This week I taught a two day workshop for students aged nine years old who ranged from pre-intermediate to post-intermediate in ability. Although I often teach different writing styles to my regular classes, this was the first intensive course (15 hours) I had taught.
I was given some materials by the centre, but I also created my own worksheets and resources to make the learning more interactive in parts. Here are the strategies I used to get my students thinking critically and creatively:
1) Meet and greet
With any workshop where you are meeting the children for the first time, it is important to break the ice and learn their names sharpish.
I wanted to create a comfortable learning environment where we could share ideas since many of the tasks involved discussions and feedback.
I made these waving hands in advance and we wrote our names on them before playing the classic Find Someone Who… warm up game.
The next game we played was using a thesaurus. I’ve noticed that the primary children I teach often do not have confidence using a dictionary or thesaurus – after all, Google is able to help them in much less time.
However, I want to teach them how to use these resources properly and practice their alphabetising skills. I created a synonym sheet with boring words such as said, go, big, happy and asked them to fill in the blank bubbles with more interesting words. This got them switched on to thinking about expanding their vocabulary to avoid boring adjectives and verbs.
Next, we discussed types of stories, from fables to science fiction, adventure tales to myths. We thought of some examples then compared them to discover the differences. I asked them what they liked to read. Geronimo Stilton, Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter are very popular with my learners and it was no different here. I asked them which genre those narratives fit and why to demonstrate they understood the distinctions.
The students completed a crossword that focused on the different parts of a narrative plot. This included the introduction, problem, action taken, climax, resolution and conclusion.* After this, I gave them a poster to help them remember the flow and we ran through the sections together, discussing the top tips as we went.
A working example
After looking at structure, we put our learning into practice. We read a story and discussed how the plot broke down. We delved deeper and looked at the language used to create an interesting narrative, from adjectives, sequence connectors and descriptive phrases. We colour-coded each part of speech and underlined the appropriate text.
We covered which person we usually write narratives in, first person (I/we) and third person (he/she/it/they). As they were not familiar with these, I created a quick chant with actions. Then, to check understanding, I shouted out “Me!” and they said “First person,” then “They!” and they replied “Third person.” Anything can be made fun and memorable with a bit of energy.
Hook the reader from the start
If I can save another story from starting with “There were white fluffy clouds in the blue sky,” I have done my job. We focused on five different story starters:
1) Setting – describes the place, time and weather
2) Character- describes the main character/s and their goals
3) Dialogue – the thoughts or speech from the characters
4) Sound – a sound made by an object
5) Flashback – a trigger that throws the character back to a memory in the past
To make the introduction more exciting, we linked it to the theme or overall goal. With five quick-fire rounds of three minutes, we flexed our writing skills to keep our ideas relevant and succinct. The students then read out two examples at random and the others had to say which type of story starter they had chosen.
To describe characters and their motivations, we played with my Octaland 4D set of augmented reality cards. I bought these back in the UK and downloaded a free app on my phone to activate the different workers.
We looked at a handful of characters and I asked them leading questions to get them thinking about their goals, personalities and things they might say.
These cards include a range of occupations and they do not fall into the gender traps of so many primary school books and flashcard series that I have come across.
After this exercise, the students could choose their own character and describe them in detail, before drawing a picture. After ten minutes, they showed us their characters in turn and told us a phrase that they would be likely to say, given their personality and goals.
Houston, we have a…
No narrative is complete without a problem to scupper the best laid plans of the character/s. The magnitude of the problem is something that students find quite difficult to pitch, so it is important to remind them that it cannot be too hard nor easy to solve. When the character/s try to fix the issue, it must get worse and lead us to the climax. It is better to throw in a different problem rather than grow the existing one.
Silence is not golden
When it comes to the climax, the mistake that so many of my students make is not having the characters say a word. The house is on fire? Nothing. In these moments, the characters would certainly have something to say.
We finished the day playing a quick game of What’s the Word? to test the vocabulary prowess of the class. The cards test speed and I made it a competition between the three students, awarding them with the card when they got it right. Some are easy to guess, but others, like the examples below, may need some clues. The answers are printed on the back, allowing a grand reveal each time. Can you guess the two below?**
Stay tuned for Day 2, coming shortly! In the meantime, let me know how you teach creative writing to your students. I would love to hear your ideas!
*I know some teachers may decide to eschew the problem/climax structure, but our curriculum encourages our middle primary students to engage with this method. Furthermore, it is important they they realise how to shape a narrative plot so it is an interesting read. Otherwise, we would end up with a lifeless list of daily habits which seems to be the first instinct of young writers I have taught.
**Varnish and assembly.