How to help a child who can not do independent creative writing

(51 Posts)
Picturesinthefirelight Wed 21-May-14 09:54:36

Because me & his teachers are at a loss.

He is in Year 5 & there have always been big issues with writing. He can't make choices & can't think what to write about.

With coaxing and support and being led step by step along the task he can produce done nice work, or if its about a subject he's into like Mibecraft.

However yet again in tests he was given a Long Writing task ( about a hot air balloon ride) & at the end of 45 mins had only written the title.

He said he didn't know what to write as he's never been on a balloon ride so didn't know anything about it. A couple if years ago he had a massive tantrum over A writing task to do with having visited somewhere in holiday because he said he'd not been on holiday (he had but couldn't remember)

We suspected Aspergers but 2cahms visits & a private ed psych visit later they say he does not demonstrate the characteristics.

We're at a loss.

LittleMissGreen Wed 21-May-14 10:00:41

Have you/school tried the Pie Corbett talk4writing method? If I understand it correctly, it teaches children several standard frameworks for stories, which they then gradually learn to change more and more details in, to create their own stories. So they aren't ever having to start completely from scratch. Seems to be working well for my son with ASD.

nonicknameseemsavailable Wed 21-May-14 10:22:06

have you tried story bags/story cubes? story cubes are little dice things with pictures on so the child has some things they have to include in their story. you could make your own (for free) with a story bag so put objects in or paper with words on and he has to pick out a few and make up stories with them. I would probably forget the writing aspect of it and do it verbally first. in the car or walking to school, take it in turns to think of a bit of the story. or you could do it like those pictures we used to draw as children where you do one bit fold it over and then swap. so you are making up silly stories, making them fun. then as his confidence grows that he DOES have an imagination (I was always told at school I didn't) then he can move on to less guidance and more 'sensible' stories.

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 21-May-14 10:31:16

In class they use a variety of methods & he is now able to produce stories when he's given help, ideas, lists of things to include.

But in an exam ( these were SATS type papers ) hex writes nothing.

iseenodust Wed 21-May-14 11:07:40

Try mixing two helpful 'tools'
When planning a piece of writing show him how to Mindmap it so the initial getting something down part can be a bit more random.
Get him to think (Kipling's?) bottoms on a bench - wwwww
(Looks better with curvier handwritten w's)
The w represents who, what, why, where, when. eg who went on the balloon ride, when did they , why did they, where did they go, what did they see? If you can get him into the habit of using these 5 questions as the first 5 links on a planning mindmap, he will have a framework for any piece of writing.

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 21-May-14 11:11:08

That's part of the problem I think. He couldn't decide what they saw & did.

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 21-May-14 11:17:14
LittleMissGreen Wed 21-May-14 11:27:56

When you read school reading books (or whatever he now reads) with him, have you tried discussing the characters emotions with him? How do you think that the character is feeling? Why would they feel like that? How would you feel if it was you? What would you do next?
Whilst you say he has been assessed as not ASD if he has some ASD traits but not enough in every area for a dx, that is something that my boys find very hard to do. So I try to do this with them regularly.

iseenodust Wed 21-May-14 11:42:14

Looked at your link. DS yr5 is another logical thinker and would struggle with that emphasis on feelings (and I'm another who was told they had no imagination at school).

On car journeys we sometimes make up mini stories. We start by spotting some random person on the street and then take turns to just do the next sentence. They probably finish fizzle out in about 20 sentences but even if your DS only offers 'He walked down the street' it's a start and you can build it with 'he was astonished to see two green aliens waving at him from an upstairs window'. They are daft and rubbish but I'm hoping it helps imagination and vocabulary.

nonicknameseemsavailable Wed 21-May-14 12:21:54

is he a bit of a perfectionist? does he worry that he will pick the wrong options when story writing? so if he is given things he is ok because he thinks they are therefore 'right' because he has been given them but if he has to just come up with something he is too scared to say/write what he thinks in case people think it is wrong or silly? (that was largely my problem with story writing, and with art too, I was worried people would laugh at my efforts so I didn't do it!)

TeenAndTween Wed 21-May-14 12:32:03

I was just about to write something along the lines of what nonickname has just written.

The only 'wrong' option is not writing anything at all.

Can he really think of no ideas at all, does he dismiss ideas as not good enough, or does he waste all the time choosing?

