Language and literacy skills · Skills for school

Last questions!

I asked recently what sorts of blogposts people would like to see, and one of the responses related to question words. This is a great topic, and I’ve decided to deal with it in three separate articles. The first relates to spelling  and the second to using questions to develop reading and listening comprehension skills. Today, we’re looking at

Using questions to develop creative writing skills

Teachers and parents often tell me that their learner can produce well-formed handwriting in copying exercises, but that everything seems to fall apart when some kind of independent composition is required. For many, their rate of writing is also affected. This seems especially puzzling when the young person in question seems verbally able to address the task, they speak confidently, an have plenty of story ideas, hut somehow, as soon as they are expected to out pen or pencil to paper, inspiration seems to escape them. Here’s one possible explanation of what is going wrong:

A Simple View of Writing
Dockrell, Marshall and Wyse (2016) adapted from Berninger, Garcia and Abbott (2009)

This simplified representation of the processes involved in writing shows just how complex the task itself actually is, and how it, draws on executive function. The effort of text generation in itself is multi-layered, requiring effort to recall letters to create words to form sentences and craft whole pieces of work. At each stage, it draws on working memory, to form letters, spell, conform to grammatical rules. On top of this, enormous load is placed on a learner’s attention, they need to remember what they have been tasked with producing, make a plan for the task, have some idea of how long it will take and know what to do at what stage and keep the entire piece in some kind of logical sequence – a breakdown at any one of these stages could mean little or no work is done, without even considering the generation and transcription efforts. And every step is mediated via working memory, which is often compromised in learners with specific learning difficulties.

Using questions is not going to overcome every one of these possible barriers, but it can help to plan and structure a text. Eventually, combined with any necessary support and accommodations related to spelling and/or motor skills, this will help your developing writer meet their potential.

Questions for planning and sequencing a story

Early on in a story, the writer needs to describe the main character or focus.


Setting the scene is important – this might happen at the same time as the character or event is introduced, just before, or just after.


We need to set the scene in time as well as space – when does it happen? Is this the present, the past, an imagined future or an alternate reality?


What happens? Describe an event or object that is important to the story.


This could be a problem to solve or a choice that must be made.


This explains the reason for our character’s current situation, or the way that the problem is going to be solved.


The end – what happens as a result of the events in the story and the character’s actions.

Some children like the idea of a “story mountain’.

The beginning sets the scene with character(s), location and time: who where, when

The build up describes what happens to the character in the place at the time: what

The dilemma or problem describes the issue that must be solved or overcome, or the choice that must be made: which

The reason explains the choices made and describes the resulting actions: why

The end describes how everyone and everything is following the events of the story: how

Story mountain.png
Download a copy

A collection of resources related to literacy can be found here


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