Flex that Moral Muscle!

I’ve recently finished reading the book, ‘Innovate Inside The box’ by George Couros as part of a book study I was involved in.

This book study took place online, on social media (yes, there are many advantages!) and it included about 3000 participants including educators from around the world. Undoubtedly, it’s been a great learning experience and extremely powerful as a professional development exercise. The book study was initiated by the author and the role of the participants was to read the chapters prescribed in the allocated week and respond to prompts and questions which led to reflection based on individual experience. In the book, Couros identifies 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset

George Couroshttps://images.app.goo.gl/Cxbw2CoNd9RTqqsQ7

While reading the chapter, Empathetic, I came across Couros’ example of ‘Moral Muscle’, more commonly referred to as Moral Courage or Moral Integrity.

Being empathetic is critical to understandingdifferent perspectives and embracing every learner. One way to do this is to empower our students to speak out.’

Couros shares that often, students feel empathy but they don’t take action. It is our responsibility as educators to teach children to speak out and act with integrity regardless of the fear of social consequences. In his book, he recounts an incident which involved his daughter at the frontline. The anecdote stuck with me and made me introspect! Here is the excerpt.

‘When she was in first grade, a group of girls surrounded a boy with autism who was flapping his hands and mimicked him. She ran right over and announced, “Hey, ladies! If you want to mess with someone, you’re gonna mess with me.’

Do our students carry this dose of diva?

Do they have the courage to take action?

Do they have the conviction to stand up for what is right?

Do they believe they can change the world?

When I think about these questions in relation to our students, I believe my answer to each of these would mostly be, “Yes, absolutely”!

We offer our students a plethora of opportunities to exhibit and express their moral muscle. Our students believe that speaking out can make a change! With constant guidance and effective role modelling they are able to take action and this empathy courage-muscle is flexed when they are given the chances to stand up for what they believe in.

Students are encouraged to express their points of viewthrough rational reasoning about issues that need to be voiced during debates and classroom discussions, they speak up in front of crowded auditoriums full of peers, parents and visitors about a range of issues from women’s rights to exploitation of the environment, they share their thoughts and opinions both individually andin choral voices during events such as ‘ TBS RISE’, ‘Round Square conference’, MUN, Anti fire cracker drive, sing songs and raps about matters that are critical to our environment, engage in developing displays to build awareness and to acknowledge that all is not well with the world, reflect and respond to a range of perspectives about issues through texts, articles, videos, situations, dilemmas, simulations that are deliberately and intentionally brought to the forefront so that their voices are heard.

Their moral muscle is trained and flexed time and again through the multiple global and environmental issues they are exposed to within the curriculum! When they stand up for themselves and others, when incidents of teasing or bullying take place in the bus or on the playground, they have the courage to tell the offenders to stop and have the vocabulary to speak up! When they get involved passionately with community service events such as ‘Lemonade for sale’ to raise money for procuring toys for an underprivileged school or when they collect blankets to provide for those struggling in the cold. Making a plea and persuading others to join in is one of the many ways in which we as a school enable that voice to be developed! Students engage in these authentic and relevant opportunities from the very beginning of their learning journey in our school and these provide our students with a purpose to flex their moral muscle.

However, responding with moral integrity in a collective is far easier.  When most are doing the ‘right’ thing, its easy to follow suit. Isn’t it? But, how about when it comes to the individual? How about when the peers are on one side of the moral spectrum and one student feels differently? Does the ‘one’ have the moral courage to speak or act in response to when inappropriate behaviour, injustice or ill-treatment of any kind is being witnessed?

To further simplify and using very basic routine examples, how often has it happened that we have walked passed litter in the corridor, folders fallen off the shelf or bags strewn about outside locker facilities? How often have we seen a lone student correct that when no one is looking? How often would a student correct that when walking around the corridor with his / her peer group? How often has it happened that students have conveniently ignored that pencil on the floor or the books messed up on the library shelf? How often has it happened that students have promised to look after the environment and not waste paper cups in a pledge in the classroom but then conveniently pulled off 3-4 cups during lunch? How often have you seen a peer step up and tell that child that he is being wasteful?

I read somewhere that moral courage cannot be taught, except by example.

The moral muscle needn’t always be a voice, most often it is an action. An action. A quiet action.

Understanding the actions caused by integrity starts with knowing what is important and holding fast to that idea, even when it is not convenient or to your benefit.

Stories of moral courage fill our world. Moral courage is exemplified in a book like ‘One’ where ‘One’ stands up against the nasty one who bosses over everyone. The power of one voice!


Moral courage is the face of the strong woman, Eleanor Riese in the movie 55 steps, who despite her daily struggle and physical challenges, is able to become the voice of thousands of others who are suffering like her.

