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Category Archives for "Creative Writing"

Writing prompts for English Language GCSE

Below I have shared 5 different types of writing prompts for you to use this week with your classes! If you are preparing your classes for GCSE English Language, or any type of creative writing, then these writing will be great for you to use!

Writing a room

Choose one room in your house and list everything that can be: seen, smelt, heard, felt (and tasted).

Write 100 words describing this room using only sensory imagery.

When you have finished writing, ask yourself this question – were you able to create a sense of the room with this tightly controlled word count? If not, consider why? Look at your nouns and adjectives, are they specific and precise? Did you waste words? Make just 5 changes and see if this improves your writing.

Slow your writing down

Both of these writing prompts are great for s-l-o-w writing. Slow writing is the opposite of a quick write. The idea is to write slowly, precisely, carefully, selecting each word intentionally. Slow writing can take 5 minutes with one sentence and 30 minutes with a paragraph. Write these moments of action (or inaction), imagine them in slow-motion. Try and recreate this in your description.

  1. Imagine your family is eating a meal together. Someone knocks over a drink and it spills across the table. Describe this moment.
  2. You are waiting. Probably bored. Perhaps a bit annoyed. Walk your reader through the tick, tick, tick of your watch as you wait. It is sunset and you are waiting for your friends, who are late. Describe the setting as the day moves towards darkness.

Writing character

  1. Sit somewhere public (the cafeteria at school is perfect for this).
  2. Describe the faces of 5 strangers, show personality through expressions and gestures.
  3. When you have your 5 descriptions, create some conflicts between them. One character bumps into another character. Or one character asks another for helpHow would your character react based on the personality you created for them?

Describe

  1. Find a picture of a new-born baby. Describe in detail its face and features.
  2. Write a precise description of the feeling of grass beneath bare feet.
  3. Write a precise and detailed description of a seashell. Ensure every shape and ridge is defined.

12 writing tasks in 12 days

This one is super easy. You can just click here and download the free PDF – inside you will find 12 descriptive writing tasks for your students to complete over 12 days!

So you can download this free one-page worksheet of writing tasks here!

If you love these writing prompts, then sign up for my weekly “Writing on Wednesday” email. Each week I send out fresh and fun writing prompts to all my email friends! Just sign up below.

 


Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in our private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

5 super cool short films your ELA students will love

A roll of film and the caption 5 super cool short films for ELA

I love using short films in my classroom. I bet you already have a collection that you like to you. I’m not different. I use short films for a bunch of different reasons: to introduce a new idea, or to explain something we all found complicated. Sometimes to inspire discussion and debate, or to get stuck into some creative writing.  Short films are fabulous for both literature and writing.

So, here are my top 5 favorite films for high school ELA.  I’ve split them so you have:

  • 2 for teaching literature,
  • 2 for teaching writing, and
  • 1 for debate

The Tiger Who Came to Tea – introducing critical theory

I love using this short reading of the children’s classic, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, with my older literature classes. In fact, I used to only use with my senior students who are studying literature and needing to apply different critical theories. Over the last few years, I have been using it as a debate prompt with my younger students as well.

The first question I ask is “what does this text tell us about society?”.

At this point, I introduce critical theory. Gender and feminist theory and also Marxist theory.  *Warning* – this discussion does result in some criticism of Judith Kerr’s text. It’s great to consider the narratives that shape our understanding of the world as children, but it’s not always a comfortable discussion.

We discuss:

  • What did you notice about society?
  • What does this text show about men, about women, about children?
  • What does this text show about work and social class?
  • What is the relevance of the tiger arriving and eating all the food?
  • Why a tiger?
  • What groups in society might the tiger represent?

At this point, I might draw a comparison between this text and invading forces: the Nazis in Poland, Judith Kerr has spoken of this being the inspiration for her story.  The discussion is often lively.

An interesting counterpoint to this story is the another children’s story – Where the Wild Things Are. Here we develop our discussion to include colonization, imperialism, and how other races and ‘the foreigner’ can be represented in literature.

Again the discussion is often lively.

