Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Creative Writing in the Primary Classroom
I have a particular fondness for the creative writing lessons that I learned during my AMI training. A favorite uses cut out magazine images. During my initial presentation to a 4 - 4 ½ year old child (after he has done much work with the chalk board, metal insets, sound boxes, etc.,) I use pictures of simple, phonetically spelled words. I glue a selected, single picture onto a small piece of writing paper. After sounding out the word together, the child writes it below the image.
When the child has done this work for a period of time and has been given lessons on several of the grammar materials including the phonetic object box, the phonogram box, the article and the verb, I introduce them to pictures that have similarly spelled subjects, like cat or dog, in the midst of an action. Examples: a picture of a dog barking or a cat jumping. As the grammar lessons continue, the images grow in complexity. This is the path outlined in my AMI Language Album.
Some children, however, simply start writing sentences during their first initial lesson. This was the case with an older four year old in my class that had done a lot of writing with the Moveable Alphabet. During my first presentation with her using cut out pictures, she spontaneously began writing short sentences. The first one eloquently read, "A leaf falls down." When I presented a second image to her, she looked at me and said, "No, not yet. I have more to write." This young four year old was waiting for this moment and it was hers to hold on to for as long as she wanted.
For older children, I use pictures from magazines such as the Smithsonian. The images that I choose go through my mental sorting and questioning: What story does the picture tell? Where is it? What kind of animal is that? Also, I select ones with wonderful color and details; like something else happening in the background, other than the main image. These I display on a table in the language area for viewing and selecting.
When a student selects a picture, I ask them to answer the same questions about it that I asked myself when I cut it out. Then, if the child comes up to me later and shows me a paper with only one line of writing on it (ex. Boy with a bike), I ask them, “Where do you think he is riding his bike to? What color are the boy’s eyes? Do you think the boy has any brothers or sisters? How old is the boy? What is the boy’s name?"
Next, I say to the child "If your photograph fell off of your paper I wouldn't know these things. The author has to tell me these things in their writing so that I can see the picture in my mind without the photo." I then send them back to their desk to continue writing their story. Eventually, students elect not to use a cut out picture choosing instead to illustrate their stories with their own drawings.
"Focus on the details," is something I often say when teaching creative writing to my older students. Such a simple statement, consistently said, invites children to expand their vocabulary and their awareness of the world around them. In my classroom, stories written by older students have multiple characters and the narrative tells a good, often funny, story. These students are no longer content with a single page of writing; they now write stories that require page numbers. One such student wrote a small chapbook that included three chapters.
I hear this attention to details even in the way these older students describe a scene or relay information. I will never forget the description a third year student gave me after she felt another student’s forehead to see if it felt warm; they had complained of not feeling well. She said, “She’s warm like when your hot cocoa finally cools down." This was the young voice of a creative writer.
Lastly, creative writers love an audience. I generally ask at each gathering time if anyone has a story to read. Young children will read a single word as if they are reading a well crafted haiku. Older children may read an entire page or more. When the student is done reading, the listening students are either asked questions about the story by the writer or ask the writer questions themselves. This also promotes a more complete written story as peers can be harsh critics.
I remember a child asked a fellow student who had just read a story that he had written earlier that morning, "But where is he?" "You forgot to write that!" The writer said, "Oh, I forgot." The next day he wrote half a page about where he thought the person in the photo was.
I study these documents carefully looking for clues as to which lessons are needed to be presented, or re-presented, to individual authors. My most common finding is the spelling wnz for once. I generally don't point out the misspelled word to the child. Instead, I give them a follow-up lesson with the puzzle (sight) words.
Creative writing is the inner voice of a child made known to the world. It solves that long standing quandary so often articulated, “I don’t have anything to write about.” When a child moves from one small image of a leaf falling to a forest full of children identifying the names of trees, they will never be without something to write about. Yet, if you do hear that old adage spoken, remind them of the stories they were telling at the coat racks when they arrived that morning. If they answer, “Those aren’t really stories,” tell them, “Great writers make the small details of life interesting.”