Creating well-rounded narrative writers

creating well-rounded narrative writers

Many students agonise over creative writing and believe they aren’t good writers. Some believe, for example, that they can’t have good ideas. Some students believe that they can’t be good writers because they get low scores in spelling, and some students have been crushed when their entertaining story has achieved a C-grade. How do we help students overcome these doubts, creating well-rounded narrative writers?

How can we create well-rounded narrative writers?

There are some key teaching and learning strategies that need to take place for students to write successful narratives (or complete any assessment really!), and they aren’t always obvious when we have a unit of work in front of us.

1. Explicit teaching of each component.

Each component of the task needs to be explicitly taught.

For example, students do not know how to brainstorm or generate ideas. 

Professional writers don’t just have great ideas. They seek inspiration, they storyboard, they build characters slowly using words and images – there is an entire process that helps set writers up for success. Sometimes it takes writers weeks to come up with ideas.

Students are no different. We need to explicitly teach this process, model it for them, and allow them to practise it. Repeatedly.

2. Students need to be assessment-literate. 

They need to understand the learning intention of the assessment, and they also need to know the success criteria they need to demonstrate to be successful. Just knowing the success criteria can help students to identify their strong and weak points, and what they need to work on. This awareness alone, can improve student success.

Understanding success criteria (and unpacking them within the assessment rubric) helps students to understand that while they may not be the best speller in the world, they can be successful in other success criteria. Good writers aren’t always good at everything!

Being assessment-literate also helps students to understand that they can’t just write a great story – they need to use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation as well.

How can we ensure that we are doing these two things to create well-rounded narrative writers?

  1. Backwards mapping assessment.

By starting with the assessment piece, identifying every piece of success criteria, and building that into our planning, we can make sure that we teach everything the students need to know.

We do students a disservice when assessment doesn’t match what students have been taught.

  1. Using learning walls – also known as working walls.

Implementing a learning wall means displaying the task sheet, the assessment rubric, clearly identifying success criteria, providing good examples of text types, and modelling how to achieve each success criteria.

Using a learning wall helps students to see each component of the task, and gives them clarity on the learning task.

It also helps us as teachers to see what has been taught, and what we may need to teach and reteach.

Well-rounded writers are assessment-literate writers, understanding what success looks like. As teachers it’s up to us to ensure that our students have the skills and knowledge to meet the demands of the assessment, and we meet our gaol of creating well-rounded narrative writers.

More teacher tools for narrative writing can be found here

More teacher tools for learning walls can be found here

The Third Teacher in Your Classroom

Who is the Third Teacher?

The Third Teacher in your classroom is the learning environment.

The first teacher is the PARENT, the second the CLASSROOM TEACHER and the third is the LEARNING ENVIRONMENT you create for your students. Healthy relationships between all three contribute to student wellbeing and success.

To be an effective Third Teacher, your classroom environment needs to foster independence in learning, nurture creativity and curiosity, provide clarity on teacher expectations (academic and behavioural) , encourage risk-taking and critical thinking, but most of all be useful.

In the context of Learning Walls and Bump It Up Walls, the ‘Third Teacher’ starts with assessment in mind, and facilitates HOW students interact with and use these walls together to improve their own achievement. You read that right – the learning environment actually encourages interaction and participation through purposeful selection, placement and modelling by the classroom teacher.

Why is ‘The Third Teacher’ in Your Classroom Important and How Does it Help You?

The ‘Third Teacher’ is literally that – another helping hand in the classroom. Do your students need help with setting a goal? Refer to the Third Teacher (e.g. Learning Walls, Bump It Up Walls, Success Criteria). Does a child need help with text structure or language features? Try the Third Teacher (e.g. writing exemplars- good & bad, colour-coded examples detailing text structure, student checklist)! Anything relating to achieving success criteria? Refer to the Third Teacher!

Your ‘Third Teacher’ can help you to:

  • Be clear on curriculum goals
  • Share success criteria alongside examples/anchor charts/checklists
  • Provide ongoing support to students either by directing them to the wall, or being able to support students 1:1 because other students are accessing the Third Teacher.
  • Be a facilitator of knowledge, rather than the gatekeeper.

How your students engage with the ‘Third teacher’ determines its effectiveness. The ‘Third Teacher’ is effective when; students have ownership over the learning environment; students know what is in the classroom and where to find it; know how to use the information/tool they find; and students know they have permission to go to the classroom environment first.

How do you encourage students to seek the Third Teacher?

