The brief from Dora Sowa, Assistant Head Teacher & Inclusion Manager, Furness School in Harlesden stated, “I am looking for the staff to be informed of the process of story writing which will enable them to enthuse the children’s writing and give them a platform to express their imaginative ideas.”
On the day we were faced with 51 teachers, including teaching assistants. They filled the hall and filled me with apprehension. Having chosen an ice-breaker which meant that they had to revert to childhood to do the exercise, was a tricky choice. I was delighted when they all took to the task eagerly. The outcome was successful and enjoyable and this set the scene for the rest of the day.
Aware that their classrooms contained EAL pupils and mixed ability, we used a very versatile set of sequencing cards, which allow for each child to be creative within his/her own ability levels. Some could write one word per card, thus becoming writers for Year 1 and Nursery children. Others could write in their first language. They could choose any number of cards and write the actions (doing words) shown in each card and also use the 5 senses to grow the story. Older pupils were also encouraged to write for younger ones, thus encouraging empathy. Each teacher was given a set of 18 sequencing cards and a chart to use in the classroom, with a list of suggestions as to the various ways they can be used.
The workshop on Journeys was particularly interesting. Actual published books were used and the many journeys within them were highlighted. With the Silence Seeker, a story set in a modern city, there were the many journeys of an asylum seeker and a young local boy who wander around looking for silence. We shared good practice gleaned from other teachers who have used this powerful picture book in urban classrooms. Three other stories with journeys were discussed: a school trip to the seaside; a dad taking his two children to see their grandmother, and a fabulous fictitious journey made up by a boy stuck on the bus in a traffic jam.
To encourage the reluctant reader, we did an exercise on changing endings of stories and highlighted work done with Silence Seeker backed up by a powerpoint presentation of children’s responses.
We gave handouts on how to write biography with a demo of biographies of Malorie Blackman Children’s Laureate 2013-15 and Benjamin Zephaniah.
We ended on a hilarious note when I read a story set in a forest (the school is doing a rainforest project) involving an animal party where animals without horns are excluded. Stopping suddenly at a dramatic moment in the story, the Furness teachers were told to finish it in their own words. There were many volunteers and so much laughter.
Feedback from Dora Sowa: What an amazing day. Many staff have already expressed this. Thank you for sharing your vast experience in the world of story writing. Staff have already started using the strategies shared.
Other comments from teachers included:
A number of ideas to stimulate imaginative writing that provided a wide range of practical and emotional outcomes. The materials are fantastic and have given an approach that can easily be adapted around any subject matter.
An excellent workshop beautifully delivered.
Refreshing ideas – simple and yet powerful examples of stimuli for writing, emphasis on importance to make writing purposes relevant to children's life experiences.