Talk for Writing – How to Support Your Child with Reading and Writing

The Word Gap

The Word Gap refers to the startling findings from the groundbreaking study by University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, titled “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3“. By 3 years of age, there is a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families.

University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley entered the homes of 42 families from various socio-economic backgrounds to assess the ways in which daily exchanges between a parent and child shape language and vocabulary development. Their findings were unprecedented, with extraordinary disparities between the sheer number of words spoken as well as the types of messages conveyed. After four years these differences in parent-child interactions produced significant discrepancies in not only children’s knowledge, but also their skills and experiences with children from high-income families being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life. – West Virginia Early Childhood

Image Source: Get Georgia Reading

Key Findings from Hart & Risley

  1. The variation in children’s IQs and language abilities is relative to the amount parents speak to their children.
  2. Children’s academic successes at ages nine and ten are attributable to the amount of talk they hear from birth to age three.
  3. Parents of advanced children talk significantly more to their children than parents of children who are not as advanced.

What Can We Do?

  • Use new and interesting words in everyday conversation.
  • Use gestures and facial expressions to help children make sense of new words.
  • Sing, recite poetry and rhymes to introduce new words.
  • Talk to your children and encourage them to talk to each other.
  • Read aloud with your child daily.

In addition to increasing exposure to words, we also need to increase their knowledge and understanding. Knowledge can provide context to the words we read, giving us a deeper understanding of the content. So how do we facilitate this? Through reading and writing…

Why Link Reading and Writing?

Image Source: Pinterest

You cannot write it if you cannot say it;

You cannot say it if you haven’t heard it.

In both Reading and Writing it is important to focus on the whole text. By analysing and discussing the text prior to writing, it results in understanding and remembering, including the structure and grammar features within the written text.

Talk for Writing

Talk for Writing

Talk for Writing is a learning strategy for helping children develop their reading and writing skills.

Talk for Writing is powerful because it enables children to imitate the language they need for a particular topic orally before reading and analysing it and then writing their own version. – Pie Corbett

This strategy helps children learn about:

  • Patterns in stories, e.g. the quest, rags to riches, overcoming the monster, etc.
  • Story building blocks – characters, settings, events.
  • The flow of sentences.
  • Vocabulary, e.g. the connectives that link and structure the story – once upon a time, one day, so, next, but, finally.

Talk for Writing builds on 3 key stages:

  1. Imitation – children learn the text orally
  2. Innovation – children change an element of the text (this could be the character, or the setting)
  3. Independent Application – children invent a new story
Talk for Writing
Image Source: Slide Player


In this stage, the teachers model a short story that the children with learn with accompanying actions. This is followed by a story map which is drawn showing the story sequence in pictures, words and actions.

This is what this stage looks like:

Based on what we have already learned about the role of gesturing in learning, I can see how Talk for Writing can help children’s reading and comprehension:

After learning the story through action, the children will develop a story map that looks something like this:

They can also “box up” the story – which will look something like this:

Talk for Writing - Boxing up
Image Source: Pie Corbett


In this stage, the children will look at the different aspects of the story – the opening, build up, problems, resolution, and ending. Then they will try to adapt the story they have just learned by changing one aspect of it. It could be substitution, addition, alteration, or retelling the same story from a different point of view.


In the final stage, the children will work independently on a story of their own creation.

Supporting Talk for Writing at Home

  • Ask your child to retell the story or text they are learning in class.
  • Ask them to teach you! Learn with them.
  • Make up stories – the googly game; fortunately/unfortunately (luckily or unluckily); Story Cubes
  • Use the basic story structure – “one day…”, “so…”, “then…”, “suddenly…”, “in the end…”.
  • Ask “what if…?” – take a story you both know and change an angle or feature. How would it change the story?

The Googly Game

One person tells a story. The other says a word and the storyteller must include that word into the next sentence of the story.


One person tells a story. The other says fortunately/unfortunately and the storyteller has to adapt the story accordingly.

Story Cubes

Roll the dice and make up a story linking all the pictures shown.


Next Up! Reciprocal Reading


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

Create your website with
Get started
%d bloggers like this: