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How great writing stimuli will get pupils’ creativity flowing

Laura Dobson explains how you can give students the right nudge to help them put pen to paper in creative writing...

  • How great writing stimuli will get pupils’ creativity flowing

Think back to your school days for a moment. Make a note of three writing opportunities you remember fondly. What made them memorable?

It probably wasn’t the ambitious success criteria or the time spent editing (although, no doubt, these things made you a more proficient writer). I would guess that they were memorable because of one or more of the following:

  • You enjoyed them
  • You took ownership over them and were proud of the outcome
  • The writing had a real purpose
  • You were inspired or engaged by the stimulus

In order to engage all children in the writing process, we have to create writing opportunities which allow children to feel one or more of the above.

Writing for enjoyment

If you spend the week in an excellent early years setting, you will see all children mark-making for pleasure. They want to write, not because that is the lesson objective, but because they have something they want to say, record or share.

Often that writing is inspired by the continuous provision they are immersed in. They want to write a recipe, create a treasure map, invite Goldilocks for dinner or make a parking ticket for an illegally parked scooter.

As we journey up through the primary years, we often remove that level of choice. Children are regularly writing in the same genre, using the same stimulus or addressing the same audience.

What would happen if we introduced writing for pleasure? What if children had a folder or a book where they could just create? What if we printed out a picture or found a video clip to support one child’s story, while another pupil nipped to the library to do research for the fact file on dinosaurs they are creating?

It would allow children time to practise skills taught and it would give us further insight into what they can really achieve if they are engaged. All the research indicates that reading for pleasure makes better readers; surely the same is true of writing too?

I often hear teachers say there isn’t time for such niceties, but I would argue that there needs to be. The first aim of the national curriculum is to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement. What better way to appreciate human creativity than to be part of it?

Ownership and pride

Even within structured English sessions, there is still room for choice. If a child selects their own character, setting or animal to create a fact file about, they are more likely to take ownership over that writing, because the content is theirs.

The choice may come in how the writing is presented or who the audience will be. The structure of the writing may still be the same for all, allowing the teacher to scaffold and teach the skills so everybody can achieve, but by providing choice, the children gain ownership. And with ownership and capability comes pride.

Our education system is filled with external motivation, but to find ways in which children are internally motivated is a real reward.

Real purposes

Think about the writing you have done over the last 24 hours. Lists, letters, notes, instructions and maybe a card or two. I would expect that most of your writing was for a real audience. We write because we want to communicate.

The best writing I have seen from children always happens when there is a real purpose or audience. A second-class stamp costs 58p. Sending a letter that a child has taken thought and time over is priceless.

There are 2.2 billion children in the world, all having experiences that are sometimes similar and sometimes wildly different. Do your class have penpals to share and compare these with?

Children are impassioned beings. They are the first to complain if they are unhappy about something. Utilise this.

Get them to argue, debate and write. Persuasion is so much easier when we genuinely want the person to be persuaded. Use national days, local events and school activities to make writing purposeful and fun.

Teachers are natural planners. We want to know in September what will be happening in December. But with the removal of the Primary Framework and the introduction of the 2014 curriculum, there is more freedom in English lessons than before.

Plan the skills you want to teach, but utilise real purposes. There is nowhere that states Y2 must spend six weeks looking at poetry and Y5 must spend three weeks writing a balanced argument. These are all pressures we put on ourselves.

Amazing stimuli

Finding quality stimuli for writing is one of the biggest challenges for teachers. We’ve all been guilty of choosing a book because it matches the topic, even though it’s as dull as dishwater. A rich starting point nearly always leads to amazing writing.

Set up a crime scene and write witness reports; invite in a parent with an unusual job then write a job description for it; utilise freebies such as the Into Film Festival.

It’s hard to write about something you have not experienced. If you don’t believe me, have a go at writing a diary entry imagining you are a Chinese ambassador.

Our stimuli must provide children with enough experience that they can write. Vary it by trying books, experiences, art and film clips. The best writing diet is a varied one.

5 ways to inspire them

  1. Take part in Collins’ Big Cat Writing Competition. This year’s theme is ‘Our World, Our Home: Be a Big Cat Eco-warrior’ and the closing date is Friday 20 December.
  2. Write to somebody who inspires you. It is amazing how many people and companies write back (and you might receive some great freebies too!).
  3. Find a school to twin with and become penpals. In doing so, you can cover much more than the English curriculum alone (art and geography, for example). Have a look at Connecting Classrooms, run by the British Council, to find out more.
  4. Set aside half an hour every fortnight to allow the class to write what they want. Let them bring in things from home and decorate their writing folders. Set ground rules and join in!
  5. Use a book that inspires you (even though it doesn’t link to your curriculum). My current favourites are Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone, Leon and the Place Between by Angela Mcallister, Once by Morris Gleitzman, The Elsewhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie and Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins.

Laura Dobson worked as a teaching and learning consultant for a large local authority before setting up Inspire Primary English earlier this year. She runs an OU/UKLA Teacher Reading group, is an active governor and still teaches. Find out more at inspireprimaryenglish.co.uk and on Twitter at @inspireprieng.

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