Copy Shop – introducing concepts in literature (literature)

Copy Shop is an unusual silent film by Virgil Widrich, 2001. It received an Oscar nomination for a short action film. The film is 12 minutes long and ‘tells’ the story of a man who accidentally photocopies himself until ‘he’ takes over his town.

Just this concept alone is intriguing enough for students!

 

I often begin this lesson by asking students to mind-map all of their thoughts on the topics of:

  • identity,
  • gender,
  • relationships,
  • reality, and
  • society

These thoughts can be as generic or as specific at you decide. I generally put these topics on the board and then pose the question “write down everything that comes into your mind”.

After watching the film, sometimes twice, I ask students to add ideas to their mind-maps based on the film.  For identity and society – we discuss how we are shaped as individuals, how society shapes us into a particular mould. For gender and relationships – students often notice that the single female is replaced by the male, that the relationships show companionship, then threat. For reality – we discuss to what extent we can trust our senses, what we see.

The final step is to debate some of the big ideas in literature:

  • Our individual understanding of reality cannot be trusted
  • Masculinity and femininity are entirely constructed by society
  • Society is at its roots chaotic and disordered
  • Technology controls humanity
  • Capitalism and consumerism has made humanity self-destructive

I could go on!

Picture Perfect – the Jubilee Project (writing)

I use this short and sad story for a variety of different reasons with my classes: writing flashbacks, relationships, realistic dialogue, incidents, and memory writing.

It’s a poignant tale and dedicated to survivors of Leukaemia, a sensitive one to use with classes but often generates excellent sympathetic debate and great emotionally intelligent writing.

Lock Up – by BloodyCuts (Writing)

*Warning* – this short film is the epitome of suspense and then a moment of terror. Your class will scream. Please, please, please watch through till the very end before you decide to use it! Don’t look away at the end, otherwise you might miss ‘it’! To be absolutely clear – you get a glimpse, the most fleeting glimpse of ‘it’.

Ok, you survived!  Here’s how I use this film: to build tension, to create a character who has no idea what is about to happen next.

This short film is fantastic for writing a realistic moment of suspense – rather than one that is filled of creaky staircases and slamming doors. Write a character who has literally no idea what is about to happen to them!

You need to be speedy with the pause button here.  I watch with kids up to the bit where the man collects his keys. Then pause. We write this opening section as descriptive narrative.

Then we watch – pause – write until the very end.  As the students haven’t seen the whole thing – when they first see the figure – they are shocked, their character can be shocked. So their writing is often much more authentic, than if we had planned it in advance.

It’s great for writing genuine expressions of a character’s experience of cluelessness to horror.

Fireflies – the Jubilee Project (debate)

Another one from the guys at the Jubilee Project, I do love them, and to be honest you could use any of their films effectively in the classroom.

But Fireflies is something special.

I pose a bunch of questions when using this film, sometimes before, sometimes after, sometimes both!

  • What is friendship?
  • What is normal?
  • How can we truly know one another?
  • Can we know ourselves?
  • Does everyone have to be the same?
  • Why are children more accepting?
  • Can society change?
  • Do we need to let children teach adults how to behave?

Film and caption 5 super cool short films for ELA

More short films for your classroom enjoyment…

The stories we wear

This short film is actually an extended advertisment for the outdoor clothing company Patagonia. Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll is on the road talking about climbing and about his very patched and repaired jacket. It’s such a beautiful film and would be great as a writing prompt. Here it is “The Stories We Wear by Patagonia”.

Life lessons from a 100-year-old

These British 100-year-olds talk about their lives, their experiences, and they dispense advice about how to be happy. Sit back and prepare to get emotional! Find it here “life lesson from a 100-year-old” 

Jekyll and Hyde characters song

As this is a classic English Literature GCSE text, I cannot resist this Jekyll and Hyde song. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde…when a good man releases his evil side…Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll…who are the characters when the dust settles? 🙂

Enjoy all the chuckles here “Jekyll and Hyde characters song”

Alma

Alma is such a great short cartoon, it’s absolutely perfect for creative writing. It is silent, sinister, and completely mesmerizing.  Watch Alma here

I promise to keep adding to these as I find them, but do drop your favorites in the comments below!

