access_time 15 July 2020
perm_identity Posted by Jason Thomas
Blog explaining creative writing as a subject and techniques for 11 Plus exams for Grammar and Independent schools
Most grammar schools choose a paper on Creative Writing for their selection criteria for the 11 Plus. Does that mean that these schools are looking for the next William Shakespeare? Absolutely not. The main purpose of the creative writing paper is to see how well a student can structure their thoughts, how complex and broad their thinking is and how eloquently they can express themselves. It is often forgotten that creative writing is an integral part of the National Curriculum for Key Stage 1. And the creative writing paper in the 11+ exam is the section where original thought must be demonstrated. In other words, it is the section where imagination is not just encouraged, it is advised.
The paper requires a student to write one extended creative piece within an allotted space of time. The length of time varies from school to school, ensure that your child finds out how much time they have, so that they may finish their piece and still have time left to check their work.
There will be approximately six options available in the exam and students should aim to choose the question that most appeals to them and plays to their strengths. It's recommended that they spend 5 minutes choosing a question and – for clarity and time efficacy – should always plan their response.
The options are to:
Write a story
Offer an opinion on a given subject
Write a book review.
If a student chooses to write creatively, they should aim to create an opening that engages the reader. They may, for example, choose to begin mid-action or mid-dialogue. To create believable characters, use DAD (Description, Action, Dialogue) and always ensure you 'show' rather than 'tell'. Avoid an excessive amount of dialogue as it is very difficult to do consistently well. Dialogue is also difficult to punctuate, so it may be wise to focus on descriptive paragraphs more than speech. Where is the story set? What can we hear? What can we see? Is there a way to describe bad weather without just telling the reader that it's raining? If a student does use dialogue in their piece, he/she should avoid repetitive use of the word 'said' and should opt for synonyms such as 'muttered' or 'whispered' instead.
If a student chooses to tackle the book review, they should be careful not to simply summarise and retell the story. Instead of this, consider where the book is set, the important characters, their favourite moments and whether or not they would recommend the book to others. For top marks, try to discuss a book's significance to a wider or specific audience. For instance, most primary school students are familiar with Michael Morporgo's 'Kensuke's Kingdom'. On its surface, 'Kensuke's Kingdom' is a tale about a boy who is washed ashore on a desert island and meets an old man. However, it is also a story about unlikely friendship and the importance of kindness. How might that relate to a lonely reader who struggles to make friends? What lessons can be drawn from the book? What messages can be discerned? Does the book have historical significance – If the story is set in the Second World War, could it be telling us something about the world today? All of these points will be sure to score highly in an exam. For extra help, various templates for writing successful book reviews can be found on the internet.
To write an effective creative writing piece, one needs to practice certain skills:
Never just start writing. Planning will help you to organise your thoughts and this will give your writing structure. It really does not need to take long but is always 5 minutes well spent. This planning time may form part of the whole time given to write or it may be an extra 5 minutes provided at the start before the writing is timed. Use a planning technique that works well for you e.g. flow-chart, mind map, spider diagram, chart. If you do run out of writing time you can ask the examiner to refer to your plan to see how you would have continued/ended your work.
Some people are naturally creative with words, storylines etc. Nonetheless, it is still a skill and skills can always be improved upon. To help broaden descriptive prowess, think of a scenario and focus on the five senses. Imagine you are walking through the woods. What might you see? What might you smell? List as many different ways you can describe what you come across using each sense. For example, the smell of decaying leaves was overwhelming… Or, my hands brushed against mottled tree bark… Practice describing a sense without mentioning the sense. For instance, instead of 'I saw a layer of frost on the ground…' try 'A layer of frost covered the ground…'. It is the same sentence in essence but the second example is much stronger. Enhance the description with similies, 'as colourful as a carnival', use oxymorons i.e. 'a deafening silence' Remember, the reader cannot see what you see, they can only imagine what you describe, so make the description as rich as possible.
You can also improve your imagination by reading a variety of books.
Your writing style is unique to you. It should demonstrate 'joined-up thinking' and an ability to write in an entertaining manner that interests the reader and makes them want to continue reading.
You will be expected to use a variety of punctuation in a piece of creative writing. As well as the standard, simple forms of punctuation you will already be familiar with, it is best to also demonstrate knowledge and correct use of some of the less commonly used punctuation marks e.g. ellipses […], brackets ( ), colons [:], semi-colons [;], hyphens [–] and apostrophes ['].
English Grammar follows rules and you will be expected to use them correctly in your writing. Speaking and writing use different accepted forms of grammar. It is therefore important that you do not write how you might speak in a text message. Your writing should use the word groups i.e. nouns, verbs, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, connectives, prepositions and articles correctly and in the right order within your sentences. All sentences should be complete and able to make sense on their own, using the correct word endings as appropriate for the number of items and the correct form of the verb for the tense used. Use a variety of sentence structures, in addition to simple sentences, including compound and complex sentences to showcase your abilities.
The use of correct spelling is essential in any form of writing. Some people are naturally good at spelling and others need a little more practice. You will probably have been taught some spelling rules in English lessons. Revise these and practice them, some awkward or irregular words just have to be learnt. Reading a lot will improve your spelling ability as will playing some word games e.g. Scrabble, Boggle and Hangman. As a dictionary will not be allowed into an exam, make sure to look up spellings in a dictionary part of your 11+ preparation.
An extensive and interesting vocabulary takes years to develop. Some tutors/parents like to use vocabulary lists LINK to extend a child's vocabulary but the best method is to read numerous books and look out for new words that you can use in your writing. Keeping a word list of new words is useful and this can be added to when reading books, watching TV or out and about. When you are practicing your writing skills use a thesaurus to improve and extend your vocabulary and make an effort to include lots of interesting adjectives and adverbs.
It is important to demonstrate that your writing has structure in the form of clear paragraphs that are organised by characters, topic and time. Ensure that you have a good opening paragraph and a suitable closing paragraph to conclude your writing.
There is no point in writing a stunning piece of work if the examiner cannot read it. Although your handwriting is not usually included in the creative writing mark/grade, it will certainly influence decisions made about your work. Additionally, punctuation errors may be assumed if it is difficult to differentiate your capital letters from the lower-case letters.