Show your emotions

27th June 2008 at 01:00
Subtle creativity in story writing is satisfying for the reader - and the writer. Sarah Oliver tells how to bring it out

Subtle creativity in story writing is satisfying for the reader - and the writer. Sarah Oliver tells how to bring it out

Ages 11-15

Sometimes the simple joy of creating a story can get so smothered in achieving assessment targets that the opportunity to admire the writing in its natural state is lost.

I have witnessed a wealth of talent, and on rare occasions flickers of sheer brilliance, in pupils' storytelling ability. But flourishing writers don't always get the best grades. It has made me think about other ways in which I can reward pupils as authors and develop confidence in their creativity.

"Show don't tell" has an immediate effect on the quality of pupils' creative writing. I ask my Year 10 class to brainstorm actions that correspond with specific emotions, such as anger (clench fists) or nervousness (bite nails). Pupils then altered sentences from "Julie felt sad" (tell) to "tears itched Julie's eyes" (show). This technique was then applied to character traits: "Jim is a generous person" (tell), to "Jim always shared his crisps at breaktime" (show). Using sensory stimuli such as smell, taste, sound, texture and colour also awakens creativity in even the most reluctant writer.

I used it successfully with a Year 7 class. The focus was shape poems. The stimulus: a selection of fallen leaves foraged from the school grounds. The aim was to get them thinking about something they might look at every day, but never really notice.

Pupils smelt and touched the different shapes and textures, taking time to contrast the vibrant living lime leaves to the shriveled copper ones. This simple and kinesthetic experience produced inventive leaf-shaped poems, rich with imagery. It also provoked reflections on our life cycle

Sarah Oliver is a children's writer and a NQT at The Westlands School in Sittingbourne, Kent

Capture creativity

- Gather free outdoor resources. Wild flowers make ideal stimuli for story inspiration. Pupils can imagine a new use for them, for example, a fairy's shelter.

- Frame creative writing lessons. If you're studying adventure stories, call the task a "mission".

- Use music to develop mood and atmosphere in writing.

- Start creative writing workshops, particularly good for key stage 4. Arrange the class into small groups and get pupils to take turns to read out their work and exchange feedback.

- Create a "writers of the term" display, with peer reviews of the stories. Peer assessment disguised as a book review can encourage praise and pride.

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