I could quote thousands and thousands of examples but instead I would like to leave you with questions. I would love to read your responses in the comments below.

Where and how do you give your students opportunities for being morally courageous?
How often and when do you model flexing your moral muscle?
Do your students recognise injustice?
Do your students recognise behaviour which is inappropriate or which belittles or disrespects?
Do your students have the vocabulary to combat that behaviour?
Do your students have the courage to speak out even if they are the lone voice?
How willing are you to confront a tricky situation?
When was the last time you flexed your moral courageousness?

‘If you know something is wrong and you choose to do nothing, you become complicit.’
Michael Woodford


https://twitter.com/gcouros – George Couros



The Coach is in Your Corner

“Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew.”

Christopher Logue[i]

Coaching and Mentoring is a powerful, thought – provoking and creative process, based on building relationships. It is essentially about the person and her/his ability to self-reflect. Both the mentor and the mentee engage in moments of reflection, which is developmental.

Recent research points out the huge personal benefits to people who have coaching and mentoring, particularly at times of change.

There are many differences between a coach and mentor but in the end, the goal they both want to achieve is the same: To help a teacher reach their full potential.

In brief, coaching is a short-term partnership whereas mentoring is more long term with an expert-novice relationship.

The mentor – coach’s role is summed up beautifully in this quote, “To help you find and embrace moments of joy in your practice.”[ii]

Just as a teacher plays multiple roles in a class, a mentor – coach does too!

A mentor-coach responds to the different needs of teachers, depending on the circumstances and requirements. A mentor-coach slides fluidly in and out of a number of roles, such as mentoring, coaching, counselling, facilitating, demonstrating, advising, planning, teaching, modelling, reflecting, supporting, collaborating and more!

Are you coachable?

There is a popular myth out there, about who needs coaching and mentoring. But really, Coaching and Mentoring is for anyone who is keen to and willing to improve and develop. Personally, I feel it is one of the most powerful ways to progress and grow. Having a coach is like engaging in personalised, need based professional development in your own context, as and when you want it! Now, does it ever get better than that?

Coaching and Mentoring can be for anyone. You could be a new teacher fresh out of college or a veteran teacher. You may be a leader of a subject or a teacher who is moving towards a role of leadership! You may be a teacher just becoming a head of year or an assistant teacher becoming a teacher. You may be a teacher wanting to develop techniques or you may be a teacher moving from a local school to an international school or moving from one culture to another.

In my three years in this role, I have learned, that you can only change practice, if the practitioner really wants it!

‘You have to make change happen; you have to want to make it happen, before it will.’  David Dunn[iii]

If I were to explain to you the mental process, it would be something like this:

First, the teacher will identify that there is something that needs to change. There will be a desire to see a difference.

Next, the teacher will recognise that there is a difference in her practice as a result of certain deliberate steps, that have been clarified, practiced and embedded.

Then the teacher will want more. The teacher will want to improve other elements of their practice.

Coaching and Mentoring is for anyone wanting to become better at a specific technique, skill or strategy. It is for anyone wanting to go from good to great or from great to outstanding. It is a journey however long or short, a journey of self-development with a partner who is genuinely interested in seeing you grow.

Coaching is a partnership approach.

Jim Knight, in his book, ‘Instructional Coaching’, introduces the partnership philosophy. I have been using this philosophy in my work and strongly feel that the following principles strengthen coaching and mentoring relationships. They enable teachers to fortify practice, which results in better outcomes for students.

  1. Equality – equal contribution from the coach and teacher to the conversation, mutual respect and compassion.
  2. Choice – choice in professional development. .
  3. Voice – teacher’s opinions and needs are heard.
  4. Dialogue – continuing conversations, exchanging ideas professionally. Inquiry and innovation occurs through dialogue.
  5. Reflection – during and after implementing a new strategy or content. Some teachers may find benefit in having scheduled opportunities to engage in reflective practice.
  6. Praxis – application of a new strategy or idea to their existing practice
  7. Reciprocity – both the coach and teacher get learning opportunities and it’s a win-win situation.

I draw many similarities between the work of sports coaches and mentoring and coaching colleagues at school.

“Sports coaches assist athletes in developing to their full potential. They are responsible for training athletes in a sport by analysing their performances, instructing in relevant skills and by providing encouragement.” [iv]

Similarly, instructional coaches and mentors work on the same premise. The coach and coachee develop a coaching relationship in which they:

  • analyse the coachee’s performances (lesson observations, lesson videos, reflective meetings)
  • instruct in relevant skills (questioning, assessment for learning, collaborative tasks, learning goals)
  • provide encouragement (achieving success on a set goal) by identifying and practicing those strategies or techniques over and over again, until they become automatic and deliberate practice.

