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Recipe for Writing with Etherpad

Recipe for writing I remember years back while at Pirongia School, Phyllis Johnson came to work with a group of students across the school to extend their writing ability.  I was fortunate to be the teacher who was working to support her on the day, and thoroughly enjoyed the way her work scaffolded children's ability to write.  This is what is so often missing in the teaching of writing in classrooms.  So much of teacher effort is focused around the surface features of writing and so have limited impact for those children who struggle to construct a story that will engage the reader.

The recipe provides step by step guidance about what to write and how to make it impact on the reader.  It also provides an opportunity for the teacher to model at each step.  To add into the opportunity of working in this way, I use Etherpad as a collaborative writing space.  In this space children can see each others writing, which in itself provides a scaffold and support for struggling writers.  They can borrow a bit from someone else to get started for example.

Before using the recipe, teachers need to engage with students to bring through the idea that in writing we are trying to share a message, a feeling or an experience with an audience - we are not writing for ourselves.  That may be the case with diary writing, but in few other instances.  We therefore need to consider how to "paint pictures in our reader's mind" and this is where modelling and scaffolding is so vital.

Watch Jill using the recipe and Etherpad with a Year 7 & 8 class at Ashhurst Primary followed by a debrief with teachers.  The recipes and how to use Etherpad are then available below.

So, here is the recipe:

Ingredients: Setting the scene, Tuning in the ear, Developing the character, Creating the action, The resolution.


1. Bring your reader in to a powerful setting of the scene where your story is to unfold.  It helps to imagine that you have a digital camera and have taken a photo of the place where your story is to happen.  Remember you are holding the camera, so you are not in the picture at this stage.  It is a still camera, so while there may be suggested movement, such as "the waves rolled gently to the shore", there is no action in the story at this time.

2. Introduce some sound into the scene to further engage the senses of the reader.

3. Have your character appear dramatically within the setting.  We should get to know something of this character by the way you portray them.

4. Create the action that will bind the reader into the story and continue to develop this to the penultimate moment.

5. Resolve the story with some revisiting of the initial scene, the sounds or the character that was central to the storyline but something has changed - perhaps forever.  Leave your reader with something magic to hold on to.

And here's one I baked earlier :->>  I have added the numbers in brackets to link sections to the recipe.

(1) The smouldering sun sank slowly below the horizon, pulling the heat of the day with it - leaving a cold, eery feel.  The brightness peaked, and then gradually faded away leaving a feeling of impending night with all that that might bring.

(2) The sparrows flocked chattering back to their trees around the lake, scolding each other noisily and competing to make the most sound, the crescendo suddenly dropping away to a faint murmuring and an occasional flapping of wings.  The dusk drew in leaving an eery chill and a sense of impending dark.

(3) A sobbing could be heard in the distance as a small boy stumbled in his hurry to proceed.  Tears rolled down the dirty face, smudged by the hands that had climbed trees, and soaked the already torn and stained shirt - the badge of boyish pleasure which would have his mother ranting at the end of the day.

(4) "Sam!" he cried as he pelted along the path through the scrubby bush.  "Sam! Where are you?  Saaaaaaamm!"

The sparrows once more rose with the panicked beating of wings and flew off to a safer realm.

"Sam! Sam! Saaaa-aaam!"

A big black lab pounded out of the the bush, a blindly staring rabbit swinging from his jaws, the present to his boy.  He dropped it on the path in front of the sobbing boy and  leapt up placing his front paws on the boy's shoulders and licked him with his tongue.  Then danced an excited dance, his tail waving madly as the flag of his achievement.

"Oh Sam you clever boy!  But we're late!  Come on!  We gotta hurry or mum will be on our case.  Run boy, run!"

(5) The pounding of feet and the barking of the over excited Sam echoed in the distance as boy and dog raced off home.  The scolding sparrows returned to their roost flapping their wings to emphasise their annoyance at such a rude disturbance to their day's end.  The last rays of sun slithered below the horizon and the mists closed their ranks to bind the twilight into night.  The moon rose shimmering in the ruffled waters of the lake and glided into the sky to take on the leadership of the night.  The day was all but done.

You can make up your own recipes to extend student writing.  e.g. For juniors:

•Where did you go?
•What did you see there?
•What could you hear?
•What did you do?
•How did you feel about it
Model:We wnt to the bech.  A dog was plaing in the waves.  It was barking lowdy and spashing.  I had a swim.  The worta was fresing and I got cod.

Think of an animal

•What is your animal?
•What is it doing?
•What does it look like?
•What does it eat?
•How did you feel about it?
Model: I sor a betel.  It is going under a lef.  It had a big stip on it bak.  It is eeting the lef.  I don’t like betels.  They stink.

To create an etherpad for writing, think of a name for your pad and then type etherpad.mozilla.org/nameofyourpage into the url bar, hit the Enter key and then agree to create the pad of that name.  Students can now access the pad of that name, enter their name in the coloured space and begin contributing to the collaborative writing session.  If you have a class working in there it helps to put their names double spaced onto the page so that they have a point at which to start writing.  Generally start a second or third pad if there are more than 10 students working or the page becomes rather unmanageable.

If any student writing gets deleted, or you want to check back on any behavioural incidents that you suspect, you can use the Time Slider to go back to any point in the page history.  You can then copy any work for pasting back on to the main page.

Timeslider 1

Note that this opens in a new tab.  You are not on your working page so other writers can continue with their work.

Timeslider 2

Drag the blue triangle back across to the left to move back in time in the document.  Copy any text that was lost and paste back on the main page.

Use the chat box on the page for students to provide each other with feedback.  One way is to have them read the story below theirs and copy and paste into the chat box any phrases that paint vivid pictures for them as reader. Encourage constructive comment rather than warm fuzzies - feedback is about learning so they need to provide comment that will help the writer improve.

Here are some other ideas for useful feedback

  • How well did the writer capture interest from the first sentence?
  • Did the writer create pictures in your mind and if so what were some of the phrases that created vivid pictures?  Did they make you think of experiences you have had?
  • Has the writer thought about the person that will be reading their work and given them all the information they need to follow the text?  
  • Is the text well sequenced and organised with good detail and description?  Have they used strong verbs?  Do any language features support or detract from the message?
  • Is the writing style appropriate to the context and the audience?
  • What is the best thing about this piece of writing and what would be one thing that you think could enhance the writing?
  • If this is a factual piece of writing, were you provided with sufficient information while still maintaining your interest?  
  • Did the writer express any personal opinions or viewpoints - was this a good or bad thing?