’Twas a few weeks before Christmas and all through the school, Christmas spirit reigned supreme. Lights twinkled on the tree in the hall, tinsel festooned every door handle and Christmas songs wafted along the corridors.
“Right, tomorrow, you’re going to write a story,” I said.
“What about?” they asked.
“Whatever you like,” I said. “So long as it’s something to do with Christmas.”
There was a murmur of incredulity and a forest of hands.
“You mean, we can choose our own story?”
“Yes” I said. “Any story you like, so long as it has a Christmassy theme.”
The excitement in the room was palpable. They don’t get to do this type of activity anymore. These children are used to checklists, modelled texts, slow writing. They practise their fronted adverbials, edit and re-edit and tick off success criteria as they go. They’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to go off-piste.
Luckily they had me – here to rescue story writing for them while injecting some festive spirit into the mix for good measure.
“Here are some pictures to help inspire you,” I told them, handing out armfuls of sparkling winter wonderland scenes.
“Take one home, stick it up by your bed and try to think of a story around it.”
Fired by imagination
The next morning, after a brief preamble about what makes a great story and some time to chat through their plots, I set them off. This is going really well, I thought, as the pages filled up. What could be better than a set of Christmas stories fired by young imaginations and told in their own inimitable style? The answer, as it turned out, was “quite a lot of things”.
The first clue was in the titles. There was Christmas Zombies, The Christmas Disaster and Snowy Nightmare. We also had Rudolph’s Revenge, The Killer Elf and the enigmatically named The Christmas Football of Doom.
I circled the classroom, searching eagerly for the magic of Christmas, but all I got was zombie killers hiding in stockings, children taking on burglars in armed combat and elves with machetes driving Ferraris through Santa’s workshop, only to end up expiring in a pool of their own blood.
These weren’t the only casualties. Grammar was suffering and spelling had taken quite a battering, while most punctuation was clearly in hiding from the incessant gore-fest.
But then, like a Christmas star, the book at the bottom of the pile came shining into view and suddenly all was good again.
Here was a frozen wonderland, a crackling log fire and a child with a magic Christmas wish. Here was punctuation, embedded clauses, correctly punctuated dialogue and effortlessly elegant parsing.
I was immediately filled with festive literary delight, which only dimmed slightly at the last paragraph – when the zombies came down the chimney and killed them all.
Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a primary teacher in the Midlands