On a school visit once, I was asked to work with a Year 2 class whose teacher greeted me at the door and told me in a loud voice that her class had no imagination whatsoever. I was determined to prove her wrong and I handed everyone a marble from a collection that I keep with me. Initially the children all told me that inside their marbles they could see colours, shapes, swirls, patterns and reflections. And then one child said that she thought she could see a fire-breathing dragon. “That’s wonderful,” I replied, “Now can anyone see anything else?” Soon we had aliens, spaceships, oceans, sea creatures, faces, clouds, rainbows and many other imaginative ideas which the children then wrote up into short poems. “Well. they don’t write like this for me,” was their teacher’s reply.
I tell this story as an example of how low expectations will result in mediocre work and ideas.
At KS1 there are always plenty of opportunities for observation. Whilst looking at objects or pictures helps to develop children’s early creativity with questions such as – What does it remind you of? What does it look like? Answers will be quite fanciful at times and may not fit with an adult perspective, but nothing should be dismissed as wrong.
Children worry too about how they should write something down. They have the ideas and the words but can’t always see how they fit together on the page. Simple frameworks can often help the less confident so that the worry of How do I write it down? is then removed leaving the children to develop their ideas.
In literature, many stories come about because their writer has asked the same question, “What if?” What if a snowman came to life? What if you could walk through a wardrobe into a frozen world?
What if a playground number snake came to life? (Use an actual playground snake or show a picture of one.)
Begin by taking children on a walk around the school building. Ask them to note down as many words as they can beginning with the letter ‘S’. Back in the classroom note down more S words.
Next ask the children to come up with S words that describe how a snake moves. Write them down for everyone to see, words such as slide, slip, slither, spin, spiral.
Now write a poem with the class that begins: When the snake slithered into school…’ Tell the children that they should offer ideas that contain plenty of S words, but that sentences should make some sort of sense and be about school activities.
When the snake slithered into school
it scared the teachers in the staffroom,
it left slimy tracks in the sports hall,
it slid up the stairs and interrupted a storytime session,
it squeezed Miss Simmons and Miss Shearsby
and finally, it shed its skin in someone’s sock.
Whilst you are scribing the poem for the children, always ask them which idea or which word works best if there are alternative suggestions. Show them how you are happy to cross out one word and replace it with a more effective one, perhaps one that sounds better when the line is read aloud. Children will then begin to understand the selection process that writers go through and that they don’t always get it right first time.
Once children have been involved in producing a class poem, they might like to try similar poems, thinking of other creatures that might come into school – when the fly flew in through the fire exit, when the cat crept into the classroom, and even when the lion leapt into school. A natural extension of this activity would be to turn the poems into picture books, taking one line for each page.
Brian Moses writes poetry and picture books for children. His new poetry book Selfies With Komodos will be published by Otter-Barry Books in January 2023. His website is www.brianmoses.co.uk and he blogs about children’s writing at brian-moses.blogspot.com Follow on Twitter for daily poetry prompts @moses_brian.