While you are here, please do consider signing up to receive my weekly creative writing email, titled Writing on Wednesday. Every Wednesday, I email out my teacher-friends a writing prompt or some writing advice.


Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in our private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

 

Celebrate Christmas in your ELA classroom

It is an absolute pleasure that I have joined a group of a-m-a-z-i-n-g secondary bloggers to bring you the 12 Days of December Blog Hop and Giveaway! So grab a cuppa, snuggle up, and enjoy. Click here to find out more about the 12 Days of December Blog Hop.

So – here’s my seasonal serving of Christmas cheer!

Spread some Christmas Joy: thank a teacher, friend, hero

Christmas is a timing of giving, right?! But it doesn’t have to be about spending money, sometimes a hand-made-with-love gift is worth more than anything store bought. So in my classroom (with my pretty cynical London teens) we make and give cards to teachers, support staff, dinner ladies, traffic wardens – in fact any adult in our school.

These FREE card templates are super cool, slick, and modern design. If your teens aren’t interested in Christmas cottages or cuddly Santas, then these FREE card templates are just for you and your students. There are 10 designs to download and print yourself >>>here<<<. Just print, give to your students, color and spread some Christmas joy!

We color them for teachers in other subject areas to say thank you. We color them for support staff and dinner ladies, who are always there with a smile and a joke. We color them for our friends to remind them we care. We color them for family because nothing’s better than a homemade gift – right?! And finally we color them for the residents in our local area, we drop them through their letterboxes to wish them the best of year.

This year, for the first time we will color them for the elderly residents of a local care home. Many are alone, many will have no visitors at all over Christmas. This year, we hope to bring them joy.

If you love the idea of creating Christmas Cards with your students, then check out this hilarious Christmas Card poem writing lesson. Teach your class anaphora, anadiplosis, epistrophe, and other rhetorical devices to create some classic festive card poetry.

And so don’t forget to download your free card templates, print, and bring some comfort and joy to your classroom! I would love to see your finished cards – so do tag me on IG @literaturedaydreams!

Write some Christmas Joy

 

Christmas is a fantastic time of year for creative writing activities. Here are a few of my favorites!

The UK department store, John Lewis, is famous in England for having wonderful, cosy, uplifting, heart-warming, and generally all-round wow Christmas TV advertisements.

These adverts make wonderful writing prompts. Just show the advert to your classes and give them the writing prompts below! Here are my favorites:

Writing prompt: describe someone struggling to wrap an awkward present.

Make sure you watch this one to the very end! Writing prompt: describe that ‘bed-time on Christmas Eve’ excitement.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iccscUFY860

Writing Prompt: Write a narrative where a wild animal brings unexpected joy at Christmas!

If you enjoy these writing prompts, then you might also like my Christmas Fun Writing Prompt Bundle.

Host an Elizabethan Christmas!

If you are looking for something a little different for your Literature classroom this Christmas then perhaps you could host an Elizabethan Christmas. If you teach Shakespeare at this time of year, then this question might have popped into your brain!

Well, in short – I would say – an Elizabethan Christmas was chaotic fun, social, and full of beauty. An easy way to introduce your students to this would be to pose the question: “what did everyone eat for Christmas dinner in 1588?” Let them guess. The answer is not surprising and surprising all at once. Goose. Goose wasn’t the usual meal for everyone at Christmas time in those days. But in the year 1588, by Royal decree, everyone in England was to eat goose. Why, I hear you ask? Because a goose was the first animal that Queen Elizabeth I saw after hearing that the Navy had defeated the invading Spanish Armada! (Thankfully it was a cat or a horse!)

This host an Elizabethan Christmas set contains hours and hours of fun. The centerpiece – or showstopper – is group work activity where each group brings a gift to your Christmas celebration. They research, and then make an object to represent six elements of Christmas for the Elizabethans. The Christmas Candle, the Yule Log, the Dawn Mass, the Feast and more.

Your students will work together, learn a great deal about an Elizabethan Christmas, they will have fun, and build community in your classroom. What better way to bring comfort and joy this Christmastide!

Don’t forget to find to check out what treats my secondary seller friends have in store for your this season. Click here to find all the details. A-n-d don’t forget to enter our Giveaway for a chance to win some amazing prizes!


Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in our private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

21st October 2018

5 creative writing lesson ideas you can use today!

If you are looking to liven up your creative writing teaching or your students need some fresh ideas to improve and develop their creative writing in class – then this blog post is for you!

Below are 5 of my favourite ways to mix things up a little when I am teaching creative writing!

  1. Slow writing
  2. People watch to write people
  3. Changes over time
  4. Opening lines
  5. Add meaning to your settings

Slow down writing

These writing prompts focus on s-l-o-w writing. Slow writing is the opposite of a quick write. The idea is to write slowlypreciselycarefully, selecting each word intentionally. Slow writing can take 5 minutes with one sentence and 30 minutes with a paragraph.

  1. Write this moment of action. Imagine it in slow-motion. Try and recreate this in your description.
    Imagine your family is eating a meal together. Someone knocks over a drink and it spills across the table. Describe this moment.
  2. It is sunset and you are waiting for your friends, who are late. This moment is slow. You are waiting. Probably bored. Perhaps a bit annoyed. Walk your reader through the tick, tick, tick of your watch as you wait.  Describe the setting as the day moves towards darkness.

People watch to write people

  1. Sit somewhere public (the cafeteria at school is perfect for this).
  2. Describe the faces of 5 strangers, show personality through expressions and gestures.
  3. When you have your 5 descriptions, create some conflicts between them.
    One character bumps into another character. One character asks another for help.
  4. How would your character react based on the personality you created for them?

Changes over time

This writing task is all about describing the same setting at three different points during the day. You can use different settings, for example, I sometimes use the grounds at my school.

  1. Write a description of a summer funfair as the workers are setting up the rides and stalls.
  2. Write a description of the same funfair – this time in the mid-afternoon, just as the first crowds begin to arrive.
  3. Write a short narrative set at the same fun fair – now write the fair and attendees as evening falls.

I use these 3 prompts in different ways. Sometimes I do gradual writing with students and they write each one, in turn, changing – shaping – adapting their own funfair as the day passes.

Another way is to put your students into triad groups and have them write one each. They can then share and improve based on the best bits of each other’s writing.

Opening lines

I love to use open lines as a writing activity with my classes because it always amazes me where students will go with the same opening. You could give them one line and end up with 30 completely unconnected stories.

Below are the 3 opening lines that I found to create an excellent and diverse range of stories:

  1. I covered my eyes but nothing …
  2. I said orange…
  3. Bad, very bad…

Add meaning to your settings

I started teaching Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns this week and it is a joy, an absolute joy to get stuck into such a beautiful piece of writing.

Re-reading the opening, I am always reminded of how much our landscapes shape who we are. Let me transport you for a moment. If you don’t know the novel, a shunned woman and her illegitimate daughter are sent to live in a shack isolated in the countryside of Afghanistan.

Here is Hosseini’s description: It was on the outskirts of Gul Daman. To get to it, one took a rutted, uphill dirt track that branched off the main road between Herat and Gul Duman. The track was flanked on either side by knee-high grass and speckles of white and bright yellow flowers. The track snaked uphill and led to a flat field where poplars and cottonwoods soared and wild bushes grew in clusters.

I love how Hosseini highlights their isolation, the mother’s ‘off track’ actions, the ‘uphill’ life they lead, and a hundred other details in his description.

It would make a great mentor text example for a piece of descriptive writing. For example: create a description of the landscape of where you live, the nature rather than the buildings. BUT as you describe it, give the details in the landscape significance to show something about your own life experience.


Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

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*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in our private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

10 stories starters for Halloween

Do your students just l-o-v-e writing spooky stories? My students cannot get enough of creative writing around this time of year. But if I’m honest, real talk here, some of their story ideas can be a little bit immature, a little bit samey. Sometimes I feel like they are doing their own versions of some of ‘those’ films. Does this happen in your classroom?

Today, I am going to let you in on my strategy for pushing students towards originality in their own writing.  *Yes! Happy Dance!*  The strategy: don’t use story prompts; use story starters.

What’s the difference?