A lot of us are coaching and mentoring, often without even realising it. I hope that this blog post will encourage you to find out a little more about it. Every one of us, at some point or the other needs a coach-mentor. Our well-being as teachers depends very much on having colleagues around, who will support and enable. It doesn’t have to be a bad time for you to need a coach-mentor. That great idea at the edge of your mind, which you need to make concrete. That question that needs to be answered. That resource that you have been waiting to try out. That strategy that needs practice : are all instances when you need somebody, and remember, whatever the need, the coach is always in your corner.

Part 2 coming up soon.


Books Articles Twitter
1.      Professional Capital – Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves

2.      The art of coaching – Elena Aguilar

3.      The Impact cycle –  Jim Knight

4. High Performers – Alistair Smith

5.      Instructional Coaching – Jim Knight

6. Mentoring in schools – Sarah Fletcher

7. Visible learning and the science of how we learn – John Hattie and Gregory Yates

8. Visible Learning into Action – John Hattie, Deb Masters, Kate Birch


Why new teachers need mentors – David Cutler

A coaching model – Jim Knight

Eight qualities of a great teacher mentor – Kimberley Long

Leveraging your teacher leaders as peer mentors – Ramona Towner

How to make coaching a team sport – Kara McFarlin

Improve your coaching with one move : stop talking – Elena Aguilar

Transformational Coaching – Elena Aguilar








[i] Christopher Logue, Come to the Edge

[ii] Kristine Moreland, Emotionally Compelling, Buildingwide, Differentiated Coaching http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol14/num13/emotionally-compelling-buildingwide-differentiated-coaching.aspx?utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=Social-Organic&utm_medium=social

[iii] David Dunn, How to be an Outstanding Primary School Teacher

[iv] https://www.topendsports.com/coaching/role.htm


Displays – an effective tool for teaching and learning.

School displays say so much about the school. For me, they reflect the school culture, values and often the philosophy of  teaching and learning. What you celebrate is what’s important to you, isn’t it? Think about it. What aspects of learning do you celebrate in your school?

I was lucky to start my teaching career with colleagues who were extremely passionate about displays. A highly accomplished veteran, Kusum Kohli, who now lives in Dehra Dun, introduced some of us novices, many years ago, to the beauty of displays. I remember the art work displayed in her class and outside, in the corridors. She was able to inspire students to achieve and create visual treats. With the help of other colleagues in school, she got art work framed and put up an exhibition too! She would always refer to books like the ones below, to brainstorm and develop her ideas. Our school still has these amazing resources for reference.

Other amazing colleagues like Neelam Saigal, Rashmi Wanchoo, Komal Kochhar and Kavita Chandhok who created the most beautiful displays in school, taught me about the importance of student centred work. I learned that creativity is appreciating, valuing and encouraging the difference generated by each child. I remember giant displays of Ram, Sita and Ravan (during Diwali) made by students of Reception class, I remember children modelling their own diyas and then waiting eagerly to paint and decorate them, I remember fondly, displays of cats, witches and pumpkins during Halloween, the stunning work of Vincent Van Gogh and Matisse on the boards of our corridors and so much more.

Displays, other than making a school look beautiful and attractive, are a powerful tool for learning and can be an enriching stimulus in a classroom. Use of anchor charts, learning walls and student work play different roles in supporting teaching and learning activities.

For one, student work on display, demonstrates the importance we give to students. Children swell with pride when they see their hard work celebrated, they swell with even greater pride when they get to choose the work they want displayed!

I remember displaying my students work in class and one child, who visibly, had not written much, was keen that I removed that piece of work and instead display the one he wanted up on the wall. The one I had displayed was not really reflective of his capability and he was clear about communicating it to me! The power of choice.

There was a time when I would dedicate a square /rectangular space for each child, labelled with his / her name on a display board. They were in charge of that block and they had to choose what would go there, to reflect what they were proud of or what they had learned. I remember photocopying a great piece of writing and displaying it because they felt proud of what they had achieved.

Displays are an insight into classroom learning. Parents and visitors get an opportunity to experience and witness learning.

A print – rich environment is always valuable as a learning tool. Children can take help from the print they see around them. If they get stuck on spelling thematic vocabulary, they might just be able to locate it on a display, thus enabling them to become independent. They may be able to find a formula to help workout a maths problem. They may be able to identify an odd or even number by referring to a prompt which explicitly states that it is the units / ones place that decides whether or not the number is odd or even. They may be able to identify the steps needed to complete a long narrative. They may have the necessary success criteria displayed, to enable them to complete a project successfully.

Displays make learning visible. There is so much research out there to support visible thinking routines. One way of making learning and thinking routines explicit in the classroom, is through meaningful displays.

