Children writing accounts: the Battle of Trafalgar


By Paul Newton, published 20th January 2011

Paul Newton's Year 6 class was investigating the Battle of Trafalgar as the introduction to a Victorian study. The sources Paul had chosen were an extract from the diary of Lieutenant Paul Harris Nicholas, of HMS Belleisle, and the famous painting showing the death of Admiral Nelson on the quarterdeck of HMS Victory during the battle.

The history was combined with literacy, and the children's writing was done during the literacy hour.

Reading text and picture as preparation for writing
The whole class read the diary extract and examined the style of writing and use of words. They looked at how the mood of the writing changed between the start and finish of the extract and discussed their personal responses to the extract. They also studied and analysed the painting, comparing it with the diary extract in terms both of the story told and its effectiveness.

The writing
Paul scaffolded the children's writing carefully, first modelling then asking them to write complex sentences about five different parts of the painting. Next the children wrote draft eye-witness descriptions of the scene before the battle, then of the battle itself.

The following day Paul read out some of the drafts, inviting the class as a whole to evaluate them; this encouraged assessment for learning. He then modelled correcting and improving a piece of writing and the children amended their drafts, refining their sentence structure and vocabulary. Afterwards the class again looked at examples, discussing the improvements made. Finally, individual children volunteered to read out their finished pieces of work (two examples are attached).

Paul says "The children found the painting and text together a great stimulus to the imagination and the pieces of extended writing were of a higher standard than I had expected."

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