Prepare your students for the NAPLAN writing task by creating great writers!

Read on to:

  • learn what to focus on in the lead-up to NAPLAN to help make the biggest difference to your students
  • uncover insights into the NAPLAN writing task and ACARA’s expectations
  • grab your 4-week guide to NAPLAN, packed with Seven Steps tips and resources for your classroom!

1. Understanding ACARA’s expectations

1.1 What’s NAPLAN all about?

There is plenty of fear and controversy surrounding NAPLAN, but at its heart, it’s an attempt to determine whether Australian students are gaining the basic numeracy and literacy skills they require to function in today’s society.

Students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are required to sit NAPLAN tests in four areas:

  • Numeracy
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Language Conventions.

NAPLAN key dates timetable

The results are then used to benefit students, schools and Australian education systems by:

  • ensuring that resource allocation and intervention programs meet the needs of students
  • identifying strengths and weaknesses in order to drive school improvements
  • informing future policy and curriculum development
  • helping the government monitor the success of these developments.

1.2 The NAPLAN writing task

The writing task is designed to assess students’ capabilities using a set of 10 criteria:

  1. Audience
  2. Text structure
  3. Ideas
  4. Character and setting (narrative texts) or persuasive devices (persuasive texts)
  5. Vocabulary
  6. Cohesion
  7. Paragraphing
  8. Sentence structure
  9. Punctuation
  10. Spelling.

It is worth noting that eight of these criteria focus on ‘authorial’ skills such as coming up with great ideas, engaging the reader, and creating a well-structured, cohesive text.

NAPLAN values creativity, and the good news is that, like any skill, creativity can be taught – and it can vastly improve with training and practice. What’s more, enhancing students’ ability to think and write creatively not only improves their NAPLAN results, but also sets them up for life as great communicators.

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1.3 What NAPLAN considers skilled writing

The Australian Curriculum for English wants students to develop a sense of its richness and power to evoke feelings, convey information, form ideas, facilitate interaction with others, entertain, persuade and argue (ACARA 2019). This section unpacks what that looks like.

The best way for us to get inside the heads of ACARA is to dissect what they look for and value in writing. The weighting of the NAPLAN marking criteria is the clearest indication of which aspects of writing they value most. As teachers, this is where we should be focusing the majority of our attention and time in the lead-up to the test.

You’ve probably seen these before, but it’s always good to return to the basics when planning and designing your next step.

As you can see below, NAPLAN values the authorial side of writing far more than the secretarial side (though not as much as it should). With spelling and grammar allocated just 11 of the 47/48 marks available, it’s time to stop focusing so heavily on the mechanics of writing and devote more time to the creativity that actually makes writing great.

1.4 NAPLAN Narrative Marking Guide

Definition: A narrative is a time-ordered text that is used to narrate events and to create, entertain and emotionally move an audience. Other social purposes of narrative writing may be to inform, to persuade and to socialise. The main structural components of a narrative are the orientation, the complication and the resolution (ACARA 2010).

WeightingCriteriaSkill Focus
0-6AudienceThe writer’s capacity to orient, engage and affect the reader
0–4Text structureThe organisation of narrative features including orientation, complication and resolution into an appropriate and effective text structure
0-5IdeasThe creation, selection and crafting of ideas for a narrative
0-4Character and settingCharacter: The portrayal and development of character
Setting: The development of a sense of place, time and atmosphere
0-5VocabularyThe range and precision of language choices
0-4CohesionThe control of multiple threads and relationships over the whole text, achieved through the use of referring words, substitutions, word associations and text connectives
0-2ParagraphingThe segmenting of text into paragraphs that assists the reader to negotiate the narrative
0-6Sentence structureThe production of grammatically correct, structurally sound and meaningful sentences
0-5PunctuationThe use of correct and appropriate punctuation to aid reading of the text
0-6SpellingThe accuracy of spelling and the difficulty of the words used.

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1.5 NAPLAN Persuasive Marking Guide

Definition: The purpose of persuasive writing is to persuade a reader to a point of view on an issue. Persuasive writing may express an opinion, discuss, analyse and evaluate an issue. It may also entertain and inform. The style of persuasive writing may be formal or informal, but it requires the writer to adopt a sense of authority on the subject matter and to develop the subject in an ordered, rational way. A writer of a persuasive text may draw on their own personal knowledge and experience or may draw on detailed knowledge of a particular subject or issue. The main structural components of the persuasive text are the introduction, development of argument (body) and conclusion. (ACARA 2013).