Interactive displays go a step further. They aren’t just displays, but are invitations to engage more deeply with the matter. I recently saw a lovely display on meanings of names of students; a lift – the – flap display. Another great one with question prompts to support mathematical development and reasoning.

Responding to prompts on a display.
Children helping with the layout and planning of the display.
Seaside display by Year 2, using a range of recycled materials, created and developed by students.

Another wonderful display I recently looked at closely, was in one of the year 5 classes in our school, on rivers. The children had painted the river, there were topic vocabulary words all around with explanations to support learners in understanding key words. There was a poster on one edge about rivers and there were also question prompts to encourage thinking. The display is such that, it immediately attracts.

Involving children in displays is a great way to have them participate and engage in meaningful learning. From a very early age, children can support displays by helping teachers brainstorm and create the lettering for captions. An explanation of the learning intention and the journey undertaken to create the display can be very useful and aid the understanding of the process behind the scenes.

Pictogram – created by children, including the lettering.

In a recent workshop, I was exposed to the different kinds of evidence. A display is evidence of work. But sometimes, not all work can be displayed. A play, collaborative work or interaction are hard to capture or represent. However, these can also be displayed through photographs or speech bubbles.

A display does not necessarily have to be on a wall. It could be on a table which could be based on interest, it could be a role play corner (supermarket, clinic, research centre), it could be a project or a model.

Brainstorming sessions / activities, if erased or wiped from a board are a waste of a useful resource, whereas when recorded on the page of an interactive flipchart or on a sheet of chart paper (old calendars come in very handy) become material for reference and building on. Take for example a brainstorm on Monday on the different uses of fabric. What children share and the teacher scribes could be saved for Tuesday, when there may be an opportunity to revisit or recall previously discussed ideas and build on them with new learning.

I was recently at an international school  in Thailand and during the tour of the primary school, I was drawn towards their walls. Learning appeared to be everywhere! The walls were, for the most part, chalk painted, to support scribing when necessary. There was almost no use of typed, printed or laminated material. Most work was hand-written, either by the teacher or by the students as deemed fit for the learning process.

Bangkok 4
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.
Bangkok 7
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.
Bangkok 2
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.
Bangkok 5
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.

Isn’t this what learning is about? Shouldn’t every shared, common space in school be a tool for learning? In an age where we are over-reliant on technology, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have hand – written displays which are genuinely used to enable and engage students in their learning?

Do respond with pictures of displays that you have been proud of.

I’m hoping to create a blog post, with the variety of displays I see in my workspace. A space for sharing great displays and ideas.

Some links for further reading:









Can Creativity Be Taught?

I remember myself in a classroom, a few years ago, telling children ‘don’t forget to be creative’, while they were writing a story. I also remember cringing inside as I said those words because I had never really taught them what creativity meant! I had never shared with them how to think creatively. I had never primed their brains to be creative.

I rarely got a creative response or creative ideas back, barring from a few children, who were inherently more imaginative and creative and I know that wasn’t down to me.

I read. I learned and I now know that:

Creativity can be taught.

Creativity needs to be taught.

Creativity must be taught.

Creativity must be valued.

You were wired to be creative.”

Gerard Puccio

Before the new National Curriculum, the National Literacy Strategy, had references to reading documents and videos to enable teachers and develop them professionally. One of the key features ‘Talk for Writing’ was extremely valuable. It was then that I came across Pie Corbett’s videos.

Corbett believes in explicitly sharing the thoughts inside a reader and writer’s mind. He asks key questions. He asks leading questions. He provides prompts and scaffolds to open up thinking. According to him, ‘the first thought that comes to your mind, is not often the best thought’. Says a lot, doesn’t it?  We often grab the first thought and start, but have you noticed what happens to ideas when you wait, dig deeper and reflect on prompts a little longer?

Wait time is crucial. Do we provide enough wait time?

Why wait time?

In order to teach well, it’s important to make sure you leave time for students to actually think about your question and formulate a response.

The benefits for children are many:

  • Their responses tend to be longer. They elaborate more on what they have to say.
  • There are fewer ‘I don’t know’s, or silence, in response to teacher prompts.
  • More students volunteer responses.

Researchers have found that teachers who incorporate wait time are also better teachers:

  • They ask a wider variety of types of questions and in different ways.
  • They ask fewer questions, but better questions.
  • They ask more questions that require higher level thinking.

It is important to be aware that talk for writing is essential at every stage of the teaching sequence and writing process. When using the process effectively, there will be a critical shift from,  “Write your story” to “Let’s use our ideas to plan what the beginning of the story would be like.” “Let’s re-read the beginning to see what we can change or improve.” It is about the process of shared writing, shared reflecting and shared editing and it is then, when sparks of creativity are lit.

