Feel like you are teaching Creative Writing blindfold?
Grainne Hallahan, who is our GCSE English Language specialist, presented this set of ideas for developing Creative Writing skills As always Grainne's writing and expertise is accessible and deliverable in the classroom. This is only available to our subscribers.
Back in the 1990s I read a play called ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ by Martin McDonagh, and decided that I would like to be a playwright. So when the opportunity arose to do a playwriting unit, when I was an undergrad, I grabbed the chance with my ink stained hands. Although I enjoyed it immensely, the one thing I really took away from it was: reading a play is fun, writing a play is hard.
The only thing I wrote that was half decent was when we did ‘Car Tales’. The whole class was given the task of writing a play set in a car, and we could only have two characters, and they had to stay in or around the car. We then performed these pieces, with the audience sat in the back seat, and they moved around from car to car to see the whole class’ work.
There is a lot of research into how placing restrictions upon a creative process can actually result in more creativity (Gruber, Lubart and many others), and these car tales were on my mind as I was thinking about how I could adapt it to suit the creative writing section of the Language GCSE.
My idea was that I could give the students a rough plan of a story, and that it would involve an every day event that they could relate to. I picked taxis because for the context I am in, many of the students I teach either take taxis, have parents who work as taxi drivers, and every student passes an impressive taxi rank on their way to school. In your own context, you’ll be able to adjust the story to suit whatever context you work in. A lift, bus, tram, waiting room…anything with a time constraint and confined space would work.
The rough story goes like this: taxi driver at the end of their shift, notices the time and thinks about what they’re going home to/their motivation for earning money; driver picks up a fare, and they are a little strange; taxi driver sets off and we have a description of the passenger; passenger and driver then have short dialogue where the fare makes some sort of confession; the taxi driver doesn’t have much time to react, and the fare leaves abruptly; as the taxi driver goes to leave, the driver notes that the shift has now finished, and perhaps sees something ahead of the car that is in some way reminiscent of the story that has just been told.
I encourage students to use third person, as generally it creates a better story. Just switching from first to third can hugely improve a piece of writing, and I model this with some of their first attempts to demonstrate to them how much easier it is to write more descriptively in third. Of course, some students can write superbly in first, and that is fine. However, be wary of those more novice writers attempting it and then struggling.
In the back of the taxi you can place a character from a Greek myth. For example, you could use mythical couples such as Lorenzo and Jessica sniping at the end of Merchant of Venice. Develop this by incorporating Medea in the back of the Taxi, furious with Jason and his unreliability. Alternatively, or as a later attempt at further improvements, use a persona from your poetry anthology, or another character from your literature texts.This offers students the opportunity to get to know the characters and explore the situation they find themselves in.
Sentence Level Crafting
Before they write their story, we focus a lot on individual sentences. I use ‘upgrade my sentence’ to demonstrate sentence structures, and then move onto developing similes and metaphors to create patterns with our writing. Have a look at the project on Edusites English for explicit, explained teaching ideas and examples. Having the whole story sorted first certainly helps students to stop fussing over where their story is going next, and take it sentence by sentence.
Writing to Help Analysis
It would be an excellent preparation for the reading comprehension of the language paper to then attempt to analyse their own writing, or the writing of another member of the class.
Based on and including concrete resources to be used in the classroom, Taxi Tales is a practical guide to improve the creative writing processes of students.
At Edusites English this resource exemplifies our combined approach to enable our members with practical Teaching English solutions while keeping busy teachers abreast of the latest thinking to bring those developments to your classroom.
Now you know where you are going....Develop your own practice! Taxi Tales bring the 'Subject S' into Continuing Professional Subject Development.