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Crafting Our Young Writers

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’ — Stephen King

This week I am hopeful of seeing the latest movie adaptation of ‘Pet Semetary’ by Stephen King. It is the second movie based on this novel and the ninth adaptation of his work to be released in a two-year period. Since 1974, he has written 78 books. Famously, he discussed with George R.R. Martin about their processes; in six months Martin is happy to produce three chapters, in this time King has written three novels. While ‘Game of Thrones’ is obviously extremely popular, King’s success is unrivalled by any living author. As King’s quote suggests, there are the two keys to writing success – reading and writing frequently and in quantity. In thinking about making great, young writers, our Junior School gives them plenty of opportunities to read and write.

In a year 5 assessment earlier this year, students were asked to critique a poorly written narrative, suggest improvements and re-write it to be more entertaining. One canny student noted that the piece ‘needed to be Ian Hunter-fied’. Undoubtedly the implementation of ‘Write that Essay’ as a whole school approach has given a framework for writers to help them start and write more fluently, it is not the final word in creating good, young writers. While it is adaptable, the tool is only as good as the ‘craftsman’. Or in this case, ‘craftsboy’.

Challenged by areas our boys seem to struggle, we have applied many techniques to help them become more successful in vocabulary, cohesion and elaboration. Over the past two years, we have asked families to participate in ‘Talk Homework’ to enable our learners to engage with adults on a topic to see things from someone else’s point of view, but also expand their vocabulary on the topic. We have revised assessment tasks to ensure our questions are best positioned to give students a clear avenue to demonstrate a point of view and explain it in as much detail as they can. During each day, boys will be given time to write paragraphs in various areas across the curriculum to assist with output. This leaves the challenge of coherency; it is a difficult concept to teach if a writer is not a reader. You can not understand text flow and connection of words to a greater whole if your reading life revolves around Greg Heffley.

If a student wants to know how to write an outstanding em dash sentence, they need a model. They need to see it flow in a larger text. Gary Paulsen is a master of the em dash. Very short sentences – Louis Sachar. Semi colon – J.K. Rowling. Seeing it used expertly demonstrates how it can be used fluently. Moreover, it is easier to understand how your own work doesn’t sound correct if you are used to reading things that are.

Gavin Baumber