The goal is to help children with thinking processes and routines and make them visible in classroom practice. ‘It is this developmental exploration, through talk, of the thinking and creative processes involved in being a writer, that is called Talk for Writing.’

This process involves:

  • Generating ideas, including appropriate language and grammar
  • Planning ideas
  • Incorporating techniques learned from other writers
  • Exploring their personal and collective responses to a text

‘Writer talk is articulation of the thinking and also creative processes involved in all stages of the act of writing. It is talk that helps children to think and behave like a writer. ‘Writer-talk’ involves externalising these thoughts and making them explicit, through ‘reading as a writer’ and ‘writing as a reader’.
A three-step sequence for writing –  

From Imitation to Invention

Pie Corbett suggests a three-step sequence in ‘Talk for Writing’.  Writing is a process and takes place in a planned, deliberately structured system so that the quality of work and standard of writing produced is high. A structured process also ensures that children experience the  different stages of writing and feel enabled and empowered to engage in the process with greater confidence and independence.

Corbett outlines the following sequence and believes that this is the order in which writing progresses.

  • Imitation – re-telling of learned stories
  • Innovation – developing, extending and changing elements of a story
  • Invention – creating a ‘new’ story

Why imitation?

The first step is imitation. It is a confidence booster. If I am not ready just yet for creativity, the least I can do is imitate. Retelling is imitation. I could re-tell word for word or, if I am slightly more confident, I could re-tell using my own words. Why are we as teachers so put off by imitation in the classroom? It is a stepping stone. We have to get our ideas from somewhere – why not other people? Why not the person sitting next to me? Why not the peers in my class? Why don’t we encourage that? We often ask children to read aloud what they have written but how often do we ask others to ‘steal’ an idea from them?

Look at our planning meetings at work.  We are constantly working off and bouncing ideas off each other. We develop thoughts and plans by listening to one another. How often have you heard someone say, “That’s a great idea, I’m going to try it like this…” Often enough, I bet!

Children learn by imitation. They imitate first words, they imitate parents, they imitate role models and only later, after much imitation, do they begin to innovate and discover their own styles, preferences and passions.

IMitation 1IMitation 2

It’s alright to imitate. It’s alright if I am still at the re-telling stage. When I am confident, I will move to the stage of innovation.

Innovation – innovate what?

Let’s start small! Let’s start with what’s developmentally and chronologically appropriate for the learners. An easy, first innovation in writing, could be to change the title or re-write the blurb , change the last word in a poem and replace it with another rhyming word or to write another ending for a familiar story.

Then, move towards more complex matters such as the characters, the setting, the plot, exploring perspectives, points of view etc. All of these versions below are innovations. Innovations, but where certain elements of the story have been changed. INNOVATION!

The innovation stage can also be seen as an opportunity to explore various facets of critical thinking, such as, ‘What if?’

Now that Cinderella is no longer the main character and Prince Cinders is, what would happen next?

How does innovation (however small or seemingly insignificant) / changing one element, impact the rest of the story? It has  a ripple effect and everything has an impact. Thus, innovation, however small, leads to creativity / problem solving / anticipating next events.

If Cinderella’s chariot is led by dinosaurs / butterflies instead of mice, what would the repercussions be?

Aren’t these great questions which support creative thinking?

Isn’t innovation a WONDERful step towards creativity?

I see this reflected across the board in so many different ways. A teacher teaching dance, starts with showing steps, asking children to imitate them. She may show children dance videos. Some may already know moves to popular songs and may be able to imitate steps as seen before.  She may then, move them along to innovating and improvising in teams, groups or pairs, asking them to change footwork or add hand movements. Finally, the teacher may evaluate students on creating or inventing their own steps and dance moves or further move them towards developing and sustaining a series of movement patterns.

A coach may show videos of famous basketball players to budding players. Some may already have seen famous players and willingly try out their styles when opportunities are given to them.

What is crucial is providing the space (both physical and intellectual) for expressing the skills that they have either imitated and transfer the knowledge to innovate successfully.


The ability to invent something completely new and to create something novel, comes from the confidence of having practiced the necessary skill set related to the activity. It comes from  having acquired the nuances, and mastered the processes which have become automatic and internalised.

The How?

One of the approaches suggested by Corbett is to deliberately plan opportunities for creating ‘new’ stories orally, as a rehearsal and preparation for writing. According to him, storytelling and story – making are most effective when first done as a group, gradually working towards greater independence through paired work and then finally, using individual approaches.

Let’s spend a little more time identifying why this is a great way to progress through the writing process.

  • What are the benefits of group work in a writing activity?

