In this blog, the second in a series of 'Types of...' 7 Plus preparation posts, Meredith outlines a range of different creative writing prompts that can appear in the English paper and offers some useful insight and handy tips for preparing for each one.
The ‘composition’ aspect of the 7 and 8 Plus entrance exams can include a variety of different prompts for writing. Getting familiar with the different types of prompts that can appear and practising how to relate back to what is being asked is a crucial skill to practice ahead of the exams.
Students will usually be given an option of two prompts to use with the words ‘either’, ‘or’. All types of prompts come with some bullet points ‘things / questions to think about / try to include’ that students should read and refer to in their writing.
Most often, students are given an option to continue the story from the comprehension passage they have read. This requires that students ensure they know the characters in the story, continue using the correct names and write in ‘third person’. They will also need to use consistency of tense e.g. if the story is written in the present tense, they will need to continue with the same tense and not switch to the past tense. Using clues from the text about the setting and characters are also important – for example, if the comprehension passage describes ‘Lucy’ as ‘quiet and shy’, it would be inconsistent to have Lucy ‘yelling at her friends to hurry up’ in the next part of the story! The same goes for the setting. If the story in the comprehension passage is set in an old, haunted house, it makes sense to keep it there! Another key point about continuing the story is to start where the passage left off, so it is helpful for students to read the last paragraph or few lines again before writing to think about what just happened and what will happen next.
This is usually connected to the comprehension passage too. For instance, if the comprehension story involved a storm, students may be asked to write about a time when they were in a storm. Key to this is knowing to write in ‘first person’ rather than ‘third’. It is important that students get to practice the skill of writing stories from their own experiences. This can bring the added benefit of using first-hand memories and their own senses. Some students find it easier to rely on their experiences and memories rather than use their imagination so plenty of first-hand experiences of the world is crucial!
With this kind of prompt, it is essential to really use the title and refer to it somehow throughout the story. For instance, if the title is ‘The Magical World Beyond the Wardrobe’, students will be expected to use the title to write about a relevant setting e.g. a bedroom wardrobe / magical world, a relevant possible problem e.g. getting lost, relevant characters e.g. explorer children, magical creatures and a relevant resolution e.g. finding their way back. The key here is making reference to the title throughout and creating relevant story elements. This kind of prompt may also include a picture to use to spark imagination.
Less often (but it does come up) is a prompt that is a stand-alone picture. This prompt may ask students to describe what they see in the picture or create a story from it. Either way, students should examine the details of the picture closely for a minute or two and let themselves note down any relevant words, phrases or ideas that begin to form in their minds. Describing the picture requires plenty of descriptive writing practice using adjectives, expanded noun phrases and figurative language (similes, metaphors, personification etc.) as well as drawing on the senses to bring the writing to life. If students are creating a story from the picture, they should let it spark their imagination and include the character and/or setting they see in the picture in their story. An excellent resource for practice with this prompt is the website https://www.onceuponapicture.co.uk/ which has a wealth of amazing and inspiring pictures!
A lesser-seen prompt is that of a character description. Brief character descriptions are important to include in stories (a sentence or two about a character e.g. ‘Imran had dark brown eyes and jet-black hair that was as dark as the night. He was the kind of boy who never seemed to get scared, or at least that’s what it looked like.’ However, this kind of prompt is asking students to write entirely about a character. Important elements to include in a character description are: appearance, personality, likes and dislikes. It is essential students know what these words mean and that they have a range of vocabulary they can draw on to describe a character’s appearance and personality (there are plenty of vocabulary sheets for this purpose). Practising writing character descriptions is hugely helpful, not only for the exams but for a student’s writing journey.
This is similar to writing a story about a time when… but slightly different! A recount is an autobiographical piece that should appear as non-fiction. That is, the student should write about their real experiences rather than using their imagination. However, one’s imagination can of course be useful to draw on if the student finds they have not had an experience such as ‘A day you spent at the fair’. Recounts should be written from a ‘first person’ perspective and in chronological order using ‘time’ connectives and sentence openers such as ‘First’, ‘Then’, ‘After that’, ‘Later on’, ‘Finally’ etc.
I have only seen diary writing once as a prompt in a 7 Plus paper referring to the comprehension passage but it is a useful skill to practice. If the student doesn’t already keep a diary it is helpful to get into the habit of asking the student to write a couple/ few sentences at the end of each day. I personally think keeping a diary/ journal is a wonderful practice for writing in general and helps children to see that writing can be purely for personal pleasure rather than for any external validation or grade. Get students into the habit of writing the date on the top line, beginning ‘Dear Diary’ and signing off with their name. A standard element of diary writing is to include one’s feelings.
I have never seen being asked to write a letter as a prompt before but it could come up! Students may be asked to write a letter to one of the characters in the comprehension passage or imagine they are one of the characters writing a letter home etc. Old-fashioned though it may sound, get students to practice writing letters to their friends or family to see the real-life benefit and enjoyment of sending and receiving letters! Personally, I see letter-writing as a beautiful life-skill to develop and enjoy. Ensure students are familiar with the structure and vocabulary for writing both formal and informal letters.
Creative writing prompts can come in many forms so having some practice ahead of the exam at recognising and writing using the above range of prompts will ensure students feel confident and prepared for whatever appears!
In this blog post, Meredith explains the different types of reading comprehension questions you can expect in the ‘comprehension’ part of an entrance exam, with examples and tips for answering each. This is a must-read if your child will be sitting the 7 Plus or 8 Plus entrance exam.
Meredith April, 2021