Fruitful exercises

24th January 1997 at 00:00
I often approach schools clutching a carrier bag of oranges, satsumas, clementines or tangerines. No, I'm not attempting to recreate the spirit of Nell Gwyn, I'm about to run a writing workshop. And in all my many workshops, in many different situations, with many different ages, I have never known the Satsuma Workshop to fail. It encourages a freshness of vision, exploration, and a focus on using all the senses.

First you introduce the idea of poet as explorer - searching carefully, keeping all the senses on alert, noting thoughts and discoveries. You remind your group of the five senses. In a rather cavalier fashion I sometimes add a few extras, such as memory, imagination, comparison.

Distribute your satsumas (one each or a group satsuma, depending on your resources and generosity), then begin the exploration by asking for words that describe the feel of a satsuma. Gather the suggested words on a flip chart. Don't edit out at this stage, just encourage and try not to decry any suggestions; your group should feel confident to suggest freely without criticism. You can discuss and select the "best" words later. If patterns or connections emerge you can point them out or simply write them down close to each other, and with luck the group will point them out to you: "This word rhymes with that one"; "These all start with the same sound". You can drop in technical terms such as alliteration and onomatopoeia if and as you feel appropriate.

Every now and then read out - with relish - the words you have gathered. "Squidgy . . . squashy . . . dimpled . . . pimpled . . . spotty". Even the rather basic "round" has an enjoyable sound to those who have ears to hear. Encourage the use of every sense. You even listen to your satsuma - I particularly enjoy this bit because you have to be quiet to hear a satsuma. You'll (hopefully) be amazed at the range of sounds you can get from a satsuma, from a gentle, hollow rocking of a shaken satsuma, to the sigh of a satsuma being peeled, to the dull thump as the little Herbert at the back of the class drops his.

Peel it bit by bit, listening, looking, smelling, tasting. What does it look like? What does it remind you of?

"It smells of . . . Christmas!" "It (a peeled satsuma with the peel coiling around it) is like a snake!" "It's pulling its tongue out!" "It's spitting at me!" "It's round and podgy and . . . it's a Satsumo wrestler!" Have fun. Finally, having eaten your satsuma or worried it to a pulp, you can gather your many captured words, discuss them, select them. You can group them together into a class poem or the group can set off straight away to do individual poems.

In later sessions, you can build on this introduction by focusing on one particular sense. But at the end of this workshop you could have a poem or a description. You should at the very least have a rich hoard of words, the seeds for a poem and a tang in the air!

Michaela Morgan is the author of many children's books. She regularly runs writing workshops and will be leading a teacher's Inset day on Stimulating Creative Writing at the Bath Literature Festival (February 27-28)

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