The shared writing (group work) strategy enables teachers to make the writing process concrete and visible to students. It is a step in the process of moving students towards independent writing.  Text is composed together and everyone contributes their thoughts and ideas to the process. The teacher is the scribe, writing as it is composed. As the group composes, the teacher will ask probing questions to elicit more detail and to help children make their writing more meaningful. The tone of this discussion should be collaborative rather than directive.

The teacher might say something like, “We are going to write a paragraph about an ‘Awesome Dinosaur’. How do you think we should start? I wonder if anyone can help me with some starters.” The children may volunteer and share a few starters. The teacher will choose one and start composing. If the outcome of the lesson is settings, the prompts could be directed and the teacher may suggest, “Where do you think the paragraph about the dinosaur can be set? A city? A forest? A rocky mountainous region?”

The composition may begin like, ‘In the city of Beijing, there was once an awesome dinosaur.’

The teacher may ask leading questions like, “What made the dinosaur awesome? What was happening around the dinosaur in the city? Was the dinosaur on the road? Were there many high rises around the dinosaur?”

The session could progress until the teacher feels the skills and techniques essential for the outcome, are shared, understood and practiced.

It is also essential to mention here, that if it is writing we’re looking for, then it is writing that we must model. Avoid typing on the screen.  The purpose of shared writing is to model the thought process involved in writing and allow students to focus and engage in the process.  ‘The teacher, acting as scribe, frees students from that aspect of the writing process so that they can focus exclusively on the thinking involved in writing.’  

Shared writing is a powerful method for teaching of key skills and concepts needed in the writing process.  ‘It is another level in the scaffold that gives students support as they learn the mechanics, conventions, and processes of writing. The strategy allows students to gain competence and confidence in their writing skills while it allows the teacher to demonstrate the usually internal thinking process that takes place as writers write.’ A variety of genres can be covered in a shared writing activity – descriptive narrative, retelling of a story,  reflective summary, recounting an incident, writing a poem, instructional text etc. These shared writing opportunities could be completed in one session or run over a few sessions, depending on the need and the purpose.

Here are two examples of shared writing.

In the independent writing phase the teacher will be able to see if the children are using techniques and strategies featured in the shared writing lesson/s.

  • From large group work to paired work

Once the children have been exposed to a variety of strategies, including the explicit teaching of the focused skill, the teacher could invite pairs of learners to brainstorm ideas for the next part of the writing process.

Working with a partner is not only less threatening than working alone, and is low risk, but it also supports collaboration and the opportunity to talk to someone about the thinking going on in the head.

After a shared composition activity, the teacher might ask pairs of learners to try and add a few more lines to the text. There may be prompts displayed on the board to help students think about what they could write next. The last thing we want is that children should say, ‘But i don’t know what to write’. If we anticipate and prepare for that response beforehand, it helps students stay on task and engaged. The children could be given white boards for brainstorming the sentences before formalising the process by expecting them to write on paper. The teacher’s role changes from being the scribe, she / he is now supporting the learners to think about their writing. It is the students who are now scribing. The teacher may also expect children to say what they will write before recording on the board. Another great strategy to help in the writing process.  

Paired activities inspire confidence. They prepare you for working independently.

  • From paired work to independent work

The demonstration and modelling carried out with the children will help them in the self composition stage. They should be able to use the range of strategies and skills taught explicitly in their individual work.

What I have shared above is one approach. There are multiple strategies that teachers use to develop creativity and creative thinking. Here are some more that have been highly successful:

  • Using visual / picture prompts
  • Open ended questions such as ‘what do you think…’, ‘where do you think…?’, how do you think…
  • Hot seating
  • Objects / props to trigger writing

As promised earlier, here  is a link to some word and language games from the archived National Curriculum website that you could try with your class before progressing to writing stories or longer narratives, demanding creativity. These are great ways in which students’ brains can be primed for creativity, good warm up activities to get the creative juices flowing and interesting techniques that can be used to enhance the development of vocabulary.

So, can creativity be taught?

Yes, it can.

Learning is a journey and it is the process, which is as important, if not more important, than the destination. I hope you found the post helpful and are able to try out some of the strategies suggested by Pie Corbett to enhance and develop creativity even more successfully.

What kind of activities have you used in the classroom to develop creativity?

Do you find any of the ideas above, worth trying in your classroom?





A jigsaw puzzle for a story?

I derive great pleasure in planning activities; more so, when I see them successful and when children say, “Can we carry on?” or even better, “Can I do another one?” This morning was one such experience for me. I was asked to plan a lesson for the Year 1’s (5-6 year olds) to help them achieve one of the writing skills, ‘I can sequence sentences to form a simple narrative’. I wanted the activity to be individualised and interesting. Of course, I would use visuals and introduce them to the idea of sequencing. They already knew and used time connectives (first, next, then, finally) to order events, so, a lot was revisiting and application of previously learned skills.