How you craft your classroom environment to encourage students to refer to the ‘Third Teacher’ comes down to a few basic fundamentals:

  • Your classroom environment needs to be set up for individual, group, whole-class work/lessons, with breakout areas that have access to materials they need to explore, engage and scaffold (in Early Years these materials may include counters, manipulative, small investigation areas. Older students may have access to white boards, post-it notes, text books, highlighters etc).
  • You may have a collaborative learning space where students contribute items relevant to the learning.
  • Everything on your classroom wall must be relevant. This means the content has been explicitly taught; students have seen the content before it has appeared on the wall; the content is regularly referred to within lessons and students had an opportunity to co-create some of the content (eg co-constructed anchor charts, success criteria, writing samples)
  • Use student-created work samples, anchor charts, post-its and more. Students are more engaged by theirs and others’ work.
  • You can also create interactive elements and ‘take-aways’ – elements of the learning environment that students can use in their own space (eg WOW word bookmarks that students can take back to their desk).
  • Use the ‘three before me’ rule. Students should ask the peer next to them, a ‘peer expert’, and the Third Teacher (where can you find help in our classroom?), before seeking out your help (unless of course, someone is hurt or there is an emergency).
  • Model the independent processes with ‘think alouds’. For instance, model how to self-assess against success criteria for your students. In your classroom, self-assessment may look like this:
    • your students complete a draft;
    • before the teacher views the draft, the student goes to the learning Wall to access a self-assessment checklist;
    • the student identifies a success criteria they have not achieved – this becomes a learning goal;
    • they write their learning goal in their goal book, or on a post-it for the wall;
    • they seek information on the learning wall to help them achieve the success criteria (e.g using speech marks to indicate dialogue)
    • they edit their draft to include the success criteria, and submit for peer/teacher feedback.
  • Regularly directing students to the Third Teacher by referring to the 5 Questions, specifically, ‘Where can you go for help?’. Answers can be:
    • Look at the Learning Wall: Re-read the Learning Intention; Read the success criteria – look at the work examples and anchor charts linked to the success criteria
    • Knowledge centres: vocabulary walls, dictionary, iPads for research
    • Feedback, goals, past work (always keep students work in individual folders with previous student checklists attached, so students can see their own growth and use these samples to set goals). Also keep your own tracking document so that you know where each student is sitting and which feedback has been given.
  • Display answers to the 5 Questions in your classroom, so students can read the answers (include visual cues for younger learners).

Where do I start?

  • Complete an audit of the classroom environment – is it all being used? Has it all been explicitly taught? Is it there just because it ‘looks nice’?
  • Remove what isn’t useful to your students. If it is useful but hasn’t been taught, teach it! Make a connection for your students and show them how it is useful.
  • Ensure your Learning Wall has all of the elements that students need. Have you deconstructed the Learning Intention? Have you got co-constructed success criteria? Have you provided a checklist of success criteria that your students can use, repeatedly as the act on feedback?
  • What needs to be a ‘take-away’ – think of students that need additional support with tangible resources in front of them. Print multiple copies, hang them on hooks, stick velcro to the back of mini-anchor charts, put information on bookmarks that can be reused.
  • Model, model, and model again, the use of the learning environment.
  • Reinforce the 5 Questions
  • Praise independence and autonomy.

In essence, many of us have used the Third Teacher within our classrooms, without giving it a name. Giving it some structure, educating students in its existence and application, and creating the learning environment intentionally, can help to implement the Third Teacher as a pedagogical tool within the context of Learning Walls and Bump It Up Walls, in your classroom.

As always, we welcome your thoughts about this blog post. Please email with thoughts and comments. We also welcome sharing this blog post with your colleagues.

Interactive Learning Walls

make you learning walls interactive

Do you know how to make your learning walls interactive, so that all students can access them easily?

This is an important question to ask yourself when planning for the learning that is going to take place. Will your students come up to the wall and then mentally take information back to their desk? Are all of your students capable of doing this? Are you capable of doing this?

Memory is a really tricky tool to rely on and doesn’t support your learners at all – especially those who have trouble processing information before it is used. Instead, could you provide ‘take-aways’ in the form of vocabulary cards or checklists? Or another tool?

These are important questions to ask, as it’s one thing to display the information, but if it’s not truly accessible to all of your learners, then your learning wall won’t be used to its full potential.

You wouldn’t teach a normal writing lesson without differentiating for students that have additional needs – for example, providing printed copies of your PowerPoint, or digital text, so it’s important to think this way for your Learning Wall.

First steps? Well, interactive elements are my go-to! Not only are they an easy way to differentiate, but they add an element of fun and can turn a flat, boring wall into a vibrant learning centre.

How can you make your learning wall interactive? Some of my favourite ideas include:

  • Printed copies of information on the wall that students can take back to their desks: text examples, checklists, how-tos, diagrams, mini-anchor charts. You can print these much smaller so they are mini-versions
  • Pockets that hold information, such as question stems, vocabulary, sentence structure
  • Hooks to hold rings of common words, sight words, adjectives, superlatives
  • Hooks to hold copies of books on rings
  • Post-it notes readily available to pose questions or add examples
  • Highlighters to highlight important information
  • Clipboards to lean on at the wall
  • Puppets/story rocks for story retells
  • Interactive flaps on wall, displaying sequential information, or with questions on top and answers underneath
  • QR codes to digital resources
  • Using student drawings as examples
  • Finally, we talk about levels of ability – think about literal levels. Make sure your shortest learner can read all of the information on your wall – if they can’t reach it, it’s not interactive.

