Picture this: a child in the corner of a playground, or at a kitchen table, or up a tree, with a notebook, a fistful of paper, a tablet. Busy scribbling, typing, chewing on a pencil, caught up in the magic of creating something, saying something. Without being asked to.
This is our challenge. To encourage and inspire children to want to write, in school or at home – or even up that tree. What can we do when today’s youngsters seem easily pulled away from the written word by the flashing, interactive, next-level world they live in?
Read all about it
Read, read, read and then read some more. Access to quality texts is key to gaining ideas, images, viewpoints and a wide vocabulary; stories, newspapers, blogs, encyclopaedia, comics. Regularly refresh class libraries with new books. Visit public libraries and allow proper time to browse. Check out book award shortlists for great books, and browse Pinterest for suggestions. Read aloud to children –they are never too young, or too old! And keep to the rules of reading – the right to read anywhere, to dip in, to read it again, to mistake a book for real life.
Give a reason
Children need a reason to write, an audience, even if it is simply themselves. Writing for family members, neighbours, other children, teachers, politicians, celebrities – thank you cards, letters, stories – is good for developing a voice that changes dependent on the intended reader. Encourage family writing, where family members can collaborate on newsletters or travel journals or diaries. Competitions can enthuse and excite – try the 100 Word Challenge, The Wicked Young Writers Award, or the BBC Radio 2 500 words competition.
Independence and choice
Develop opportunities for children to choose what they write themselves. Very often children will produce a far better quality piece of writing if they have ownership of it, rather than being shoe-horned into a piece that they don’t really care about. Writing journals are a brilliant way of giving children independence and the chance to develop their own ‘voice’. Furnish them with a list of possible forms of writing (letter, dairy, instructions, horoscope, obituary, match report, newsletter, story etc) to get them started. Encourage the use of a notebook to jot ideas in, at home and in lessons. There are a multitude of websites and apps which support children in writing and publishing their own work, for example Storybird. Start a class blog where each child has their own page. Writing Clubs can give children quality time to write and share their work. Has your school got one?
Ignite the imagination
Anything can spark an idea and encourage pen to paper – objects, pictures, sounds, smells, trips out, sound tracks, film clips. Take a look at Literacy Shed, a fantastic collection of short films which cannot fail to inspire. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a wonderful collection of mysterious settings to pique interest. How about exploring the Number 10 Petitions online (may need supervision) to find a cause worth writing a letter to the Prime Minister about. Thriller Whiz is a story title generator which comes up with weird and wonderful suggestions. The last time I used the website, it generated ‘The Frog Tumult’. Hmm… Use digital images to create a storyboard in preparation for writing. Check out Coventry’s Digital Creativity Awards for examples of animation, podcasts and film. And we have a range of Pinterest boards to help with ideas for story events, settings and characters.
One day a child will spontaneously punch the air in triumph and shout ‘YES!!’, because they finally got that sentence right or worked out how to end the story. Hopefully whilst staying in the tree.