We all know that the burden of marking and assessment is particularly heavy if you’re an English teacher. And yet one of the things that keeps us going can be those little moments of frisson when we read something that one of our students has written that is just fantastic. When we’re just captivated by the description, or the idea, or the character… when we feel that we’re in the hands of a real burgeoning writer at work.
It might not happen very often. But on those rare occasions when it’s happened to me, I can remember feeling rather humbled and wishing that I could encourage more students to be that creative and imaginative.
When getting ready for some Year 10 creative writing recently, a colleague mentioned in passing a starter activity he had experimented with which had yielded some really enthusiastic responses. The basic idea is that you put a simple grid on the board:
You also display the following questions:
What is on their feet?
Describe their hands.
What is in their pocket?
Where are they going?
Students nominate a box from one to eight. They have to use the questions to fill in the box. If something interesting appears, the teacher’s job is to try to ask some leading questions to draw out more information. The student’s job is to say whatever comes into their head. This is often started as a whole-class activity, but can also be done in small groups equally well – when the class are comfortable with the idea.
My colleague was right. I tried this with one class – as a starter activity – and an hour later we were still going. The students came out with the most incredible ideas: the depth and sensitivity of their imaginations seemed to just take off!
English Teacher and author of A Bridge to GCSE English