I am passionate about increasing students’ confidence as writers so that they enjoy it.
I use the structure of a puppet show to make writing accessible and fun for children.
- students develop puppets of characters they care about and so are invested in their roles in the stories
- students work in a team to develop a setting for their characters, and a plot for the characters in this setting
- students analyse the plot to make sure it’s right for all the characters
- students add to and edit each other’s ideas respectfully and negotiate with each other
- students take on different roles in the group and learn from one another
- the puppet show (e.g. Act 1 = beginning, Act 2 = problem / middle, Act 3 = end) is a good structure and ensures students know where we are heading at all times
- scripts focus on ‘show not tell’ / description (in stage directions) and dialogue; it is very useful to split and highlight elements of storytelling like this
Details of the process
Stage 1: Theme
The first stage of a course is all about ideas. I use themes to initially inspire children. Previous themes include:
twisted fairy-tales; ghost stories; myths and monsters; space; magic; comics and graphic novels; fantastical creatures; under the ground; quests; fairy-tale islands; dragons; Norse myths; forests of adventure
I do different things to generate ideas within these themes:
- create an installation environment in which children are literally ‘in’ the setting, using props / sculpture / painting, e.g. when doing the Northern lights we sat in a den into which I projected the Northern lights along with their crackling sound
- obtain smells / textures / sounds related to the theme and we play sensory guessing games, e.g. putting our hands inside Pringles tubes and guessing what is there / using smell pots / mystery objects which rattle inside boxes
- read good quality stories, often picture books, related to the theme. For example, The Super Happy Magic Forest inspired Year 2 in Forests of Adventure
- make art related to the theme (e.g. collage a setting, model a character from a story, paint, draw)
Stage 2: Character
In the next stage we start to build characters. It can be helpful to give characters ‘passports’ at the outset which will contain all information about that character, which are added to as we move through the puppet show. These are some ways in which we develop characters:
- characters may already have emerged from the theme (e.g. animals in the forest / monsters in a mythical landscape, etc.)
- we can develop characters through playing mixed-up character games from characters already known / dice / character cards
- we can choose characters through reading stories and altering characters / giving them a spin-off story
- we can invent entirely new characters
Stage 3: Collaborative writing through consensus decision-making
- all group members have an equal opportunity to voice their preferences in terms of plot and character
- each student is responsible for their own character’s actions and reactions in the writing
- the first stage is brainstorming: coming up with as many ideas as possible, without deciding on one / staying committed to one
- the second stage is choosing which ideas to go ahead with; this can take a while and there should be quite a bit of time planned for this
- the more time these discussions / decisions take, the more the students will be invested in the plot and understand exactly why they chose it
- when disagreements arise, it is the facilitator’s job to firstly encourage full analysis of each of the options and secondly work towards compromise with existing options or alternative solutions (maybe there are 3 other options that haven’t yet been considered), etc
- when the group has decided the bare bones of the plot, we use role-play to come up with parts of the script, which are then written by a scribe
- students build on each other’s suggestions / offer edits respectfully, etc.
- disagreements may arise throughout the writing stage, and the same process as above is followed
My teaching research
My teaching methods come from my experience of teaching over the past ten years and my degrees in literature and law, in addition to research I have carried out on key teachers and writers who have written about the writing process. These include (but are not limited to): Pie Corbett, Jane Considine, Mary Roche, Steve Bowkett, Michael Rosen, Cressida Cowell and Neil Gaiman. I have recently become very interested in the collaborative writing / play process, reading books such as ‘Consensus in the Classroom’ (Linda Sartor, PhD) and ‘You can’t say you can’t play’ (Vivian Gussin Paley).
Current research being undertaken by Anglia Ruskin University advocates teaching creative writing through the arts. In their interim report in September 2017 it was found: “[Through using art,] children’s writing changes, with greater and more varied use of vocabulary, an increase in the use of detailed description, an ability to sustain writing…demonstrating increased use of imagination” http://arro.anglia.ac.uk/702478/.