My brilliant idea - Not so bleak

10th October 2008 at 01:00

English - Ages 11-16

Modelling good descriptive writing helps pupils improve theirs, so why not use some of the best? www.bibliomania.com has hundreds of classics.

I've used Bleak House by Charles Dickens with all ages and it always lifts their writing. We start with a descriptive extract from chapter two from, "The waters are out ." to "their graves". In 231 words, Dickens paints a scene that is cold, damp and decidedly bleak.

Using this, pupils plan their own piece, describing a scene that is hot and dry and using the same appeals to the five senses. Dickens includes sounds, touch - "a cold sweat" - and even "a general smell and taste of the ancient Dedlocks".

Pupils work on synonyms using a thesaurus to build up the impression of heat and drought, saving repetition for deliberate effect - just as Dickens did.

The results are some of the best creative writing they produce.

John Gallagher is head of English at Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls.

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