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How can I help my 10 year old son with creative writing?(14 Posts)
My son is in Year 6, he's in the top set for maths and spellings, did well in his assessments at the end of Year 5. For info, he is NT.
The problem comes with English, in particular creative writing. His spelling is great, as is his grammar, he understands and can identify similes, metaphors, personifications etc etc. HOWEVER, he cannot use them in a piece of writing. Cannot get beyond:
The boy ran along the riverbank. There was a girl in the river, splashing. The boy jumped in to save her, and then sat on the grass.
When I ask him to make it more interesting, add metaphors and whatnot, he gets really upset.
It's like there is no imagination there, which would be fine, as he has a scientific/logical way of thinking, and does well in anything fact based, except that obviously he has to do English at school for another 6 years, and I think he and I might both lose our minds between now and then. It doesn't help that English is my subject and I write (not creatively) for a living, so I find it really hard to see it from his point of view. I just get it, he doesn't get it at all.
If there anything that I can do? Would a tutor help?
The absolute most helpful thing is reading. (Obvs ...)
Is he already spending the maximum possible amount of time reading aloud with an adult? (That is, spending at least half an hour every day taking it in turns to read a paragraph or chapter of really well written children’s or classic literature.)
FWIW I rather like your intriguingly opaque story example!
He has to do English but very little of it is actually creative writing. Reading, analysing different types of fiction and non fiction, studying plays and poetry and varying the style of their writing to suit the form and audience.
What does his teacher say?
We do read together, though perhaps not as much as we should. Will try and get back in the habit of a bedtime half hour, like in the old days. We're got a copy of Goodnight, Mr Tom that I've been asking him to try, perhaps I'll start it instead.
He just doesn't seem to be able to apply what he reads, or learns in the classroom, to his own work. And faced with a blank page, he goes into a wide-eyed panic, and does nothing at all; it's like he's been memory-wiped. When we were talking about the above example, he couldn't even answer questions like: What would happen to your body if you jumped into very cold water? What might you see along a riverbank?
Am worried that when her sits Year 7 entrance exams in Jan, he'll spend half of the allocated time freaking out at the question.
Just a thought, leaving aside the issues of expecting children have to spend so much time on writing creatively …
I wonder if you could, as a start, get him to use his logical ability to 'investigate' the example you give, as might a forensic scientist. Present it as a challenge, in the sense of what information do we actually have here?
Why was the boy running? Late for school, practising for an athletics competition? Chasing the girl?
We only know that the girl was splashing. Children do splash in rivers, did she need saving? Did she need saving from the boy, did the boy actually save her - why did he sit on the grass?
Each of you could have a go at competitive writing - each of you trying to make the meaning of the writing so clear that the other can't challenge it. That maybe would help your son to write more and use different vocabulary as a first step to more creative writing - without realising it.
Maybe get him to keep a journal? Let him write how he feels, physically and emotionally "I'm sat on a padded stool, I like how it feels". I had writers block during my degree and one of my tutors suggested this. Really helped open up my 'writing' mind.
For creative writing there is a lot to be said for just getting them reading. Make him pick a book but let him choose the book is probably my advice.
Break it down by asking lots of questions: how is he feeling, how can you show that with an action not a word? What was the water like when he jumped in? How exactly did he save the girl? Try getting him to focus on learning where he can add more detail and how to do this by talking it through in detail with him. Push for more exciting vocabulary - more interesting to read and a lot more satisfying to write. How else could he begin that sentence? Where could he add adjectives or adverbs?
Look up 'Descriptosaurus'. It really helped my daughter start to think about the language she used.
Also help him plan his work.
Writing a mind map with ideas or simply
To focus what he's going to write where really helped my kids.
I was that child: my stories were "this happened, then this happened, then this happened...". I found it boring having to write descriptions: part of the problem was that I could see it clearly in my own mind, so I didn't need the words, even though other people would. And the more my mum (who was a teacher) tried to persuade me, the more I resisted. When she said things like "how would you feel about jumping into the river?", it felt like I was being interrogated. I think also part of the problem might was that I kept trying to write in the style of young children's books, which describe things using pictures instead of words. "The Queen decided to disguise herself as a pedlar-woman: she put on old clothes, and changed her face." A book without pictures would have to use far more description to make it come alive in the reader's mind.
I was only persuaded when somebody pointed out the way that my favourite authors (such as Roald Dahl) use description, especially to make the vividly-imagined villains come alive.
Here's an exercise that might work: find a story he hasn't read yet, with a paragraph where a character or place is described in a lot of detail. Then read him what comes after that, missing out the initial description. Ask him if it made sense. Then read him the description you missed out. This way, he might see how valuable descriptions are.
I know it's debatable whether Harry Potter is a shining example of good writing, and of course the later books are unduly long, but I remember being fascinated by the way Hogwarts is described in the first book, and I tried to describe things in a similar way. At the beginning of chapter eight: "Harry wished people wouldn't stare at him, because he was trying to concentrate on finding the way to his classes. There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday;..." before going on to describe the school in general, with lots of little details thrown in to show the magic. "The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other, and Harry was sure the suits of armour could walk." In the same passage, many of the lessons and teachers are described as well, all in two or three pages.
Metaphors and similes are actually really hard to do. Ignore them for now. Get him to focus on sensory detail, getting inside the protagonist’s head to explore feelings and ensuring the story has tension, a climax etc.
Encourage him to vary sentence structure to add information.
“It was a cold, clear November morning and the boy enjoyed the feeling of the rain on his face as he ran along the riverbank. Suddenly, he stopped, seeing the last thing he had expected: a girl in the river, splashing. He didn’t hesitate, but jumped in to save her. The water covered him and he remembered that he should kick off his shoes. He came to the surface and laughed. It wasn’t a girl at all, but a long-haired spaniel, which has leapt out of the water and was now panting at him from the bank. He clambered out and stroked the dog, looking around for its owner.”
I had the same with my DD. I used a formula - the old Kipling rhyme:
I have five honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
And then I told her to apply that to every request for creative writing, to give her a structure. Simile and metaphor came later, when she'd mastered the basic structure.