Write Away, organised with the help of the National Association for the Teaching of English and sponsored by McDonald's Restaurants Ltd, is in its sixth year. Last year there were 10,000 entries from boys and girls aged seven to 14 from all over Britain and from International schools all over the world. The entries, which were of a very high standard, reflected the complexity, the excitements and the disappointments of ordinary children's lives. The competition celebrates children and their writing and gives them a voice.
The success of the Write Away competition is based on three main principles aimed at encouraging and supporting children's writing. In order to write, children need:
- something to write about
- writing skills
- an audience
Something to write about
The theme of Write Away is autobiography. Everyone has a story to tell. By focusing on events, people or places from their own experience, rather than drawing exclusively on their imagination, all children, boys and girls, can find something to write about. Autobiographical writing enables them to find a personal voice and to experiment with a range of topics and styles. The three specially commissioned pieces and the two prize-winning ones from last year provide starting points for discussion about content and linguistic features. All the extracts will benefit from being read aloud and discussed. Oral work, looking at photographs and mementos and reading other examples of autobiography, can stimulate children's own experiences and memories.
Once children have shared, discussed and thought about what they are going to write, they need to concentrate on the structure and organisation of their writing. The support of teachers is critical at this stage. Using the extracts provided here as models and looking at the techniques used by these writers, both young and professional, will help children to understand the linguistic features of autobiographical writing and how they work. Children then need to be supported in producing their own pieces.
They need time and encouragement to do the best work possible. They should be encouraged to ask questions such as: how am I going to bring this incident alive for my readers? What kind of writing is it going to be - a letter, a journal entry, a narrative, a reflective piece? What kind of language will I use? This will involve them in thinking about style, vocabulary, dialogue, description, imagery and whether to write in the past tense or present.
Planning and composing are important stages in the writing process. Children need sympathetic and supportive listeners at this stage. They need to test out their ideas. When they are revising they need to hear what their writing sounds like and to observe how it affects others. At the revising and proof-reading stages the young writers need to focus on accuracy and appropriateness. These skills are better developed within the context of children's own writing rather than as decontextualised exercises. Correcting the children's work-in-progress can form part of a discussion about the importance of tackling writing in stages. If children are encouraged to realise that all aspects of the writing process are important this may help them to see the point of this.
Some children may experience difficulty in structuring what they want to say and writing frames can be very helpful in these circumstances. A carefully selected series of starter sentences to act as prompts will provide a supporting framework.
Real writing needs a real audience. Selected winners of the competition will have their entries published in The Times Educational Supplement. Within schools the children's writing can be shared and displayed in a variety of different ways.
Write Away can be used independently of the competition to provide a valuable resource for reading literary non-fiction and meeting the targets of the national curriculum and the national literacy strategy. But having encouraged the children to write with a clear purpose and for a real audience, why not make entering the competition one of their goals? Give your pupils the opportunity to write away!
Introduction and teaching ideas by Angel Scott of the University of Durham Pull-out edited by Heather Neill and designed by Trevor Wilson Cover illustration by Jacques Gauthier
Competition Rules 1 All pieces of writing should be by children aged 7 to 14 on August 31, 2002.
2 All pieces should be autobiographical, and should deal with a significant moment in the writer's life, a remembered person or place.
3 Pieces may be in any prose genre, for example narrative, diary or letter, but should be in the first person.
4 Pieces should not be less than 300 words and not more than 600 words long.
5 Schools may send in any number of pieces of writing, but not more than one piece should be submitted from any one writer.
6 Teachers submitting writing must ensure that each piece is the writer's own work.
7 All entries must be submitted through a school.
8 Two copies of each piece of writing, word processed, should be supplied, each clearly marked with the name and address of the writer's school and the writer's age on August 31, 2002.
9 All pieces should arrive with the organisers by January 31, 2003.
10 Schools should register by filling in the form provided as soon as possible. Registration does not commit a school to sending the number of pieces entered on the registration form, or to sending any pieces at all. A figure for the likely number of pieces is requested purely to aid the organisers in making arrangements for the judging.
11 Following registration, schools will receive a form to return with entries.
12 The Times Educational Supplement shall have first publication rights in all pieces of work submitted.
13 Winners will be informed in May 2003 and the results of the competition will be published in The Times Educational Supplement.