Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Round Robin Story - It Worked!

This week we did a round robin story session.

Last week, I had to go to a colleague's mother's funeral and by the time I got back, there wasn't time to run a formal class, so I sat down with them individually to talk about work they had done. But clearly, some had run out of ideas.

Yesterday, we began with a story reading as usual. The story, "Andromeda" by Jenny Blackford, was a version of the Greek myth with a twist. Andromeda IS the sea monster when she gets angry. And poor Perseus is unable to rescue her because of what happens to him. It occurred to me that maybe they didn't know the myth, so the twist wouldn't mean anything and we started by talking about myths and which ones they knew. Anthony, the sole boy, did mention "Medusa" so I was able to use that as a starter. After reading the story, I told them that this was an example of a classic story that the author had been able to play with and make her own, just as they, the class, had made fairy tales their own a few weeks ago.

Then we started the writing. One of the students had something to finish editing, but everyone else just couldn't think of anything, even with the prompts I'd given them.They've done well so far, but exhaustion hits us all and the Year 10s have a lot to do before their final week of classes, then exams.

"Right," I said, "we're going to do a group story." I had found some prompts written especially for round robin stories and gave them the choice of prompt. Each of us wrote for five minutes, then passed on the paper to the next person to continue.

And you know what? It worked! Students who had had no ideas scribbled away furiously. When we had finished, each of us picked up a story to read. In fact, there were five group stories on different themes. Tez, the one who had had difficulties with ideas for the last few weeks, cheekily killed off the characters in her last slot and happily wrote "the end."

There was much laughter when the stories were read and afterwards I promised to type up the lot and post them on our blog. The kids had a ball yesterday and everyone actually wrote something! And, silly as the stories were, they were actual stories, not the equivalent of a game of Consequences.

Such a pity the subject has been given one year and dropped for next year. I have learned almost as much as the students and could have done a wonderful class next year. I have treated my students as adults and assumed they were all writers. I've kept my promise that it wasn't going to be "English extensions."

C'est la vie!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trying Everything! Poetry in the Creative Writing Class

I forgot to post about the other week when I got the students to write poems, using the readwritethink.org web site. It's a very useful site designed for teachers. I've used it in the past to get my class to break down their persuasive essays, but one of the other staff used it with her Year 7 students, who had to write poetry for English, and it's very good. It has some templates for different types of poems, such as acrostic, haiku and theme.

Most of the problem my students have is producing something finished. Oh, they can all do it, eventually, but I thought that doing this as an exercise would make them feel good about themselves, that would be fun and would mean that everyone could do at least one piece of finished written work by the end of the session.

Really, all I had in mind was about twenty minutes early in the class, that would get the juices flowing and help them focus on their works in progress. But somehow, after we'd read a short story together, discussed what had to be done and they had got stuck into the poems, it ended up taking most of the session. And all of them did at least two or three pieces, which we read aloud before we left. And that was fine. Sometimes you can't do everything you planned and just have to go with the flow.

I wrote some samples, myself, to show them before they started(exemplar work, to give them an idea what they had to do).
For example, my diamante poem:

                                     Thick, thin,
                            Exciting, amusing, expressing,
                                 Read them and rejoice,
                                  Brooding, thinking, amazing,
                                      Sad, funny,

Okay, not brilliant, but it followed the template and gave them some idea. I did a theme poem on the sun(they give you a theme and a shape to use with it.

I did an acrostic with the letters for BOOK;

Old, smelling of leather,
Open with a rustle of cool pages,
Keeping joy for me.

When the Year 10 students were watching Romeo And Juliet in the library, I wrote this haiku:

Darkness, Romeo,
Nightingale or lark? The lark!
Lovers say farewell.

I know, it's supposed to be on nature and I did one of those too, but this worked well enough to show my students as an example. None of them ended up writing a haiku anyway. They did acrostics, theme and diamante. And they had fun! And they all learned that they could write something. They were happy to take away their poems with them.

I don't think this is something you can use more than once in class, but I did suggest to them that if they had a bit of writer's block this might be a way to shake up the brain cells.

Anyway, this worked, though I doubt if any of them has used it to fix writer's block.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

This Week's Creative Writing Class

It's not far from the end of the year and the end of this subject at my school. The electives have been rearranged to make room for one more period of science and that means scrapping most of the electives and arranging the remaining ones differently. And my Year 10 students only have a very few weeks before they do their exams and leave us. Between now and then, there is at least one Year 10 excursion on a Tuesday, when I have this class, and Cup Day.

So I have to make the best of what time is left. I think my policy of stories that are short is working. There's less chance of someone starting off a story that just can't be finished. One of the girls has started one that looks like it might not work because it will be too long and never finished. She isn't sure where she is going with it and won't take my advice to write the last scene. I will have to sit her down and get her to plan it out, or ask her to drop it and try one of the story starters I have supplied. She has been doing quite well so far, but this isn't going to work.

I must think about this some time today and leave some instructions, because next week, I am the one who is not going to be there, at least till the second half of the session - there is a funeral to attend, alas! Fortunately not too far away and there will be other staff going. I might grab everyone when I return and set up a round robin story we can all write together. I will need to keep the theme simple.

Two of my other students have proved to be a pleasant surprise - nobody in this class is ever going to be a professional writer, but they have come up with the goods regularly.

But so far, there is only one student who has not quite managed to produce anything publishable - not finish, anyway. However, this week, I persuaded her to go back to her first piece for the semester and take a section of it to expand. It worked, sort of. She did finish something, that needs editing, but she finished it. Unfortunately, she has been a bit distracted recently and sneaked in some time doing on line job applications when she should have been writing.

Still - she managed some poems the other week, when we went to an education web site that does templates, and read them aloud to the class. I think that worked. It was very exciting to see her write - and read out - completed poems. That told me that even a student who is distracted can manage something if it's structured enough. It's not that she can't write, it's just that she starts stories and can't finish them and then won't drop them as soon as she realises this. She did tell me that she writes in Wattpad(I don't have her details) and I believe her, but Wattpad encourages the authors to break everything up into short chapters, so they simply keep writing till they run out of steam and call it a chapter. Not good. And there just isn't time to encourage her to break that habit. We have one session a week and she doesn't have the Internet at home, so doesn't update her work there.

What can I do now? Any suggestions?