Tuesday 19 June 2012

Great idea for writing: "sequel problems"

At the recent conference of Reading for Pleasure at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE)


Sue Ellis of Strathclyde University did a presentation on 'Engagement' in reading backed by some fascinating research from all over the world, especially from John Guthrie at the University of Maryland.

She also presented some work by children from Glasgow writing letters to Cinderella. The scenario was this: Cinderella has got married and the Ugly Sisters write to her saying that they would like to come and stay with  her. Cinderella is going to write back. But what should she say? Should she let them? Or should she tell them  no? How should she write to them? Politely? Kindly? Or how? Saying what?

I've often done workshops where children or adults have written 'prequels' or sequels to poems, stories, plays, films - or indeed 'spin-offs' from moments within stories eg what do Hansel and Gretel think at that moment when they realise they have been abandoned and have no way of getting home? (I usually ask supplementary questions about what can they see, hear? what do they hope? what do they fear? what do they feel like? what do things around them look like?) Or what is the boy in the film White Mane (Crin-Blanc) thinking, feeling, wondering, feel like, see, hear, dream, imagine as he is being dragged along by the white horse that he wants so much?

But the work Sue Ellis showed was very special because it was problem/dilemma based. It posed a problem for the children to deal with, and they had to respond usefully and meaningfully to that problem but from within the logic, feeling, ideas and motives of the story. This involved precisely what Sue Ellis was talking about: 'engagement'.

So, this seems to me a very fruitful line to pursue. Perhaps you've done this many times. Apologies if you have.

Yesterday, in the workshop with secondary teachers at the English and Media Centre:


the teachers started to chew on the ideas around what happens after the end of 'Romeo and Juliet'? Maybe Juliet has a sister we didn't know about. And guess what? She's only gone and fallen in love with a Montagu. She tells her mother, father and the Nurse. What do they each say to her? Perhaps in a letter? Or a speech?

I'm sure anyone reading this could pose similar problems which could or would generate interesting, 'engaged' and powerful writing, generated by the power of the original story, informed by its motives, characters, actions and feelings, giving the writers/students a platform to use for their own thoughts.

Best of luck with that. If you get interesting outcomes, do write to me, and I could post it up here on this blog.