How to prepare for 11 Plus Creative Writing
Creative writing at 11 Plus can be a really tricky skill to teach, and an even trickier one to learn. It can seem very vague and wishy washy: ‘more detail’, ‘more vibrant vocabulary’ etc. I often get the sense that students are not really sure why one paragraph may get lots of ticks, and another not so much.
When teaching 11 plus creative writing, the place I always start is the imagination. Putting pen to paper is stage two: we need something to write about first. In both stories and descriptions, the first thing they need to do is to imagine the place and people they are writing about. Visualise it clearly in their minds. Try and bring their other senses in as well - what are the smells and sounds of that place? Once we have a mental image of what it is we’re talking about, it’s so much easier to write about it. If they are encouraged to zoom in on details in their mind’s eye, to look left, right, up and down, to go under the surface of things, or to touch them, they will never run out of ideas to talk about.
Once they’ve been encouraged to think and to generate their own ideas, what then?
Characters. Characters are like parents: they hold our hands and lead us through the text. Without them, readers tend to drift away and the writing can feel pointless. In stories, we must follow one character through a journey to an exciting end. We need to see their emotions and thoughts - show us how they’re feeling by describing their bodies, for example (shivers, heart beating, biting lips). Even in descriptions, we need to make sure we see characters we care about. It can be tricky to include characters in descriptions of a bridge, or a field at dusk. But look under the river’s surface: who is that cheeky fish stealing bread from under the swan’s nose? Or inside that hole in the tree: is that a shy squirrel trying to make her way down the oak? Characters are all around us if we can probe that imaginative world and go and find them.
Once we’ve found our interesting character, what then?
Well, let’s make them do some really interesting things.
Stories and descriptions should both have excitement in them. We need our stories to build towards a dramatic event - otherwise, what’s the point? How do we do that? Action. We need to make sure every paragraph is not just passive description, but that it is a stepping stone towards the main event. I don’t want to read what a character had for breakfast if it’s got nothing to do with the big event - skip it and move the story on.
Action is more than just plot. It utilises the most powerful weapon an author has: the verb. Every sentence, no matter how simple or bland, has a verb. If we can use powerful and descriptive verbs, a sentence explodes into our imaginations. She walked? No, she stamped. She pirouetted. There are cars with horns beeping? No, Cars tooted and howled as though their lives depended on it. In every sentence, choose something you want to talk about, and give it a powerful verb (no more ‘There is …’). This small adjustment to how we think about sentence construction makes so much difference to the power of a child’s writing.
We’ve got a detailed world, characters we care about, and some drama. Great.
Now we need to focus on the language. This is where some students get lost in a fog of a wood of a deep ocean of mixed metaphors and happily confusing personification. Writer’s tools are like chocolates: too much and we feel pretty sick after a while. Instead, I encourage students use senses to describe their world. I encourage students to avoid saying something is beautiful - explain to me why it is beautiful (C.S. Lewis included this in his fantastic suggestions for young writers). I encourage students to use a variety of openers so I don’t get lulled into a familiar rhythm when I’m reading. I encourage them to use a variety of writer’s tools, but sparingly!
The big five tools are:
If I can see these somewhere in the writing by the end, I’m very happy. I don’t need to see all of them in each paragraph: there’s more to writing than a list of writer’s tools.
This is a very brief overview of how I try and help students develop their own ideas, create interesting characters, make writing exciting and develop a variety of expressive writing skills. Some children are fantastic at some of the skills, but need some support with others. The biggest advice I can give is to take some time with your child and see which area is causing a problem. Try and remove any frustration: nothing squashes an idea like sadness. Give them a chance to develop all of these areas in their writing and you will see them begin to shape interesting work that comes from their own minds: the most important skill of all.
11 Plus English and Creative Writing Tutors
Each year Keystone supports many students preparing for the 11 Plus. The 11 Plus English tutors we represent are experienced in the intricacies of the 11 Plus exams and how they differ between schools' assessments. We would normally recommend that preparation begins around 12 – 18 months before the exams.
For more details on how Keystone can help with 11 Plus preparation, please call the office for a chat with one of our client managers, or contact us via our request a tutor form.
We also run 11 Plus Group Creative Writing courses.