A story prompt sets up a premise for a narrative. Generally a prompt sets up who the main character is and what the setting is, it might also prompt the key event. It would read something like “a student is walking home late at night, they become afraid”. You can see how 30+ really different students, might come up with 30+ really similar ideas with this prompt. You can imagine it now can’t you? The student hears noises, they look behind them and see nothing, they run, something / someone grabs them… it turns out to be a) an axe murderer, b) one of the parents, or c) a friend.

But a story starter. That’s different. A story starter provides the first line or couple of lines of a story. Something like “The phone rang. The door slammed.” You can see already that this story starter doesn’t provide the writer with any information, or least only a teeny bit. Enough to get the brain whirring. But not so much that it confines writers in the space of predictability.

This week I shared with my subscriber list “20 story starters” that are perfect for Halloween. Today I am going to share 10 with you right here!

Let’s get our writing on!

Love them? Me too. I surely hope you can use them in your classroom. As part of your daily writing, or perhaps as part of your creative writing unit, or as a Halloween special.

If you think these writing prompts are JUST what you need, then this is for you.  To save you time, to help claim back a tiny bit of ‘your life’ I have created 20 pages of Halloween story starters and 20 pages of writing instruction that is ready to print and go!

This ready-to-go resource contains 40 pages of Halloween writing activities. The story starters are totally fresh and new. No repeats. Each page is beautifully designed. In addition to these new story starters, each one comes with a page of planning, techniques and new vocabulary to help your students nail their spooky stories! This resource is available both as a >>>paper version<<< and as a >>>Google Drive digital edition<<<.


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Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in our private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Hidden Content


Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in our private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

1 Awesome Idea for Fall Writing

Did you love my Fall Writing Craft Activity as much as I did? Yes? Want to download the free writing prompts so you can use this craft activity straight away?

Just fill in your details below!

*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

3 ways to improve descriptive writing

Writers can never get enough opportunities to write more detail. We live in the cracks on the pavement and the blank spaces between letters. Here are 3 quick writing activities that you can set your students to help them improve description and descriptive writing.

1. Find all the details

Here’s a quick-write task you can to practise the skill of ‘finding all the details‘. Choose one room in your house and list everything that can be: seen, smelt, heard, felt (and tasted). Write 100 words describing this room using only sensory imagery. When you have finished writing, ask yourself this question – were you able to create a sense of the room with this tightly controlled word count? If not, consider why? Look at your nouns and adjectives, are they specific and precise? Did you waste words? Make just 5 changes and see if this improves your writing.

2. Look beyond the surface

Description isn’t always just about giving an accurate observation of something. Sometimes it’s about seeing it deeply. Perhaps we need to look into the heart of things before we can describe them well. Use these quick-write tasks to practise this skill:

  1. Sit somewhere public (the cafeteria at school is perfect for this).
  2. Describe the faces of 5 strangers, show personality through expressions and gestures.
  3. When you have your 5 descriptions, create some conflicts between them.
    One character bumps into another character. One character asks another for help.
  4. How would your character react based on the personality you created for them?

3. Slow your description down

Slow writing is the opposite of quick writing and quick writes. The idea is to write slowlypreciselycarefully, selecting each word intentionally. Slow writing can take 5 minutes with one sentence and 30 minutes with a paragraph.

Imagine this scene: It is sunset and you are waiting for your friends, who are late. Describe the setting as the day moves towards darkness.

So how can you slow your writing down? you are waiting, probably bored, perhaps a bit annoyed. Now,
s-l-o-w your writing down, exactly like time seems to have slowed down while you are waiting. Walk your reader through the tick, tick, tick of your watch as you wait.

If you enjoyed these writing tasks and prompts then you should check out my writing prompt sets on TeachersPayTeachers. You can find them here.

 

 

 


Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in our private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

5 tips for new writing teachers

As we head back to school for another year of writing, I thought I would just take a minute to share my 5 top tips for teachers who are new to teaching writing.

1. Do all the writing tasks yourself first.

I am a firm believer that if I want students to complete any writing task (small or large) then I need to do it first. Why? It’s the same reason why we read the text before we teach it. I need to know that the task I’ve set will achieve the outcome I’ve planned for. So rather than just project a picture of an elephant and say write a description. I write the description. The side-benefits of completing the tasks yourself are: you can create mentor texts that suit your students; it helps with pacing – writing ALWAYS takes longer than we think (doing the writing yourself proves this); it helps you understand the ‘in brain’ process your students will go through (so you can support them better when they get stuck); and it can help you spot with misconceptions and simple errors.

