Spotlight on writing – tips for success
A couple of years ago a friend mentioned that a teacher had said her son had the most amazingly creative mind when it comes to talking about the stories he was devising, but when it came to writing them down, if he could do it in five words or fewer he would. He loved the thinking and the creating stages, but the writing stage was not so much fun for him. It’s a very common story.
Helping children to get into, and enjoy, their writing is crucial if they are to become adept at using the written word to persuade, explain, and even entertain. All teachers will know that some will naturally take to writing while others will discover the delights of getting their ideas down on paper at a later stage. While some may experience writing as a soothing, calming exercise, for others it may be a source of great frustration and difficulty.
Setting aside the additional needs that some children with particular difficulties in the classroom may have (those deserve to be addressed separately in another article), there are some tips and tricks that can help nudge a child from skimping on detail to creating stories to be proud of. These ideas for helping children to write just might assist:
- Keeping it cool and calm: For some children the demands of a writing session may lead to stress and anxiety that cannot be effectively articulated. Keeping the environment cool and calm can help to set the tone of the session so that children can glean benefits from the process of writing. Some teachers use calming classical music to good effect when children are needing to focus on their writing. Some children may like to face the window or wall to minimize distractions.
- Follow interests: Allowing children to base their writing in or around existing interests can help to nurture reluctant writers. Writing about what they know can help flow. Allowing them to discuss their ideas with their peers can also boost confidence as they receive feedback from what might be their target audience.
- Inspiration: there are many clips of writers talking about their writing process, and documentaries about writers and their lives. Inspire children by introducing them to the writers behind the stories that they love. Help them to see that writing has a meaning and a purpose and that some people live their lives as writers.
- Help from tech: allowing children to dictate or type their story may help boost their output and sense of satisfaction, as well as with the production of books and displays.
- Getting in the zone: The process of writing, much like the process of reading, can be incredibly soothing if we get into a writing zone. Feeling calm and relaxed, clear headed and uninterrupted can really help us to produce to the best of our abilities. How can the classroom environment support that?
- Freedom: Experiment with how much freedom children have over what they write and for what purpose. Can they make suggestions for what they want to work on?
- Inspiration: What inspiration for writing do children in your class have? Can children look out of the window to a world beyond their classroom? Are there stimulating words and phrases on the board or wall? Or interesting artefacts, objects, pictures etc?
- Re-writing stories: Take a well-known story and have a play with it. What would happen if key characters didn’t make the choices they made in the original story?
- Role play: to nurture progress, children may find role playing key sections of their work helpful. What is happening now, what is going to happen next? Help children to deconstruct characters through seeing and hearing their words in action.
- Writing in groups: Experiment with children writing a line or a couple of sentences each. Group investment in a story may inspire those who need more encouragement.
- Paired questioning: Help children to develop characters by questioning each other about them – what are they doing, how do they feel, what will they do next and so on.
- Reminders: Remind children to think about ways of developing their text. What is happening? Why? What can the main characters see, hear, sense etc?
- Fun: Yes, the F word, but let’s not be apologetic about it! There are some brilliant writers for children who have great fun with words. Setting out to write with the intention of making people laugh can be enough to kickstart the creativity for some children!
- Celebrating success: Reading stories aloud and celebrating progress may encourage reluctant writers. Praise is appreciated by most people!
- End product: what is the purpose of the writing? Having a clearly defined purpose can help to focus hearts and minds. Making a book, a display or using the writing in an assembly or other performance can help to give a reason for sustained effort. Celebrate the end product!
A couple of years on and my friend’s son is not in so much of a rush to finish his creative writing. While it doesn’t quite have the allure of some of his other subjects, getting his stories down on paper is most definitely getting easier and his commitment to the written word is growing. Time certainly does help most situations, but as with many aspects of learning, some judicious and gentle nudges in the right direction can lead to leaps in enjoyment and achievement.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.