Developing Writing Projects

Time Capsule Education’s writing projects have been many years in development.  Each of our original writing modules – Endeavour, Ingenious, Courageous and Resilience started off as Medium Term plans for teaching English in Rayleigh Primary School in Essex.  I have had various interests which have provided a focus over the years; if you are a teacher you will recognise this kind of thing – reluctant writers, the need to improve boys’ writing when their results are down, improving girls’ writing after you have improved the boys’ writing, Gifted and Talented, SEN -  the list is endless.

I discovered however, that if you tackle writing from the right angle, you can improve all of these focus groups with the same material. You see what kids want or need more than anything else is the desire to write. If they want to write, if they want to create, if they want to find out how the story ends or better, decide how the story ends, you have won half the battle. If they are not struggling to decide what happens next and they are enjoying the writing process, you can slip in all that dull stuff we have to teach these days and make it instantly relevant to their work.

The first genre to get this immersive treatment was Spy writing. Many years ago whilst teaching a Year Six class I had to do an observed lesson for my headteacher. The next block of work in the Literacy Strategy we were supposed to tackle was Spy writing. The only thing that I could think was ‘How am I going to get ten and eleven year olds to write this?‘ 

Fortunately I have a background in wargames and roleplaying games and am a bit of  film geek. So I created maps for a baddy’s mansion, and found suitable parts of James Bond films. The lesson went very well and in the plenary one of the kids said ‘Can we do this please?’ and I thought ‘Why not?’ so a quick note home inviting the kids to come to school the following day in suitable clothes to play outside (it was late November) and come armed for a secret mission, led to a fabulous day of wide games, Mr E’s impromptu weapons lecture, sneaking and spying. The subsequent writing was terrific. You see, it turns out bigger kids want to play too! Who knew? 

Since then various other genres have received a similar treatment, we have been sword fighting pirates, we have shrunken kids on green screens, we have travelled to space (very much inspired by a great IT project written by  Alan Drew and the Essex IT team) we have explored Sherwood Forest with Robin Hood, slain Grendel, all in the name of improving children’s writing, and on the whole it has worked very well.

 In 2014 I became an SLE, giving me opportunities to visit other schools and I realised that what many schools needed was an engaging way to lead children into writing, to enjoy the writing process and build the desire to write. So I set about turning my old MTPs for English into something that other teachers could work with. I wanted Time Capsule Education to be so much more than just ‘Those Writing Blokes’ or ‘The History Bloke’ who comes into school for the day, have a good day and the following day the children write about the ‘History Bloke’ came to school. Our Modules have to have longevity.

Teachers have to be able to continue the work for weeks after our visit into school, and so far they have proved, admirably, that that is the case. Our modules have spilled into many other subject areas and in some schools a Time Capsule Education Module has become the basis for a Whole Term’s English work and fed many other curriculum areas. 

In other cases this has also had the added benefit of encouraging teachers to look at some of their other planning and make themselves consider how they could rework it so they could create deeper, more immersive experiences for their pupils, which is why we now offer CPD in curriculum development too.