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Make it clear that this session is about ideas and having fun. When you’re working with your imagination, no one can be wrong. This is especially true when you’re working with fantasy, sci-fi or magical stories – the wilder, the better.
This is the time to build confidence and get the ideas flowing. Who really knows what a dragon looks like anyway?
Think small but sensory and specific. I warm up with bite-size tasks, such as: imagine you’re holding a dragon egg. Tell me exactly what it feels like, focusing on things like colour, texture and weight.
Although the task itself seems very easy and accessible, I will then ask for real precision and specificity in the language, and keep pushing for more and more detail: what kind of green exactly?
Smooth as what? I’ve been stunned by the fresh and startling metaphors I’ve heard in the classroom.
I like to bring lots of props and pictures with me. Actual writing can come last. I usually spend plenty of time at the visual, verbal and drawing stage, and invite children to work in pairs or small groups to create collaboratively before going it alone – which group can create the most fun new superhero, or the wildest-sounding magic creature?
I bring my very messy notebook into class to show children my awful handwriting and my many crossings-out and doodles. I talk about my ten drafts, and how I had to get it wrong before I got it written.
Can you join in and model mistakes that lead to new ideas, or share past experiences of not getting it right first time? This keeps a creative focus on process and helps encourage risk-taking.
So many brilliant stories can be summarised with a what if? This can be a wonderful way of generating ideas. Ask the class to guess from your description some famous ‘what if’ examples that they will recognise from TV/films/books.
Next, give a short time slot for everyone to come up with three new ‘what if’ ideas, and very quickly go round the classroom to hear lots of these. What if your new trainers let you fly? What if you saw a glowing light coming from under the school hall one night? What if you really could talk to animals?
Once you’ve heard lots of these, writers can choose to ‘borrow’ someone else’s suggestion if it sparks an idea for them.
It can be deeply satisfying to finish a complete story, but beginnings and endings can both be really tricky. To support beginnings and get round that ‘blank page’ feeling, I often offer a simple story opening, which can be either a scenario or a sentence for students to complete – a dragon egg hatching in their schoolbag for example.
I might then suggest a few beats for the body of the story, e.g. your character wants something + cause and effect + rising tension. Again, you can give examples for writers to borrow if they prefer to follow a plan.
What did your character do to get what they want? Did it work? Who helped them? What happened because of that? And then, finally, how does it work out in the end?
I talk about my own preference for happy endings but give the writers the freedom to choose.
Liz Flanagan is the author of Dragon Daughter and Rise of the Shadow Dragons (David Fickling Books). Both titles now available on Audible.
Follow Liz on Twitter @lizziebooks and keep up to date with her work at lizflanagan.co.uk.
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