What are the children in our classes drawing on when they construct a sentence?

According to linguistics researchers Dan Slobin and Thomas Bever, children build up schemas are ‘formed on the basis of linguistic experience and are used for recognising utterances as interpretable.’

As words and sentences pour in to our consciousness, we become attuned to a variety of sentence forms and build a map in our long-term memories of the rules for putting sentences together when we want to speak or write.

There are many reasons why children find it difficult to write, but let’s look at two very crude examples of hypothetical children who many of us will recognise.

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The Fundamental Question

Why are almost a quarter of children unable to write effectively when they leave primary school?

Even messy

The starting point for these units is very often a huge, abstract idea such as ‘plot development’ or ‘creating characters that the reader can empathise with’. Multiple elements are presented to the children all at the same time.

While novice and struggling writers are trying to wrap their heads around such mysteries, they are also expected to use a whole range of grammatical devices successfully in their writing. In many unit plans, reference to these grammatical devices, the building blocks of language, will be fleeting — miss your chance to properly understand them and it may not come round again for a while.

Why are some children so much better than others?

Start by reading different books and texts.Over time, that’s a lot of exposure to the same words and sentence patterns. And a great number of them, by sheer repetition, will have worked their way into your mental schema for sentence structure — in other words, your tacit understanding of how sentences can be constructed.

What can we do?
  • Start by reading different texts
  • Create mental connection
  • Start by writing small meaningful sentence
  • Don't look at the quality first
  • Slowly write complex texts and different types of narrations
The Problem

Many primary schemes of work impose a very high cognitive load on pupils , both visual and auditory.

Most learning journeys, instead of moving from concrete to abstract, work the other way, from the big picture to the smaller details.

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What celebrated writers can teach us

George Orwell thought a good sentence means trimming as many words as possible, Virginia Woolf found power in verbs, and Baldwin desired 'a sentence as clean as a bone.'

We can learn from celebrated writers that a good sentence is plain, undecorated and visible. It gets its power from the tension between the ease of its phrasing and the surprise of its thought. Each added word reduces alternatives and narrows the reader's expectations. But up to the last word, the writer can throw a curveball.

How to write the perfect sentence

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Jordan Peterson
"Thinking makes you act effectively in the world.  Thinking makes you win the battles you undertake...If you can think and speak and write you are absolutely deadly!  NOTHING can get in your way.  That's why you learn to write...It's the most powerful weapon you can possibly provide someone with."

How to Write an Essay - The Jordan Peterson Writing Template

qualiablog.com

The first words you write are the first draft. Writing is thinking. You'll rarely know what exactly you want to say when you start writing.

The time you put into editing, reworking and refining turns your first draft into a second draft, and then into a third. If you keep refining it over days or weeks or even years, it eventually becomes something great.

How to Edit Your Own Writing

nytimes.com

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