Writing Strategies

Article excerpt

As teachers we might know where we want children to get to in terms of their learning at a certain point in time--but who are we to say what is the best way for a particular individual to reach that point? Over prescribe by insisting that learning moves in a certain way and we may even stunt development altogether. Allow children to pursue learning goals in the manner that best suits their talents, temperament and interests, and individuals may surprise us and end up taking their learning even further than we expect.

Take a lesson in a Year 6 which aims to help children understand how tensions can be created in the opening paragraph of a story and how it might hint at what comes later.

In order to facilitate a learning experience that is both focussed and flexible enough to accommodate individuality, it is necessary for the teacher to have at their disposal a range of strategies that provoke responses, direct creativity and guide preferred approaches towards the desired end. So it may be that some youngsters will be able to create tension in their own writing if they first hear or read it in the words of a professional author, or maybe even a child from a previous year who has produced an effective piece of writing.

This is best achieved when writing is developed over a period of time and by studying a text in some depth. The following texts and teaching ideas offer teachers a variety of strategies to help children explore these text features and to use them for themselves.

The following extract would be a good starting place, showing children one effective way of building tension that also hints at what might follow.

'For as long as anyone could remember, the beach had been deserted--once-thriving signs of life nowhere to be seen. Not a single bird sang or flew overhead and from the surrounding undergrowth, not one creature ever ventured forth to bask in the heat of the mid-day sun. Still in their hiding places, not a sound could be heard. Local fisherman had heard the stories. Passed down from generation to generation, even the hardiest seafarer simply kept away. And besides, why waste time? Fish no longer swam in these waters. Yet, on this beach, where even the waves seemed to hurry towards the shoreline as if in haste to reach the safety of its brilliant yellow sands, the sense of isolation was not quite complete. It was impossible to dismiss a certain feeling that somewhere within this deserted paradise, something was out there--watching, wondering, waiting!'

This is an adaptation of Anthony Horowitz's introduction to the Greek myth, 'Glaucus and Scylla' (see The Kingfisher Book of Myths and Legends by Horowitz and Stevens--to be published imminently in paperback). In the original tale a massive sea monster lurks within the waters but the isolation could just as easily have been caused by pollution, a natural disaster or even an alien landing. Children could come up with their own reasons why the beach might be deserted and then consider how this might be hinted at in the opening paragraph.

Some children might need to go into the stimulus in greater depth before embarking on their own effort. Phrases that produce tension from the text can be highlighted and in some cases showing how a particular word or phrase hints at subsequent events creates more reader enjoyment than just giving the game away in the opening line. 'There was this big sea monster and it was so scary that it scared everything off and so that's why there's nothing on the beach--wanna read on!?!'

In detective and other mystery or adventure stories, tension is usually withheld effectively so watching the beginning of the Granada TV version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, or The Speckled Band with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, can give children further insights into how to create tension and hint at what is to follow. Stopping on Dr Mortimer's ejaculation that 'it was the footprint of a gigantic hound! …