Tutoring English inevitably involves working through plenty of spelling, grammar and comprehension tasks. When teaching younger children, I also finish sessions with ten or fifteen minutes of reading out loud. Just as important as nailing the basics and improving reading skills, however, is making sure that tutees explore the process of writing and develop their own style. Setting creative writing tasks is an excellent way to develop skills whilst injecting fun into sessions and using children’s imaginations.
Creative writing has multiple benefits. A 2015 study by the University of Sydney looked at a group of young people aged 7-17 who participated in a creative writing workshop for 2 years. The study found regular creative writing increased confidence, improved planning and organisation skills and writing quality, and made participants more willing to talk to new people, especially adults, amongst many other benefits.
It’s worth setting aside time for students to practice creative writing. Here are some ways to engage their attention:
- Presenting a blank page and asking tutees to fill it with a story isn’t going to work. Without any framing or prompting your tutee won’t know where to start.
- Find a painting or a photograph that’s interesting, print it out (in colour if possible) and give it to the tutee as a prompt. Ask them to write a story explaining what they see in the picture. For example, recently I showed a tutee a painting of a boat sailing across the sea. I asked them to write me a story that answered two questions: who was on the boat and where were they going?
- Ask your tutee to write a letter. Start by talking about who they’d most like to write to. Maybe they want to tell their head teacher what they like and dislike about school, or ask the Prime Minister about something they’ve heard on the news, or let a singer know how much they like their music. It could be anyone- encourage them to think big and have fun.
- Give them a one sentence prompt and ask them to write the rest of the story: “I was eating my breakfast at the kitchen table when a small purple dragon flew past my window.”
- If you are reading a book together, use this as your prompt. Ask them to rewrite a scene from the perspective of a minor character, or to imagine a scene that might have taken place in between chapters, or to write a different ending to the book.
- If they’ve been on holiday or away for the weekend, ask them to write about one thing they did. You could challenge them to include one detail that isn’t true, and then see if you can guess what this is.
- Bring in a section of a newspaper and read some of the headlines. Chose one together, then ask them to write an article for it. Once they’ve finished, compare it to the actual article and discuss the differences.
When it comes to creative writing, the possibilities really are endless. Come up with your own ideas, and above all make the process is enjoyable for your tutee. You’ll see the benefits.