Friday, 27 November 2015

A whole day of storytelling

I was asked a while ago if I'd be prepared to run a whole day session on creative writing for primary school pupils; there'd be 18 gifted and talented children from 9 schools, all of them in Y5 or 6.

I said yes. It happened yesterday, and it was brilliant!

The timetable for the day was built on a foundation of where we could find inspiration and looking in more detail at world building and characters to put flesh on the bones of a story outline.

I didn't worry too much about spellings and capital letters and full stops. As I pointed out to the children, the way I was taught writing at school was very different to the way it's taught today - I just learnt how to write something that made sense, and I can tell you what a verb, noun, and adjective are. I had no idea what a 'reported clause' was when it was mentioned with respect to dialogue, for example. But when I said that I knew you needed speech marks, and you had to put he/she said after them, one of the children piped up with 'that's the reported clause!'


Anyway, even if our spelling did go a bit dodgy at times or we didn't put a comma in quite the right place, we had enormous fun. We made up daft excuses as to why we were late for school; talked about what makes a good book, good; wrote story outlines based on 'The antique glass bottle contained...'; used paint chart colour cards and objects for inspiration; completed character sheets and created a sight-sound-touch-taste-smell picture of the setting that had been chosen.

Outlining a story using three objects from a tin of baked beans, a rainbow sock (of course!)
a police car, a diamond pendant and a length of chain...

Sharing a bit of StarMark when thinking about
where to set a story...

And the best bit - according to 50% of the children on their short feedback sheet, 
completed at the end of the day? 

Writing a story.

A whole story. Just being able to go for it and write the way you wanted, without worrying about any of it being 'right'.

The children had been given free rein, and judging by what they produced as a result, I wonder whether, in our eagerness to teach the component parts of writing, we rather lose sight of the end result? Individuality is lost, because children don't have the opportunity to develop their own style or allow their writing to flow naturally. (Of course, I know that teachers' hands are tied by the requirements of a curriculum that is imposed on them - I'm sure many of them would love to have the time to give the children to develop their creative writing!)

What surprised me most was the sophistication of some of the children's writing; after all the 'building up' work, they had half an hour to start on their final story, then I used a timer to give those that wanted to, a minute to read out some of what they'd produced. Even among 10 and 11 year olds, there were some very distinct voices and styles, ranging from epic fantasy third person to chatty modern first person. There were deep emotions expressed in 'The Vale of Tears' and by the boy with no name, who was hiding in the dark. And there was some very, very accomplished world building on a space station where the character was 16 yans old, and for the 80-year-young girl who was on the run and currently hiding in a cottage in the she had been before...

We're hoping that the children will go away and finish their stories, so that they can be copied and made into a book as a reminder of the day and their hard work and fabulous ideas. I said I'd write a story too; I quite fancy beginning with 'The antique glass bottle contained goblin snot...' (Thanks, Holywell Emma, for that suggestion!)

It was a huge privilege to share in the creation of so many unique stories and immensely satisfying to see some of the children so enthused and inspired they wanted to do it all again!

There are, of course, some non-writing things I'll remember too... The vibrating cushion. Jooshua (with two 'o's.) The letter to the paint company to ask who comes up with the names on the sample cards.

Using the colour sample names to inspire stories...

And finally, the 'Why I'm at this school today' reasons that had some of the younger pupils at Mountfields believing that there were some rather important visitors from Hogwarts in the playground...

Oh, I DO love being a writer!

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