How to capture writing strategies

HOW TO TEACH WRITING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM AT KEY STAGE 2. By Sue Palmer.

HOW TO TEACH FICTION WRITING AT KEY STAGE 2. By Pie Corbett.

HOW TO TEACH POETRY WRITING AT KEY STAGE 2. By Michael Morgan. David Fulton. pound;12 each.

Skeletons and scaffolds, pronged bullets and spidergrams, all featured in Sue Palmer's excellent book, are among the graphic ways of helping children organise their understanding and planning of non-fiction writing. This book will, I'm sure, be as helpful to teachers as to children in getting their heads round this daunting area. And as the ideas have been well road-tested around the country (with examples provided), the book answers my initial query about its being all rather too complicated. It more than fulfils the National Literacy Strategy requirements in terms of discrimination and progression, and does so in a user-friendly way. I wish this book had been around when I was teaching and lecturing.

Pie Corbett's book on fiction writing marries the romanticism of the creative-writing tradition with the structuralist approaches required by the NLS. He talks about "capturing stories" in a way reminiscent of Ted Hughes talking about "capturing animals" in words. He knows that story is how we make sense of our own experience. He rightly starts by discussing plot, which is the core of story, before moving on to characterisation, settings and so on.

Yet plot is the area he seems least secure in talking about. Though he talks about writing in the light of an ending, and about dilemmas and resolutions sporadically throughout the book, he doesn't make this the core of his discussion of plot. Nevertheless, this should prove to be a very useful book, full of rewarding ideas and practical suggestions.

The weakest link in this series is Michaela Morgan's book on poetry writing. It takes us no step forward from Sandy Brownjohn's first book - it might even be a step backwards. She follows the NLS to a fault - for example, discussing cinquains although she acknowledges they are a feeble form; and, like the NLS, she is hopeless when it comes to rhythm. Free verse is only discussed in terms of freedom from rhyme, not from meter. With haiku, apparently, counting the "beats" tells you about the number of syllables, but with rap, the "beats" can only mean the stresses. What does she mean by "beats"? Syllables or stresses? She hasn't thought.

This is a rag-bag of a book, without any clear vision of the nature and value of poetry. Like any ragbag, you can find some useful things in it if you have purposes of your own, but, unlike the other two, this is not a book to rely on.

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