WeightingCriteriaSkill Focus
0-6AudienceThe writer’s capacity to orient, engage and persuade the reader
0–4Text structureThe organisation of the structural components of a persuasive text (introduction, body and conclusion) into an appropriate and effective text structure
0-5IdeasThe selection, relevance and elaboration of ideas for a persuasive argument
0-4Persuasive devicesThe use of a range of persuasive devices to enhance the writer’s position and persuade the reader
0-5VocabularyThe range and precision of contextually appropriate language choices
0-4CohesionThe control of multiple threads and relationships across the text, achieved through the use of referring words, ellipsis, text connectives, substitutions and word associations
0-2ParagraphingThe segmenting of text into paragraphs that assists the reader to follow the line of argument
0-6Sentence structureThe production of grammatically correct, structurally sound and meaningful sentences
0-5PunctuationThe use of correct and appropriate punctuation to aid reading of the text
0-6SpellingThe accuracy of spelling and the difficulty of the words used.

Deconstruct exactly what NAPLAN is looking for! 
Download 7 annotated NAPLAN exemplars >>

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1.6 Simplifying the definition of skilled writing

NAPLAN places greater value on the authorial side of writing (creativity, structure) than on the secretarial (spelling, grammar, etc.). Let’s create a simple statement that truly conveys what great writing is: Communication that engages the audience and effectively informs, persuades and/or entertains.

While this definition looks neat, there are unlimited ways to actually achieve this.

By breaking writing down into individual components, the Seven Steps teach students skills used by professional authors. In terms of the NAPLAN criteria, the Seven Steps encourage students to be creative, engaging and powerful, not just neat and grammatically correct writers.

This means that the Seven Steps are not only great for NAPLAN prep, but for writing in general. Teachers have also adapted and integrated the Seven Steps with a range of other complementary writing programs.

2. Narrative writing: Breaking it down into simple Steps

2.1 Narrative writing structure

According to NAPLAN, there are three main structural components of narrative texts:

  1. Orientation
  2. Complication
  3. Resolution.

By breaking writing down using the Seven Steps, you can focus on each of these components separately to hone students’ skills in the lead-up to the test.

Structural componentsRelated Steps
OrientationStep 2: Sizzling Starts
ComplicationStep 3: Tightening Tension
ResolutionStep 7: Exciting Endings

Let’s start by taking a look how these structural Steps, along with Step 1: Plan for Success, can be used to support students in the NAPLAN writing task.

Narrative Story Graph template

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2.2 Core techniques for narrative texts

The following Steps cover the main structural components of a narrative text. We call these the structural Steps.

Step 2: Sizzling Starts
Start with a bang!

The key to engaging the reader immediately is to start right where the action is, not at the beginning of the day when nothing is happening. This also stops students from getting locked into a linear timeline, which results in lots of information about getting up, getting dressed, having breakfast, ‘and then, and then, and then …’ which is incredibly dull to read.

Remind students to visualise the Narrative Story Graph when planning their NAPLAN response – open with a Sizzling Start and then use Backfill to bring the reader up to speed with the details. For example:

I was barely aware of the muffled sounds of the spectators as I powered through the water. I had learnt not to look to the side, just focus on the race, my race. On a good day it was almost effortless; today was one of those days. I glided the last few metres and the cheering erupted as I broke the surface. Even over all the noise I could hear my dad yelling in delight. I grinned – he’d made it!

I had been preparing for this race for months. This was my chance to secure my place in the swim team. It was also my chance to show Dad how good I really was.

Do:

Start with action to engage the reader immediately.

Don’t:

Start at the beginning of the day when nothing is happening.

Step 3: Tightening Tension
Great tension scenes are long and strong

Tension takes time to build, yet students often run out of steam by the time they get to the tension scene – or they cut corners in their hurry to finish, which is even more likely in a test situation. The result is that the most important section, which should have the reader on the edge of their seat, ends up being a lukewarm paragraph or two. Remind students to pace themselves and escalate the tension gradually using the pebble, rock, boulder technique, culminating in a strong final tension scene.

