Creative writing tasks can be daunting for children. These tasks often have a broad scope, are assigned a significant number of marks and take a long time to complete. What’s more, creative writing often falls some way down the priority list in school – meaning that many students are not given enough opportunities to practice and to hone the skills that they need.
With that in mind, it’s only natural to be thinking ‘What can I do to help my child build creative writing skills?’
I would like to share with you my advice – from half a decade of tutoring and several writing jobs – for helping children to build creative writing skills and to achieve high marks in creative writing assessments.
Great writers often talk about how they find inspiration – some draw from life, some from dreams, some from hours spent huddled in bookshops and libraries. Thankfully, whilst those are all still options for the rest of us, we have another avenue for inspiration: the books that those great writers have written.
Encouraging your child to read is the best possible way to prepare them for creative writing tasks at school. In books, your child will find new ideas, discover new words and be exposed to new writing techniques. Even better, there are no truly bad options when it comes to reading – novels, non-fiction books, short stories and even comics all have their merits.
The key is to sit down with your child after they’ve finished reading and talk to them. Ask them what they liked about a book and, more importantly, ask them why they liked it. Slowly but surely, you will see your child’s vocabulary expanding and see them experimenting with new writing styles – all because they discovered these in books.
This leads me to my next piece of advice: familiarisation with different literary devices.
Teachers and exam markers watch like hawks for different literary devices to crop up in children’s creative writing. When talking to your child about their reading, ask them if they noticed any of these devices – similes, metaphors, personification and more – in their book and ask them how those devices made them feel. What did you think when Roald Dahl wrote that Miss Trunchbull “marched like a storm-trooper” in Matilda? How did you feel when Malorie Blackman described Cameron as “drowning in roaring silence” in Pig Heart Boy? Or when J. K. Rowling said that the Mirror of Erised “beckoned invitingly” to Harry in The Philosopher’s Stone?
The more familiar with these literary devices your child becomes, the more likely they are to begin using them confidently in their own writing – and to pick up marks for doing so.
The age old advice from teachers to their students before creative writing assessments is to plan their writing at the start. I, like many other children, often infuriated my teachers by ignoring this because I just wanted to get to my story; nowadays, though, I find myself telling my own students exactly the same thing.
Whilst they are often the longest section of an exam, creative writing tasks aren’t that long at all. In a GCSE English Language exam, for instance, the creative writing task is expected to take 45 minutes. At face value, that sounds like a lot – in practice, for 40 marks, it can often leave students writing in a rush.
Planning is the best way to avoid panicked writing during an assessment. Encourage your child to spend five minutes writing simple, bullet-point notes covering the beginning, middle and end of their story. Even better, suggest that they plan which literary devices they might use in each section, to ensure that those key elements won’t be forgotten mid-exam.
“What we learn to do, we learn by doing.”
Those words, from Aristotle, were stuck to my fridge door for years whilst I was growing up – and they offer a very valuable lesson.
Practice is the best way to not only prepare for a creative writing assessment, but to make creative writing enjoyable. It doesn’t have to take long – fifteen minutes here, a half-hour there – but, if it’s regular, your child will grow more and more confident in their creative writing ability. Offer them simple prompts for stories and descriptive pieces – photos, single sentences and even memories of recent experiences can all be used for this. Your child’s imagination will thrive as they describe a picture of a ruined castle, develop a story based on one sentence about a spaceship or reminisce about what they enjoyed on a family trip to the beach. They will begin to build up an arsenal of favourite words, beloved phrases and preferred devices which they can then adapt and use for any task that is set for them.
Practice, without a doubt, makes perfect.
Daniel has been a tutor for 5 years. He believes that building a child's confidence through practice and repetition is key, and he always seeks to find creative ways to address topics to keep lessons engaging.
Daniel specialises in tutoring English, maths and science and verbal and non-verbal reasoning. He has extensive experience in supporting students to gain entrance to competitive schools such as Highworth and Norton Knatchbull Grammar Schools and Ashford independent school.
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