Does boys writing improve when linked to their play activities and interests?




Conducted and implemented by Sukhraj Nagra


Concerns about the gap between boys’ and girls’ achievement in writing are not new. At all key stages, the gap is wider than that in reading and has persisted over a number of years. As early as the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), practitioners are often aware that boys appear less interested in writing and that by the end of the Reception year their attainment is already falling behind that of girls. How can practitioners support boys in the early stages of learning to write?

Context of the school

This primary school opened in September 2007 as a brand new school.  The school now has a large nursery (52 pupils in our morning and afternoon sessions) and 4 classes in each year group from Reception to Year 6, except in Year 5, where there are 5 classes. There are currently 976 pupils on the school roll.


Ethnographic Research:It involves the description and the interpretation of cultural behaviour. The aim of the ethnographic researcher is to learn from (rather than study) members of a cultural group.The intention of the ethnographic researcher in relation to the members of a particular cultural group is to understand their world view as they define it.

Key stages:There are several key stages involved in ethnographic research.

Data collection :Data collection always takes place in the field.

Data analysis :Data analysis is ongoing throughout the study

The outcome of this type of qualitative research is story telling: snapshots of people’s lives and relationships, inner thoughts, feelings and contradictions, and the goal of ethnographic research is to combine the view of the insider with that of an outsider to describe a social setting.

Reference: Hammersley, M. (1992) What’s Wrong With Ethnography? – Methodological Explorations. London, Routledge.

Action Research

Educational action research can be engaged in by a single teacher, by a group of colleagues who share an interest in a common problem, or by the entire faculty of a school. Whatever the scenario, action research always involves the same seven-step process. These seven steps, which become an endless cycle for the inquiring teacher, are the following:

  1. Selecting a focus
  2. Clarifying theories
  3. Identifying research questions
  4. Collecting data
  5. Analysing data
  6. Reporting results
  7. Taking informed action

Research that informed this study

Boys are not less than girls, so perhaps we do need to look at our own attitudes, if we are to better understand why they are making less progress in the EYFS and beyond. The quality of our relationships with them, and the values we hold will impact on boys’ ability to engage confidently in the learning process.

‘’The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life…the belief that cherished qualities can be developed creates a passion for learning.’’(Dweck, 2006)

Literature search on improving boys’ writing by Caroline Daly from Ofsted office for standards in education says that in some cases, despite contrary evidence that high teacher expectations make an impact, boys are less likely to respond to teacher expectations: they write for themselves. They can resent what they interpret as over-interference from the teacher in how they structure their writing. This is found in the primary phase (Maynard, 2002) and secondary (Fones, 2002) and across genres.

Too much direct teaching of the story genre, or over –reliance on it as a vehicle for mastery of early writing is criticised by some (Maynard, 2002).Despite arguments that there is too much emphasis on story-writing in the early years, it is probably more important to focus on boys’ experience of the narrative genre to gain insight into how it contributes to writing development or lack of it.


An Overview of actions

Looking at the data we took the following action plan:

  • Opportunities for writing in role play and construction across all classes.
  • Adult intervention in guiding against typical gender choices e.g. girls playing with construction, boys playing in the hair dressers, iPad pictures as evidence.
  • Purchase books reflective of boys’ interests /nonfiction.
  • Boys’ reading encouraged through self-made books.
  • Ensure boy participation in role-play and oral storytelling /rhymes and poetry.
  • Track boys participation in writing activities through group observations.
  • Increase opportunities for incidental writing linked to outdoor and indoor activities (e.g. cooking, making models, role play).
  • .Set up ‘BBR’ (Big Brother Reading sessions) once a week. Reading with an older boy reading sessions.
  • Ensure boy participation in role-play and oral storytelling /rhymes and poetry.
  • Track boys’ participation in writing activities through group observations.
  • Increase opportunities for incidental writing linked to outdoor and indoor activities (e g cooking, making models, role play).
  • Set intervention groups targeting pupils as an additional session.
  • Reciprocal Reading 3 mornings a week.
  • Target boys through action research project.


Writing  Working below expectation Working at expectation Working at or above expectation Exceeding
Boys 33% 57% 67% 10%
Girls 32% 60% 68% 8%
Gap 1% 3% 1% +2%

This project reduced the gap between the boys and girls writing, The boys exceeded the girls by 2% (in exceeding judgements) by being a part of this research project.





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Boys’ confidence in speaking, listening and drama will impact in writing. Boys’ preferences for writing within gendered parameters affects their motivation, and results in higher levels of engagement with writing tasks.

Consulting boys and all children about what are their interests  and then planning a boy-friendly role play such as space-ship, batman cave, fire station, train station, a building yard, pirate-island and police station. The teachers then list the writing opportunities for example: notices for the walls, list of jobs, stock lists, rules, instructions and estimates.


Are we planning experiences for boys that build on their interests and value their strength as learners and problem solvers, or are we expecting them to be compliant, passive recipients of new skills and knowledge?

Are we utilising boys’ fascinations and learning preferences as starting points for our planning? How do you find out what makes the boys in your setting tick?

How do you support their learning and show you value their interests and experiences?

Are practitioners reflecting on their practice and demonstrating the impact on the quality of their provision?

Whilst planning, think more about what will interest the children- the boys and the girls?