Freeze-frame the mind's eye;My best lesson;Primary

12th June 1998 at 01:00
Children want action in their stories, not description. Carol Ward has a way of redressing the balance.

Young writers are often reluctant to break away from the all-action story. Even the most competent rarely include much in the way of description. Games and exercises can produce good descriptive passages, but the idea rarely transfers to the children's story-writing. However, there is a method that prescribes the structure of a story in a way that makes a balance of description and action inevitable.

It can ease matters if the children base their stories on a personal experience. Once the children have chosen an event they believe other pupils will enjoy, they tell the story, orally at first, to a friend. The friend is encouraged to ask for clarification and extra details. Next, the storyteller has to imagine someone has made a film or video of the story. I ask the children to close their eyes and picture the opening scene - what the audience would see as the titles fade. Then they have to freeze-frame that shot and write a paragraph on what they could see.

Children are reminded that no one is moving or speaking and they are merely recording what they see. Who is there? Where is it? What is everyone doing? When is it? What else can you see?

Once this has been drafted, they can mentally press "play". Another paragraph or two describing the action may take them to the end of the story. I ask the class to finish with another freeze-frame. "Who is there at the end? What can you see? How are peopleyou feeling as the credits start to roll?" This is one way of looking at story structure: as a picture followed by action followed by another picture. If the children are writing a longer story the pattern is repeated. Yes, it is a prescriptive method and not one that should be used too frequently, but many older juniors enjoy using it now and again and it improves awareness of structure in their story-writing. It also ensures that everyone can write an enjoyable story they can recognise as more "grown up".

* Carol Ward is a former middle school head of English.

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