Another thing to remember is that the main character must be vulnerable – we have to believe they might fail. Superman would be very dull if he wasn’t sensitive to kryptonite – there is nothing exciting about a hero who can’t lose. We also need to care about the character and whether or not they will succeed (the ‘character care factor’). A strong tension scene makes the reader feel like they are right there in the moment with the character, willing them to succeed.

Narrative Story Graph template

Take a look at how the tension builds in Jen’s response to the 2016 NAPLAN writing prompt for Years 7 & 9, The Sign Said.

Do:

Make sure that your tension scene is long and strong.

Don’t:

Cut corners in the race to the end.

Step 7: Exciting Endings
Knowing your ending before you start

There is nothing more disappointing than a great story with a weak ending. Students often think that the ending will miraculously appear during the writing process, and when it doesn’t they resort to quick, lazy endings like ‘Boom! They all died’ or ‘She woke up and it was all a dream’. Again, the solution is better planning. If students plan the whole story before they start, they will have a clear idea of what they’re working towards and how to get there.

Take a look at how Jen plants the seeds for her Exciting Ending throughout her response to the 2016 NAPLAN narrative prompt for Years 3 & 5, Imagine. It is clear that she knows where the story is going right from the start.

Do:

Plan your ending before you start writing.

Don’t:

Rely on ‘quick fix’ endings.

Step 1: Plan for Success
Think first, write second

Planning is the most important part of writing, but unfortunately students are only given five minutes of planning time in the NAPLAN writing task. Help students to prepare by giving them plenty of activities to practise brainstorming ideas (in groups and alone) so that they can make the most of those five minutes on the day of the test. Remind students that their first idea is rarely their best, so it’s worth spending a few extra minutes to come up with an original idea. After all, there are six marks at stake for Ideas.

In 2008, the NAPLAN narrative topic was ‘Found’, and a lot of students wrote stories about finding a missing puppy. It’s hard to stand out from the crowd when everyone else has the same idea. Students who took the time to brainstorm, on the other hand, could come up with more original ideas, such as:

  • Found out – being caught in an embarrassing lie
  • Lost and found – an unusual item turns up in the lost property box
  • Finding out – finding out you are adopted
  • A real find – finding something really valuable at the op shop
  • Finding your passion – discovering something that you love doing.

Try it with your students with this free Lesson Plan – Think Tank.

Do:

Brainstorm lots of ideas and then pick the best one.

Don’t:

Run with your first idea because you’re in a rush to get started.

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2.3 Enhancing techniques for narrative texts

Now let’s dive into the Steps that enhance the text and add richness – what we call the expression Steps. These Steps are techniques that are used to further engage the reader and add to the style or ‘flavour’ of the text.

Step 4: Dynamic Dialogue
Writing is not real life

Try recording someone’s conversation. Look at all the umms, errs, interruptions and unnecessary small talk that form part of a real-life conversation. Now compare that to a piece of dialogue in a book. Professional writers know that they don’t need to mimic real life – they cut to the chase in order to move the plot along, bring their characters to life and make their writing more vibrant.

Real-life conversation

‘Hi!’

‘Hi, how are you? Hey, how’s your –’

‘Great! Sorry, what?’

‘Oh, I was going to say how’s your mum going.’

‘Yeah, not bad. She’s alright. Umm, so anyway, that new movie’s out! Did you want to go?’

‘Definitely – when were you thinking of going?’

‘Err, whenever, I guess … maybe Friday?’

Written dialogue

‘Hey, I’m going to that new movie on Friday, are you in?’

‘Definitely!’

Do:

Cut straight to the important bits of a conversation.

Don’t:

Try to mimic real-life conversations.

Step 5: Show, Don’t Tell
Seeing is believing

It’s important in narrative writing to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ the reader. A great way to do this in the NAPLAN writing task is to paint a word picture using the Five + 1 Senses (this works for both text types).

