The National Literacy Trust last year found that one in three children has no access to books at home. There are children in our schools today who can’t tell a simple story, let alone write it down. So how do we address this? How do we make our writing lessons engaging, exciting and motivational? David Maytham suggests we begin with a search for buried treasure…
How many times have you heard the phrase ‘I don’t know where to start’? Children often struggle to come up with a good initial idea, become de-motivated and confused and end up unable to write clearly and accurately for their audience and purpose. My starting point is that you can’t teach children to write until you first teach them to generate ideas. Start the children off with a visual image of a desert island, a mysterious city or dragon’s cave and their creative juices will begin to over-flow!
First: Based on the powerful visual image you have found, give the children 60 seconds to write down as many objects from the picture as they can see. Crucially, the class teacher or TA should complete the task on the flip chart alongside the children, allowing them the opportunity to borrow ideas from one another. At the end of 60 seconds, take feedback from your children and add their vocabulary to your list.
Extend and Develop: Now ask the children to use their senses to imagine that they are inside the picture. Challenge them to use the image to make a reasoned decision on what they think they might experience with all five senses. Each time, encourage the children to borrow ideas from each other and push them to give you the best possible word or phrase. Add to your list.
Top tip: Play 60 second games daily to increase children’s confidence with independent idea generation.
The real hook…
Ask the children to imagine that they are treasure hunters and that they have been transported into the image used at the start of the lesson. Use the vocabulary they generated to tell them a short story, which focuses on their senses. Encourage them to picture the scene and imagine that the hall or outdoor area is now a desert island. Send them off in role to find some treasure. You could hide glittery pebbles, bits of shiny bric-a-brac or stickers for them to find, but rest assured that they will come back with an armful of goodies!
Top Tip – Children love kinaesthetic activities like this. Their imagination drives their creativity. In my experience, they will not only find what you have hidden, but an awful lot of things you didn’t!
Moving the learning forward:
Back together now, allow the children to place their objects in a class Treasure Chest or in their own Treasure Boxes. You could make these with the children and the cross-curricular opportunities are endless.
Next, read the children a five-sentence story that you have written, which contains the five key connectives you want to them to internalise and use in their own writing later on. A key principle is that if they can hear it, they can say it and if they can say it they can write it. If a child hears a story enough times they will begin to internalise the language and patterns. Once they have internalised the patterns they should be able to retell that story and once they can do this they are not far away from writing it down and innovating on it.
Once upon a time, there was a treasure hunter called Indiana. One day,Indiana decided he wanted to hunt for buried treasure on the Island of Wonder. Unfortunately, he got lost. Luckily, his friend Jacob gave him a secret map. Eventually, Indiana arrived at the Island of Wonder and found ten gold coins.
This story pattern is simple, yet incredibly powerful.
A nice activity to do here is to provide the children with a simple text map; draw the story out in pictures. The children read the pictures, not the words, and begin to learn the story off by heart. Encourage the children to use the map as a visual stimulus and orally retell the story with actions. Constant repetition of this helps the children internalise not only this simple story structure, but also the language. Move from a whole class to groups to pairs to individual retelling.
Once the children are able to retell the story confidently, put them into groups. Each group must come up with their own five-sentence treasure story using the same five connectives and simple pattern. They can use their own characters, setting and the objects they found on their treasure hunt earlier.
The children need to map the stories out with pictures and then, as a group, learn them orally with actions. This is very inclusive, with every child able to achieve at his or her own level. Once this has been learnt, allow opportunities for groups to perform their stories and then encourage them to have a go at writing them down. As the children’s confidence grows, with constant repetition of this process, they will move naturally on to invention and begin to write own five-sentence stories using the connectives they have internalised through this process. You now have independent writers!
Top Tip – Encourage children to be adventurous – remove the fear of not being able to spell a difficult word. You can do this by encouraging them to attempt any word they generate. If they are not sure of the spelling, they can sound it out and put a dotted line under it to show that they know it may not be correctly spelt.
My top tip: For me, the five-sentence story is a revolutionary development in the teaching of writing at Reception and Key Stage 1. Not only does it provide teachers with a simple framework with which teach story patterns, structures and language, it also an easy way to quickly provide children with a bank of stories they can internalise. Moving forward, why not spend 10 minutes everyday writing a five sentence story with your class as a shared writing activity?
Play 60 second creative idea generation games daily
Published on 07 May 2014