As a secondary English teacher, I’ve long been exposed to the war around the usefulness of creative writing in the classroom, particularly as students head into their last years of school. However, there is a great deal of research to suggest that giving children the time, space and tools to engage in meaningful creative writing can be beneficial for various reasons, many of them reaching far beyond the classroom.
One study (external link) conducted by Sydney Story Factory suggests that as well as improving engagement in learning and writing skills, creative writing can also help students with planning and organising their ideas, as well as boosting their confidence when interacting with others. Sydney Story Factory primarily works with children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, along with those from non-English speaking backgrounds. The results of this study, which can be seen in some detail here (external link), give any teacher who’s trying to defend the importance of creative writing in the classroom some compelling ammunition to support their argument.
While I think we can all agree on the importance of creative writing, giving students, whose abilities and interests may vary dramatically, the tools to do so successfully can be difficult. Something like the Creative Writer’s Handbook can be a useful reference to give to students, or keep on hand in your classroom or library. Alternatively, if you are asking students to write in a specific genre, Usborne also have fantastic books to help students write adventure, mystery and ghost stories.
Alternatively, if you or your students are stuck for ideas, or as a fun extension activity, you could ask them to write another chapter for a book that you’ve studied. For example, Jinxed! by Rebecca McRitchie, the author of the Whimsy and Woe series, has a deliciously open ending. Being set in a world of magic, which includes pot-bellied fairies and a one-eyed hero, this is a book which just lends itself to sending young minds crazy with ideas. For older children, or for those with more of a bent for mystery, the Stella Montgomery series may provide inspiration.
While I’m on the subject of creative writing, I have to let you know about the Kids News Short Story Writing Competition which HarperCollins Children’s Books is proud to support. Students who enter the competition give themselves the opportunity to win fantastic prizes, which include books and an iPad, and the winner has their book published by us for ten of their friends and family, including a professionally designed cover! There are story starters for children to use, or they can write about a topic of their choice. All the details you need can be found on their website (external link).
Read of the Month – A Single Thread
For as long as I can remember, my mother has had a small framed copy of Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ sitting on her dressing table. So when Tracy Chevalier’s book based on the painting came out – some twenty years ago now – we both devoured it. There’s even a particular scene I can still remember weeping through.
Chevalier is a master of historical fiction; able to immerse the reader in a time and place that they have never experienced. A Single Thread is Chevalier at her best. The novel is set in the years between the World Wars, a time when many women who had expected to be wives and mothers dealt with the pain of not only losing the men they loved, but the futures they had dreamt of. Violet Speedwell is one such woman. With a fiancée and a brother both dead in WWI, she has made a life for herself; not the one she had hoped for, but a life of her own choosing. When she moves to Winchester, she falls under the spell of the cathedral with its astonishing bells and bellringers, and becomes caught up in the world of the broderers who are making kneelers and cushions for the community which calls this amazing building home. As well as learning needlecraft, Violet also learns much about herself, what true friendship is, and what she is prepared to do to build a future for herself that might just make her happy.
I thoroughly enjoyed A Single Thread; Violet is an enchanting character whom you can’t help but feel for – although I never pitied her – living as she is in a limbo world not of her making. In fact, this book is wonderfully full of strong women leading fulfilling lives, often outside the norms of the time. I was also delighted to read in the author’s note at the end of the book that the broderers and their leader, Louisa Pesel, were real, and that you can still see their work at Winchester Cathedral. I’m really hoping that one day I get the chance to go and see them!