Nottingham City of Literature Blog
I’ve been working with two fantastic primary schools in Hyson Green and Mansfield for the MyVoice Young Voices programme, which aims to help Year 6 pupils develop their confidence and creative writing skills ahead of transition to secondary school. I’ve also mentored a member of staff at each school to help develop and encourage their own creative writing.
During my five sessions working with the children, we have read poems on a broad range of topics, using the poems and resulting discussions to spark collaborative and individual writing. Working with a small group of eight pupils and a TA or teacher allowed us to sit around a table and write together, creating a buzzy and communal atmosphere where, as the participants put it, ‘it’s easier to focus, be heard, and get more done’.
For this project, writers used lesson plans developed by Becky Cullen at Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. One of the workshops I delivered mid-way through the programme focused on ‘How to’ poems, using writing instructions as a way of building self-confidence. We read ‘How to Hang Washing’ and ‘Instructions for Writing Poetry’, and talked about poetic techniques, unfamiliar vocabulary, and what the children liked best about the poems – such as the lines ‘now those little/words are sprouting/poetry/inside your head’. They visualised words as seeds from which something beautiful might grow and flourish. Interestingly, the groups objected to the idea of instructions for writing poetry – they felt it should flow instinctively, although they agreed that they sometimes struggle to think of topics to write about. I reassured them that many writers feel the same! This led into a discussion around writing strategies to get their ideas down onto paper, creative processes, and taking inspiration from everyday activities and hobbies as well as from our imaginations.
After reading the two poems again, with everyone reading a few lines or a stanza each, we moved on to listing things the children can do well, or would like to do, writing ideas up on a whiteboard. Here, the groups diverged a bit. My Mansfield group were particularly interested in sports such as basketball, as well as gaming and ‘How to bake a cake’, while in Hyson Green, topics included ‘How to make a Patronus’ (by a big fan of the Harry Potter books) and ‘how to keep your glasses safe’. After creating a quick collaborative poem on the board, to try out ideas and provide some scaffolding, the children did some individual writing, creating wonderful titles including ‘how to daydream’ and ‘how to detect bad presents’ – take note, gift-givers: if it isn’t special or nice, it’s a bad present! Pupils also addressed big topics such as ‘how to face your fears’ and ‘how to live’; ‘how to stay calm’ was a popular subject with both groups. As usual, during individual writing time, I offered advice, prompts and plenty of encouragement, referring them back to the poems we read for inspiration and structure. At the end of the session, everyone read their poems out and we discussed whether we would follow each other’s instructions!
It was important to bear in mind that English is an additional language for some of the participants, and the sessions seemed to really help the children to build confidence in their self-expression, expand their vocabulary and develop their writing skills. It was great to see them enthusiastically sharing their poems with the rest of the group in workshops and also with teachers and friends. They are looking forward to seeing their poems published in a book, as NUCoL is printing anthologies for each school.
The groups said they felt sad that our poetry sessions were coming to an end, and I will also miss our chats about favourite books, pets, and dreams for the future. I hope they all keep on writing! The teachers that I mentored are interested in continuing a culture of creative writing in school as a legacy of the project, which would be fantastic. However, we’ll all meet up again at the MyVoice celebration event in March at Nottingham Council House, so the fun’s not over yet!
Berridge Primary School
“I want to thank you for the work that you did with our pupils. They all thoroughly enjoyed the creative writing and working with you; they are all very excited about seeing their published work! I feel that it has been a rewarding and engaging project that they have taken a lot from. It has also been rewarding for me in writing creatively for pretty much the first time since school. I cannot promise anything, but I intend to put pen to paper in the future should the inspiration arise!”
Asquith Primary School
“Many thanks for the hard work you’ve put into the workshops. The children have really enjoyed a different approach to writing.”