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'Have a go' writing: all about dragons in the EYFS at Gorseybrigg Primary School

About our school

We are a small, single form entry school in Dronfield Woodhouse with a Foundation Stage Unit for Nursery and Reception children.  The majority of children enter our Nursery in-line with age-related expectations (ARE) and those who begin Nursery below ARE for ‘Communication and Language’ show good progress. 

At Gorseybrigg Primary School we aim to develop happy, enthusiastic and confident children with enquiring minds whilst providing them with the skills, attitudes and values which equip them for life.  We help children towards independence, promote high personal standards and develop their awareness of the needs of others. The educational experiences must allow the development of the whole child. Learning should follow the children’s needs and interests, incorporating the statutory requirements of the National Curriculum and the Early Learning Goals. All children should have equal access to all areas of the curriculum. In the Foundation Stage the children learn through experience, activity and purposeful play.

We have contributed four case studies to


This approach is underpinned by the Letters and Sounds framework (DfE). Phase 1 skills underpin children’s acquisition of phonic knowledge. Children need to tune into the sounds in words. We teach the children to hear the individual phonemes, sound them out in order and remember them as they ‘have a go’ at writing. Our aims are:

To create an ethos of trust so that children are not afraid to ‘have a go’ when using phonic knowledge to write ambitious vocabulary.

- To develop our learning environment so that the children know where to look for help when using their phonic knowledge during independent, child-initiated writing.


Over the last three years, we have worked hard to embed the teaching of Phase 1 phonics skills into daily practice in Nursery and Reception. Crucially, we continue Phase 1 experiences in Reception, as children start daily, systematic learning of Phase 2 Letters and Sounds.  


A trusting relationship is fundamental to our approach to learning. We build trust with each child, ensuring that they feel confident to experiment with new sounds and words. This gives them the confidence to ‘have a go’. We encourage them to ‘have a go’:

-       when they read unfamiliar words

-       in talk and play, experimenting with saying new words

-       when they want to write words they can say but are not sure how to spell.


We place a high importance on Phase 1 activities for all children. For Nursery children, we focus on blending and segmenting sounds in words during the Summer Term so they are ready to start to learn the grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPC) in Phase 2 at the beginning of Reception.


Phonics is taught daily and systematically. It is vital for Reception children to carry on developing Phase 1 skills alongside Phase 2 and 3 teaching.  We are very careful to use a variety of techniques to introduce each new GPC.  For example, we make up stories for each sound, we link an action to each new sound (Jolly Phonics) and we model only the pure sounds.  We introduce letter names as each new sound is taught so the children begin to understand that each letter has a sound and a name from the very beginning. 


As the children move through Phase 3 Letters and Sounds, we make sure that they have regular opportunities to revisit all previously taught sounds. We have developed areas where children can find sounds which are displayed next to pictures (e.g. ch next to a picture of a chicken).  These are both indoors and outdoors. We train the children to use self-help skills to find the correct graphemes during structured phonics sessions.  We then encourage them to transfer this skill in child-initiated reading and writing.


Alongside this work on phonics we model challenging vocabulary. For example, inspired by ‘Talk For Writing’ approaches, the Reception class is introduced to our ‘Brilliant Bag of Books’ which contains 6 rhyming stories full of challenging vocabulary and repeated GPCs (eg: ‘The Fish Who Could Wish’ (by John Bush), ‘There’s a Bear on my Chair’ (by Ross Collins) .  Each story is introduced to the children and repeated regularly.  I model thoughts such as, “That’s a really challenging word. I wonder what that means?”  I also model asking other adults and children what the ambitious words could mean so that the children can begin conversations about new words and meanings.  For instance, while introducing ‘The Squirrels who Squabbled’ we discussed what the word ‘squabbled’ meant and tried to link this word to other words that the children already knew.


We also model ambitious vocabulary through role-play. Orally, we encourage children to experiment with the sounds of new words and to enjoy using them in conversation. Then, when the children write, we encourage them to ‘have a go’, using their phonic knowledge. We investigate how many syllables are in each of the ambitious words and use our phonic knowledge to sound out each syllable to build the word.  We have found that breaking larger words up into smaller syllables helps the children to feel confident when writing challenging words.


During this process, we often use story scribing as a way of enabling children to use ambitious vocabulary in their writing without pressure.  Adults scribe for the children and, together, they think of exciting words to make their stories interesting and sound them out together.


We create a learning environment which inspires the children to write. We have opportunities to write indoors and outdoors. The video clips show this, during an exciting focus on dragons which captured the interest of many of the boys in particular.


This series of video clips was first shown at Derbyshire’s Early Years Networks in Spring 2018. They capture a series of moments from one morning in February 2018.

1. An introduction by Sophie

2. Exciting places to write!

3. Ambitious writers

4. Boys writing - dragon traps outside!

5. ‘Have a go’ writing

6. Working with parents


       Adults' skills and confidence We now routinely encourage children to ‘have a go’ at writing challenging words. We use the sound-rich environment to encourage children to find the graphemes that they need to spell challenging words.

 Impact on children’s learning We notice that many of our children now use ambitious vocabulary.  Children learn self-help skills to find the sounds that they need to write challenging words. Children ‘have a go’ at writing new words that they are learning and are confident to write challenging words of more than 1 syllable in ways which match their spoken sounds.

 Impact on parents/carers Parents know where to look in our classroom to see which new phonemes/ graphemes have been taught. 

Next steps

Next steps include involving parents and carers in the process so that they are more aware of the importance of Phase 1 skills as the foundations of learning phonics.  We intend to hold parent workshops to model some of the skills such as tuning into sounds and blending and segmenting – as well as encouraging nursery rhymes, songs and enjoyment of books at home.  As our other case study mentions, we will also continue to put an emphasis on teaching new vocabulary and on discussing the meanings of new words.  


Sophie Kirkwood – Reception Teacher – Specialist Leader of Education for EYFS - Assistant Head Teacher

Tel: 01246 418508     Email:

Additional information

Would you like to take part in a phonics project in your school? Project Phonics EYFS - Year 2 is a collaborative CPD opportunity for primary school clusters which builds on the robust foundations of Project READ. It will enable schools not involved in the original project to participate in similar, collaborative school improvement projects. Participating schools will work in partnership with Derbyshire's Teaching, Learning and Assessment Consultants and with Specialist Leaders of Education from Derbyshire's Teaching Schools. Contact for more information.

1.Introduction. Password for all clips: projectread
2.Exciting places to write!
3.Ambitious writers
4.Boys writing-dragon traps outside
5.'Have a go' writing
6.Working with parents
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