In narrative writing, showing the reader what the character can see, hear, taste, touch, smell and feel (emotions) makes them feel like they are right there in the moment. The use of detail in the following text, for example, helps you picture the scene and is a lot more powerful than just telling the reader how Billy was feeling on his birthday:

Billy ran down the stairs two at a time – 11 today! He couldn’t wait to see what was waiting for him. Mum was in the kitchen making coffee, while Dad sat on the couch watching the morning news. Billy stood in the doorway expectantly, but no one looked up. He made his breakfast as noisily as possible, but Mum and Dad didn’t say anything. There was a lump in Billy’s throat and he could barely choke down his cereal. ‘Whatever,’ he muttered to himself. He ran out the front door and stopped short. There it was! A shiny new BMX, just like the one in the catalogue. Billy dropped his bag and spun around to see his parents standing behind him with massive smiles on their faces. ‘You DID remember!’ he said as they wrapped him in a bear hug. After about a million birthday hugs and kisses, Billy jumped on his new bike and cycled to school. He couldn’t wait to show his friends.

Do:

Use plenty of detail to paint word pictures.

Don’t:

Just tell information to the reader.

Step 6: Ban the Boring
Ban the Boring as you write

There is very little time in a 40-minute NAPLAN writing task to properly plan or edit a text. It is important, therefore, that students know how to Ban the Boring as they write. Remind students what they should avoid in their writing, so that they don’t use it in the first place. For example, ban boring bits in narrative texts like travelling, eating, and getting ready.

Do:

Leave out any unnecessary information as you write.

Don’t:

Include anything that interrupts the flow of the text.

Leave the line editing until last

In order to think creatively, students need to stay in ‘Alpha’ brain. Alpha is the subconscious brain, which is capable of deeper-level thought. The best way to ensure that students stay in Alpha while writing is to encourage them to leave Beta tasks, such as checking for spelling and grammar errors, until the end. They do need to leave enough time for that final check, though: there are 11 marks up for grabs for punctuation and spelling.

Do:

Wait until the end to check for spelling and grammatical errors.

Don’t:

Correct spelling and grammar while you are writing.

Jump to  4. Preparing for the test

3. Persuasive writing: Breaking it down into simple Steps

3.1 Persuasive writing structure

According to NAPLAN, there are three main structural components of persuasive texts:

  1. Introduction
  2. Development of argument (body)
  3. Conclusion.

By breaking writing down using the Seven Steps, you can focus on each of these components separately to hone students’ skills in the lead-up to the test.

Structural componentsRelated Steps
IntroductionStep 2: Sizzling Starts
Development of argumentStep 3: Tightening Tension
ConclusionStep 7: Endings with Impact

Let’s start by taking a look how these structural Steps, along with Step 1: Plan for Success, can be used to support students in the NAPLAN writing task.

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3.2 Core techniques for persuasive texts

The following Steps cover the main structural components of a persuasive text. We call these the structural Steps.

Step 2: Sizzling Starts
Let the reader infer meaning

In persuasive writing, contrary to popular belief, students don’t have to state their case and outline three arguments in the introduction. A more engaging and sophisticated technique is to let the reader infer your meaning.

Take a look at the introduction below, for a persuasive text on the topic ‘It’s not important to have neat handwriting’. Are you in any doubt which side of the fence this writer is on? What’s more, this is much more engaging for the reader than the standard ‘I don’t think neat handwriting is important because of x, y and z’ and will therefore gain the writer more marks for Audience.

When was the last time that you had to hand-write anything other than at school? Gone are the days of sending letters in the post. Application forms are all online. Even people who write for a living do it all on computers nowadays. So what’s the point in dedicating time and energy learning how to write neatly? It would be better to focus on more important things, like learning to read and write well.

Do:

Let the reader infer meaning.

Don’t:

You don’t have to state your case explicitly and list your reasons.

Step 2: Sizzling Starts
Use narrative in a persuasive text

It is important to remember that the definitions of the three text types in the curriculum – imaginative (narrative), persuasive and informative – are not set in stone. Many persuasive and informative texts also include mini-narratives. Think of WorkSafe advertisements or David Attenborough documentaries, for example. They show the power of a story when it comes to persuading or informing the audience.

This idea is equally applicable to NAPLAN, which states that a persuasive introduction should capture the interest of the reader and say why the topic is important – methods for this can include a list of arguments, or main ideas, to be developed in the body; a pertinent fact followed by some elaboration; a short, relevant anecdote to illustrate the topic; generalisations about the topic (ACARA 2013).

Take a look at the student writing sample ‘The Lion’s Glorious Hair’ on pages 62−63 of the Persuasive Writing Marking Guide. This is a particularly good example of how well narrative can work within the context of a persuasive text.

