Layered Writing

layeredcakeThe 15 minute forum tonight was led by English teacher Gav McCusker.  Gav has been developing a writing technique with his students, that he refers to as ‘layered writing’.  The inspiration for this was from great painters.  In order to come up with an excellent piece of art as an end product, they build the painting up in layers.  This slowly increases the complexity and depth of the painting with each layer.  The following video clip demonstrates this nicely:

So how does the technique work?

Firstly, a discussion with the students about every artist needing a palette, in order to create a painting.

gav1During this discussion, stress the point that the artist, like any craftsman/craftswoman, works carefully and slowly to do this – with concentration, patience and perseverance.

So, in the same way as an artist needs a palette, so does the creative writer.  So Gav has produced a creative writer’s palette for his students to use:


Students are then asked to write a piece of creative writing and set it out in the following way:


An example from a Y9 student follows:


As can be seen, this is a fairly simple piece of writing, that needs some layers adding to it, to improve it.  So the student uses the Creative Writing Palette to self assess – how many verbs, adjective and adverbs they have used?  See below:


This tells them that whilst they have used 3 verbs, their work is lacking in adjectives and adverbs. So in order to improve it, they need to add some of these to the next layer of writing – at least 10 altogether.  So the student rewrites it – the next layer – responding to this feedback.  Below is the second layer of writing from the same student:

gav6The process of self assessment using the ‘Creative Writing Palette’ to improve this second layer:


Which is then used to improve the piece of writing, with the student writing the third layer of writing:


The process is repeated, with the student being encouraged to produce numerous layers,  as they work towards excellence.

Gav has developed the idea of the ‘Writing Palette’ to help his Y10 students prepare for an analytical exam question.  Students use this palette, again to improve their writing through this ‘layering approach’ using the prompts in the grid:


It’s important to do a few things before creating the palette:

  • Scan the A* mark scheme criteria when making decisions on what to put in the grid.
  • If creating as prep for a GCSE  exam, scan the chief examiner’s report and add in what he/she wants to see more of. They’re usually very clear about this.
  • Basic starter sentences are a MUST
  • Complex starter sentences are a MUST
  • Connectives are a MUST
  • Buzz words are a MUST – Most of mine came from the chief examiner’s report.


There are a number of reasons why I think this is a great technique:

  • It challenges students to strive for excellence – if it’s not excellent, it’s not finished!
  • It makes students critique and redraft their own work.
  • It builds a pride in their excellent work, which they are then more likely to want to share with their peers.
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13 Responses to Layered Writing

  1. Sue marooney says:

    Excellent work Gav, thank you. Others are already working on using it in their subjects

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  9. David says:

    Really interesting and useful Gav. Do you know where I can get any of the resources?

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