DD1 has suffered from this at various times when she has to 'choose' something to write about/create.
We list all the possible ideas, sensible and far out as a bullet list.
She then ticks the ones she thinks sound good.
She also ticks the ones she thinks she can actually execute.
Then picks at any idea that has two ticks.

Bardette Wed 21-May-14 21:19:56

I'm surprised his teachers are 'at a loss' because this is a fairly common difficulty and there are lots of resources available. Have a look on the Black Sheep Press website at the Narrative resources.
Does he have difficulties in any other areas?

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 21-May-14 21:55:53

He's had lots if difficulties in the past but this year seems to have really clicked with his teacher who is open to trying different ideas.

12 months ago we were convinced aspergers but this academic year all those earlier traits seem to have disappeared

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 21-May-14 22:01:02

Yes he is a perfectionist & genuinely can't seem to think of ideas. Also in the past he has refused to use an example idea that's perhaps been discussed in class as that's cheating.

Once he was asked to write a story based on a picture. They were given 4 pictures to choose from. He cried because he couldn't decide which picture to choose.

His reading ability is very high for his age but writing has always been a problem. I've tried letting him dictate stuff into his iPad which sometimes helps, he's very good verbally. However last week he refused to present his work in front of the class (it was a balloon debate) as he was scared in front of everyone.

RiversideMum Wed 21-May-14 22:51:49

I often think we are making massive demands on children to expect high quality creative writing, especially in test conditions - what's creative about that?

nonicknameseemsavailable Wed 21-May-14 22:55:02

just having a google it seems indecisiveness can occur in quite a few different 'conditions' as well as just being the way someone is with nothing actually wrong but I wonder if it might be worth looking to see if any of the things like ADD/ADHD or OCD and anxiety might apply.

aspergers is possible - do you think he may have discovered a way of just functioning with his other symptoms he used to have? There are lots of people with aspergers who are either undiagnosed or who manage without any particular support. perhaps he is managing to cope with everything else but he needs teaching more techniques for this?

kesstrel Thu 22-May-14 15:19:33

My daughter is dyspraxic and also has quite poor long-term and working memory. She struggled hugely with story writing and inability to come o with ideas. Her solution was to write in the first person, somewhat "stream of consciousness", however it doesn't sound like that would help your son.

It really is outrageous that children are judged on creativity in this way. They should be judged on their ability to write (which is something that can be taught, while creativity is not). The huge focus on reading and writing primarily fiction also doesn't prepare them for the non-fiction and essay-type writing that they will have to do in secondary and out in the real world.

lifesentence Thu 22-May-14 15:45:54

I sympathise as my son was much the same. He had a terror of the blank page and still despises undefined questions, preferring subjects like maths where there is a definite correct answer.

Lots of home practise helped. He would have a homework and I'd coax him through it one sentence at a time. Keeping it v. light and game-like helps as well as giving clear targets such as say, three paragraphs, each of 4 sentences. To start with I'd have to suggest most of what went on the page but as he got older he learned to come up with more and more himself.

He was always behind his peers at English and still hates the blank page but as he got older was able to learn frameworks which could be applied to various exam questions. He made it through GCSE English and is happily doing A levels now in proper subjects with a right answer. Maybe not helpful, but if your ds is the same, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Justtoobad Thu 22-May-14 18:00:49

Would he be able to write nonfiction, so instructions on how to go on a balloon ride, or an advert about a company and how they have the best balloon ride.
Could he re tell you his journey to school, is what he says in detail, or does he not even remember these events. He may not have much of a visual memory.
Is he good with numbers?
Does he notice what you where, or if you look different etc?

Justtoobad Thu 22-May-14 18:33:40


Picturesinthefirelight Thu 22-May-14 18:42:34

"Would he be able to write nonfiction, so instructions on how to go on a balloon ride, or an advert about a company and how they have the best balloon ride. "

He struggles with things he doesn't have direct knowledge of, so struggled with a Geography project about a trip abroad. However he was able to produce a travel brochure ad after researching the country on the Internet.

Could he re tell you his journey to school, is what he says in detail, or does he not even remember these events. He may not have much of a visual memory.

Yes he could I think, especially verbally. But he can never remember what he had for lunch!

Is he good with numbers?

Yes, very good with numbers.

Does he notice what you where, or if you look different etc?

Yes he does notice for example if I've had a haircut.