The feedback for Audience on page 65 reinforces this: Opens strongly by using narrative to engage reader, illustrate point and set up context. Not maintained to this same level across text. This technique is not limited to the introduction: as suggested by the marker’s comment, this writer could have gained more marks if they had used the same approach throughout the text.

Do:

Use narrative in persuasive texts to engage and persuade the reader.

Don’t:

Think of each text type in isolation.

Step 3: Tightening Tension
Build to a crescendo

Tension works a bit differently in persuasive texts: famous speeches, for example, tend to build to a crescendo. Texts like these persuade the audience bit by bit, so that by the time you reach the highest point, they can’t help but agree. The key is to start strong but leave your strongest argument until last, which in turn sets up the Ending with Impact.

The trouble is that students often put all their arguments in the first paragraph, or they start strong but then lose momentum. As always, the solution is better planning: get students to visualise the Persuasive Writing Graph when selecting and ordering their arguments. Spending time on this before they write their NAPLAN response will win them marks in a range of criteria such as Audience, Text structure, Ideas and Cohesion.

Take a look at how the arguments build to a crescendo in Jen’s response to the 2017 NAPLAN prompt for Years 3 & 5, Which Is Better?

Do:

Save your strongest argument for the final body paragraph.

Don’t:

Put all of your arguments in the first paragraph or lose momentum.

Step 7: Endings with Impact
Wrap up the text in a satisfying way

The conclusion is the final opportunity to persuade the reader, so remind students not to waste it summarising what they have already said. However, it’s also important not to introduce new information at this stage. So, what do you do? A great way to end a persuasive text is to link back to the introduction. This wraps up the text and is satisfying to read.

Take a look at how Jen uses this technique in her response to the 2015 NAPLAN writing prompt for Years 7 & 9, Simply the Best.

Do:

Try linking back to your introduction in the conclusion.

Don’t:

Summarise what you have already written or introduce new information.

Step 1: Plan for Success
Avoid the persuasive formula

All the practice and preparation in the lead-up to NAPLAN can make even the most creative writers fall back on the standard ‘formula’. Persuasive writing, in particular, has become very formulaic, yet the following structure has never been required by NAPLAN:

INTRODUCTION: I think cats are better than dogs because of these three reasons: a) b) c) …

BODY PARAGRAPHS:

  1. Firstly, reason a)
  2. Secondly, reason b)
  3. Thirdly, reason c)

CONCLUSION: In conclusion, cats are better because of a) b) c) …

The problem is that this rigid structure flattens out students’ writing, making your best Year 7 students sound exactly the same as your beginner Year 3 students. According to NAPLAN:

Beginning writers can benefit from being taught how to use structured scaffolds. One such scaffold that is commonly used is the five paragraph argument essay. However, when students become more competent, the use of this structure can be limiting. As writers develop their capabilities they should be encouraged to move away from formulaic structures and to use a variety of different persuasive text types, styles and language features, as appropriate to different topics. (NAP  2016)

The NAPLAN marking criteria values creativity, so make sure students know this and that they’re not afraid to think outside the box when test day arrives. There is no better way to grab the marker’s attention than to do something a bit different, which in turn will gain marks for Audience and Ideas.

Take a look at Jen’s response to the 2015 NAPLAN prompt Try This Activity for Years 3 & 5: there’s not a ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’ or ‘thirdly’ in sight.

Try it with your students with this free Lesson Plan – Think First, Write Second.

Do:

Try to be original and creative.

Don’t:

Play it safe by following the ‘formula’.

3.3 Enhancing techniques for persuasive texts

Now let’s dive into the enhancing (richness) Steps. These Steps are techniques that are used to further engage the reader and add to the style of the text.

Don’t think there’s a place for these in the given text? Discover six myths about persuasive NAPLAN topics that you may not know.

Step 4: Dynamic Dialogue
Using dialogue as a persuasive device

In persuasive texts, quotations are a great way to use dialogue to persuade the reader. However, this can be tricky in a test situation. Students shouldn’t make quotations up when writing their NAPLAN response. Instead, they can be creative and use dialogue in the narrative sense to enhance their argument and add vibrancy to their writing. All of Jen’s persuasive NAPLAN responses use this technique to great effect:

Do:

Use dialogue in persuasive texts.

