Even a 60-minute workshop should involve students writing. There is not generally time to write a whole story so exercises can be used to build skills (see other suggestions in Notes on writing workshops).
For 60-minute workshops, I try to explore a few different exercises.
- Teacher introduces author with a few personal details and list of books (2–3 minutes)
- Author introductory comments (5–7 minutes)
- How I write: the writing process (you can relate this to one or more of your books) (5 minutes) a) Where and when I write b) I get ideas from …
- Writing exercise related to getting started, for example, use memories, family stories, images. (15 minutes) Give an example of when you have used this technique. Ask the students to use this technique to think of an idea for a story. Students write down a story idea in three or four sentences (synopsis only, not the whole story). Students share story idea with a partner. Select two or three ideas to read out.
- How I write (continued) (5 minutes) a) Developing/planning a story or b) The most important thing(s) about writing for you.
- Related writing exercise. (15 minutes) This could involve students performing a scene to show real dialogue, writing exercises to improve language skills or character play. Students describe character/write dialogue/use language. This can be related to their story idea from the first exercise or a new story. Students share writing with partner. You select two or three to read their work to the group.
- Final comments and questions (15 minutes).
Writing exercises for workshops
Rather than asking students to write a story in a writing workshop it is often better to use writing exercises to show them some techniques they can use to improve their writing. These exercises are an opportunity to provide students with a scaffold on which to build their writing skills.
Do the exercise with the group, modelling what you want the students to do, then let them try the exercise for themselves. Encourage them to share their writing with a partner or with the group.
‘I don’t know what to write about’ is a common cry from students. This exercise shows that ideas are everywhere and demonstrates one of the ways that authors get ideas.
Collect postcards or pictures from magazines and newspapers (laminate them or put them in plastic sleeves). Choose an image and brainstorm ideas for a story based on the image with the group. Distribute the picture around the class and ask students to choose one to write a story idea about. They can write an opening paragraph or a story summary. Share writing with partner or in a group.
The dialogue students write is often very stilted and not at all how people speak.
Create some simple two-person scenarios, for example, explaining to the teacher why you haven’t done your homework; asking a parent if you can stay overnight at a friend’s house instead of visiting grandma; returning a faulty item to a shop.
Select students to act out the scene. Students should use actions to show feelings of the characters. Discuss the words and body language used. Write the dialogue using correct punctuation. Discuss alternatives to ‘said’ and ‘asked’. Share.
Improve the students writing by introducing them to alliteration. Read some examples of alliteration. Students write down the numbers one to ten down the page. Nominate a category such as animals or food. Students use the number and the category to make a list, for example, one wild walrus, two tired tortoises.
Similes or metaphors
Read some examples of similes or metaphors.
Read some examples of clichés. Choose a category such as food. Ask students to create a fresh simile using only food, for example, the sun was as pale as mango ice-cream.