I thought I’d share a brief overview of my personal top tips from marking many stories over the last year.
To prepare or not to pre-prepare
So, narratives – I blogged about my belief in the wisdom of students preparing plans/stories beforehand here last year, and it has been clear from my experience this time round that there is a far improved array of structures being employed by students, so good work everyone!
If you’re still sceptical, my advice would be not to worry too much about the danger of tweaking; I would simply encourage students to practice writing convincing tweaks from a host of possible question titles, and you’ll be fine.
Major areas where students can improve
- Tense control
My major tip here is to simply not let students write in present tense. I know it is en vogue at the moment in Literature, but it is only the most amazing student writers that can maintain control of the present tense throughout their story. Most mess up after a couple of paragraphs – we then have ‘tense inconsistency’ and the Vocab/SPAG side has quite a few marks knocked off.
We all tell students to check for errors at the end of their writing. Few do by the look of it. This is so critical for marks as if it is riddled with errors, marks are knocked off for coherence in the Content section of the mark scheme, AND for sentence control/punctuation in the Vocab/SPAG section.
I am going to set specific editing starter activities next year where students look for errors in both tense, word omissions, and punctuation. Where punctuation errors are not spotted due to a lack of understanding, then a discussion is obviously needed.
Things to encourage
Speaking to the reader (Asides) – e.g. She was the irritating, know-it-all (You know the type, right?)
When done well (and no doubt better than my example above!) it offers a sophisticated, knowing, self-aware, self-deprecating style which is really endearing.
Humour / Embarrassment
Stories are great that involve embarrassment, often as a potential love interest falls by the wayside as a result of said embarrassing actions of the protagonist.
Things to avoid
Fancy punctuation. Forget over-promotion of semi-colons and colons as top marks guarantors. If there is control over speech punctuation and complex sentences, then students should be well on for the top band ‘a range of punctuation is used confidently’.
Any stories involving the following that leads to excess action focus, and insufficient craft: Sporting events, exam results day, War (SO DULL!), Basements, Dark alley ways or woods. For further tips beyond this blog on Do’s/Don’ts -see Component 1 Section B-Creative Prose overview document-DHG and also check out a colleague of mine’s Narrative tips too -there’s some great interactive resources – here
Structuring story writing with lower attainers through providing a range of basic story plots that just ‘work’!
This has proved incredibly useful with my lower set students. In recent years, I have discussed the plot structure -Hook/Exposition/etc and then basically said -off you go. I then had to go through countless revisions to the planning before we even had a workable plot to begin drafting. NOT ANY MORE! This year, I provided students with a lesson to consider their own ideas as normal. 2/20 came up with ones that were goers; the rest didn’t, so next lesson I provided them with a list of 13 plot structures for them to choose from with the brief ‘to make it their own’.
This was a revelation.
They instantly became more engaged with the ideas and actually offered some lols at a few of my ideas, some of which I invented, some of which I have adapted from students’ stories over the years.
I also told them all that they would all be writing in 1st person. Again, my experience is that this enables better descriptions of feelings and emotions.
Next step was crafting each section. I talked through a model of different narrative hooks/problems then asked them to write it. Holding them back from ploughing on was torturous for some. One student literally had written the entire story in a paragraph. Making explicit that we would literally only be working on one section at a time -a few sentences, and they were not allowed to go further, was a battle…but it worked!
We then moved on to the different sections, and I made clear to them that we were all going to be looking at the model, crafting, crossing out, redrafting each section in turn for a couple of lessons at a time, and that they were all going to be producing an excellent story that they could learn and then deliver in the exam. Here’s the document I’ve been using with guidelines, complete with extra challenges like the sentence I’m about to awkwardly christen as a ‘triplet-positive-positive-negative-cliff-hanger’.
e.g. He would always come first on Sports day; he’d always come first in Spelling Bee competitions; but something that had proved beyond him thus far was girls.
Alas, we have had to break for summer before they hit the Dramatic Peak section(!) but all the signs are promising for finishing them on our return.
Hope this has been some use. Happy holidays everyone!