognitive capacity’. But having delivered such a long caveat, yes, that is something like what I think may be happening.

            But I am also very sure that ‘affect’ is a huge factor. At the lower ends of achievement, at least, I think it is the largest by a country mile. You undoubtedly know that from the 1970s onwards ‘mathematics anxiety’ was a researched issue. When I am working in school I see enormous evidence of ‘literacy anxiety’ and it is obviously very important, though entirely overlooked…

            Which makes adding a large and difficult cognitive task, like cursive writing, to an already rather difficult task in a highly competitive environment a costly affair, especially for the weaker students, and one we should revisit. I wonder if it is an educational fetish.

            I have asked a few adults and children to write a small verse for me. Thus far it is clear that the adults do not write in cursive all the time. Some 50% of their writing is not joined up.

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  6. Juliet Mallett says:

    Hi David,
    I have just used Slow writing with two year 6 classes in my school. We used the Chaperon Rouge clip from the Literacy shed. The whole process was enjoyed by everyone involved,adults included and I found the quality of the writing much improved.I talked to the children about it afterwards and the general consensus was that it is a process which actually gives the children time to think.We usually do a sustained extended write for 45 minutes and the children felt that they were more concerned with finishing on time than the quality of the words used. I am really looking forward to using the same process with non-fiction texts. Really like the idea above of the children pulling apart a text and effectively coming up with the writing prompts themselves.I am looking foward to sharing this with my colleagues.
    Juliet Mallett

  7. Sonyia Jackson says:

    Hi David

    Are you able to point me in the direction of a slow write task for the genre of spy thriller? I have a group of 4 EAL year 6 pupils who I need to get some writing down for this difficult genre. I would like to aim to have a slow write task for the main 3 elements of a beginning, middle and end.


Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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