If you can imagine it, you can add it to your wall. I think the most important thing to remember is that not all of your students are going to access your wall at the same level, and interactive elements can support those learners and bring your wall to life.

How to Co-Construct Success Criteria

how to co-construct success criteria

One of the common challenges teachers have when using bump-it-up walls and learning walls is knowing how to co-construct success criteria.

I used to write the success criteria for my walls prior to introducing a new assessment piece. This worked well until during one particular lesson when it became evident that my students were demonstrating skills that should have been on my learning wall, but weren’t because I hadn’t even thought of them!

Why is it Important to Co-construct Success Criteria?

Student achievement is fast-tracked when they have clarity about a learning task, they understand what is required and how to do it. Co-constructing success criteria helps your students to understand everything you require, and also gives you an opportunity to explain success criteria and deconstruct for understanding.

Sometimes students can look at a marking rubric as though it means nothing to them – they are unable to articulate exactly what they are meant to do. As teachers, we’ve explained the task, but not made sure students have understood the elements required.

Beyond understanding, there is also the opportunity for students to demonstrate prior knowledge and mastery.

I realized that because I had given students no input into the creation of the success criteria, I hadn’t given them an opportunity to truly demonstrate their abilities.

I had never given students input because I had never seen co-construction of success criteria modeled by another teacher, and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to lead my students to the success criteria I wanted them to find (another mistake). I really needed to have more faith in my students and in myself.

I knew that I had to bite the bullet and co-construct the success criteria – not only giving my students ownership of the learning process but also ensuring that I wasn’t limiting my students.

To simplify the process, I chose to co-construct all of the success criteria in one lesson, because we were already a few weeks into our unit.

At first, I was a bit worried about how this lesson would work, but it was a fantastic foundation for my students, and still, I use the same process now. I hope that you will find the following sequence useful!

How to Co-construct Success Criteria (Text-type example)

You will need:

  • A written Learning Intention – this may be taken directly from the marking guide/rubric and/or re-written in child-friendly language). For example, “We are learning to retell a fairy tale from a different perspective”. Your students may not know what ‘perspective’ means – this will need to be deconstructed.
  • A-level sample (previous student work/teacher written or sourced) Pre-qualify the sample to make sure it includes elements required.
  • Cards to write and display success criteria statements on
  • Learning/Working Wall with marking guide/rubric

Co-constructing Success Criteria Teaching Sequence

  1. Spend a few lessons immersing students in examples of the text type.
  2. Brainstorm as a whole class, What makes a good narrative*?  Write down as many success criteria as possible.
  3. Provide students with an A-level narrative sample – one copy each.  This could be from a past student or an example you have written or sourced yourself.
  4. Ask students, What makes THIS a good narrative? Students should read through, individually or in groups, highlighting the different elements that make it a good narrative. They can write notes and use highlighters/colour coding. 
  5. After reading, analyzing and taking notes, students use their notes to write ‘I Can’ success criteria statements on cards.
  6. As a whole class, read through each I Can statement and ‘think aloud’ with your students. Refin statements collaboratively.
  7. Carefully select the most precise I Can statements.
  8. If your marking guide is organised into headings such as Language features, Structure, Punctuation etc, organise students’ brainstormed ideas into these headings. Use colour-coding if you are going to continue to use it throughout the unit.
  9. Ask students if they think there is any success criteria missing.
  10. If students have missed any success criteria, teacher should ask leading questions.
  11. Is there any success criteria they don’t understand? How can we re-write so that everyone understands what it means?
  12. Organise the selected I Can success criteria statements on Learning Wall. Organise under headings and colour-code. Use string or ribbon to connect success criteria statements to marking guide and to examples on the Learning Wall.

You could also do this for just one element (introduction, climax) noting all Success criteria used; or you could introduce one at a time (e.g during a lesson on capital letters for proper nouns).

Knowing how to co-construct success criteria collaboratively, and using the process as a teaching and learning opportunity in your classroom, is one of the most effective ways to increase student and teacher clarity about learning expectations. Once created, students can refer back to the success criteria repeatedly during the unit of work and during the assessment, massively increasing their ability to achieve each criterion.

how to co-construct success criteria
Sorting student success criteria into useful categories.

What if I don’t Have Time to Co-construct Success Criteria?

Writing success criteria (and finding the classroom time to co-construct) is a serious time issue for teachers.

Here are some tips for when you don’t have time:

  • Find quality writing samples that have already been annotated with leveled success criteria.
  • Ensure success criteria are clearly linked to learning experiences .
  • Ensure each each success criteria is explicitly taught and referred back to during teaching.
  • Create a success criteria student checklist for them to refer back to regularly
  • Use success criteria in conjunction with bump it up walls and learning walls.

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