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School Workshops

Reading and Writing Narrative

WORKSHOP TWO

Leafcutter

Year 6 Workshop: Reading and Writing Narrative

Length of Session: 150 Minutes.

 

 

Aims of the Workshop

  • To explore ways of constructing and deconstructing narratives.

  • To develop an understanding of the creative process – both the inspiration and the perspiration!

  • To provide a platform for an end-of-year integrated learning Module.

 

 

Introductory Session

Length of Session: 30 Minutes

  • The children will need a copy of the book and I shall provide a number of Powerpoint slides.

  • I introduce myself and my writing, including a mention of the children next door, for whom I write a birthday story and a Christmas story every year. I shall tell them about some of these stories and read a brief extract from The Boy with Four Hats.

  • I shall follow this with an account of how Clive from the Butterfly Farm commissioned the book after seeing The Magic Makers. I shall mention his conservation work in Belize, his enthusiasm for the leafcutter ants and his suggestion that the story should be a little like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which Alice falls down a rabbit hole.

  • Focusing on Leafcutter, I shall:

  1. Talk about my research into the ants and the importance of getting facts right when you do a story like this. I’ll explain that doing your homework can give you ideas for characters (like the Queen and Goldie) as well as action (like the attack of the armadillo).

  2. Look at the different settings and how they add interest – in themselves and through contrast.

  3. Say that many stories have a moral to them. I shall say that I wanted to emphasise conservation and the ways in which humans have damaged areas of the planet.

  4. Talk about the importance of Annie, partly as a central character and partly because she ties the story together.

  5. Give an outline of the whole story and talk about the need to have a clear structure.

 

 

 

Session Two: Close Reading

Length of Session: 60 Minutes

Phase One

  • Open group discussion about the main ingredients of a good story. This will add to the points raised in my introduction and is likely to include:

  • Setting, including atmosphere; contrasting settings.

  • Action, including some idea of progression: situation, intention, conflict/frustration, resolution.

  • Characterisation, including (a) age, gender, occupation, emotional type (b) motivation, intention, opportunity.

  • Genre, such as realistic, humorous, detective, adventure.

  • Reading of pages 1-2 from Leafcutter. Small groups identify different ingredients from the list they have made and say how successful they think the opening is. Does it make them want to read on?

  • Brief discussion of the illustrations and how they help understanding.

 

Phase Two

 

  • Reading of pages 28-30, preceded by a brief explanation of the predators, the setting in the formicary and of the three characters: Annie, Goldie and the Old Maya Woman.

  • Small groups undertake close reading, modelled on the SATs Reading Test:

  • Dialogue, its layout and how it can help to create character.

  • The present tense and how this can add to dramatic impact.

  • Similes to generate mood and humour.

  • Adjectives to create atmosphere.

  • Unusual vocabulary to create character and generate humour.

    

Phase Three

  • Reading of pages 35-36.

  • This short element of the session will look at Structure. I shall outline the story as a whole, linking in the earlier readings of the start and a dramatic central section.

  • Small groups will discuss what makes a good ending and decide how effective they find the ending of Leafcutter. This can include comments on the leap forward in time, the reminders of the early part of the story, the moral and the quirky last paragraph.

 

Section Three: Children as Authors

Length of Session: 60 Minutes

Like any of the sections in this Workshop, Section Three can easily be modified to align with the work of your School. What is provided here is an exemplar of how I would approach creativity with young writers.

  • At the centre of this new story, to be written by the children, is the idea from Leafcutter of shrinking to gain access to a normally unseen world. The session will begin with a whole group discussion of which worlds the children might want to enter and explore. Possibilities would be: a bee hive; the weasel’s world, with no permanent burrow; one of the many different habitats of a butterfly; the burrow of a water vole.

  • Smaller groups will then think through possible scenarios. How will the central character(s) shrink? How will they enter the mysterious world? What would they hope to find? What might be the dangers? Which creatures will they encounter? How will they get out? What will they have learned or discovered?

  • Small groups think about the key elements of the story: Setting (any research necessary?); Structure (beginning, middle and end, with a few obstacles along the way); Characters (some to trust and some not to trust); Characterisation (age, gender, etc.); Moral of the story (depends on the species chosen but might touch on some of the points raised in Leafcutter such as the strength to be derived from organisation or the environmental threat of human activity); Stylistic issues (tenses, dialogue, any imagery); Genre (probably adventure but with genuine opportunities for humour, maybe horror!).

  • After half an hour, individual children write their opening paragraphs, thinking about: how to set the scene; how to grab the reader’s attention; how to create an appropriate atmosphere.

  • At the end of the session, individuals read out their work.

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