As a primary school teacher with 30 years experience, now retired, I have turned my attention to teaching the parents of young children. Why? I hear you ask. Well, perhaps I can illustrate this with a couple of phrases you have probably heard before.
“Oh, but we don’t do it that way mum”
“My teacher said that you’re doing it wrong dad”
So, let me help you to get it right.
Firstly, I want to turn my attention to creative writing, or story writing, for the 7-11 year olds. But don’t forget, I am writing for the parents in order that you can help your child. The areas we will look at break down into 7 categories.
2) Story Mountain / Story Board
3) Descriptive Writing
6) Main Theme
7) The Ending
So, number one. Reading. What has reading to do with creative writing? Well, everything really. I found in my career that those children who had had books read to them from a very early age and who were read with as they grew older had much wider experiences from which to draw information and ideas for their own writing.
Next, number two. The story mountain or the story board. A structure on which to build the story. Using the idea of the story board, as that is an easier concept to understand in text, we would have anywhere from 3, for six year olds, to 8-12 boxes for ten and eleven year olds like a cartoon strip and the different parts of the story are literally sketched out with phrases written underneath to elaborate on the pictures.
This then forms the basis of the writing but with the storyboard structure it is far easier to keep on track building good description and have a beginning – middle – end to the story.
And now, my favourite, number three, the descriptive writing. The use of adverbs and adjectives. Now, I am not just going to assume that you all know what adverbs and adjectives are. What would be the point of writing this article just to lose some of you right now because you felt out of your depth. So, an adverb describes an action and an adjective tells us more about a thing. Let me show you.
Sir Gwain leaned carefully over the rough parapet.
The word ‘carefully’ describes how Sir Gwain leaned. The action he was doing was leaning and carefully is the adverb telling us how he was doing it, ok?
Now the adjective.
Sir Gwain leaned carefully over the rough parapet.
The word ‘rough’ here describes the thing he leaned over, the parapet, and in describing the parapet the word rough is an adjective. So there you go, an adverb describes an action like walking, running, shouting, singing, it tells us how these things were done. Adjectives describe things like tables, walls, shoes, things, objects.
So let’s see what good use of description can make of a simple statement like,
The man sat on the bench.
The dappled sunlight danced mischievously on the stranger’s shoes as he sat, slouched beneath the old sycamore. The bench had been there for years, and had seen better days, one arm missing, and writing in spray paint all over the back. This did, however, seem in keeping with his shabby appearance, dishevelled hair, unshaven and uncared for. His eyes………………………..
I could go on, but I think you get the drift. I could write a short boring sentence, or with a little bit of work and imagination, something that is much more interesting to read, and leaving you wanting to read more. What about his eyes? Well, why don’t you try to finish it? Go on, I bet you can.
Number four, the characters in the story. A boy or girl who is well read, and has enjoyed the experience of books from an early age, will have more mature characters featuring in their work than those children who have not had the same experience.
You see, once again we see how important reading is as an aid to story writing. When children have only a limited experience of books, or no experience at all, how can we ask them to write a story and compete with others in the class who have read a lot and have a wealth of experience on which to draw for their characters etc.
The characters in a story have to be so credible for the reader, that the writer has to know them better than anyone else. Character profiles or studies are important to the believability of the story and the action within. If the characters are weak, the story will not hang together very well, and the best way to change this is to write character profiles for those in the story. Who they are, where do they come from, what physical characteristics do they have, how do they know each other, what are their favourite foods, hobbies, likes, dislikes etc.
For the younger children, when they are starting out, there is nothing wrong with them retelling stories they have heard and using the same characters. They could also use the characters from one story and give them another adventure. Authors do this all the time. Popular characters will be in whole series of books with new themes and in different situations.
And now, number five, the introduction. The introduction serves a couple of purposes. Firstly it introduces the characters to the reader, and secondly, it should capture the reader’s attention within the first paragraph or two, or they may just put the work down and not pick it up again. Obviously this is not about a teacher marking the work, they are going to finish it and grade it. Listen, having marked thousands in thirty years, it is far easier and much more enjoyable to mark a good one than it is to mark a bad one!
Here I will give you one of my best tips. The introduction is just to set the scene, introduce the characters, and capture the interest of the reader. It has nothing to do with the main theme of the story. I used to give the children in my class a theme for the story like ‘Shipwreck’ or ‘Disaster in Space’, or whatever, but, if they mentioned anything to do with the theme in the introduction, then they were marked down. That way they learned to write superb introductions, introducing the characters to the reader and capturing the reader’s full attention in the first few paragraphs.
On to number six, the main theme. This is the easiest, it can be about anything. As long as the characters have credibility, and the introduction is sound, the story can be about anything the child wants. Who in their right mind would think to write a story about wizards in a school called Hogwarts, and travelling from A to B by jumping into a fireplace, and a train platform that only existed through a wall? There you go, they can write about anything.
Lastly, number seven. I mentioned a story mountain earlier. If we think about the foothills of the mountain as the introduction, and the mountain as the main theme, then the foothills on the other side have to be the end. Stories have a start, a middle, and an end. Quite often it is suitable to end the story by taking the characters back to the setting for the introduction for the ending. Too often, children end a story too quickly before it has resolved. This happens a lot with those children with limited experience of reading books. They do not understand the pattern of a story. So you see, even right at the end I am still banging on about reading and how important it is to the art of creative writing.
Well, there you go. I know you can do this, but if you need further help please feel free to visit my Bio below.
As a retired teacher, Ken has a wealth of experience and wants to help children make greater progress in their primary school. Not being involved at the ‘chalk face’ any more, he feels that the next best step is to teach the parents to help their child and so support the valuable work that the schools do.
Check out how Ken can help you to help your child.
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