This is the seventh Write Away competition, organised once again with the help of the National Association for the Teaching of English and sponsored by McDonald's Restaurants Ltd.
Write Away is intended to support literacy strategies at key stages 2 and 3 and to make writing fun. Each year thousands of children aged seven to 14, from all over the United Kingdom and from International Schools all over the world, send in their accounts of a person, place or incident important to them. The competition gives children a voice, reflecting the complexities, excitements and disappointments of their lives.
Newly commissioned pieces by popular authors Neil Arksey, Pete Johnson and Jan Mark join two of last year's winning entries in the following pages.
The entries were of a very high standard in 2003 with equal numbers of boys and girls attending the prize-giving ceremony at Shakespeare's Globe in London this summer.
Good luck for 2004!
The success of Write Away 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 following five pieces provide starting points for discussion about content and linguistic features. They will all benefit from being read aloud and discussed. Oral work, looking at photographs and mementos and reading other examples of autobiography, can stimulate children's memories.
Once children have shared, discussed and thought about what they are going to write, they need to concentrate on structure and organisation. The support of teachers is critical at this stage. Using the pieces provided as models and looking at the techniques used by these writers will help children to understand the linguistic features of autobiographical writing.
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 past or present tense.
Planning and composing are important stages in the writing process.
Children need sympathetic and supportive listeners at this stage. They need to test 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 work-in-progress can be part of a discussion about the importance of tackling writing in stages. If children realise that all aspects of the writing process are important it will 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 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 and on The TES website. Within schools children's writing can be shared and displayed in a variety of ways.
The Write Away pieces 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 your goals? Give your pupils the opportunity to write away!
Teaching ideas by Angel Scott of the University of Durham Pull-out designed by Trevor Wilson Cover illustration by Jacques Gauthier