Slow Writing

Slow Writing – Step by Step

“Miss, I don’t know what to write!”

“Sir, how do you start?”

These are questions asked by students who find it difficult to get into descriptive writing. Without adequate one-to-one support, puzzlement can lead to frustration, and frustration invariably results in disruptive behaviour. With all the will in the world, we struggle to give these students sufficient attention to support them in a full class of 30 plus children. Nevertheless, with a clear and simple strategy and some practice, hopefully, these students will acquire an essential skill to overcome the initial barrier, a skill that all effective writers possess – attention to details, one at a time.

Incidentally, David Didou has written a blog on “how” students can complete a creative writing task by following a series of instructions. Following that, he has also suggested “how slowing writing might speed up thinking“. In my case, I tried to find a solution to the question of “What do I write?”

How?

Don’t we often hear ourselves repeating the same instruction, “Slow down!” “Don’t rush!” “Add more detail!”? We even mark their books with these comments, too. Then same questions erupt from all corners of the classroom: “Where do I start?” “What do I write?” To find a solution, I decided to stage teacher instructions by means of a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation would be sent to every child in the group via email for them to access on their iPads. My idea was to “hold their hands” to complete the writing task, slide by slide and step by step, walking up to a “haunted house” to describe the scene in as much detail as they were instructed to, just like being on a guided tour minus the atmosphere-building description. The students would have to do that themselves.

I had also planned this lesson with the new GCSE writing task in mind. Hopefully, this way of teaching descriptive writing would help them develop skills and confidence to respond to visual stimuli that may contain more subtle details that require careful observations.

Below are a small selection slides included in the step-by-step scaffolding of the writing instructions:

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Introducing stimulus image – a haunted house

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Choose a specific aspect to begin – time of the day/night

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Leave sufficient time for students to describe each detail before moving on to the next

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Scaffold stylistic crafting as and when appropriate

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Gradually introduce rhetoric devices to add sophistication in description

The result was on the whole pleasing. Firstly, the number of questions, “How do I start?” and “What do I write?” reduced dramatically. Secondly, the more confident writers could get on with their work with fewer disruptions (I am assuming it was easier for them to block out teacher talk). The more able students had the chance to ask questions about more sophisticated crafting of style and writing. After 20 minutes of guided, slow writing, students from my lower-set Year 7 group produced some fantastically detailed description of the haunted house.

Plan for the following, too:

1. How can students without their iPads access the resources?

2. Encourage more confident writers to work independently and to take advantage of “slow writing”.

I would be interested to find out:

How does this way of writing work with much smaller groups?

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About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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4 Responses to Slow Writing

  1. suecowley says:

    Interesting ideas here, thank you. A few extra things that you might find useful … Firstly, if you say to your students to *form each sentence in their heads before they write it down*, this can really help them get past the fuzz of words in their minds. Also, where possible try adding in a multi sensory stimulus. For instance, a furry toy spider, some chains that you can literally clank in your classroom. Simply switching off the lights on an overcast day can help students get into the haunted ‘mood’. The other thing that you can do is to get everyone to close their eyes and to run the story ‘like a movie’ in their heads.

    I’m always just a touch nervous about suggesting when students should use devices such as personification, because what sometimes ends up happening is that they focus on shoe-horning the device into their writing, rather than letting the writing come from the inner imaginative eye. My kid came the other day with a story where she had been praised for her use of sentence starters, but to me the story read a bit too much like a list of literary devices. It’s usually the case that the best stories are actually quite simplistic and plain in their description, relying on the reader to fill in most of the blanks. I’m in the ‘yet to be convinced’ camp on that one. 😉

    • W. S. Lien says:

      Hahahaha…. My thought precisely – technically flawless, but how unexciting! Yes, I have come across many cases like what you’ve described but they just don’t scream pizazz.

      Thank you for the very useful tips, such as visualising. I do use that technique from time to time when teaching writing. That’s precisely where I have issues with Big Write when the students have to stop after 20 minutes. I am a slow but meticulous worker and my teaching reflects that. I usually spend a whole lesson, plus homework time if I really go for a more polished end product.

      • suecowley says:

        A story is like taking a photo in words (and sometimes it’s like a movie). You have to see the pictures in your head to describe them. 🙂

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