A while ago on Twitter, I shared some photos from my Year 10’s books showing how I introduce Creative Writing at the beginning of the academic year.
Lesson 1: an exploration of what makes sophisticated writing. Followed by sensory description, which is self-assessed, and vocab hwk. pic.twitter.com/yn02s8kSvd
— Lou Enstone (@englishlulu) November 17, 2019
Some relevant context
This blog post gives a quick overview of how I introduce Creative Writing to my new GCSE students. Before I start a little bit of context (mostly for my friends in the US). I use these lessons at the very beginning of Year 10 (students will be turning 15 during this academic year), it is a brief introduction to narrative writing. My students sit national standardised exams at the end of a compulsory 2-year English Language course. This examination includes creative writing. In fact, writing makes up 50% of the examination grade and of this, creative writing is 50% again. The next vital fact is that students must achieve a certain pass grade in their English Language GCSE – otherwise they must retake!
For my UK based teacher-friends, my school sits the Edexcel exam board. For the creative writing section, they are given a choice of 2 narrative prompts. No pure description. So these are working towards narrative.
Phewee, ok, now that’s over. Let’s get into the writing!
Lesson 1 (download the PowerPoint here)
- As this is my first lesson of the year, with a brand-new class – there is a good 15 minutes of faffing about at the beginning of the lesson. Think seating plans, books etc. We do set up two pages at the front classwork books for sophisticated vocabulary.
- Discuss the difference between basic writing and good writing. Let me be honest here, the point of this exercise is not really to make a list of basic writing skills (SPaG etc) and advanced writing skills. What I really want my students to understand upfront is that the exam board expect a lot from them. As writers they need to demonstrate a level of sophistication that goes far beyond ordinary writing.
- I explicitly teach new vocabulary each lesson (text dependent or not) – these go in a special section at the front of my students’ classwork books.
- Then we do a quick write – it can be based on anything really. The reason is two fold: 1) to refocus students on that list we made, and 2) to make it clear, we are writing in every lesson! If there’s time, we self-assess or peer assess.
Lesson 2 (download the PowerPoints below)
- This lesson is all about unpicking a model (two versions: one from Atwood, one from Harry Potter) and then learning about scientific, observational description of setting. If you’re curious what I mean about scientific description then I explain it in this blog post!
- We go through the simple process of highlighting nouns, then adjectives. Again, read the above blog post for more details. In taking this approach, we talk about creating accurate, observational description.
- My students then have a go. I give them an image. They list the nouns (the bedrock of description), then add precise adjectives focusing on size, shape, colour, text, age etc. This is a great time to recap the correct order of adjectives!
I am sharing two versions of this lesson. One with an extract from The Handmaid’s Tale (I tend to use this with my older students) and then one with an extract from Harry Potter (hey, don’t judge it). Just click to download the files.
Lesson 3 (download the PowerPoint here)
Once my pupils have mastered writing accurate description, we move onto looking at how we add atmosphere to settings. It could be just one sentence, just one phrase to take description from simple to layered with sub-text. This is where I want my students to focus.
- We start again with a mentor text. This time once we have focus on the nouns, we look at the words and phrases that create atmosphere.
- This then moves into our writing. You will notice here that I used an image that would lend itself well to a ‘moody’ description.
- In addition to this, I also introduce my students to my ‘5 golden rules of short story’ writing. By short story, I really mean flash fiction, after 45 minutes isn’t long enough to write a full short story. I keep meaning to blog on this. Suffice to say – at this point we move from descriptive writing onto narrative writing. So watch this space for another post. Anyway, I’ve included my slides above for you!
Lesson 4 (download the PowerPoint here)
I have a lot to say about writing characters and well, writing short stories in general. So this is going to have to be a summary.
- I start this lesson with a variety of famous fictional ‘characters’. The ones I choose often depend on my class. I ask pupils to describe their personalities using just 3 words. Again this is a bit of a skill. So I ask them how their friends would describe them (using just 3 words).
- I talk about the importance of writing a character who has personality.
- Then I introduce them to Hermione Granger – except we call her Kate. Once we discuss her personality traits, how she talks, thinks, acts towards other people, I then pose the question – how would this character behave when searching for something she’s lost.
- A quick write and share follows.
- Then it’s time to swing to the other end of the pendulum, and we meet The Joker – aka Jack. Jack is waiting at a crowded bus stop – how would you describe this? How would his personality traits come out in his behaviour, actions, thoughts?
- Several quick writes later, I ask my students to come up with their own character. It can be based on someone they know, from a book, TV show or film. This person has to be pulled from whatever world they live in, into our world. They have to be rational to a certain extent. They can’t be running around with guns and bombs. But all of the personality traits can remain the same.
Lesson 5 consists of planning a story – we spend a lot of time talking about structuring stories, more on this later.
As soon as I have other posts finished, I’ll link them here. So far the plan is:
- Teaching Restraint in Writing – descriptive writing
- 5 golden rules of writing flash fiction
- Writing character (personality, physical description, action)
- Structuring short stories
- Writing action and dramatic moments