Write me something I want to read

The title of this post is my rallying cry to my classes. I have a methodical, some might say overly prescriptive, outline 99% of my lessons follow: we look at some stuff, talk about it, sometimes act it out or walk around doing things with it, and then, every single time (except the time all the clocks stopped and I was vamping thinking I needed to fill lesson time) they write, in silence, for an extended period of time.

How long? If I’m honest, 10-15 minutes. I always, always plan for it to be longer. In fact, it needs to be my new week’s resolution to ensure it is for longer.

I had a year 9 class who found even 10 minutes incredibly challenging. In response, for one term, instead of reading for 10 minutes at the start of every lesson, they wrote. A diary. Which I never marked. Their writing style improved immeasurably (I admittedly use this word in its truest sense).

See, I’m not just about the reading. I am also interested in reading what they write.

Of course, we all teach children who do not have the gift of writing. But I’ve found the easiest and most often-used lines which come up with results are:

“Write me something I want to read.”

“Use a comparison I’ve never heard before.”

“Don’t tell me – show me. Make me guess.”

I do genuinely love marking. Not only because I’ve heard it is a sure-fire way of students improving, and I occasionally feel that everything else I do is subject to terms and conditions from which it is exempt. But because I love to read their work.

This was especially apparent with my last year 11 class. They were gifted writers (as well as gifted analysts and speakers). Marking their mock exam papers became a joy: looking at the dry writing task of a popular exam board, a significant number basically took the mick. The results were hilarious. I would suggest that a weekly diet of Charlie Brooker had something to do with it.

Then, when I started marking real exam papers for the real exam board, I realized how important this slogan is. I marked so many papers I sprained my hand. And the very vast majority were not filled with joy. I looked in anguish towards the pile of Year 11 books beside the papers, counting the pages until I could turn my attention to my little angels, who I knew would entertain and engage me.

English is the most subjective of beasts, but we all of us are humans. Give us something of interest, and we will look favourably on it. I’m not boasting, but I’ve read an awful lot. Yet most of my students can surprise me, for which I am daily grateful.

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