Teaching descriptive writing

I know, I know, you usually arrive here to listen, read and now watch a waffle about either teaching, mathematics and/or technology. Well today I am going to venture into one of areas of teaching that I do not proclaim to be an expert in – the area of creative writing!


How I used to support the teaching of creative writing

How I used to support the teaching of creative writing

I while ago I waffled about why I had made the move to higher education and mentioned a session I gave about planning a literacy unit from a book. This was not my first expedition into the realm of literacy, I had, as you can imagine, taught it for some time before this. However, it was when I was participating in the Thursday evening UKedchat and after reading a blog post from Mr. P’s blog on using augmented reality, that the enthusiasm for teaching creative writing came back to me . I must say at this point, that the techniques I am going to mention are not purely my own creation, but ones I have collected and subsequently used after being on courses observing lessons.

I remember a boy using the sense of smell to describe the setting by writing – “the smell of death hung in the air.”
  • Starting points – If you have ever been in one of my mathematics sessions you know that I constantly talk and promote effective starting points for lessons. Creative writing was no difference, and I always felt it was important to start from something that the children could relate to and would enjoy. I’m was always quite sure that haunted houses had been ‘done’ so I would always try to chose something different. This might be from the current class book or a television programme or even a current event. Egyptian tombs from history or even the inside of a ship from the explorers topic made valid starting points, but also magical worlds such as Narnia and more mundane setting such as the school building. As long as the child could relate to it, I would go for it.
  • Soundscapes – I always wanted to engage the children’s imaginations without providing them with a visual stimulus when they were writing. Initially this might not be the best method (remember I’m not an expert in literacy) but my thinking was that I wanted the children to visually imagine it and then describe what they saw. In order to do this, I used to use music and sound effects to create the atmosphere. Talking over the sounds to describe where and what the children are doing in the setting can allow them to add more visual content – simple things like -“Look at the forest…what do you see? what do you feel? Remember good open questions are important here.
  • Five finger description – In order to provide the children with something to model their description on, I used to use a hand to provide an appropriate prompt. Each of the fingers would relate to one of the five senses, with the palm of the hand being emotions – something that I always wanted the children to describe which they often forgot about. Even though you might not always be able to describe the setting or character using all the senses, it is often possible and increases the depth of the imagery. Once, while describing a ghost ship after reading about the Mary Celeste, I remember a boy using the sense of smell to describe the setting by writing – “the smell of death hung in the air.”
  • Drama – I have been lucky to have two very good drama experts in to work with both myself and the children. One from the local authority (Colin Jackson) and one from York Theatre Royal (Julian Olive). One technique which I always enjoyed using with the children was what I called (not sure of its real name) a blindfold walk. This was when the children would lead each other (one with their eyes open, one closed) around an imaginary setting. The idea was that one child would provide the open questions or where to look, in a similar way I had done in the soundscape activity, while the ‘blindfold’ child would just imagine. I once allowed them to take the imaginary walk through an Egyptian tomb which was really the cloakroom…there was definitely a positive impact on the descriptive writing that the children produced.
  • So thats it, some of the techniques that I used to support the children’s creative or descriptive writing. Feel free to use these if you wish and, if you have any of your own which have worked really well, then please add them in the comments below or send me them to be via twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, google+ or email.

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