Make Writing Fun in Schools – Part 2/3

In 2018 alone, I’ve done over 200 workshops in schools across the UK and US. Often teachers ask me how to interest children in writing – without them groaning and moaning, whining and whinging.

As part of my school visits or in specialised sessions, I work with teachers to help them bring fun into creative writing in schools.

The first blog post with suggestions and ideas for activities is here.

In this post, let’s look at FLEXING THE IMAGINATION MUSCLE!

Please feel free to try them out in your schools and when it works, do send me photos, emails, tweets to share the news with me.

 

 

 

 

Like any other skill, tapping into your imagination is a skill that needs to be practiced. We need our brains and creative energy to be agile and supple to take what’s around us or given to us and make them into stories. Humans have been telling stories for millions of years. Good storytellers not only practice dipping into their inner subconscious but also keep their language and cognitive abilities honed and tuned for that one killer story they want to tell.

So here are ways by which teachers can keep the imagination muscles of their children flexed and ready for that day when you want them to write stories, poems and get going with the writing.

  1. Word Association Games – this improves the vocabulary and at the same time can be fun and competitive in class. It can be played in groups or one to one, it can be a great tool not just to improve imagination, but also to build comprehension and spelling skills.

There are many ways to play this game – but my favourites are these two:

The first one – is simply to generate interesting nouns and verbs.

  • Pick a random word from a hat, from a book, or from around the room.
  • Now the group should come up with five different related nouns and verbs. If the associated words are not obvious, they should be able to explain why they chose it. Remember, there is nothing right or wrong about their choice – but we are flexing their imagination as to why they associated those words with the added benefit of comprehension.

The second one is a story-starter. Again it can be played individually or in groups

  • Open the dictionary to a random page, find a noun a
  • Ask the following questions:
    • Who owns this?
    • What does it look like?
    • Who wants to steal it?
  • The teams should write down the answers and start their story from here.

2. What-If: This is a great way to trigger the out of box ideas. This technique is also used by most professional writers.

In a classroom setting, you can start off with a prompt – either an image or a physical object or a word.

Here is an example.

What if my Grandma’s chair is a time travelling machine?

Once you have generated a question that has potential, the team should then dig further into the what-if and keep continuing until they see the story emerge.

So continuing from the above what if – here are my next three.

What if she sits and is transported to the Bronze Age?

What if she took my maths homework with her and I need it back?

What if I went after her and had to rescue her from the Bronze Age humans?

 

Want more tips?  Find out more at www.chitrasoundar.com/kids/?p=314

The Launch Celebration of You’re Snug With Me

Yesterday we launched the second book You’re Snug With Me in the You’re With Me series at Chestnuts Primary School in North London.

It all began when the librarian Tanya Efthymiou of Chestnuts Primary and I tweeted to each other about a school launch for the next book. It would be fantastic to share the new book You’re Snug With Me with children and parents, and teachers, we thought.

And the idea was born and we took it to the wonderful team at Lantana Publishing who embraced it with wholehearted support.

Then we decided on a date that worked for everyone, we designed an invitation, we planned the day and it all came together wonderfully yesterday.

First I met with Reception and Y1 children before the big event in the evening. Then we decorated the hall with the help of amazing library helpers who had read the book and wanted to be part of the launch.

Y6 had done a project on plastics and the ocean and had used art work inspired from both You’re Safe With Me and You’re Snug with Me. It was brilliant to see how the books transcend from the confines of its form and reaches the readers.

As the bell rang for the final time that afternoon, parents and children started filing in.

We started with a storytelling from the book in which children joined in enthusiastically and then Alice Curry, publisher of Lantana Publishing spoke about books for under-represented children and why reading the 1% was so important.

Then it was party time – colouring in masks and colouring sheets kindly given to us by the illustrator Poonam Mistry, who couldn’t make it to the launch (we missed you!). I signed loads of books for parents and children, the school and the library too.

What a surprise, I had an author friend Paul May who came to celebrate the launch with me too!

All in all, a wonderful way to celebrate the publication of a new book. My heartfelt thanks to everyone at Chestnuts Primary School who came to the event, helped us make it a success. A special Woot-Woot to  the head-teacher Mrs Katie Horwood and librarian Tanya Efthymiou who hosted us.

Harness the potential of a book

As a child in the21st century, there is so much to worry about. From not being able to play outside to dangers on the Internet. They’re hardly left alone and adventures from books in the 70s seem like another world. While some children are able to talk about their fears, many do not have the language or the emotional confidence to voice their anxieties.