I decided to use three-piece puzzles, which I borrowed from my 2 year old daughter as the hook! These were perfect for story writing as each three-piece puzzle was a story! A terrific way to introduce children to a simple short narrative with a beginning, middle and end. I photocopied the puzzle and cut them into strips of visual stories. I had eight picture stories for those who preferred the ready-to-use visuals. For the more confident and risk taker writers, I gave three empty boxes for creation of visuals, to develop their own story.

The three-piece story puzzles!

My lesson started with a shared drawing. We drew a picture of a story. I made a mountain (hoping to get them oriented to what they would experience in Year 2 when they start writing stories using a story mountain) to introduce them to the concept of how a story is planned.

story mountain

However, on seeing a mountain, children started calling out, “I’ve been to a mountain”, “I’ve seen a mountain”, “I’ve climbed a mountain!” So, I decided to ask one of the girl’s help me make up a story. I did not touch upon the concept of a story mountain but we reached the top and back down nevertheless. We decided to take her and her mum and dad on a climbing adventure. We talked through the picture story.

This was our shared picture! The story was simple – a girl, her mum and dad were thinking about climbing a mountain (picture erased). They started walking up, took a little rest (look for the three chairs), walked again and when they reached the top, they said “yoohoo”! They decided to walk back down, which was easier and reach home in time for dinner (table with three chairs).

Story mountain
Our picture story!

We then moved on to our shared writing task where I had a simple 3 piece puzzle story as a prompt and we developed the story together using words like, first, then, finally. I told them to add details where possible and if they wanted.

Shared writing
Shared writing of a story using picture prompts. We re-read each sentence to check that it made sense.

The children were excited and ready to write their independent stories. Here is what they came up with!

Picture 1 newPictrue 1a new

Picture 2newPicture 3 new

Picture 4 newPicture 4a new

I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Year 1’s today. I was extremely impressed with their ability to write an extended story.  Aren’t they amazing? Most of them added more detail than just writing a line or two about each picture. Did they accomplish their goal? Yes! They were all able to write a short narrative in a sequence. How long did we take to achieve all of this? 45 mins! Yes, it’s possible!

Through this piece of work, there were some other end of year expectations that they also met:

  • Write sentences by saying out loud what they are going to write about
  • Write sentences by sequencing sentences to form short narratives
  • Re-read what they have written to check that it makes sense
  • Discuss what they have written with the teacher
  • Leave spaces between words
  • Join words and clauses using ‘and’
  • Begin to punctuate sentences using a capital letter and a full stop

Have you had any positive experiences of story writing in your class? What has been a great hook that has worked successfully in your class lately?

Is it a ‘doing – something’ word?

The suffix ‘ing’

An article, I recently read in an educational magazine called ‘The Reading Teacher’, identified various children’s books to help teachers teach suffixes by using stories. My focus in a Year 1 class recently, was the suffix ‘ing’ and it was their experience of engaging with this suffix. As recommended in the article, I chose the book ‘Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear?’ by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle.

Polar Bear

We started off with a quick brainstorm about words they’d heard of which had the ‘ing’ sound in it. They came up with a whole lot, including words like ring, king etc. I listed them too, but separately. I told the students they would become word detectives and signal to me when they heard an ‘ing’ word in the story.  I also shared with them that the ‘ing’ word needs to be a word that’s a doing-something word.  In the book, each page has an animal with the sound it makes, a word that’s doing something! So, they picked every word. We listed them into two categories.

Doing something word and not doing something word.

We revisited the not – doing – something ‘ing’ words like king, ring, spring and children could clearly understand why they didn’t belong in doing words.

I had two tasks prepared for the children to choose from, to practice their understanding of ‘ing’ words. The goal for this lesson was for them to identify ‘ing’ words which are doing something versus ing words which are not-doing-something. I was also hoping that children will understand that any action is a doing word and that ‘ing’ is nothing but continuous action!

  1. List the different sounds animals make (based on the story read) but with different animals. Find the Animals and sounds suffix ‘ing’ here.
  2. Cut, sort and paste ‘ing’ doing something words verus ‘ing’ not doing something words. ing paired sort picture cards and ing sorting sheet here.

Both were very achievable and children showed that they clearly understood the difference.

word list
List of sounds
Pictures sort ing words
Picture sort

We ended the lesson with some movement using ‘ing’ words like running, hopping, singing and then looked at the grammatical term, suffix and discussed what it meant. We looked at the root word ‘jump’ and I asked them what I needed to add to it, to make it jumping. They all said ‘ing’. I asked what is ‘ing’? They said ‘a suffix’!

Thank you for read + ing = reading




Why do we have to do this again?