Don’t:

Make up quotations.

Step 5: Show, Don’t Tell
Seeing is believing

In persuasive writing, painting a word picture helps the reader to see the topic from someone else’s perspective. The following paragraph is far more persuasive than simply telling the reader that living in the country is nicer than the city:

As I step out of the house in the morning I breathe deeply, enjoying the fresh air and the blissful silence. With my dog by my side, I take a brisk walk down the country lane to pick up some fresh milk from the local farm. No doubt I will bump into a neighbour or two along the way; everyone has been so friendly since we moved in. It is safe to say that I’m not missing the hustle and bustle of the city.

Do:

Use plenty of detail to paint word pictures.

Don’t:

Just tell information to the reader.

Step 6: Ban the Boring
Ban the Boring as you write

There is very little time in a 40-minute NAPLAN writing task to properly plan or edit a text. It is important, therefore, that students know what they should avoid in their writing so that they don’t use it in the first place. For example, ban boring clichés in persuasive texts like ‘I think’, ‘In my opinion’, and ‘It’s really important’.

Do:

Leave out any unnecessary information as you write.

Don’t:

Include anything that interrupts the flow of the text.

Leave the line editing until last

In order to think creatively, students need to stay in ‘Alpha’ brain. Alpha is the subconscious brain, which is capable of deeper-level thought. The best way to ensure that students stay in Alpha while writing is to encourage them to leave Beta tasks, such as checking for spelling and grammar errors, until the end. They do need to leave enough time for that final check, though: there are 11 marks up for grabs for punctuation and spelling.

Do:

Wait until the end to check for spelling and grammatical errors.

Don’t:

Correct spelling and grammar while you are writing.

4. Preparing for the test

4.1 Divide your teaching time effectively

Now that we have a clear goal of where we’re trying to get to and an understanding of how to get there, let’s look at the when of it all.

The table below shows the relationship between the NAPLAN marking criteria (explored in section 1.3) and the Seven Steps. Want to improve students’ marks in a particular aspect of NAPLAN? Take a look at which Steps to focus on.

MarksCriterionStep 1Step 2Step 3Step 4Step 5Step 6Step 7
0–6AudienceXXXX
0–4Text structureX X X
0–5IdeasX    
0–4Persuasive devices (P)X XXX
0–4Character and setting (N)  XX
0–5VocabularyX XX
0–4CohesionX   X
0–2/3ParagraphingX X 
0–6Sentence structure XXX
0–5Punctuation   X*
0–6Spelling   X*

*While not explicitly covered in the Seven Steps, these can be reviewed at the editing stage (Step 6: Ban the Boring).

Related: What are the Seven Steps?

Don’t know where to start? In section 4.2 we’ll help you to identify where your students need help!

Crash course – the core techniques

Ideally, you would spend 10–16 weeks teaching students all Seven Steps from start to finish before they sit the NAPLAN test. Those of you who have been to a Seven Steps Workshop may well have done this. If you haven’t, it’s definitely a great way to learn the Seven Steps theory and put it into practice before implementing it in your classroom.

For now, let’s just focus on how we can make an impact on your students’ writing right now.

The best approach when picking a focus is what we like to call the low-hanging fruit method.

Think of a tree full of apples: picking the low-hanging fruit first results in getting the most apples for the least amount of effort. Likewise, when teaching writing, focusing on the areas that have the most room for growth and reward can help you get more out of every lesson.

This might seem obvious when it’s spelt out like this; however, it’s not always the approach people take.

When studying for a test, doing homework or learning online, students naturally tend to focus on what they’re already good at. When teaching others, we tend to focus on areas that have shown the least improvement, or the lowest scoring criteria.

Adopting the low-hanging fruit approach in the lead-up to NAPLAN involves focusing on the criteria that will give your students the most marks. These may not necessarily be the ones they scored the lowest marks in, but rather the ones where they have the most marks to gain.

The best place to start is stripping everything back and focusing on the structural elements of writing. The core techniques outlined in 2.2 Narrative Core Techniques and 3.2 Persuasive Core Techniques are Step 1: Plan for Success, Step 2: Sizzling Starts, Step 3: Tightening Tension and Step 7: Exciting Endings or Endings with Impact.