Picturesinthefirelight Thu 22-May-14 18:42:58

"Would he be able to write nonfiction, so instructions on how to go on a balloon ride, or an advert about a company and how they have the best balloon ride. "

He struggles with things he doesn't have direct knowledge of, so struggled with a Geography project about a trip abroad. However he was able to produce a travel brochure ad after researching the country on the Internet.

Could he re tell you his journey to school, is what he says in detail, or does he not even remember these events. He may not have much of a visual memory.

Yes he could I think, especially verbally. But he can never remember what he had for lunch!

Is he good with numbers?

Yes, very good with numbers.

Does he notice what you where, or if you look different etc?

Yes he does notice for example if I've had a haircut.

Justtoobad Thu 22-May-14 20:13:08

I suggest he is a very literal person, especially your point about the travel mag but still noticing if you've had your hair cut. And knowing numbers/maths is very right or wrong.
Does he have friends that think and act the same way as him?
Would he be upset if you changed the colour of his bedroom curtains?
My DH sounds just like your child (not weird I hope!) I'm very creative and imaginative, he's clever with numbers and may I say rather boring (is that another mn thread)
What I'm saying is that maybe you can't teach creativity.

catslave Thu 22-May-14 23:45:45

We've had success with my son (10) and just getting him to read as much as possible - which means he now has a mental bank of plots he can choose from for imaginative tasks smile He's a real Minecraft and Lego obsessive - though just the following instructions, he couldn't take a pile of bricks and create something, no way. It's only just clicked that he can do this and that just like maths there are 'rules' you can follow (a bit like a recipe - he loves cooking with all its step by step action!) to make a story. He's just super-logical.

OutwiththeOutCrowd Fri 23-May-14 08:06:53

Stories have to be extracted sentence by sentence from my DS so you have my sympathies. Most of us are a bit stumped if asked to write about something we don't know about or that doesn't excite us in some way.
Could the balloon ride, for example, be over a Minecraft world? He could look down and see ... what...? Zombies? Creepers? Sheep? The buildings he sees from above could be Minecraft buildings he has built.
If necessary, the story could then be translated into a real world story.
The sheep could stay but the zombies and creepers would probably have to go ...

Picturesinthefirelight Fri 23-May-14 08:48:52

There would have to be pigs involved with ds, he's obsessed with pigs!

iseenodust Fri 23-May-14 11:06:41

Has he read The Ubelievable Secret Diary of Pig? That's a funny flight of imagination!

Picturesinthefirelight Fri 23-May-14 13:47:42

Yes, I bought it him for Xmas!

He refuses to eat sausages or even sweets with pork gelatine in!

HolidayCriminal Sun 25-May-14 16:07:10

Tonnes of sympathy & empathy, here.
Also dealing with y5 DS. Who doesn't tick expected boxes for XYZ SN.

At least yours will research on the 'Net. Mine gets quickly overwhelmed & has never done a school project.
I have resorted to asking DS to write shopping lists, or dialogues from the (newspaper) comics. Shopping lists of what he wants for Birthday. Sometimes I dictate to him. He still loathes all that & can take up to 2 hours of exclusive 1-to-1 for me to get him to write one full page. Anything just to put pen to paper.

School showed me a long story he'd done in yr4 that looked really creative; but in retrospect I suspect he copied it all out of a BeastQuest book. (sigh)

freetrait Sun 25-May-14 18:42:48

Maybe the tasks are just not concrete enough for him, and he needs help to get going. I am teaching in Secondary and each subject sometimes has to accommodate an extended writing task and mark it. We did one recently for Y7 and it was interesting- this is a mixed comp with SEN students, and in this particular class there is a boy with autism who is statemented for this. He couldn't get going with the task, was sat there writing nothing looking distressed. So, I went over and wrote him a list of questions that he needed to answer. He was then very happy and got on with it straight away. Also, the whole class were given sentence starters and vocabularly on a powerpoint that they might use. I think some children need this help and then hopefully as they get older and more experienced they can do without it.

freetrait Sun 25-May-14 18:43:56

Realise that I have spelling mistakes and bad english in this post!!! shock. Can do better, honest!

Picturesinthefirelight Sun 25-May-14 18:47:24

But what about an exam situation free trait, you're not allowed to give that sort if help then are you?

mrz Sun 25-May-14 20:50:23

No you wouldn't be able to give that sort of support in tests

freetrait Sun 25-May-14 21:18:30

No, agreed. But I guess the theory goes if they get that sort of support regularly they remember what to do for the test when they are not allowed it.

