In this blog, Alanya shares her top tips for supporting your child to overcome the blank page. A careful balance of structured support whilst encouraging independent thinking is key to solving writer's block in young learners!
One of the best things about being a teacher is hearing a child proudly share their story. However, whether you are 5 or 55, sitting down to write a story can be a daunting task. With the added pressure of a ticking clock, the magic of the writing process can quickly be lost. However, with practice and reassurance even a reluctant writer can craft a story they will be excited to share.
A simple beginning, middle and end grid is an efficient and memorable strategy to support your child to put pen to paper and keep their story on track. If they are new to story planning have a few goes together before gradually encouraging independence.
Prompts can be used to begin with to support children to complete each box:
Beginning: Who? Where? What? Why? When?
Middle: Problem? Climax? How are the characters feeling?
End: Resolution? How did the characters feel?
Emphasise that bullet points and key words can be used in the planning stage to give maximum time to writing the story.
For descriptions, you could use a senses grid (boxes for sights, smells, taste, touch and sounds) instead, to encourage your child to focus on their descriptive writing
Think of the most challenging learning task you’ve mastered in recent years. Perhaps it was learning to drive a car or playing a challenging piece of music? Chances are that you didn’t pick up the music and play it perfectly first time. You practised setting the biting point, how to set and change gears, or you took chunks of the piece and slowly practised them before you began rehearsing the full piece. Identify what your child is struggling with and engage in short regular practice. That could be printing off a picture and seeing how many adjectives you can label on it in 5 minutes or writing the same sentence with 5 different verbs to show how the character moved. These units of practice become the foundations for extended writing.
Have you ever been handed back a piece of work covered in red pen and felt your heart sink? Now imagine you are 6, you’ve painstakingly sounded out 20 tricky words, you’ve remembered your finger spaces and you’ve included expanded noun phrases. You take your work to your grown up and are given back your work covered in scribbles. There is no quicker way to create writer’s block! Keep feedback precise and focus on one or two manageable steps that will improve your child’s work. Give ownership by encouraging them to edit their work in a different coloured pen. We learn when we think about something, so try revising a spelling rule or generating a few adjectives together, before asking your child to see if they can improve it themselves. If your child is a fan of the rubber, google some pictures of manuscripts by J.K. Rowling or Charles Dickens to show some examples of how editing makes us better writers.
When working with pupils of all ages I use an acronym to make the writing toolkit memorable to my pupils. For example:
Similes and metaphors
Alliteration, adjectives and adverbs
Speech and subordination
Pathetic fallacy, personification and punctuation
This is a great reminder of the writing ‘tools’ we can draw on to make writing interesting. This can be developed in collaboration with your child to incorporate their current learning and expanded as they learn new writing techniques.
A great writer is a great reader. Everything from story structure, vocabulary to punctuation can be improved through exploring models. Writing a story about an interesting character? Let’s look at some character descriptions in Roald Dahl’s writing. Trying to create suspense? Let’s see how Philip Pullman does that.
If you don’t feel confident unpicking models with your child, remember that showing enthusiasm for reading and sharing their favourite stories with them will support them to develop an ear for writing. If your child is a reluctant reader, try audio books, which can allow your child to absorb more challenging texts and broaden their vocabulary, while they develop confidence and fluency.
Finally, enjoy the opportunity to chose stories together and find out about your child’s reading preferences. Here are some of my favourite reading lists to inspire you: