Creating or locating ‘hooks’ for teaching writing in the early years

Last week I had the privilege of working with NSW DoE Instructional Leaders at the EAfS Conference in Sydney. This posting builds on one of those sessions. Those of you who were in the session where I demonstrated how you cannot hang a coat on a wall unless there is a hook on the wall, may remember my message . . .

. . .  you may think you are teaching something, but if a child doesn’t have a ‘hook’ to hang the new learning on, he/she will not ‘be able to capture the new learning’.

Good intentions are not enough – we also need the ‘hooks’. 

According to Vygotsky, children, have at any given time, at least two levels of development – an actual level (what he can already do on his own) and a potential level (what he can do with support from a more experienced other).

What children already know – and what they can already do – provide the hooks for new learning.

Also remember – what children can do today in a social context (with support from others) they will be able to do in the future on their own. Learning is therefore INTERPERSONAL before it is INTRAPERSONAL (internalised).


When teachers teach reading they select texts to support teaching strategies and students’  needs.

For example, they carefully select the best texts to read TO children. Read Aloud as a teaching strategy provides children with access to texts that are currently beyond their own reading ability. Exposing them to the IDEAL form (Vygotsky) of reading.

Read Aloud texts are chosen to provide opportunities for exposure to complex written text structures, vocabulary and stories or information that will delight and/or inform. Read Alouds can be much more challenging than books that children read for themselves because the teacher is doing the decoding.


According to Vygostsky (1994), the ideal form ‘acts as a model for that which should be achieved at the end of the developmental period’ (p. 347). The ideal form is ‘final in the sense that it represents what the child is supposed to attain at the end of his development’ (Vygotsky, 1994, pp. 347-348). –  Mackenzie & Veresov, 2013.

[Mackenzie, N.M., & Veresov, N. (2013). How drawing can support writing acquisition: text construction in early writing from a Vygotskian perspective. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(4), 22-29. ]

For reading WITH children (Shared Book), teachers choose texts with written language that children can read with the teacher. Good quality Big Books are perfect for this, although other texts can be used with a document reader, or by enlarging text on a screen. Children get to interact with the IDEAL form of reading with support from the teacher.

Finally the teacher carefully selects texts for children to read BY themselves following on from instruction (Guided Reading). These texts must be able to be read with 90% accuracy or better (ie. less than 1 error in every 10 words read).

The message here of course is that TEXTS for the teaching of reading are there for the choosingBUT –  that is not necessarily the case for the teaching of writing.


To provide the IDEAL for children when it comes to writing, the teacher can select and utilise Mentor texts (and use these to demonstrate how the writer has created the text,  although this is tricky when you were not the author) OR teachers can create their own texts.

However, in both instances the teacher is showing the children the END products of WRITING or text creation but not the IDEAL form of writing as it is being created.

Children’s hypotheses about text creation are formed through encounters with environmental print and interactions with texts and text creation processes with adults and other children in their lives (Clay, 1998)

[Clay, M. M. (1998). By different paths to common outcomes. York, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.]

The process of IDEAL TEXT CREATION needs to be modelled – and THINKING ALOUD during the text creation process can provide these opportunities.

For example, the teacher is modelling text creation and says:

“I was going to use the word ‘small’ but I don’t think that ‘small’ will really tell how very small the diamond was . . . so instead . . . I think I will use ‘tiny’ or ‘minute’ – mmmmm – yes . . .  I think ‘minute’ is the best word to use because the stone was almost like a grain of sand.”  

Likewise, Co-construction (see for example the Interactive Writing process in the previous post in this Blog) can provide opportunities for the teacher to demonstrate now texts in their IDEAL form are created (keeping these simple is advised). You get to take the learning into a social context during co-construction – and you as the teacher have the role of the more knowledgeable other.

When children write their own personal texts they are producing these texts in the REAL form (Vygotsky) until you or a more knowledgeable peer interact with them to help shift their learning. This may be done through:

Questioning – to help a child articulate and clarify something he/she has just done;

e.g. T: I noticed you changed the way your described the monster from ‘big’ to  ‘enormous and hairy’ can you tell me why you did that? What difference does it make?

In this instance the ‘hook’ comes from some problem solving by the child – the teacher is capitalising on this – helping him to articulate what he has done – to help him to internalise the process.

Demonstrating – to help provide the extra information needed to solve a problem;

e.g. T: What is the word you are trying to write?

S: ‘sting’

T: “you know the word ‘stop’ – write it here – you know the word ‘going’ – write it here – know use ‘stop’ and ‘going’ to work out how to spell ‘sting’ .

Following the process the teacher says “So you used two words you already knew to get to a new word you needed – a great strategy to remember”.

In this second instance the teacher has helped the child use something she already knows to problem solve something she needs. More importantly the teacher has demonstrated how she can use words she knows to get to words she needs.

Remember: Writing requires attention to print in a way that reading does not.

Writing has been shown to build almost every kind of inner control of literacy learning that is needed to be a successful reader (Clay, 1998, p. 130).

Hopefully this posting has been useful – watch for another new posting very soon.

Published by nmackenz

My name is Noella Mackenzie and I am an Associate Professor (Adjunct) at Charles Sturt University, Albury-Wodonga Campus in NSW, Australia and a Senior Fellow of the Australian Literacy Educators' of Australia. I also work as an independent education consultant. I am also a daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother who loves to read, garden and travel. While my career has always been in education, there have been four distinct phases. The first phase was that of classroom teacher – teaching children from 5-12 years of age in a number of primary schools. The second phase of my career saw me working as a specialist professional development provider working with teachers in early intervention and special education. The third phase had me working as an academic at Charles Sturt University. That role involved me teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students, researching and continuing my work with teachers and parents of young children. The fourth phase sees me working as an independent education consultant, supporting school systems and schools with professional learning input for teachers. I am passionate about teaching and in particular early literacy development. I am proudly the product of public education. I grew up on a farm and went to the local primary and high schools where I was fortunate to have some fabulous teachers. My Diploma of Education (Early Childhood) was earned at the Riverina College of Advanced Education in Wagga Wagga NSW. My Bachelor of Education, Master of Education and Doctor of Education qualifications were all earned at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Vic and were spread out over a number of years as I studied part time and worked full time. I completed my doctorate in 2004 and started work at CSU in the same year.

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