There is not a lot of time to sit down and listen, to ourselves, our inner voices and our children’s unspoken fears. Our lives are full of commute, routines, school work and social media. How do we then settle down quietly to talk about such anxieties? Will it even work if you asked a child, if he/she is afraid of something? This is where books come in. Reading books that touch upon anxieties within a story can often help a child reflect on their own anxieties. They might even mention if they had the same question. They might come forward with something they had worried about.

NHS advice says while younger children often have separation anxieties that will slowly go away when they grow older and go to nurseries or sleepovers, other anxieties especially social ones start to manifest. Many anxieties are not serious enough to see the doctor about and can be dealt with one important medication all parents hopefully have access to – books.

A story for a child is never just a story even when it’s full of fun and adventure or fart and poo. Look closely and you will see the gateway into themes that a parent can pull into a discussion.

  When I wrote You’re Safe With Me, at first, my only real goal was to reassure the animals in the forest about the thunderstorm. I approached it as a storyteller first and then as a poet. When the book was written and beautifully illustrated by Poonam Mistry, and published, it created wonderful responses from children. I’ve discussed their fears about natural disasters and they have been able to tell me that they feel reassured after reading the book. Read one of my earlier posts about how children can deal with the fear here.

So when I started writing You’re Snug with Me, a few things were in the back of my mind. The two polar bear cubs born in the snow den, are going to encounter a fierce natural environment they have to cope with. They have never left the warmth of their mother’s embrace for almost nine months, and then when they find this vast region of ice and snow, would they worry?

As a child, growing up must be exciting and worrying in equal measures. What if I sit next to a boy or girl I’m not friends with? What if my new teacher is stricter than the one I had now? What if my new school is too far away? They’ll be picking up on the conversations they overhear in school or at home about teachers, about other children in their class and wonder how it would affect them.

The bear cubs too have similar questions. Who will they meet when they get out of the den? Will Mama leave them alone or would she stay with them? How fierce are the snowstorms and drifts? And more importantly, will all this ice stay frozen?

Of course, at the outset, the story is about polar bear cubs. But then if you use the text to steer the conversation about similar fears children might have – will the giraffe go extinct before my next birthday because I’d like to go and see them in the zoo? Will there be more floods and earthquakes as I grow up and what can I do to stop it?

Then go further – ask them what other things might worry them? Especially if a child is going to the nursery for the first time or transitioning from nursery to reception, talk to them about embarking on that adventure – exciting as well as scary as it might be.

Books are wonderful resources to discuss children’s anxieties. Parents can gently ease into these. Also there is a wide array of books available that either focus or touch topics on the periphery – as a parent you know when you want a big dose of something and when just a pinch is more than enough.

All my books come with activities too – from colouring to solving word puzzles, go further than the book. The more children interact with a subject matter, the deeper their introspection gets. Put your listening hat on and jump into the joys of a book.

How to harness the potential in author visits?

Step 1: Have you found the author you want and agreed a date? Great. Now agree details with them on number of sessions, the classes they would visit. Tell them a bit about why you want them to visit and what would benefit your school.

 

Step 2: At least a month before the author visit, reach out to the author and ask for what activities the class could do before they come. Here are some ideas:

  1. Read the books of the author
  2. Discuss the topics across the curriculum
  3. Inform all teachers, and librarians of the teacher’s visit
  4. Tell the parents about the upcoming visit and encourage them to go to their local libraries and borrow the books.

If the author shares their personalised activities, lesson plans try them out in your classes. For example, I have a website full of activities for my books.

Step 3: Two weeks before the author visit, either for the whole school or for your individual class, set up committees.

  • A welcome committee – two students who are shy and need support to welcome the author on arrival and thank the author when they leave.
  • A research committee – an ICT project team that will find out more about the author from their website and other safe sources.
  • An art committee – a group of children who will either create posters, cards or music (or find songs) to match the books of the author.
  • Logistics committee – a group that’s responsible for author’s lunch, water and other organising
  • Book sales committee – a group that will design and create an order form, agree to man the till and create a sales list when done.
  • Assembly committee – this could be the group of people who normally look after the projector and the assembly computers etc who will assist the author on the day.

Remember the children are improving their literacy, maths, arts and research skills all the while being proud of their committee membership.

Step 4: Order the author’s books for your school library so they arrive before the author arrives. Make sure your librarian is fully aware of the author visit and is part of your organising committee.

 

Step 5: Are you arranging book sales? Do you know how it will happen? If you’re unsure of this, talk to the author. Many will sell their own books and others would refer you to a local indie bookshop. Bookshops work closely with schools to deliver books to the school and take them back after the sales. Click here to find out if there’s a bookseller local to you.

