Written by Alison Wilcox
A dictionary teaches children the meaning of words and a thesaurus expands their vocabulary. Descriptosaurus teaches them how to describe a setting using their senses; how to describe a character using expressions, voice and movement; to add detail, depth and color to their writing. It positions the words – whether for appearance, expression, landscape, smell or sound – classifies them as nouns, adjectives and verbs, zooms in to examine their meaning and then expands them into phrases and sentences. It shows how they can be used and provides alternative sentence structures.
Are you taking the emphasis away from reading as an essential tool to develop children’s writing?
There is no substitute for reading to develop a child’s vocabulary and enrich their language. Descriptosaurus aims to add further support. It aims to provide inspiration and practical help for children to develop their own ‘writing voice.’
Michael Gove wants an emphasis to be placed on reading for enjoyment. With the ‘daily reader’ gradually being squeezed out of classrooms in KS2, this declaration could not have come soon enough. To develop their writing children need to experience good literature. They need the opportunity to discuss how a writer engages the reader; to identify passages that create a cinematic image in their mind; to use a well-crafted text to develop their imagination so that they begin to understand how characters might feel, react to a situation or predict what might happen next.
The best writers are avid readers who read for enjoyment and develop a ‘reading habit.’ In an ideal world, every child would have experienced the joy of sharing stories and reading from a young age. In an ideal world, every child would return to school having read and discussed their texts. In an ideal world, every child would view reading as a form of entertainment and not just a “school chore” that gets in the way of “electronic consumption.”
We live in a multicultural society where English is not always the first language; we live in a society dominated by the moving image and electronic entertainment; a society obsessed with reality television and “celebrity.” A quick look at the bestsellers list for Christmas is an eye-opener, and a real insight into what sort of reading environment is experienced at many homes, if at all.
Those who struggle, who have had no early reading experience, who have never experienced a ‘reading environment’ have no narrative bank, images or vocabulary.
These children could be labeled as unimaginative, but they should not be stereotyped, as this is not always the case. Even where children come from an environment where the home is ruled by the TV, some are able to recount vivid details of films, TV shows and they attempt to incorporate this knowledge and experience into their writing. However, they lack the knowledge of narrative structure and language to express their ideas.
How does Descriptosaurus help to improve writing levels?
As a teacher, I have encountered the problems reluctant or struggling readers face when challenged to write creatively. I encountered situations where children who were enthusiastic readers were unable to translate their reading experience into producing high quality writing. I, therefore, searched for another way to enrich their vocabulary and offer them ready-made structures to incorporate into their writing. The Descriptosaurus model was created as a result of discussion and feedback from children about the resources they required to inspire and assist them with their writing. It attempts to address the problem of how to achieve higher levels of writing with children who are not active or avid readers.
Children who do not read widely find it impossible to imagine what they have not experienced. Using the vocabulary and phrases from Descriptosaurus, the class can develop images of places and people. If they choose to describe, for example, a mountain, they have a bank of ideas and vocabulary to draw from.
Interestingly, this process had a number of benefits. Those who were already avid readers started to take more note of descriptive language and literary techniques in their books, and achieved a high level in their writing. Those reluctant readers experienced success in their writing and became interested in reading. The cycle was complete, but the original stimulus was the writing rather than the reading.
The Government is placing greater emphasis on spelling and grammar. How does Descriptosaurus help children in these areas?
Many children will learn to spell the words on the weekly spelling list, but then proceed to spell the words incorrectly in their writing. This is because they need to use the words in context in addition to learning their spelling. Whilst there are spelling patterns and medium frequency words that have to be learned, it is important to also include words that children have chosen to use in their writing but have spelled incorrectly. They have chosen to use these words and thus have a desire to learn how to spell them. Children should add these words to their weekly spelling list so that it becomes an individual list. This will give them confidence and encourage them to use these words again. The thematic vocabulary in Descriptosaurus can be easily utilized to identify focused spelling patterns.
It is vitally important that children learn how to construct and vary sentences in context. Like the weekly spelling list, there is little evidence that isolated grammar exercises become automatically embedded and the knowledge and skills are transferred to the children’s compositions. Currently, only a limited number of Level 3 writers at the end of Key Stage 2 are able to construct and vary sentences easily. The more they practice, using modeled sentence types and construction, the more fluid their writing. Descriptosaurus provides examples of the use of the requisite aspects of construction, including subordinate clauses whilst expanding the children’s vocabulary.grammar in context, be it describing a forest or the movements of a character who is frightened. It can be used to explore parts of speech, tenses and sentence construction, including subordinate clauses whilst expanding the children’s vocabulary.
NATIONAL SCHOOLS DESCRIPTIVE WRITING COMPETITIION
How to get your pupils writing creatively? We believe Descriptosaurus is a great platform for ideas and inspiration and so we will soon launch a fantastic competition with great prizes to be won for outstanding entries that fit our selected criteria. Further details will be announced here very soon (early February), or why not follow us @davidfultonbook.