2. Have a clear outcome for every writing task

This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But let me break it down why it’s important. There are so many skills that we teach and test for in writing. The technical aspects of grammar, spelling, sentence construction, dialogue. Then you have narrative structure, character creation, mood, atmosphere, action, resolution. Finally, there are things like word choice, punctuation, literary devices, genre writing. So, for every writing task you set – make sure you and your students are really clear on which of these (and all the others) you want them to focus on. Make it explicitly clear for them.

3. Make the writing process transparent

This tip goes hand in hand with number 2. Creative writing can be (and often is) as stressful and terrifying for students as essay writing. Even students who are readers often can’t see the creative thought process that results in a great story, so we need to show it all to them.  That means actively teaching and then demonstrating narrative writing, story structure, character, description, action, dialogue, transitions, literary devices, paragraphing – the list goes on. Show your kids good examples, bad examples, how to fix mistakes, how powerful editing can be.

4. Use “miniature moment” tasks

I don’t call these quick writes because I don’t want to unconsciously indicate that writing can and should be bashed out in 10 minutes. Even if that is the only time I can give a particular task. As all writing (whether it’s about practising sensational similes or creating complex characters) is about creating moments that the reader will remember, I use the term ‘miniature moments’. What are these exactly? Well, they can be anything you want. Lasting from 2 – 10 minutes, these activities are fantastic for focusing on a handful of key elements that contribute to a larger piece of writing. Say for example you will spend the lesson looking at descriptive writing – then your miniature moments could be: listing nouns, sourcing adjectives that add clarity, testing out metaphors, writing open lines, creating a 1-minute piece of dialogue. These miniature moments in themselves should all be compelling pieces of writing, but together that serves as great reminders of everything students need to remember!
I love miniature moments so much I created a 12-month writing calendar full of them! Have a look here if you are in the US or here if you are in the UK!

 

 

5. Harvest vocabulary from texts.

This might be my favourite tip. Whenever you read anything with your class – whether you are doing a writing unit or not – harvest vocabulary from the text. There are a couple of ways you can do this: 1) as you are reading together and come across a cool word, make a note of it; or 2) nominate a student or two to be in charge of writing down cool vocab as you are reading. Then I like to make a display of all of the words we’ve collected – this year we made this one. If you are curious about how I teach vocabulary in the classroom then check this out.

 

If you would like to hear more about teaching writing from me and would like to receive writing prompts and teaching ideas, please sign up for my weekly writing email below! If that wasn’t incentive enough – you will receive my FREE mini-guide for teaching descriptive writing!

 


Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in our private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

2nd June 2018

5 ideas for better high school creative writing

Raymond Bradbury is reported to have said (among other things):

Over 20 years ago this advice was given to us – a gaggle of wet-behind-the-ears Creative Writing undergraduates. It seems rather contrived now: to carry about a notebook and chewed pencil end. But I do. The purpose then was to build fluency. Fluency in the practicality of writing, fluency in expression, voice, inspiration, and silence. “Building writers is like building a wall,” said one professor, “one sodding brick at a time.”

It would be gross exaggeration to say that I have followed Bradbury’s advice faithfully. But over the last 20 years I have filled some 15 notebooks and over a hundred pages online of writing.

When I was 20 years old, my writing voice was cynical, dark, and worrying. At 30 years old, the voice was hollow: falsely buoyant, darkly comic, restricted and curious. Now at 40, my writing voice is no more confident or certain, it is changing again. Bleak landscapes inhabited by warm-hearted individuals; pain moulded relationships living in richly symbolic environments. My writing has shifted in style too, sometimes daily it seems. Laboriously dense description. Then sparse. And every shade between.

Every time I sit down to write (honestly now perhaps 3 or 4 times a week) I start with anxiety. What shall I write about? How will I start? The waiting and the silence are hard task masters. Only with years have I realised these moments are also part of the process. So I feel great empathy for the students I teach who struggle with the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of writing.

