Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of children’s storytelling, is brought to you by multi-genre writer Roger Hurn.
When I asked a bunch of Year 6 kids what it is that writers and story tellers do, one lad put up his hand and said, ‘You tell lies for a living.’ It struck me that, in a way, he was right. This led on to a discussion where we decided that lies were nasty, hurtful things that should be avoided at all costs. However, we also decided that what storytellers and writers do is tell fibs. Though these fibs are not told to cause any harm, but to stretch and dazzle the truth to create a story that entertains the audience.
Now everybody tells fibs – apparently it’s an evolutionary survival trait – and I use this fact to play a game with kids that really gets their imaginations working overtime and leads to them thinking up some great stories of their own. Never again will you hear the dreaded words: ‘I don’t know what to write.’
Here’s how it works. I pretend to be ‘Horrible Hurny’ – the world’s most scary supply teacher (and not at all like their lovely, kind, clever teacher). I tell them that I’m taking over their class for the day. They are late for school, but they have to come up with a ‘fib’ that will turn me from a fire-breathing dragon furious at their lateness, into a sympathetic and understanding soul. This is a challenge they can’t resist as they think it’s great fun to be allowed, officially, to tell fibs. The only ground rule is that the ‘fib’ has to be almost believable. Here’s an example.
Horrible Hurny: You’re late!
Child: Sorry, but it’s not my fault.
HH: So whose fault is it then?
Child: Well, you see sir, I have a problem. I talk in my sleep.
HH: And how does that make you late for school?
Child: It upsets my cat.
HH: That’s a shame but, I repeat, how does that make you late for school?
Child: Well, my cat sleeps on my bed and, last night, when I yelled in my sleep she jumped off the bed in fright.
Child: She leapt onto my bedside table and knocked my alarm clock onto the floor.
HH: So what? You could still hear it go off.
Child: No I couldn’t, sir, because the fall made the batteries in the alarm clock fall out so it didn’t go off in the morning and wake me. So I overslept and that’s why I’m late!
Why not try this idea out with your class? I find that they all want to have a go at outwitting me and I’m sure your children will feel the same about you. After the initial couple of “role-plays” I put the children into pairs and one is ‘Horrible Hurny’ and the other is the latecomer. Then I give them the opportunity to show the rest of the class their role-play when they’ve finished working on it. This is also an excellent way of motivating the children to make notes and write down their dialogue as it gives the act of writing a genuine purpose by helping them to remember more accurately what it is they want to say. But above all it’s fun. As one lad said to me after playing this game: ‘Is that all there is to thinking up ideas for stories? ’Cos I can do that!’
‘I know,’ I answered. ‘You and your class have been doing it all morning and you’ve all come up with some terrific ideas.’ Then his face lit up in a big smile. ‘Yeah, we have, haven’t we!’
I loved that. Thank you, Roger.
Roger Hurn is both a writer of crime fiction for adults and a writer of books for reluctant readers. He has had over 90 books published as well as musical plays, CD-Roms and the Oxford English eQuest digital literacy series. His book: The Beast of Hangman’s Hill was selected by The Book Trust for their Bookbuzz List 2012/13 and his collection of folk tales: East of the Sun, West of the Moon was chosen by Scholastic as one of their Great Reads for World Book Day 2009. His first crime book Business is Murder, featuring London based private investigator Ryan Kyd, went to number one on the Amazon Kindle Singles chart. The following two books in the series Hand of Darkness and The Dead of Winter have been equally successful.
Roger is also man who enjoys keeping fit and he has written a book and DVD on fitness and dance for A & C Black, 101 Dance Ideas. He co-authored it with Cush Jumbo a young Olivier Award nominated actress who won the Evening Standard’s Best Newcomer Award 2013. The book is aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic that is plaguing so many of our children but Roger says that even someone with two left feet like himself can use the DVD to have fun and keep in shape!
Back in the dim and distant past, Roger was an actor in the Exploding Trouser Company and he also won The Weakest Link on BBC TV. He was the drummer and chief lyric writer of a band that once had a hit record in Turkey (though sadly nowhere else!) and, on a storytelling trip to West Africa, Roger was given the title Mallam Oga (Wise teacher, Big Boss). Or, at least, that’s what the locals assured him Mallan Oga means!
In his spare time he plays seven-a-side football for a local team and, to the horror of music lovers everywhere, plays guitar in a band!
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on the craft of writing: Aileen Gibb, Allison Foster, Andre Cruz, Benjamin Cohen, FM Meredith, Graham Smith 1, Graham Smith 2, Ian Miller, Ira Nayman, Jane Wenham-Jones 1, Jane Wenham-Jones 2, João Cerqueira, Jemma Hayes, J Griffith Mitchell, Maria Castle, Melodie Campbell, Marion Grace Woolley, Melodie Campbell, Morgan St James, Morgen Bailey (essentials), Morgen Bailey (rituals), Morgen Bailey (negatives), Morgen Bailey (writing tips), Nathan Weaver, Patrick Swimmerly, Paul Lell part 1, Paul Lell part 2, Quentin Bates, Samantha Gray, Sherry Gloag, SJ Wardell, Stefan Bolz, Sue Welfare, Tracy Kauffman, and VM Gopaul.
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