The new mandatory module of the Stage 6 English Syllabus for Year 11 Standard is called ‘Reading to Write’, and, as such, allows students to reflect upon and develop skills in writing analytically and imaginatively. For my class, I chose Blueback by Tim Winton as our main text, and chose a number of texts and extracts related to water as stimulus for student writing. I have previously written about the work of Deb Westbury, and specifically shells:
and decided to use this text as a model to inspire creative writing in Reading To Write.
I began by distributing large shells, sourced from previous trips to Fiji, to students in pairs or small groups. Students examined these and wrote a list of descriptive words, then considered emotive terms and deeper connotations. I asked the class to wonder aloud: what are possible metaphors for a shell? Ideas such as home, time, shelter, protection and security were mentioned.
Next, I handed out a clean copy of the poem and read this aloud as students followed, then I distributed an annotated copy (both are available from the post Shells – emotional discovery of aging). I wanted students to make connections and develop words and ideas, rather an spending most of the lesson identifying language features. This proved a positive experience as students engaged with Westbury’s word choice and images instead of adopting a negative approach to ‘understanding’ the poem.
We discussed the structure of shells and the numbered stanzas. Students immediately suggested the ‘what’ of each stanza – the life progression of human interaction with the beach environment. This became the basis for our creative writing:
Students read back through an earlier journal draft: they had written about a moment in their life when immersed in water. Using this idea, or another, they were to write a five paragraph narrative where
- the first paragraph was a brief description of the environment
- the second outlined a childhood memory (or journal draft)
- next, explore an adolescent or juvenile memory
- in the fourth paragraph, a shift occurs – perhaps one of environmental degradation
- finish with a note of finality, or perhaps a whimsical or sentimental statement.
I provided an example of my memory of a local waterhole that remains a popular swimming spot, although there have been obvious environmental changes over the last 35 years.
For those students who claimed they had no memory or experience to work with, I suggested this possibility:
- bathtub and bathroom
- public baths or hot tub
- hydro therapy
- bed bath
- reflection on washing and cleansing – new opportunities.