Carolyn O'Grady hears how winners of the Write Here, Write Now competition achieved success
"Everyone's space nightmare came true early yesterday evening as orange faced alien stone stealers invaded one of Britain's most important sites."
So begins the winning piece of journalism in the Write here, Write now 2005 creative writing awards for primary schools run by the DfES. Written by Pooja Gunamal, Adam Ismail and Amy Warner (all aged 10) of Selwyn Primary School in the London borough of Newham, it covered an alien invasion at Stonehenge. Another prize winner, in the poetry category, included Suyamba Kumaresan (aged 10) of The Mount Primary School, Kingston upon Thames, for her poem, "Over-Active Imagination", about what she imagines is in a chest: "An elegant white swan; With wings like a fan, A precious diamond, From an Ancient Land?" goes one stanza.
Both are examples of an imaginative approach to writing, but they spring from different contexts and ways of working. At Mount Primary, where 46 per cent of children have English as a second language, the entry in the poetry strand came out of the school's Arts and Social Development Programme Writing group. Co-ordinator, Caroline Gupta, says: "This puts a lot of emphasis on opportunities to perform drama and poetry and aims to teach children to use their voices to help them with their literature."
Pupils come to the group in classes of between 12 and 28 for one hour a week in curriculum time and one weekend at the end.
Caroline says: "For us the competition begins and ends with speaking. There is a lot of class discussion of ideas for poems, after which children start exploring ideas individually or in pairs. They have access to a children's and adult thesaurus and dictionary and can also use a tape recorder because often they like to hear what they've written. To help with punctuation, a child may be asked to read his or her poem and the other children will identify where the punctuation should go, perhaps by holding up cards with punctuation marks. Later, children will test the structure of the poems by reading them to the others who will suggest ideas and changes. In a school with many vulnerable children (40 per take free school meals), competitions build pupils' confidence. Outside recognition is a huge incentive."
Children particularly liked seeing their work in a competition anthology.
At Selwyn Primary, gifted and talented co-ordinator Hilary Koppel used the competition to give a group of six Year 5 high achievers some extension and enrichment work. Children prepared entries in two of the competition's three areas (story or poem, journalism and persuasive writing). The winning group chose a picture of a spaceship landing on a stone circle. "As it developed each member of the group took on a different role," says Hilary.
"One was the ideas person, another the researcher and the third the editor.
They then wrote it together."
They researched stone circles and UFO sightings on the internet and looked at newspaper reports to see how major stories were covered. Hilary says:
"My only input was to make sure the story was credible, otherwise I stood back and let them get on with it."
It worked well as the children bounced ideas off each other. "A lot of our pupils have English as a second language and journalistic writing seemed to suit them. The competition makes them enthusiastic about writing. They see their writing valued by adults."
lSee the full results at www.writehere.org.uk
lOther writing awards: The Christopher Tower Poetry Prizes for 16 to 18-year-olds.
Foyle Young Poet of the Year for 11 to 17-year-olds.
Search for a School runs an annual poetry competition.
Young Writers produces magazines with competitions. www.youngwriters.co.uk
TESWrite Away competition (see page 26) www.tes.co.ukwrite_away
* See also www.teachernet.gov.ukeducationoverviewevents for a list of competitions.