Creating a write-on culture

16th May 2014 at 01:00
Even TV talent shows can spark originality in budding authors

Television singing competitions may seem an unlikely source of inspiration for creative writing. However, a rapidly evolving youth culture, non-selective sixth forms and greater emphasis on differentiation all put pressure on teachers to think outside the box. A vision of enthusiastic students devouring quotations from canonical writers is utopian; disengaged young people misjudging the creative art forms as "easy" qualifications is a reality we must prepare for.

So, how do we teach creativity in this environment? First of all, direct your pupils towards singing shows. Some students may be reluctant readers, but they can still absorb visual resources. For example, when a contestant takes a well-known song and shakes it up, mixing the arrangement into a fresh composition, it is often very well received. Ask pupils to consider the judges' feedback.

Inventiveness is fundamental to establishing creativity. Writing by numbers using well-trodden genre conventions will not produce originality; instead, we must make students challenge their audience's expectations. Adverts often use subversive tactics and can offer a bank of ideas. The Shrek films are another example of imaginative use of genre, and can help to steer students away from tired clichs and archetypes.

Objects can work to accelerate this creative process, particularly when exploring a new viewpoint. An interesting introduction to a lesson might be to ask: what would your pen say about you and your writing? Provoke students to explore the metaphysical, examining their language choices from different angles.

Another strategy is to ask pupils to consider their own names as a way to build up their reflective skills. What connotations does their name have? Where does it originate from? This also reinforces the effectiveness of a well-chosen name as a method of characterisation. Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens and J R R Tolkien are all excellent examples.

Students' reflective commentaries must reveal their inspiration, provide evidence of wider reading and track the development of their writing and editing skills. Pupils must take critical ownership of their craft and overcome the most difficult hurdle for any writer: identifying when a piece is ultimately finished. One way to model this is a step-by-step drafting structure, breaking down aspects of the narrative into manageable chunks.

Finally, in order to be reflective, students must develop a productive and comfortable workshop environment in which to share their works in progress and critique the writing of their peers. Exam boards place importance on the workshop as an essential tool for building confidence and establishing drafting as a fluid process.

In a world overrun by digital creativity, where students express themselves through online communication, this approach encourages face-to-face peer assessment and allows pupils to evaluate how their work is received. To use another singing show analogy, the workshop becomes a way to see the emotional impact their writing has on the audience.

Sarah Oliver is writer-in-residence at the Priory Academy LSST in Lincoln

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