“Today, children, there’s a writer in the classroom…”

9 Mar

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I was recently invited to a primary school to speak to two year 5 classes. The topic: me as a writer. Where I get my ideas from, the process of writing my book-in-progress, a sneak preview of chapter one, and activities focusing on setting to tie in with the children’s work on Great Expectations. (Great Expectations! In year 5! One pupil, talking about his favourite author, told me: “I like him because, like Dickens, he has exciting events from the very start of his story. Dickens had to do that because his novel was being serialised in a newspaper.” I think I might have gawped at him a bit.)

I’m not sure who was more excited about my visit; me or the children. I’d forgotten how brilliant year 5’s are – extremely enthusiastic and utterly adorable. When I said I was going to read out a chapter of my book one of them actually punched the air and shouted “Yes!”

As well as reading, I showed them sketches of maps and objects, then shared a scribble-covered third draft. I asked each class to analyse excerpts from my book that dealt with setting, including one that I worried was too frightening. To my relief the year 5’s loved that part and both classes – with no time to confer – announced that the scene was ‘freaky’.

The children listened attentively and asked many excellent questions. They really got into the writing tasks I set them, producing some beautiful and horrible descriptive pieces. I left at the end if the afternoon exhausted but very happy, wishing I could do it all again the next day. My sessions hadn’t been perfect of course, and these are the main things I learnt from them:

  1. It’s not a good idea to plan two hours worth of activities for a one hour session. I’m sure with practice I’ll get better at knowing how much I can fit into a given time slot, but I’d definitely reduce the amount I try to cover at any future events.

  2. Reading while standing on one leg is hard work, even if you’re doing it because you’ve somehow found yourself acting out your chapter.

  3. Children are really keen to talk about their own favourite books and writing experiences. They like it when they’ve read the same books as you and when they can relate what they do in class to what a writer might do. For example, they were really pleased to discover that I keep a thesaurus on my desk and use it regularly.

  4. There is no such thing as being too enthusiastic when you’re working with year 5. No matter how enthusiastic you are, they will out-do you.

  5. It helps to check with the school beforehand what sort of terminology the pupils are used to. The year 5’s understood about adjectives and similes, but for them editing was RAP or Reflect And Perfect, which I really like the sound of.

  6. Check what the children are currently studying. Trying to fit in with this makes your visit more relevant plus you’ll get a better buy in from teachers.

  7. Don’t be alarmed if over the course of the session a third of the class is taken out, one guilty looking child at a time, because of a lunchtime ‘incident’ in the boys’ toilets. The rest of the class will ignore this interruption if you do.

  8. Being able to move around the classroom while you talk and ask questions helps ensure that all the children are involved. It also means that the two pupils right at the back are less likely to snooze on their desks while you’re reading. Hopefully they were tired, not hinting at the utter mediocrity of my writing.

  9. Keep your visitor’s badge when you leave so you can put a photo of it on your blog and glory in the fact that your occupation is listed as ‘writer’.

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