I’ve been working with a Year 6 class recently, some of whom just love to use the thesaurus. It’s the Holy Grail of writing, the golden chalice from whence all WOW words flow. Simply tip it over your work and – WHAM – instant ‘Level 5’! (Although we’re not using levels, I know, I know…)
This is great. They are so enthusiastic about words and writing, and they are aware of their choices as writers. Here are some examples:
‘…but in the end we had a really acceptable day.’
‘The food was cordial too.’
‘He has a cape that waves behind him in the gust.’
It’s clear that all is not well in Grammar Land. These children are missing something.
It is true that all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But not all stories have to take place in that order. Without this awareness, we can be in danger of limiting children to only one way of constructing a story.
Opening, build up, climax, resolution, ending: the story mountain.
This is a familiar litany to teachers who model the structure of stories. Children need this firm foundation to understand the story formula. We can be very dogmatic about using this structure, but it isn’t true that stories always follow it strictly.
How can we push and challenge children once they understand the beginning, middle and end? If we always follow this pattern, stories become robotic machines, blindly following the path without the creative tweaks, loops and twists which keep the reader interested.
Summer is sitting staring at her blank page. She’s chewing the end of her pencil, and you can see a flake of HB yellow and black paint stuck to her top lip. “Come on Summer,” you plead, “there must be something you can think of…”
Many children find generating ideas when writing difficult. This is worrying for them, frustrating for teachers, and can be a hard barrier to break through. It’s a common problem. We recently surveyed 100 teachers from across the UK, asking them “What do children in your class find challenging about writing stories?”.
Two-thirds of those teachers said that coming up with ideas and writing creatively was a barrier to their children’s progress. Is this an epidemic? Are we seeing the death of creativity in children?
Encouraging children to think about their audience when they write is one step towards them seeing writing as a useful tool for their lives.
Many children struggle to see the purpose of writing. As much as we try to provide this purpose, we are battling against a world which encourages consumption rather than creation – and so children tend towards wanting to take in (watch, game, and so on) rather than produce (build, write, draw).
In order to give children the impetus they need, having a purpose and a genuine reason to write is becoming more and more important. So how can we find ways to do this?