These will help students to develop skills in the structural components of writing, which will make the biggest difference in guiding a reader through a congruent text. Not only is this essential in everyday writing, but it will earn students the best results in NAPLAN. Here are some great tips and activities to get you started.

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A quick way to work out how much time you should spend on each of the essential components (assuming you don’t have time to cover every Step) is to add up the total amount of hours or lessons you have left to spend on writing. Then divide it by five. That’s how long you should spend on Sizzling Starts, Tightening Tension and Exciting Endings. Double it, and there’s your Plan for Success time.

Of course, if you have anywhere near 10 weeks, don’t ignore the other Steps. Remember to evaluate based on the table above, and use the low-hanging fruit method to decide where to focus your efforts based on your students’ strengths and weaknesses.

4.2 Practise writing a full text (over 4 weeks)

You may have noticed that when teaching the Seven Steps, students don’t actually write an entire text by themselves until they’ve mastered all the Steps (or at least the core Steps: 1, 2, 3 and 7). Asking them to do this for the first time in a test situation – in just 40 minutes! – is setting them up for failure.

You can use the last few weeks before NAPLAN to practise writing complete texts, so your students will be ready by test day.

We do not rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training. – Archilochus

Here’s our suggestion on how to help students pull together everything they have learnt to create an entire text, on their own, in 40 minutes. Feel free to speed up or slow down this test practice process with your students based on their ability level.

A 4-week guide to NAPLAN

Week 1:Give students lots of practice brainstorming ideas quickly and effectively. This is the key to producing a great NAPLAN response.
Week 2:Ask students to plan and write texts collaboratively. This allows students to learn from each other. We have some great full-story writing prompts you can use.
Week 3:Gradually increase the amount of writing done by each student until they are comfortable writing a full text individually.
Week 4:Ask students to sit practice tests. This is the best way to prepare them for the big day. Use a past NAPLAN paper to help simulate the exact NAPLAN conditions (more here). You can find additional prompts, samples and resources from the NAPLAN website.

Mark the texts students write in Weeks 2–4 using the NAPLAN marking guide, and identify the areas you should focus on using the table in section 3.1.

Ban the Boring illustration

Putting It All Together resources

We also have a range of ‘Putting It All Together’ resources on our website:

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Get students comfortable in test conditions. If possible, when practising for tests like NAPLAN it is a great idea to simulate the conditions. Think about:

  • the environment – such as the room, chairs, clock, posters on the wall and even the time of day
  • the resources – such as the time, paper, writing prompt and instructions
  • the interactions – including what you can and can’t say or help them with.

Looking beyond NAPLAN? If you’ve been trained in the Seven Steps and want to take your class or school to the next level, come along to Workshop Two: Putting It All Together. You’ll learn practical tips and gain a deeper understanding to progress your students to writing complete texts independently, using all Seven Steps.

4.3 Manage and reduce anxiety and stress

There’s one key strategy that can help students mentally prepare for the test (or for anything stressful): plan for things to go wrong.

Have you ever been super stressed and a friend tells you, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be fine’? How could they possibly know EVERYTHING is going to be fine? Maybe it just won’t.

Success flows when you throw yourself in and have a go – mistakes and all!
― Emma Isaacs

Many people, when they visualise themselves getting into medical school or performing a piece of classical music in front of a crowd, don’t visualise anything going wrong. They imagine it going perfectly from start to finish, with no deviation from the plan. While this strategy may have worked for Tariq ibn Ziyad – the commander who burned his army’s boats in 711AD so that retreat was impossible – it’s not very helpful for your students.

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
― Benjamin Franklin

So, let’s plan for success. If students take a practical approach to things going wrong – and actively take steps to reduce the risk – they’ll not only be more prepared, but calmer and more flexible when something unexpected goes wrong. It’s called steering into the fear.

Get students to identify exactly what they’re scared will happen on the day.

You can do this in a number of ways, but writing it down will help make it real and doing it in small groups will help show students that they’re not alone. (Doing it together as a whole class could isolate some students, so stick to small groups.)

Overcoming sticky situations on test day:

Sticky SituationSolution
Pen stops workingBring 2–3 pens
Running lateSet your own alarm
Ask your parents to wake you
Feeling coldBring your jumper or blazer
Can’t read the question or a wordSpeak to the teacher about what you can ask during the test
Can’t think of an ideaRemember the brainstorming tips you’ve been practising!

