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How to encourage our students to collaborate in reading and writing in English

How to encourage our students to collaborate in reading and writing in English

(This post was originally published on the then “Sls Hallam website” and remained as a draft for the PoppieS blog. Since we are about to deal with “Teaching reading and writing” in the Primary Pilot Course, I think it’s the right time to publish it. I am also trying to check those links which did not work before…

The following is an extract (not complete) from the last chapter of Linguistic Competence in English

You’re very likely to know that orthographic competence has to do with the ability to write and spell properly. Any idea about what orthoepic competence is? Keep on reading and you may guess…or we may discuss what it is in the comments below.

Cooperating between different classes

[…] For freer writing activities which focus on developing students’ orthographic competence, we would like to suggest one type which involves cooperation between different classes.

Inspired by Ken Robinson & Sal Khan

The 2 activities presented here have been designed for students at Primary Education level. Nevertheless, this type of activity could also be used with students of ESO, with a different topic, of course.

The idea has been inspired by the readings and videos created by Ken Robinson, Sal Khan and other forward-looking “educationalists” who advocate for not grouping children according to age.

We realise this is highly revolutionary and probably unattainable in Spain, at least in the near or foreseeable future. We would like to hear what experts on the matter have to say in this regard. Yet, we feel that cooperation is always positive as is to develop in older students a sense of responsibility towards the younger ones. The proposal would go as follows:

Activity 1

The activity can be carried out, let’s say, in the 4th year of primary education when students are 8-9 years old.

The idea is that the students are already familiar with the nursery rhyme proposed here because they learnt it and performed it at the previous stage (6-7 year-olds).

If they are not, they can be told that the teacher needs their help to prepare some materials for the little ones. This is mainly to foster cooperation and a feeling of responsibility towards the younger students. The class is then divided into groups of four, where each member of each group is given one —or two, depending on their line— of the pictures shown below:


How to do proceed

The members of the group have to order the story and write one sentence each on a card to tell the story so that the following sentences are formed on different cards:

(a)    Incy wincy spider climbed up the spout

(b)   Down came the rain and washed poor spider out

(c)    Out came the sun and dried up all the rain

(d)   So incy wincy spider climbed up the spout again.

  • As can be seen, this allows for groups of 4 —or 6 if required, making the sentences longer or shorter and giving the members of the group one or two pictures.
  • This can then be used in the lower classes for reading practice, where the students have to match the picture and the sentence describing the picture.
  • Alternatively, the students may be asked to draw all the pictures themselves, which would foster the development of their artistic competence and/or invent a different story with the spider as the main character… perhaps as a creepy crawly.

Activity 2

Another activity in a similar line is to use a new, modern version of a well-known tale and have the students from an older age-group class make up a story which they can then read to the younger ones.

For example, everybody knows of “Cinderella” and I am sure that 8-9- year olds will tend to despise it as “too childish”. There is a “parallel” modern version of the story called “Prince Cinders”.  This is the cover of the book:

The idea here is that students become or are familiar with the book and the story —as you may have imagined this is a modern prince with very nasty brothers who treat him really badly and has a fairy godmother… who does not seem to be able to get things quite right. At least, at the very beginning



Fostering gender equality

This type of story where the typical gender roles are swapped is great to give a different perspective and to foster gender equality.

Besides, the students learn new vocabulary and how to tell stories.

How to organise it

  • Once they are familiar with it, the class is divided into various groups.
  • Each group chooses a familiar fairy tale to make a “modern” version of it:
  • It will involve drawing, colouring, writing and then, reading aloud and/or dramatising the story in front of the class or prepare it in such a way that it can be used or performed in front of lower groups.
  • The imagination of teacher and students is the only limit, as they may also incorporate music and songs into it.

Similar activities for Secondary school students

A similar type of task with suitable materials can be done with Secondary-stage students, where those at a higher grade prepare posters/presentations and draft information which either they can then present in front of or the teacher can use with lower grades.

The topics may cover natural sciences like the project described in our “Guidelines for a Syllabus design” (Unit 10: “The animal world”). Or they may be on history, the arts, technology, music, or even maths, thus allowing students to develop their orthographic, phonological and orthoepic competences.

Gradually getting there… From the beginning

Such a development will need to start at the most basic level with the spelling of simple words and the ability to read aloud simple sentences, as has been highlighted in the corresponding chapter of Linguistic Competence in English. (Thus starting to develop orthoepic competence)

Building blocks

Then it continues with the organisation of sentences into paragraphs, and into longer texts, using appropriate punctuation marks and the ability to read aloud more complex stretches of language and symbols, with the right pronunciation and intonation.

This may be done by exposing the students to authentic written texts, either printed, type- or hand-written, by making them memorise word-forms and applying spelling and punctuation conventions and by dictation practice.

And always bearing in mind

  • what type of spelling mistake will be allowed and when,
  • what role the proper structuring of texts will play in the classroom practice,
  • what the students will be expected to know regarding:
        • interpreting the various punctuation marks,
        • the pronunciation and meaning of homonyms (both homographs and homophones)
        • dictionary conventions
        • conventions used in the social media,
        • conventions used in books, newspapers, or other written material
        • the role of reading aloud, etc.

Above all, and just as with anything else, they will need to be given ample opportunity to practise that which we want them to master. Opportunities for Comprehensible Output in a free-from-stress environment is essential to develop Communicative Competence!

Have you guessed or did you already know what orthoepic competence is? Do you think it’s important to help our students develop it? Why? Why not?


As usual, I’d love to hear your comments.

Apasionada de la lengua inglesa y sus múltiples matices, mi objetivo es ayudarte en la preparación de la oposición a profesores de inglés y contribuir a que la escuela pública ofrezca la enseñanza de calidad –de y en lengua inglesa– que nuestros alumnos necesitan en el s. XXI

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