– PLEASE READ
I developed this approach to teaching writing over 20 years, with classes of all ages and abilities, and every step in the process matters. Reading the introduction will make the exercises easier to use. They are purposely intended to be low-stress for teachers and students alike.
IMAGE, EMOTION &
The big difference between young writers and mature writers is that young writers tell their stories too fast. And too sparsely.
The following exercises help young writers slow down their writing and enrich it with Images and Emotion, and give it Structure. Don’t be alarmed by the big names in literature. Each passage has been carefully selected and in most cases abridged.
Writing in images or pictures means using visuals, sounds, smells and textures to make the written word spring to life.
Instead of: I found a koala that was hurt, a skilful writer writes: Huddled against the base of a tree was a curled up ball of fur and as I stepped closer I realised it was a koala bear. Its tufts of ears lay flat and its little eyelids trembled. It not only seemed hurt, it looked as sad as a discarded teddy bear.
All good writing involves the reader emotionally.
To write: I took the koala home, is an emotionless line.
Unlike: I carried it home as carefully as I could, cradling it like a baby and thinking I’d never held anything so helpless or precious before.
Structure makes a story hang together, satisfying to read, and feel complete. All Models in this booklet are soundly structured. Plus each exercise contains a prompt to encourage students to give their writing a ‘sense’ of completeness with a rounding-off statement.
These exercises cover a variety of Text Types including fiction, poetry, diary and letter writing, historical recording, fable, reminiscence and biography.
HOW TO USE THESE
Read out the Literary Model at the beginning of each exercise.
– Ask no questions. Discuss nothing. Avoid all preambles.
– This saves time, keeps students focused, and makes teaching easier.
– ‘Let me read you something!’ is my favourite opening line whenever I teach. And students love being read to. It settles them. When you finish reading the Model, go on to read the Point Out section.
This section, in essence, continually points out that all good writers write in images, and show what their characters are feeling. The whole point of these exercises is to reinforce those two basic facts.
Most students don’t know they’re supposed to be writing in images, but when it’s pointed out to them, it’s well within their ability. Like all creative skills, it takes time and practise to achieve fluency but it’s the single most effective way to improve young people’s writing.
Re-read the Model, this time pausing over those phrases in bold type. Tell students these are such fine examples of good writing, you’d like them to get out pen and paper and ...
Read each phrase three or more times over while students copy them down. Please disregard spelling correctness at this time.
Do not write or display these phrases on the board. These exercises are formulated to foster an inward focus, necessary if one is to write well. For students, hearing the phrases read 3 or 4 times over is an important part of the process.
When you finish reading the Model for a second time, have the students read back as a group the phrases they’ve copied out.
THIS FIRST STAGE OF MODELLING AND COPYING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE EXERCISE. WHY?
Students learn best from painless repetition, and that’s what’s happening in this initial stage of the exercise. During this intensive Modelling, students hear the passage read first for the sheer enjoyment of it. Then they hear it read a second time with certain commendable phrases pointed out. Then they write parts of the passage themselves. Finally they read back those commendable parts. This is where students are quietly and effortlessly absorbing writing skills.
Good writers are invariably avid readers and that’s where they learn their craft. The intensive Modelling at the beginning of these exercises simulates that precise learning experience. It presents students with good literature in measured doses, palatable even to the reluctant, and it raises students’ awareness to specific aspects of the craft. And repeats them, and repeats them so that in small, palatable doses the students learn without knowing they’re being taught.
Right Brain Mode
This passive ‘read-to’ situation at the beginning of each exercise also has the effect of lulling students into Right Brain mode, the optimum mental attitude for writing.
It’s important that nothing happens in this initial phase of the lesson to introduce anxiety. Please ask no questions about the passage. Or anything else. In these exercises, students are guided rather than directly taught. Trust the Models to do the teaching for you.
THE 4 STEP WRITING TASK
Step by Step Instructions
Simply read out the step by step instructions in the exercise.
These instructions are not meant to be followed slavishly. They’re meant to plant ideas and stimulate creativity. On the other hand, it’s important students don’t go totally off on their own tangents. In following the instructions, students gain practise in the specific skills we wish them to acquire. They’ll have ample opportunity to write without guidance on other occasions.
Each exercise supplies students with an Opening Line to get pens moving, and get over that first and hardest hurdle – the blank page.
Each step of the writing task is limited to 2 Minutes. Anyone can write for two minutes, even if they’re in a panic about it. And ...
The Moment of Panic
There will be a noticeable air of panic in the room at the commencement of Step 1 when students are finally asked to write. Watch for it! Be prepared for this moment, and resist the urge to keep on talking. There’s no need.
By this stage you’ve:
– read the model twice
– pointed out the skills students need to emulate
– given them a story idea
– and given them an opening line.
Any further help would be too much. It’s important for the teacher to stop teaching at this stage, and let students begin to learn for themselves.
Stare Out the Window
During the actual writing time, it’s best for the teacher to stare out the window. Yes, stare out the window! These exercises require intense focus over short periods of time and it helps students remain focused if the teacher remains focused too. Sit quietly and model concentration for them! Keep outer movement (stimulus) to a minimum.
Toward the end of 2 minutes, ask students if they’d like more writing time. They always do. Allow one to two minutes more.
Only keen writers will want more time than that, while the less confident need this break. And need the very good use you’re about to make of it.
READBACK & FEEDBACK
At the end of the Step 1 writing task, have 3 or 4 students Readback what they’ve written and praise it!
Find something in their work to comment on positively, especially if it reflects any aspect of the model you drew attention to earlier: an image or a character’s feelings.
By reading back, the students’ work is given an immediate purpose, and when the teacher finds aspects of the work to praise, a supportive learning environment is set up.
A positive response is especially important where a student’s writing is tentative. That student needs proof of your support if they’re going to take risks, which is what good writing requires.
As a result of your positive feedback, that slight sense of panic will be much reduced when students begin Step 2 of the writing task. It’s better not to have students Readback at the end of Steps 2 and 3, unless there’s still a tentative air in the room and students need more reassurance in the way of praise from you.
If a student completes the writing task ahead of time, tell them: Just stare out the window. In my experience, a student will window–gaze for twenty seconds, then return to their story and write some more.
The four Steps of the writing task (i.e. 8 to 10 minutes of guided writing) will produce a finished work. Any student not yet finished their story, usually the keen ones again, can be allowed to continue writing while 3 or 4 others Readback the whole of what they’ve written.
Conferencing & Re-drafting
The Conferencing & Re-drafting exercise included mid-way through this booklet addresses critiquing writing in a group environment.