Write up your street

17th February 2006 at 00:00
In his last of three reports from a Canterbury primary, Crispin Andrews sees how creative writing flourishes in a cross-curricular environment

A showdown between a flying wolf and an unusually heroic bunny rabbit might not at first glance appear to have the makings of an epic work of literary genius.

But as nine-year-old Ryan leaves his classroom at Kingsmead Primary School he is feeling 10 feet tall. Not only has he thought of a good story - but for once it didn't have to be all his own doing. Those prawn cocktail crisps and that Mars bar will no doubt taste pretty good this lunchtime!

Ryan has never particularly enjoyed writing. Coming up with creative responses to unfamiliar situations is always for him a bit of a hard slog.

But today is different, today he does have an idea. More importantly he has also been given the raw materials with which he might be able to carry the idea through to a successful conclusion.

"My wolf is stronger and meaner but the rabbit is much smarter," explains Ryan, who is working out a realistic scenario in which the two might conflict - with, of course, good triumphing over evil. "The wolf wants to eat the rabbit but the rabbit might easily trick him into getting lost or stuck somewhere."

Working on a two-week project involving elements of geography, literacy, ICT and PHSE, Ryan and his Year 5 classmates at Kingsmead Primary in Canterbury are benefiting from the school's cross-curricular approach to learning. The writing frames for plot and character in front of them are far from blank, as are the minds which are eagerly filling the pages with useful ideas.

To many young people, wolf might easily mean baddie, but why a rabbit for a hero? On a visit to Canterbury Royal Museum and Art Gallery, the children saw an exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the work of Dick Bruna.

The Dutch children's writer and illustrator first drew a picture of a white bunny called Miffy to entertain his baby son in 1955. Since then 28 books have been published all over the world. As part of their story-writing project, Kingsmead's Year 5s have been looking at some of the best. "It's how a character is portrayed in the children's stories, not whether it happens to be a rabbit, a person or a wolf," explains class teacher Michelle Anderson. "First-hand experience of the Miffy character has given some of our less naturally creative children a start point from which they can design their own characters.

"Although they might be rabbits," she adds. "They will probably be nothing like Miffy."

Sketch-maps of the local area are also being referred to as the children construct plans for stories set in Canterbury itself. With a recognisable context full of familiar places which children can easily visualise, creative energies can be focused on the development of character - and not expended thinking up interesting and realistic settings in which the characters might interact.

Ryan is thinking that the post office with its secure front area, or even the museum, which is locked up every night, might be a good place for his rabbit to trap the wolf. Meanwhile, another child is creating a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk type adventure around a large tree near to where she lives.

"The tree is only small when they find it," she explains. "But when they take it home and water it, the tree grows so fast that soon it has covered the whole house!"

Year 5's creative writing project is all about joined-up learning. Although the school has abandoned a subject-specific curriculum, the idea that many individual aspects of children's learning might build towards a central focus is actually very reminiscent of the core tasks in QCA schemes of work.

But while visiting the museum, filling in Canterbury maps and analysing characters and storylines from a number of short stories might give the children the tools they need to plan and write their own tales, this is far from the end of the project. Once their plan is complete they will be using PowerPoint to turn their story into a book for a reading buddy in the infant school.

"Linking this project to a role of responsibility that the children really enjoy playing within the school has motivated but also focused the children throughout each stage of the learning process," says Michelle Anderson.

"Taught discretely in separate time slots, it would have been much more difficult to fit the elements of literacy, geography, PHSE and ICT contained in this project together in such a meaningful and productive way."

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