So this is where The Writing Web began.

In my classroom.

I was teaching guided reading sessions in my Year 6 class, which were focused on exploring on the author’s intention and how this was conveyed in print.  The children discussed the given texts and located the ‘evidence’ that revealed the purpose of each.  I was using question stems from test papers to encourage the children to evaluate others’ writing, which seemed disconnected from the way in which I was teaching them to write.  This began to bother me.

I wanted the children to develop genuine fiction and non-fiction compositional skills.  However, I was approaching this by immersing them in different contexts, before drilling them to internalise lists of text type features with little consideration of the audience and purpose.  Argh!  This sense of being bothered, simply grew during every English lesson I taught.  I decided that one set of prompts would support children’s understanding of text, both as a reader and a writer.

As you can see from the above poster, I paraphrased the questions for the children who were not yet secure with the terminology.  It was imperative that they developed a strong sense of audience and purpose, in order to generate appropriate content.  It was time to leave the ‘tick list’ approach to writing behind.  I started to feel a little less bothered.

So what does all of this have to do with soup?

Do you remember the Ronseal advert with the strapline: “Does exactly what it says on the tin”?  (If you fancy a trip down Memory Lane, take a look at this on Youtube.)  I was drawn to the simplicity of the concept and wanted to apply it to how the children in my class considered their own writing.  I wanted them to begin approaching writing tasks with a clear sense of purpose, with the idea that they were communicating meaning.  Furthermore, I wanted them to compose writing that accurately conveyed that purpose.

At this point, I know I have lost some of you already.  In fact, even fifteen years ago, the Ronseal strapline was too dated to introduce to my class.  So, I reimagined the ‘tin’ of DIY product as a soup tin.  The idea was that if you ask for tomato soup, it is because you want tomato soup, as opposed to a different flavour.  Beef soup is a completely different ‘beast’ to tomato soup, especially if you are a vegetarian.

This analogy appeared to work.  The ‘Soup Tin’ questions encouraged the children to consider the text structure and grammatical features, in relation to the intended audience and purpose.  We used these routinely, when exploring new writing tasks and they provided a relevant context when text-specific features were introduced throughout each unit of work.  The questions were a useful starting point to explore appropriate content (or the ‘ingredients’ in the writing / ‘soup’).  Using the ‘Soup Tin’ soon became an established routine.

I paint a somewhat rosy picture but unfortunately, this was not the case.  Ten years ago, many English lessons in the build up to the Key Stage 2 SATs, looked very different to the way they do today.  Children were primed to attain expertise in a range of fiction and non-fiction text types, which sounds very familiar.  However, there was a significant difference, as their competence was assessed by means of two writing test papers. The children were assigned only 45 minutes for the ‘long(!)’ writing task and merely 20 minutes for the more accurately labelled ‘short’ writing task.

In this context, ‘Soup Tinning’ a given writing task became a useful whole class starter or early work activity.  In order to help the children access the tests, I would display sample tasks on the whiteboard for them to ‘Soup Tin’.  This meant that they volunteered information spider diagram ‘Soup Tin’ related information about the task but do not actually carry out the task.  This use of the ‘Soup Tin’ ended abruptly following the publication of The Bew Review (2011). This Independent Review of Key Stage 2 Testing, Assessment and Accountability recommended that writing composition should be judged by teachers’ summative assessment, to “encourage pupils to develop and demonstrate a broad range of writing skills over the course of Year 6, while avoiding the perverse incentives of the current system.”

It appeared that I had not been alone in feeling bothered.  By removing the ‘perverse incentives’ from the given teaching time, the children were able to slow down and use to really explore how to successfully compose pieces of writing from a position of expertise.  The ‘Soup Tin’ questions evolved into a framework of prompts rebranded as The Writing Web, achieving its true purpose: to support young writers to generate appropriate content for their writing by carefully considering the audience and purpose of that writing.  During blogging sessions, students craft their own ideas into coherent texts, as spiders spin their own silk threads from which to craft their webs.