Creative writing tips for teachers

Literacy co-ordinator and ideas magpie Kate Parietti explains how she uses video, drama and real-life experiences to help students develop their creative writing skills.
Engaging children and encouraging them to write has become increasingly difficult in the classroom. My children are bombarded with interactive and visual images constantly through the media and the internet and, as their teacher, it has become much harder for me to compete. Who wants to read or write an emotional descriptive piece when they can be fully immersed in this feeling through interactive game play?
This challenge has led me to look at how I can use these media, and more dynamic approaches, to engage children in wanting to use their literacy skills and to hook them into becoming creative and thoughtful writers.
Using video
One way which is sure to engage children is through the use of video, in particular TV and film. There is a wealth of materials on YouTube, and other platforms, which will help children to explore and fully develop ideas. Always begin with the learning objective and ensure that video clips can fulfil the language and structural features of the relevant text type.
For example, with my year 3 class I used the Jason and the Argonauts films to help them to explore the key features of the myths and legends genre. Using the films I was able to cover everything from monsters to settings to quests to heroes in a much more inspiring manner than simply using a text based resource. Another year 3 activity harnessed the power of Doctor Who to look at character emotion. I then used it as a way to discuss the role of pace, movement, setting and character to help the children to structure their writing.
Non-fiction can be dealt with equally as well. Recently a number of documentaries on the second world war soldier and footballer Walter Tull, enabled the children to gain a timeline of the events in his life to support them in the creation of a biography.
By using visual prompts the children feel more confident and ready to write. They have had time to build up and discuss their vocabulary and then adapt this to the writing they want to create. It also allows comprehension, text organisation and sentence structures to be taught in an exciting and meaningful way for the children.
Real life experience
Another approach that can help children to connect emotionally is for them to experience it for themselves. I've had great success in helping the children to build up their vocabulary and to create exciting emotional writing using this method. For example, I worked with my year 6 class on the theme of 'the race'. I armed myself with a starter gun and took the class into the playground to enable them to experience what it felt like to prepare for a race, to hear the starter gun and to then run the race – watch this lesson in a video created with Teachers Media.
It resulted in many of the students using much more vivid language immediately after the race which they could draw on when back in the classroom. We also looked at how to adapt their sentence styles and structures to follow the flow of the race.
Cross curricular writing
Engaging children and encouraging them to write has also been boosted since the introduction of a creative curriculum in school. This offers more opportunities to extend and develop children's writing through hooking them into a topic that is being taught across the curriculum. This full immersion into a subject can be very powerful for children and enables them to explore and understand concepts previously reserved for secondary school pupils.
Our year 5 topic on South Africa was linked to the book Journey to Jo'Burg and allowed for full exploration of both the country and the time period of the book. This topic led to writing on apartheid, character description and biographies on Nelson Mandela.
Traditionally this sort of activity would have been reserved for KS3 however the consistent link between the foundation subjects and English enabled the children to access and enjoy them and create work that was far superior to anything they might have created in a separate stand-alone literacy hour.
Adding drama
Many drama techniques enable the children to become immersed into the life and world of a character. Encouraging hot-seating, conscience corridors, debates and improvisation engages children can increase their understanding of a text and their ability to express their opinions in written form.
For example, taking a dramatic approach to understanding how it feels to be a soldier can lead to a far deeper understanding of war and how this might have affected the soldiers. In turn this helps the children to write more thoughtfully and creatively.
Rather than feeling that I compete with the interactive games and digital media that engage children, I feel more like a magpie. Stealing the ideas and approaches and using these as hooks and new ways to stimulate the children, gets them excited in a lesson and it's this excitement and engagement that means they'll achieve the most.
Take a look at Kate in action in the video Visible Improvement Primary Literacy. A film created by Teachers Media as part of its Visible Improvement series
Kate Parietti is literacy coordinator, at Churchend School, Reading, Berkshire.