How can reading and writing help children to express themselves?

Whilst working in a school last year, I asked a year 2 boy what the best thing about his school was and he replied, “the books!” His response warmed my heart and then he said, ‘Did you know books take you to far-away lands in your imagination? That is the best because my life at home is not good.” My heart was again warmed but for a different reason. Here in front of me was a six-year-old boy who had basically summed up the content of my blog without being prompted. High-quality stories do transport children to lands that their imaginations have not even dreamt of yet. However, more importantly, experiencing these stories empowers all readers (and listeners) to feel the confidence to express themselves.

Who doesn’t enjoy being transported to another place?  Isn’t it fun to walk in another character’s shoes?

How empowering might it be to live a day as somebody you could only dream of being?

How refreshing is it to observe that other characters feel the same as we do?

How amazing is it that authors and illustrators do all the hard work to create new places for us, and we just need to listen or read?

Some children thrive in contexts that allow them to express themselves whereas others are less willing to participate. Once a high-quality book has been shared, many more children are willing to ‘have a go’ if they feel they are acting in role as somebody else. This can be captivated through the use of puppets; masks; using figures and models; costume and props or writing in role.

I am always amazed by how children take learning by the horns and insist on taking ownership of tasks when talking/writing in role. I remember reading ‘The Queen’s Hat,’ by Steve Antony and asking year 1 to write in role as the hat; the Queen or one of her soldiers and a lone voice requested, ‘Can I write as the wind please Mrs?’ His writing was certainly interesting as he wrote about ‘ the wind banging doors closed; blowing out birthday cake candles and causing some unpleasant smells!’ A less obvious and more mature response was a year 6 pupil who responded to my open task of, ‘Write a diary entry from the perspective of any character in Macbeth,’ by writing in role as the dagger. His opening lines, ‘I killed King Duncan and am soaked with his blood. I am not fully responsible as Macbeth pushed me in. Yet, I am riddled with HIS guilt,’ still bring a shiver to my spine!

What both of these examples illustrate is that when inspired and empowered, children can empathise and in turn express themselves through another.

All of the texts chosen at the heart of The Read in to Writing series will provide opportunities for children to express themselves. I have chosen some of my favourites to share. Although the sample pages reference a specific year group, all of these texts could be used in different year groups- depending on your cohorts.


Getting lost in a great book is an experience like no other. 

Becoming another character will give children opportunities to 'be someone else' in forms such as:

  • Hot seating
  • Interviewing characters
  • Guessing who has walked into the room
  • Freeze frames

Writing in role will empower children to express themselves through another vehicle in various forms such as:

  • Speech bubbles
  • Answerphone messages
  • Diary
  • Letter
  • Email
  • Speeches

When given the option to write as a character of their choice, some children choose to be a character that is so far removed from their own personality – somebody they would not want to be. An example of this was when I was teaching a year 5 unit based on ‘Wonder,’ by R.J. Palacio and a pupil wrote an email in role as the bully Julian. Although the pupil was horrified by Julian’s behaviour and vile language towards Auggie, she explained, ‘It’s a strange buzz to write as somebody you would never be and write words that you would never say!’

I have chosen some of my favourite sample units…

Text and year group for sample pages from Read into Writing

Brief Overview

Expressing yourself through the themes of…

Simon Sock, Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

Download Reception unit

Simon Sock does not get picked as he is odd and doesn’t have a pair! He dreams of having fun outdoors with his matching pa ir. However, when found, he realises that she doesn’t share the same interest. All ends well, as Simon ends up with Betty Banana!

The closing line is,’ Everyone had to admit, that even though they didn’t match, they really did make a great pair!’

  • Celebrating differences

  • Ok to be different

Be Brave Little Penguin, Giles Andrea

Download Year 1 unit

Pip Pip is a penguin who is afraid to jump into the water and swim. He watches everybody else and longs to fit in. After some advice and confidence building from his Mum, he finally succeeds!

  • Being scared

  • Facing fears

  • Resilience

  • Determination

  • How to advise

  • When to listen

  • Good v’s bad advice

Mole’s Star, Britta Teckentrup

Download Year 1 unit

Mole is so amazed by the stars in the night that he takes them all underground to brighten up his home. Upon realising that the forest life cannot live in the dark, he puts them back and understands that it is better to share!

  • Sharing

  • Greed

  • Taking things that are not yours

  • The power of light in our lives

  • Being brave to admit you were wrong

Tidy, Emily Gravett

Download Year 2 unit

Pete the badger likes a clean forest and does everything he can to tidy the leaves and mess! However, covering the forest with concrete causes some problems!

  • Wanting to be tidy/ perfect

  • Perfectionism

  • Caring for the environment

  • Team-work

Mary Poppins, PL Travers

Download Year 3 unit

Mary Poppins is the most magical of nannies with her carpet bag of tricks!

  • Imagination

  • Power of magic

  • Escapism

  • Role of a nanny – family?

The day I was erased, Lisa Thompson

Download Year 4 unit

Maxwell wishes his life was different and then with the help of his elderly neighbour realises that what he wants is his old life back.

  • What is happiness

  • Learning from elderly

  • What is important to us

  • Friendship

  • Loyalty

The boy at the back of the class, Onjali Q Rauf

Download Year 5 unit

When Ahmet joins the class as the new boy, everyone’s eyes are opened to understanding what ‘closing the borders’ literally means.

  • Refugees

  • Friendship

  • Bravery

  • Loyalty

  • Justice


Wonder, Palacio

Download Year 6 unit

Auggie starts school at Beecher Prep and we meet various pupils who respond in different ways to his needs. Chapters are written from perspectives of different characters throughout.

  • Reactions

  • Diversity

  • Justice

  • Friendship

  • Bravery



All of the above samples can be used as a spring-board to allow children to express themselves through amazing children’s literature. It is so important this year, more than perhaps any other, that children are provided with a vehicle to express themselves. This may be with the stabilisers on- scaffolded and writing through another character’s eyes or without the stabilisers when they are ready to do so by themselves.

Enjoy being creative and having fun with what we all love – getting lost in a great book!


Thanks to Maddy Barnes (@moonmaddy) for this blog.  Maddy Barnes is an experienced teacher both in the UK and overseas and is a Specialist Leader of Education in the North West pilot scheme. She is an English SATS marker and a QCDA Single Level Tests Marker. She has also moderated the Level 6 English tests and is an international schools marker. Maddy is a published author and has written the Skills Builders Grammar and Punctuation series for Rising Stars.

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