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Taking writing beyond the classroom – from graveyards to the Red Planet

Entrenched dislike of school can set in early and for a variety of reasons. One of the most common issues children have, though, is feeling restricted by the classroom environment.

A pilot project from the Booktrust is attempting to combat this particular problem. Running in four English schools until 2015, the reading scheme takes learning beyond classroom confines – both physically and imaginatively.

Called The Write Book, the project essentially involves using popular or classic children's literature to inspire whole year groups to engage in creative writing. The teacher chooses the book that they think will best suit the class, then runs a series of tasks based on it. 

Heaton Park Primary School in Bury, Greater Manchester, is part of the scheme. One of its choices for a 'write book' was a Doctor Who encyclopaedia. The tasks that spun off from it included pupils creating their own “Tardis” foldout books, named after the titular character’s physics-defying mode of transport. Children also roamed the school grounds on an “alien treasure hunt”, and discussed what they would need if they were astronauts landing on Mars.

Another project was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. This took Heaton children to different places in their community to fuel their inner writers – a visit to a graveyard proved particularly effective.

The impact has been significant, according to the school.

“Many of our children aren't really exposed to books at home and therefore have difficulty identifying the elements of a story,” said the school. Yet attitudes towards writing, particularly among boys, have improved “immensely” following the project, while reading attainment has shot up.

“Three boys, identified by the teachers as hard to reach, were so inspired that they have now started writing and illustrating their own book outside class time and have been requesting to stay in at breaktimes to finish it,” said Booktrust’s project co-ordinator Anna Loudon. ”They have already read some of it to their class, and are very excited and proud of their own work.”

Following the initial success, teachers decided to create a permanent writing space in the school library for students. It started with a Doctor Who-themed area, complete with a Tardis to read and write inside. 

It just goes to show that thinking outside of the classroom box  –  in a number of different ways  –  can really pay dividends in terms of achievement. 

*After the pilot finishes in 2015, Booktrust will publish a free online creative-writing toolkit for teachers. For more information, contact anna.loudon@booktrust.org.uk

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