Picturesinthefirelight Sun 25-May-14 21:22:43

His teacher said he is ok now in class with support(didn't specify exactly what he does but I'm guessing its similar sort of strategies) but in tests he can't write anything.

wafflyversatile Sun 25-May-14 21:30:14

I'm not that au fait with minecraft but does he not require imagination to build a world in that?

Can he place his creative writing projects in minecraft world?

So for that test he could look forward to seeing his buildings from the air, or seeing if he can fly the balloon down the mines or drop diamonds from the basket? Take some dwarves on the flight? (I might be getting confused with dwarf fortress now) Also if he has to place his writing in minecraft that may constrains his choices which sounds like a good thing if he has trouble choosing from various options.

freetrait Sun 25-May-14 21:33:38

Maybe he needs more "tests" and an agreed strategy of support in the "tests" as well- support that can then gradually decrease as he gains in confidence. I wonder if it's anxiety that is paralysing him, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Does he get 1-1 support/interventions to help?

Picturesinthefirelight Sun 25-May-14 21:50:53

He doesn't have 1:1. Just his class teacher tries to help him as much as possible (but this does of course take away from the needs if the rest of the class ).

Picturesinthefirelight Sun 25-May-14 21:52:03

I'm going to suggest the Minecraft thing to him. He doesn't write about Minecraft much but does draw very detailed pictures.

freetrait Mon 26-May-14 18:30:18

Could you ask the school if an intervention is appropriate, better now than in Y6? If a teacher could give him 15 minutes 1-1 twice/three times a week at lunchtime/before/after school, this might make all the difference.

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 26-May-14 19:14:05

You mean pay for a private tutor?

mrz Mon 26-May-14 19:36:28

No the school would provide the intervention if a teacher is willing to give up their own time over lunchbreak.

Lesleythegiraffe Mon 26-May-14 19:44:23

I think there's far too much emphasis put on creative/imaginative writing.

Since I left school I've never had to do either.

What's the point making kids struggle through settings, characters, plots etc when it's something 99% of them will never have to do in real life?

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 26-May-14 19:44:42

I don't think that would be possible as his class teacher is also the deputy head & already runs various lunchtime/after school clubs as do all the teachers.

I wouldn't feel comfortable asking a teacher to give up their own time & ds also I wouldn't want him to give up his lunchtime/clubs especially as he's just started to socialise more in the playground.

freetrait Mon 26-May-14 20:49:54

Interventions are very normal, providing the right support where it's needed. I know our primary (one my kids go to) has several going on. Yes, it can be dependent on teachers giving up their time, but not always, sometimes they are timetabled. And in Secondary kids arriving with less than level 4 have support/intervention to get them up to level 4 so their access to the curriculum is better. This is normally not lunchtimes, but during part of form-time/another lesson- rotated so they don't miss the same thing too much.

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 26-May-14 22:10:00

He goes to a small group learning support session.

He has also (on the basis of computer based tests) been offered a place at a selective independent school.

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 26-May-14 22:11:35

Last year he was also in an English enrichment group based on the fact that his reading/comprehension levels were exceptional. He didn't get in this year though.

It's just writing.

wafflyversatile Mon 26-May-14 22:28:32

No one can be good at everything, or exactly as good at everything. On that score, as lesley says, it doesn't really matter. He can easily get through life without creative writing.

But he he will be charged with writing creatively throughout his school career so it does matter just now and it seems it is stressing him out, from what you say, so finding a way for it to be 1. not something that will hold him back from his general academic progress, and 2. less stressful for him even if that just means helping him care less.

I hope things improve for him. He evidently has creative imagination in his drawing. Maybe that is another way in. Visualising. Drawing a picture in his head then describing it in words.

No harm in asking about any interventions.

Good luck. Keep us updated. smile

me55monster Wed 28-May-14 18:04:45

Hi Pictures I've only skim-read the thread but appreciate this probably isn't the whole answer but my DS found this Descriptosaurus really useful for building vocabulary and learning some descriptors to be used in stories.

As I say, not the whole answer, but may be useful smile

wafflyversatile Sat 21-Jun-14 19:39:47

How's he getting on? I was reminded of this from a piece on BBC about minecraft in the classroom.

wafflyversatile Sat 21-Jun-14 19:40:20

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