Step 6: Inform parents a week before the author visit. If your school has a website or newsletter, announce it there. Make sure the order forms have reached the parents.

Step 7: Remind the children and parents the night before the author visit and create a buzz. Get the children to prepare questions for the author. Remember, many authors already have a lot of info o

n their website. Encourage the children to ask something different. Authors love it when they have to think about the answer.

Step 8: On the day, do show the author where the toilets are, staff-room is and how they could make a cup of tea. If you’re providing lunch, explain to the author how that will work and who will be their escort.

Step 9: During the assembly and workshops, be present and engaged. Don’t cut into the author’s time or interrupt them for disciplining the children often. If the children are motivated through the above steps, they would be listening to every word the author utters.

Remember to get your library books signed too. Authors would gladly do so even in their lunch hour or as they wait for children to buy books.

Arranging an author visit is a lot of work. The trick is to delegate much of the preparation to the children, thereby empowering them to be leaders, managers, public speakers and volunteers. Spread the responsibility across all classes and ask for help from other teachers, TAs and even your PTA.

 

 

An author visit can bring enormous value not just in reading for pleasure, but in so many ways if you harness its full potential.

A new term will start soon and I wish you and your children many author visits in this brand new year. If you want to find out more about my author visits, please click here.

 

 

 

 

Talking About Empathy at Stoke Newington Festival

Empathy Lab and Stoke Newington Festival invited me to present a storytelling and Empathy workshop with You’re Safe With Me, which is on the list of #EmpathyReads for this year.

Many young families with babies to 10-year olds were present, eager to listen to a story and talk about empathy. I started the session asking about the difference between sympathy and empathy.

It was easier for some 8-year olds to explain sympathy to me. And then slowly we discussed the concept of empathy. Find out more here. As I explained the various elements of it, even five year olds could relate to it. One child put up its hand to explain how she knew a friend of hers was hurt in the playground the previous day, and how she felt sorry.

Then I told them the story from You’re Safe With Me. We had one avid listener who was fascinated with Mama Elephant and he was so worried why she didn’t appear in every spread in the book. The new animals they had seen in the story – loris and pangolin touched their curiosity. And when I explained about pangolins and how we need to save them – one child remembered and asked about it during the activity time we had.

The hall was full of young children who were fascinated with the story of thunderstorms, thunder, lightning, the hungry river and the loud wind. They actively participated.

 

And then came the activity. We had Empathy postcards (check out the resources on the Empathy Lab website) and I explained to the children that we are going to make a wish for someone else.

Here are some of the wishes they came up with during the session:

  1. My Nan, because she needs an operation in her eye and she needs to get better to look after Grandpa.
  2. My grandpa because he is on a stretcher and he needs to get better.
  3. My teacher because she spends a lot of time preparing for class.
  4. My friend – I want her to be my best friend forever.
  5. I want my friend to have a pedal bike too because I have one.
  6. I wish for David Attenborough to save more animals

 

Here are some hilarious ones!

  1. I wish Donald Trump would not be President.
  2. I wish Prince Harry a happy honeymoon.
  3. Joanna, write a new book. (On asking who Joanna was, of course it was J K Rowling! Duh!)

And this one broke my heart – I wish my friend would be nicer to me. I spoke to this little girl and we talked about how she could find out more about why her friend might be rude to her. And maybe she should also say how she feels like, to her friend.

After that wonderful time writing wishes for someone else, they did colouring in and made masks (you can download them here). Towards the end of the session, one child had a tantrum when he had to go home. “I don’t want to go!” he declared. Another came to me and said, “Thank you for the story.” And her little sister, perhaps just four, said, “I loved your story, you made my day.” And she gave me a hug.

via GIPHY

It’s my privilege to be able to write and tell stories to children. And when I know I touched a few hearts and helped them to discuss the thoughts behind the stories, it makes all the trouble worth it.

When I write a new story, I might know who might like it or what ingredients should go into it. Even when the book is out there, you don’t know who it’s going to reach. But when it actually connects, the circle is complete and that’s when the book is truly an agent for change.

12th June is celebrated as Empathy Day across the UK. Find out more here and perhaps you will find the time this 12th June,

  1. to read one of the books from this year’s list,
  2. share your Empathy inspiring books and
  3. take one action that reflects empathy.

Follow Empathy Lab on Twitter here. You can follow me on Twitter here and on Instagram here. From now up to 12th June and of course after that, we will be discussing empathy, recommending books and sharing ideas, experiences and more.