2. Working in groups to write life stories

Some of the first stories children hear are likely to be stories about the life experiences of family or community members. The life stories (biographies) of famous people are frequently published in magazines and newspapers and even in comic form, so, whether from listening or from reading, many pupils are likely to be familiar with life stories. This is a good starting point to stimulate interest in reading and writing.

In the classroom, pupils need support from their teacher and from one another when they are learning to speak, read and write – particularly if this is in an additional language. Case Study 2 and Activity 2 show how you can give pupils opportunities to read, talk, work together in small groups and write the first drafts of the life stories of people they are interested in. Pupils need examples to guide their development as writers. The articles they read can help them organise their writing and help with sentence structure and vocabulary.

Younger pupils will need you to work with them, guiding their writing and gradually extending their vocabulary.

Case Study 2: Using pupils’ interests to develop reading and writing skills

Mr Simon Ramphele noticed that, in the playground, some Grade 6 boys – who showed no interest in reading and writing during English lessons – often sat together to read the soccer newspaper, Laduma. They told him they enjoyed finding out about the lives of their favourite players.

This gave Simon an idea. He asked the whole class whether they ever read newspapers or magazines and, if they did, what they enjoyed reading. Many said they tried to read stories about people who interested them, even though they couldn’t understand all the words. Simon organised a collection of newspapers and magazines for the classroom. Then he asked pupils who they were most interested in reading about. The favourites were sports stars (mainly soccer, but some basketball, athletics and boxing), musicians, film and TV stars, followed by fashion models, politicians, community leaders and successful business people.

Simon grouped pupils according to their interests. There were several groups for sports stars and musicians! He gave magazines and newspapers to each group and asked them to find articles/pictures about one person who interested them. Then, as a group, they helped each other to write one or two short sentences about the person’s life. They used their own words as well as vocabulary from the articles. They wrote their own title.

Simon was pleased to find that most pupils were involved in reading and, while some did more of the writing than others, everyone participated. Each group enjoyed reading their biography to another group.

Activity 2: Reading and writing life stories

Use Resource 4: Preparing lessons on life stories to prepare for this activity.

  • Ask pupils to read together the story you have copied on to the chalkboard or paper. Or read it to them and explain what it is.
  • Discuss the features of life stories (biographies). Ask pupils to tell you what categories of people (e.g. national footballers, local musicians) they are interested in, and why.
  • Give each same-interest group several newspapers and magazines that contain articles about the category that interests them.
  • Ask them to find articles about a person from their chosen category and use the information to write two important facts about the person (see Resource 4 for guidance on helping your pupils to do this).
  • Collect the drafts for use in the Key Activity.

If your class is very large, you could do this activity with half the class or smaller groups in turn. You could also group pupils according to their ability – mixing more able and less able to help each other. With younger pupils, you might do this as a whole-class exercise where you help by writing their ideas down and sharing their words.

1. Using poems to stimulate writing activities

3. Focus on the writing process