It's all about the book: how studying a whole text is the key to greater depth reading and writing in English

Read in to Writing: The background 

As an English adviser, the new National Curriculum in 2014 provided a wonderful opportunity to break the vice-like grip that the National Strategies had on the teaching of English, or Literacy as it was then known. The teaching of reading was side-lined in Literacy lessons as the teaching of writing was the priority, along with a rush to get writing in to children’s books. ‘We’ve been told there isn’t enough writing in books.’ is what I heard, in almost every school I visited, even though the children were often writing 3 or 4 times a week. It has to be said that the NS did improve the teaching of writing but it taught a formulaic approach and did not encourage the children to feel like or become real writers. Writing tasks were frequently conjured up in order to tick off or ‘cover’ the different genres or forms of writing that had to be taught, rather than the writing being drawn organically and logically from whatever was being talked about or read. Too often, children weren’t convinced by what they were being asked to write and therefore didn’t invest in it. Too many children were simply going through the motions rather than engaging with their writing.

The 2014 National Curriculum programme of study for English gave permission to prioritise reading and it is this that has caused the biggest improvements I have seen in primary English teaching and learning. The purpose of study on page 3, was the starting point for a new approach to teaching primary English in the London Borough of Redbridge, especially the following part of the statement:

‘Through reading in particular, pupils have a chance to develop culturally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. Literature, especially, plays a key role in such development. Reading also enables pupils both to acquire knowledge and to build on what they already know.’ English Programme of Study, Page 3

This provided a much-needed lever for change; to promote the teaching of story in English, no longer using books as a stimulus for writing but teaching them so that children could develop their understanding of others, themselves, the world and their place in it. Writing tasks could be inspired by this learning and only written when the children are ready to write. And now nearly five years later, the results of this approach, in the schools that were prepared to take a leap of faith, are staggering. The children love the books they are studying, the amount and quality of talk has increased in classrooms and in their writing, children have so much to say, they want to say it and they know how to. Greater depth writing has increased in these schools and more children are successful in the reading test too. But the greatest thrill of all is when teachers tell me about the amazing conversations they have had about the story, a character or an issue; that the children have chosen to read books by the same author at home and are reading more;  that no child says they don’t know what to write; that children are asking to stay in at break or lunchtime to finish their writing. That, to me, is a result.
The Read in to Writing Approach

Put simply, it’s all about the book. The approach centres on teaching books in English rather than using books as a stimulus for writing. The programme truly integrates speaking and listening, reading and writing; what is taught, when it is taught and how it is taught, is strategically thought out in each unit.

With this approach, books are studied in detail; the plot, character, language, structure. As part of this book study, philosophical questions linked to the themes in the story are explored, the children’s understanding of the context of the story is built at the most valuable point in the reading and their own real-life experiences are drawn on, all so that they can understand every aspect of the story as fully as possible. Importantly, there are learning objectives and learning outcomes for reading and talk in the units, recognising that these are learning too.
Writing tasks evolve across the unit, when the best opportunity to write arises, with the final writing task giving the children the opportunity to apply all of their learning from across the unit. Writing tasks are authentic in that they would be realistic and believable in the real world, they are purposeful and meaningful in the learning journey as they develop the children’s understanding of the story and they a have clear audience and purpose for writing. Each task is convincing for the children, meaning they will invest in the writing.

The approach promotes a slow and deep method of teaching reading; for reading and writing. It takes time to build the knowledge, understanding and skills needed for each writing task and so there are only a few extended pieces of writing in each unit. It makes sense that the longer the children spend on a piece of writing, the better it will be. Through our Read in to Writing units, the children are learning how to write rather than how to draft. They are learning to be real writers by considering the effect of their own reading on them as readers and then making deliberate choices in their writing to impact their reader. The children have time to draft, craft, edit and redraft.

Read in to Writing is fully compliant with the requirements for KS1 and KS2 moderation. The reading the children will do at KS1 offers a wealth of evidence for their reading teacher assessments and the writing at both key stages is across a range of purposes and audiences, with many opportunities for narrative writing, both fiction and non-fiction.
Please read the case studies to hear teachers’ testimonials about teaching Read in to Writing.


Maggie McGuigan is a Series Editor and author of Read in to Writing. She has been working in education for 28 years. Maggie trained as a secondary English teacher, first of all teaching in Essex and then in the London Borough of Redbridge.
Maggie has worked as a senior leader in two secondary schools, building the capacity of the English departments and leading on pastoral care at key stage 4.
In 2015, Maggie became an independent consultant, supporting and developing the teaching of English and literacy across the curriculum in a diverse range of schools. Also, she is currently working on behalf of the Department for Education, training and quality assuring assessments at the end of key stage 2.

Read in to Writing is available now for Reception to Year 6 with units of work thay teach English using  a range of classic and contemporary children's literature. Each unit provides all the planning and teaching materials required to study a whole book. Learn more here.



english, English and Literacy, English and Writing, english teaching, literacy, primary, reading, Reading and Ebooks, writing

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