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Wriggle Room Writers – Session One by Katharine Quarmby

May 1, 2013

I was lucky enough to kick off the first ever Wriggle Room workshop at the lovely Burdett Coutts Primary School down in Westminster. Wriggle Room is all about allowing children room to stretch in the curriculum – to have fun with words, rhyme, rhythm, character, song, develop a sense of how to build a story –  and to use their senses

In this first workshop I spent about the first four to five minutes with both classes doing an observation exercise that both my mum, a primary school teacher, and an inspirational teacher from Halesworth she knew had done with classes. This was to get children to stand stock still and take in the world around them – cue Robert Louis Stevenson ‘What is life but full of care/we have no time to stand and stare?’ The first class quickly got the hang of it, on the school roof, and gazed up at aeroplanes and birds, heard workmen hammering and saw bees on flowers. The second group did the same exercise but in the school garden – cue lots of lovely observations about water creatures and flying things. We then spent about seven minutes writing about what the young writers had experienced, and I explained they could also write about any memories the observation had triggered, dreams they had remembered, and that they could use words from their mother tongue as well.

I then introduced the Wriggle Room Writers – and Islington Writers for Children. I talked about how we write (and illustrate) for different age groups of children and young people, about different topics and in different ways (from picture books, rhyming books, right up to novels for teenagers). I explained about how we have different starting points for writing and different ways of writing – but we all love writing and we know that there’s room for everybody to find their own way to write – that’s Wriggle Room and the children were now official writers too.

I then explained that over the next six weeks the children would be using their notebooks to write in (and they were all very pleased with their bright yellow notebooks). But first, they would be putting their ideas from the observation in a Magic Box (they had brought in boxes) and then in the next literacy class they would bring out those ideas and maybe add to them, with the aim of writing a nice rhyme, or a little sentence with lovely words in them, in their notebook. Big thanks here to the wonderful poet, Kit Wright, whose idea the Magic Box is – and The Poetry Society, and Anthony Wilson for sharing his ideas in their great workshop plans for schools. It’s a great way to get young writers to think about what words they can put in a magic box – their favourite words or phrases, and what they can get to rhyme with them. It got them thinking about rhymes, textures, sounds, smells, colours, dreams, and, of course, ways to think in and out of the box!

Then I explained that I was going to read Fussy Freya, my rhyming picture book, and some other poems that had inspired me to start writing. I explained that lots of picture books are in rhyme, or use rhythm and repetitions, all techniques that stem from poetry.

We then read Fussy Freya and then some poetry, which I left with the groups. The poems were selected to show how poets sometimes use form – rhyme, sometimes use repetition and sometimes use nonsense words to great effect. I explained that these poems were ones that had inspired me to write Fussy Freya and other books. I explained that other writers, such as Lynley Dodd, and Michael Rosen, who write picture books, also use poetry techniques in their work. I also selected them to show how poets are brilliant at using their senses to conjure up a real sense of presence – as are picture book writers.

I then read out a selection of poetry, from The Highwayman (rhyming couplets, sound), to The Oliphaunt (sound, couplets), to Ted Hughes’s The Thought Fox (free form, sight) – and haiku from the wonderful haiku master, Paul Conneally and a limerick from my dad, about steam cleaning versus the good old kettle and sponge – “Said the kettle to his partner the sponge/It’s time that we two took the plunge/Steam cleaning’s the game/So we’ll make it our claim/To banish all dirt, grease and gunge.”

The children loved the Ning Nang Nong song by Spike Milligan too – which I had to read out twice, to great hilarity.

We ended with their writing challenge – could they try and write something over the next six weeks in their notebooks? I explained that we would like, if their parents and the school were happy, to publish some on our website at the end of the six weeks. I, for one, am really looking forward to reading their poetry and all the other work they have been doing since, with the other writers from Wriggle Room.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Odette Elliott permalink
    May 1, 2013 9:15 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. The sessions sound wonderful. I would quite like to have been one of the children!

  2. Alison Allen-Gray permalink
    May 2, 2013 9:34 am

    It sounds as though you all had a wonderful day. I love the idea of standing stock still to take in the world around you. I agree with Odette, I’d like to have been one of the children!

  3. May 2, 2013 3:30 pm

    It sounds as though it went really well, Katharine. I agree with Odette, I’d love to have been one of your pupils! Alfred Noyes’s The Highwayman was one of my favourite poems as a child – and I’ve never forgotten how exciting it was.

  4. May 3, 2013 9:19 am

    I really enjoyed meeting the pupils (young writers) and staff at the school – and having the chance to have fun with words. What I found most exciting was that some children found their own ways to be creative – some divided their observations up between different senses (without any nudging from me) and some wrote theirs in their mother tongue and English – so we got lovely words in Arabic, French and English. Some wrote about dreams and memories. I got back from the session way more than I gave.

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