Talk for Writing

The 15 Minute Forum tonight was led by history teacher Jack Tyler.  Earlier in the year, Jack attended a CPD event, where ‘Talk for Writing’ was being discussed.  At the time, it was mostly being used in primary schools, but has now been developed and used in secondary schools – as outlined in the book below.  During the forum, Jack spoke about one way in which the strategy could be interpreted and used in the secondary history classroom.


What is the thinking behind it?

  • For experienced writers, many of the creative and thinking processes involved in writing are internal and automatic. For example, many writers can hold an internal dialogue with themselves about the possible effectiveness of alternative language choices.
  • However, for developing writers, it is very helpful if these processes can be made explicit and explored through talk in a supportive learning context.
  • It is this developmental exploration, through talk, of the thinking and creative processes involved in being a writer that we are calling Talk for Writing.

So in primary schools, talk for writing has been used in the following way:

  • Pupils read a story
  • They then create a text map of the story
  • They then talk through the text with actions
  • Adapt the story
  • Write their own stories

Although it is designed to help develop fiction writing, I feel TfW could really help our pupils develop their non-fiction writing style.  We could use TfW to encourage pupils to internalise the writing structures they need in our subjects.  According to TfW theory these structures are internalised by:

–Hearing it, saying it, reading it, exploring it.

–Recasting and extending the language.

–Memorable, meaningful repetition.

How could this work in a secondary history classroom?

  • Plan to get pupils to ‘learn’ part of a historical narrative. This is done through creating a ‘text map’, then ‘talking through the text’ with actions.
  • Pupils then ‘innovate’ the text map where they see fit and extend it to create what is essentially an essay plan (with no words).
  • Pupils use this text map to write a historical essay (formal assessment).


  • Teach the Civil War.
  • Learn one cause as a class – create a class ‘text map’ and talk through the text with actions. This follows PEE and uses our history connectives. An example follows (From Cardinal Newman School in Hove):


So the first line represents the point – 1 cause of the civil war was money.

The second line is the evidence – for example the king wanted more money to buy lots of things like paintings and clothes.

The third line is then the explanation – this led to anger at the king as he was paying less taxes than everybody else.

  • The text map provides students with a very visual way of recording the story and so encourages them to talk about and discuss the events.
  • The images are clear and simple – and so easier to memorise.
  • Pupils can then ‘innovate’ the text map using post-its, this could include: changing connectives for introducing examples and explaining causation or including different evidence, to add depth and breadth to the explanation.
  • Pupils can then add 2 more reasons why the Civil War broke out and so build up their written response.
  • So the text map has acted as a visual prompt for a piece of extended writing.

Final thoughts

This is just one interpretation of how ‘talk for writing’ could be used in the secondary classroom.  It seems that it could provide a useful way of summarising key events, that could then be used as a scaffold for extended writing.  A kind of visual ‘essay plan’.

The strategy also suggests students using physical actions to help memorise certain words and phrases – this isn’t something that Jack has tried yet.  However Beliefs teacher, Jane Squire, who was at the forum, showed us how she uses physical actions with students to help them remember the 5 pillars of Islam….which we all then did!

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