Saturday, 21 May 2011

Writing for boys - with the P.E. department

I joined in a great event yesterday at Ellis Guildford School in Nottingham. The idea was to blend a P.E. lesson with writing activities.

It lasted one hour. The boys were put in teams of five. The P.E. teacher did two ten-minute activities. I did two ten-minute exercises. After each activity the teams were awarded points, which accumulated during the session.

It looked something like this:

1: The teams had to bowl a cricket ball at a set of stumps. Each time they hit the stumps they were given a letter from a football team's name. The first team to guess the team won.

2: I challenged the kids to make up a story by (a) basing a baddie on someone they hated from sport and (b) asking the following questions: who is the baddie, what did they do, where, when, how did they do it and why did they do it. They then 'told' their story and were awarded points by me and the teacher.

3: Relay races. Points awarded for placing.

4: The groups read a one-page cricket mystery I have written. They had to guess who had stolen the Ashes trophy as a team and write an ending. They were then awarded points.

The whole hour was frantic, competitive and often confusing. But it worked. The children carried through the adrenaline of the sports activities into the writing. And that was the idea. To give them a deep motivation to write.

The prize for the winners was a book and a £10 WHSmith voucher each. We had a good budget. But, to be honest, they'd have done it without a there being a prize at all.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Question of Sport

I went to a great event tonight at Heathfield Primary School in Nottingham. I thought I'd share it.

The idea was to recreate the Question of Sport TV show in the classroom. For families.

There were nine men there. Dads, step-dads and grandads. each headed up a team of their kids in a pub quiz style event.

That was what impressed me so much. Getting dads to come to after-school events is not always easy.

The head teacher and another senior teacher led a series of rounds around general knowledge, what happened next and a session where I asked questions about my books. The families accumulated points for getting questions right.

It worked really well. We talked about sport and reading for an hour-and-a-half. Kids working with adults.

Family events like this work so well because they take the idea of talking about reading home with them. And everbody knows that strong readers are mostly inspired by their home experience.

If you want to do a Question of Sport event, here are some ideas:

* invite parents, especially dads, to a sports pub quiz style event

* do it like a pub quiz - and serve beer (to the adults!)

* the picture board round: show pictures of sports people from the cover of their biographies (concealing their names on the cover) - ask them who it is

* what happened next: show sports incidents selected from YouTube, stopping them before a key moment; then ask the audience to guess what happens next

* show sports newspaper headlines with words blacked out - and ask the families to guess the missing words

* read a section from some sports autobiographies and ask the audience to guess who it is by

* add a general knowedge round

* invite an author to come and add to the quiz activity

These are just a few ideas. It worked really well at Heathfield.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Getting past page 100

The article on the BBC website about boys struggling to get past page 100 in a book brought back a lot of memories for me.

In a survey of 500 teachers, 70% said boys struggled to reach page 100.

I got into reading aged 18. I was unemployed. Mid 1980s. I would sit in the front room at home trying to read.

I had this trick to help me. Every 10 pages I would cheer under my breath. If I made it to page 100 I would feel elated. This was even the case with books I loved. The cheering helped me motivate myself. It gave me stamina.

The article mentions 'stamina'. That is spot on for me. Having the stamina to get to page 100. When I do school events, I say that to the children. I didn't have the stamina. I compare it to footballers, who need to build up their stamina at the beginning of the season. They have to try to get match fit, but that the rewards are great. Just like with reading.

If I didn't make it to page 100 - and I didn't often early on - I would feel like I had failed. Failed to finish a book. I never tried to read a book over 150 pages. Not until I was 20. It was too much. Too much of a chance of failing.

Take a look at some of the booklists on : lots of short books that might not make boys feel like failures.

Engage with some of their projects: projects that give boys new ways to maintain their stamina.

Lobby important people about the work the National Literacy Trust do.

I ought to admit that I still cheer myself when I'm reading. Even though I'm 43. When I hit page 100 in a book. That's why the story hit home for me.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

National Literacy Trust

I am doing a new blog for the National Literacy Trust.

The plan is for me to blog once a week as I write my Squad series for Puffin.

Each week I will write about a different aspect of writing that I've been challenged by that week.

In addition there will be an exercise for school classes to do, if they want.

Please let me know what you think of it - and where I could take it.