Are your students doing NAPLAN Online? Check out these top 10 preparation tips.

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Other than trying to reduce stress, students can increase their potential on the test day by getting enough sleep, eating a carb-heavy meal the night before, not skipping breakfast or lunch, and getting some exercise.

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5. Test day

5.1 Be a ninja!

Now, more than ever, we live in the age of distractions. Everyone at some stage has been suddenly yanked out of their train of thought by some sort of distraction … it’s frustrating and counter-productive.

One study by the University of California showed that being interrupted can increase stress (30–36%), frustration (37–40%), mental effort (8–15%) and sense of time pressure (10–15%). David Rock, in his book Your Brain at Work, concluded that ‘after an interruption it takes them 25 minutes to return to the original task, if they do at all’.

The conclusion?

If you want your students to produce their best work, get them into a ‘flow state’. And don’t pull them out! Removing yourself as a potential distraction is kind of like being a ninja.

The average administrator may:A ninja test administrator would:
Walk around and peer over students shoulders, watching them work.Walk around as quietly as possible, without encroaching on your students’ space. Do your best not to disturb your students’ flow.
Make a noise as they walk.Be stealthy, and possibly shoeless, to avoid detection.
Talk to fellow teachers.Deliver secret messages to other ninjas via Post-it notes to avoid interception.
Allow students to try asking for help that can’t be given.Have a plan of attack that the little ninjas would know as well.

Want to reduce students’ internal distractions as well? Try removing or reducing thoughts, worries or ambiguities from students’ minds before the test.

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5.2 Official expectations and teacher guides for NAPLAN

Hopefully, this guide has (so far) helped you to prepare yourself and students for the upcoming NAPLAN writing test. Of course, there are also official requirements for teachers and administrators on the day.

Here are a few that might be useful to read beforehand:

CodeCanCan’t
8.6.11
Read the instructions, writing stimulus, word or phrase to a student.Interpret, explain, rephrase, paraphrase, translate or give hints about questions or texts.
8.7.1
Remind students of elapsed time, to maintain test conditions and to check that they have completed all questions.Prompt students to record or change any response.

Check out the full documentation via the following links:

NAP national protocol booklets

New South Wales

Northern Territory

Queensland

South Australia

Tasmania

Victoria

Western Australia

Australian Capital Territory

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6. Feedback and reflection

6.1 Post-NAPLAN reflection

Yay, you did it! NAPLAN is over for another year. Before you move on, why not take some time to reflect with your students on how they went?


Teacher Hub members: Take a look at Jen’s NAPLAN insights into how she tackled the 2017 NAPLAN writing task.


Use the following discussion prompts to help students reflect on their own experience.

Topic: As a class, discuss the topic that your students tackled in the writing task.

  • What did they find hard about the topic?
  • What ideas did they come up with?
  • How did they choose the idea for their text?
Concept development: Ask students how they developed their initial idea into a complete text.

  • Did they have enough time for planning?
  • Did anyone sketch a story graph and plot their ideas?
Engaging the audience: Ask a few volunteers to explain how they started their text.

  • What Sizzling Start technique did they use to engage the audience immediately?
  • Did anyone use more than one technique for added impact?
Building tension: As a class, revisit how to build tension in a narrative text (pebble, rock, boulder) and a persuasive text (strong, medium, strongest argument).

  • Did any students manage to apply these principles when writing their text?
  • What other techniques did they use to build tension?
Wrapping up: Ask a few volunteers to explain how they ended their text.

  • Did they plan their ending before they started writing?
  • What Exciting Ending/Ending with Impact techniques did they use to conclude the text and satisfy the reader?
Adding richness: As a class, revisit how to add richness to a text using Dynamic Dialogue and Show, Don’t Tell.

  • Did anyone manage to include dialogue or a ‘show’ scene in their text?
  • How did this enhance the writing?
Editing: Discuss the time allowed for editing.

  • Did students have time to do more than just check and proofread their work?
  • If they made edits, what did they change and why?
  • Is there anything else they would have done if they’d had more time?

Taking the time to reflect on the NAPLAN writing task as a class while it’s still fresh in your students’ minds will further their learning well before the marks are released. It’s also a great opportunity to celebrate what everyone has achieved!

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