An interesting question from a child in school today made me reflect and write this post. I’m not sure if it was interesting or scary. The question was, ‘Why do we have to do this again?‘ This was in response to the prompt to write a draft for a persuasive narrative. The topic that they had been working on for about 2 weeks now was, ‘Should animals be kept in zoo’s?’ They could be for or against it.

I was there supporting one of our teachers for the lesson, so, although I had not planned the unit or the writing process, I had to defend it! We decided to take a learning walk and my first question to the students was, ‘What if I asked you to write a persuasive letter about the need for zoo’s to exist?’ ‘What would happen?’ There was silence and that affirmed my belief that they didn’t know why they had been doing all that writing!

I invited one of the children to show the class the jotter and look back at the first writing activity they had undertaken on persuasion two weeks ago – it was a writing frame with the three parts stated clearly.

  • Introduction
  • Main body with three arguments
  • Conclusion

The topic was the same as that shared above (zoo’s).

The next activity in the jotter was of elaboration. Step by step, children had to elaborate on the three arguments, stating reasons and supporting those with valid points. This was done over a week, it seems.

The following (this week) was a focus on the opening or introduction and closing or conclusion.

While we were looking at all these, we also touched upon the fact that in lower classes the expectations would be simpler and the steps in the process fewer. The process had obviously helped clarify the steps but then what was missing? Why did some children question the need to write a draft?

Finally, I showed them the blank sheet, in which they were expected to write their draft and asked them why they think they  went through the parts? Their response was to make the whole! They got it!

But I learned something in the process.

Do we explicitly walk children through the process?

Do we ensure that they understand why they do things the way they do?

Do they know why focusing on the parts is essential to completing the whole?

Do they understand the purpose of writing? 

After this short but significant explanation, the children seemed more convinced. The discussion then became more meaningful and moved towards the use of written feedback and it’s purpose in the framing of the first draft. One child, clearly upset about having to rewrite his ideas, responded by saying “I don’t like English”. Oops!

Another, who is a reluctant writer, chose to do nothing and sat twiddling his thumbs. Most of them even the one who said he disliked English ended up finishing his introduction and his 1st argument within the next 10 mins.

Coming to the reluctant writer. He was given the same empty sheet of paper as everyone else. We decided that, obviously, the task seemed daunting to him. He was not going to initiate all that writing. There was not enough matter in his jotter anyway. We quickly changed the layout of the sheet for him and gave him writing prompts and a one – on- one chat with clear expectations and a positive word or two, got him started. He too, finished the introduction (although shorter) and the 1st argument. A little improvisation goes a long way!

As far as I’m aware, the children will be completing their drafts next week, self editing and then publishing it using technology.

My fears:

  • the lengthy process (we’re looking at at least 3 weeks on one topic),
  • repetition, as they are all writing about the same topic so, their narratives are going to be more or less the same.

Luckily, for me, I’ve also been working closely with another class on persuasive texts, a younger class. Their overview comprised three phases.

Phase 1 – An exposure to a range of persuasive stories, paired role playing of instances where persuasion is used in everyday life (mum and child, dad and child, student and teacher), shared writing of persuasive reasons for a topic of personal significance e.g. wanting a free choice lesson in a week.

The next phase included, persuading someone in leadership what they believe, by sharing the reasons they wrote as a class. Then they had to write three reasons for a topic of choice (out of the ones pre-selected by the teacher). Just the fact that they had choice, they took more interest! 


Finally, after careful modelling and shared writing of a persuasive letter, the audience was identified, rubric for criteria created and children were able to write their own letters. The process was finished in three weeks and their writing is now on display. I think the fact that they had choice and there was en element of novelty and newness throughout the cycle, the variety and quality of work was high.

sochiro-letter-1 sochiro-2


My take away about the writing process:

  • Keep it short and achievable to ensure that boredom or repetition does not set in. When something carries on for too long, interest is lost.
  • Give choice – provide a range of interesting topics. Every child does not have to write about the same topic.
  • Explain the process at the beginning. Better still – create a timeline and refer to it regularly. Don’t slavishly follow the writing process visual below, the process is fluid.  the-writing-process.jpg
  • Provide writing-frames to those who need them.
  • Ensure the process includes opportunities for shared writing, joined or paired work, scaffolded writing and then independent writing.
  • Include talk for writing
  • Writing should be for a purpose and must be meaningful
  • Identify the audience for the writing – it will automatically lend more meaning!
  • Share the success criteria / rubric before the writing activity.
  • Pre-decide whether the writing activity needs to be published or not.
  • Keep feedback simple. Too much corrective feedback is not strong feedback.
  • Refer to anchor charts to support simple procedural writing.
  • Teach writing as a process not product.

Please feel free to share other such essential pointers that have helped your learners during the writing process.