Like so many things in English – we as teachers are often the jack-of-all-trades, and while I don’t necessarily want to use the word ‘master’, I must confess that even with over 20 years of writing, a degree and a Masters in it – I still don’t feel well qualified to teach it in the classroom.

Teaching writing means so many things…

Handwriting. Spelling. Grammar. Punctuation. Sentence openers. Techniques. Sentence length.

It is this multiplicity of outcomes that I think has inaccurately shifted the spotlight of emphasis onto the technicalities of writing, rather than the what of writing.

So this year, we have been giving students the opportunity to write more.

Here’s what it looks like:

1. Use Mentor Texts

A short exemplar of either narrative voice; setting; character; dialogue; action (etc). I rotate focus and style for variety’s sake.
This is the ‘read more’ bit of Bradbury’s advice.  We have a huge collection of mini-exemplars available for any and every purpose.

The above is the opening of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood – we use this with nearly every year group.

2. Simple prompts

A simple instruction that focuses on who the narrative voice is and what the content is:

3. Free writing

At first we do two minutes, then 4, then 5. We alternate these depending on what else we are covering in a lesson. These writing moments are not designed to create polished writing. The purpose is to ask students to write often, write variety and to write freely.

4. Use a Writing Calendar

We do this daily (if possible) sometimes in class, sometimes at home. I have started generating Writing Calendars for students and colleagues who want to write every day.  More, more, more writing is the point.

 

5. Spit and polish

At the end of a particular session of writing (perhaps 3 lessons, perhaps 6) students then choose which piece they would like to develop. The word ‘develop’ here is significant for me. It would be very easy to use the word ‘improve’ but improvements often imply a prescriptive success criteria that requires students to write more like Dickens and less like Hemingway.

So we return again to narrative voice and style – who is this person telling this story? What is important to them? What do they need the reader to know, to feel, to think?

We ask:

  1. How does this person think and speak?
    Unless they are Victorian then we don’t need to sound like Henry James; we then go back to our exemplars and find example of one that is closest in style.
  2. How quickly is the drama or action unfolding?
    This will often shape the sentence length and sentence structure used.
  3. What is the most important detail?
    This is the focus for descriptive techniques – here is often when I give my one restricting instruction. Just one technique* allowed in this piece of writing.
    Choose it well. Plan it well. Use it well.

 

* As a side note here, I tend not to encourage the use of poetic techniques in prose writing (alliteration, onomatopoeia etc). We teach personification (and pathetic fallacy) and extended metaphor.

 

If you are interested in the daily writing calendars they can be found on TPT here.

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3 ways to teach kindness in school

It feels like there has never been a more important time to bring kindness, resilience, bravery, and growth mindset into our classrooms. Over the last few months I’ve been working on ways that I bring kindness and character writing tasks into my ELA lessons.

Kindness characters

The first way we looked at kindness worked really well with our reading work. We had been reading the novel Once by Morris Gleitzman (see my blog post on this awesome novel here!). In the novel (I won’t spoil it) the children who are trapped in Nazi-occupied Poland undertake beautiful acts of kindness for one another. We decided the display “Choose Kindness Every Single Time!”. Every student had a letter, inside the letter they had a writing prompt about acts of kindness.

 

Brave characters

Our identity poetry unit resulted in this summary of all the poetic voices we had studied. “Kind Heart, Fierce Mind, Brave Spirit!” I a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y loved this idea by my students. Again, each student decorated one letter for my classroom. I gave them a choice of 3 possible creative tasks – I want this particular class to have the option to draw images, instead of writing. And it worked really, really well!

Growth Mindset characteristics

Finally, with my youngest class (just 12 years old) we decided that we want to list all of the Growth Mindset characteristics they had demonstrated since starting secondary school. The move from primary education to secondary is huge and daunting. Students have to demonstrate huge adaptability, resilience, and cheerfulness to cope with it all. So now we are nearly at the end of year, we wanted to celebrate their achievements.

We came up with 32 different words to describe how awesome they had been this year and I turned them into a set of pennants to display around my classroom!

I hope you enjoyed these ideas!

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