As the rain poured outside the tent and we shivered in our gumboots, John Marsden (author and educator), Catherine Keenan (executive director Sydney Story Factory) and Tristan Bancks (local author and Byron StoryBoard facilitator) discussed children’s literacy issues, how to get kids to tap into their own skin in order to write something authentic, and slime. Tristan Bancks is a big fan of slime.
‘If you’re afraid of writing, much of your education will be wasted,’ John Marsden proposed. Kids are often so afraid of getting something wrong – of having their work covered in red pen, and made to feel like they’re stupid – that they turn defensive very early on. ‘I hate writing.’ ‘I can’t write.’
As a student himself, John Marsden was bored to death by the in-class writing exercises his teachers prescribed. A topic would be given, such as ‘Scary story’, and students would brainstorm all the words they would expect to find in a scary story, such as ‘dark’, ‘stormy’, ‘ghost’, ‘monster’, ‘haunted’, etc. They would then have to write a story including all those words. The young rebel, John kept himself amused by setting himself the challenge of writing a scary story without using any of those words. This is precisely one of the activities he gets his students to do now. It forces them to be original, but it also teaches them that there’s no ‘correct’ way to write a scary story, for example. They can have fun with it.
Some other fun examples of writing prompts that the panel suggested are below.
- Write a story set in Fear City where each character has a different weird fear.
- Go outside and study a little patch of garden or terrain. Write about a journey through that small space as an ant.
- Brainstorm a list of interesting adjectives and nouns and write them in columns on the board. Then join them in the strangest and least expected combinations.