This page will always be a work in progress as I add more strategies and activities, linked to my most recent posts.
- Silent Walking and Writing – discovery beyond classroom restrictions
- A Forest of possibilities – The Cure’s music video as creative writing prompts
Writing for Area of Study – Discovery: a judicious critique
When students complete a final draft, it can be a difficult but much need exercise to reflect and critique their story. This is best achieved after time has lapsed – one of the most difficult things for teenagers to sometimes achieve: complete work way before the deadline so that there is time to read and re-read and re-consider if their ideas have been conveyed effectively.
Consider the two student stories published recently – both began as class exercises relating to Corbett Gardens; both explore characterisation through action and dialogue; both use descriptive passages to reveal emotion. Rather than beginning afresh, students could consider adapting existing narratives, and how they might be edited, to incorporate elements of the area of Study: Discovery.
These Boots – contributed to the if:books Australia Memory Makes Us live story by Kate Pullinger
Music memories make me, more than any other.
My first music memory is that of Nancy Sinatra singing ‘These boots Were Made for Walking’ when I was two or three. I imagine myself stomping around the lounge room in gumboots – I don’t recall exactly – but the lyrics are clear. The kind of simple words, actions and beat that appeals to young children. It was years before I realised a different meaning.
My mother helped give me this love of music and dance. The neighbours called her ‘Happy Burke’ because she always had the radio on, singing loudly. The reality must have been different: she had left family and friends behind in Canada, married and was raising four young kids in outer suburbia – Blacktown – without a car or phone or tv or much money.
Recently I celebrated my 50th birthday and asked people to RSVP with a song to share with me. A colleague chose Nancy’s song – maybe because I love wearing boots – and mum and I joyously stomped around once again.
Encourage students to write a memory in three paragraphs. Critique the different elements or features of These Boots – perhaps even write a reflection on this story, identifying what works or doesn’t work and suggesting areas for improvement. This will give students a starting point for their first draft.
Images as Stimulus
Both the post image and this park view are appropriate for encouraging students to develop ideas on ‘journey’, specifically physical journey. I find that older students are able to add people or characters into an ’empty’ image, but younger student may need more detail in the image. Be careful – sometimes an obvious idea is generated from a very obvious image eg. cowboy images generate cowboy cliches.
Use this image or another one more suited to your theme, and complete the following activities.
- in class, it helps to work in pairs – one image between 2
- begin by listing everything you can see in the image – time limit of 2 minutes
- next, write precise descriptive words for each thing listed – time limit of 5 minutes. Here’s an example: tree – bare, green, tall, broad, poplar, eucalypt, pine …
- write three questions you could ask about the image. This is aimed at encouraging people to think beyond the image to generate story ideas that are more interesting than than a literal interpretation. Could be something like: what happened here? what happens next?
- identify and describe the mood of the image
- think of a title – share this with your partner
- students share their ideas with the class – consider standing out the front and holding the image for all to see. This can be useful in promoting confidence prior to an oral presentation
- voicing: think who or what could be speaking in this image. Consider writing dialogue, but set a limit, say no more than 3 lines
- place a character within the image: develop a character profile – name, age, appearance, occupation, motivation, behaviour …
- share with your partner and consider writing a short conversation between your characters
- if students are stuck with writing dialogue, consider another quick activity: write 20 alternatives for the word ‘said’
Share ideas again, then allow students to write a narrative using some or all these notes and ideas.
Writing for the Area of Study – Journey
Inspired by Chapter 2 from The Blues Brothers titled ‘Cop Tires, Cop Suspension, Cop Shocks’
The New Car
“What’s this thing? Wha dja do to the caddy?”
Small town dreams and small town scenes flashed past as the two men sped away. Tumbling factories, dilapidated houses and rusty towers. Litter, wrecked cars and lifelines fading fast.
“I traded it”. Calm. Keep calm, that’s the way to deal with Tom, thought Jerry.
“What for?” Belligerence oozed from every word Tom barked.
“At the city auctions – it’s an old cop car”
“What? The day I get outta prison and you pick me up in a cop car?” Snorting disbelief, Tom grabbed the cigarette lighter, attempted to light up, then tossed it from the open window. Grumbling, he fished into his pocket for his own lighter. Cigarette lit, he sucked in smoke and smiled grimly.
Then, as if in agreement with the sullen mood, the signal chimed: clang, clang, clang. A boom gate lowered and the bridge began to lift and open.
Tom and Jerry sat, staring ahead. Tom tapping his fingers, staccato style, on the dashboard. “So, you like it?” Jerry tried to finish the conversation and impress his brother.
Finally, after all his efforts, Jerry decided he didn’t need this. He stomped on the pedal, lifted the clutch and forced the tyres into a spin. Smoke rose from the rear of the car, the stench of burning rubber clung to he car and the vehicle headed for the open bridge.
Tom sat back stiffly, gripping his seat. With grim determination Jerry continued and held the car straight as it sailed over the gap and landed with a thud on the other side. Thump. Bouncing on their seats, both men sat stony faced as Jerry drove calmly down the empty freeway.
“This car’s gotta lotta pick up”.
“It’s got cop tyres, cop suspension, cop brakes …” Jerry detailed the benefits of his purchase. “So, you like it?”
“Yes, but can you fix the cigarette lighter?” Tom’s simple request made Jerry smile.
Word count = 325
Writing for the Area of Study – Belonging
When students are not confident in developing their own narrative, it helps to model a clear structure by viewing and discussing a short film sequence. At just over four minutes in length, Renee is perfect for this activity. This black and white vignette is from Jim Jarmusch’s thought provoking Coffee and Cigarettes. A series of questions could provide ideas for the important elements of a narrative – consider the five ‘w’: who? what? where? when? why?
Students should take notes on specific moments in the film – especially when the camera shot changes. The white title on a black screen suggests a simple plot, which is reinforced by the single setting and two characters.
In developing a character profile, we might consider the character’s name and possible connotations. Students could ask themselves ‘why might Renee be sitting in the café?’
Consider the setting and suggested era. Students should note how this information is revealed, and discuss how they might include detail in their writing which appeals to the five senses.
There are a series of small actions that each reveal more information as the film progresses. This reminds students that ‘action’ in a story can be controlled and everyday, rather than large and explosive. Notice how simply turning pages could reveal the thoughts of Renee – what do we learn from the overhead shots?
If these details are revealed in a series of short paragraphs, the narrative structure is automatically more interesting than one or two long paragraphs.
The sparse dialogue also provides a model for students who need to build confidence in their writing. Much is revealed, and yet much is left to the audience to contemplate when Renee speaks with the waiter. Again, using separate lines and correct structure for speech can keep the story moving. Too often, students use dialogue to explain basic information.
Some students will have very definite ideas about this character, her motivations, emotional situation and age. Others will need to be more concrete and almost document what they see. Once a draft is finished, then students could share their writing and make suggestions for changes and improvements. Remember, there is no such thing as good writing – only good drafting.
- title doodle created by Aunt Harriet