Reflections on NATE conference 2017 from Leanne Welsh. This is reblogged from Leanne’s excellent blog, https://nqtreflections.wordpress.com/.
At the NATE conference last weekend I attended a number of workshops that will help me to create interesting and engaging lessons for the pupils in my class. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring people that shared their ideas and practice that I can now adapt for my own pupils.
One of the workshops that blew me away was Kat Burr’s All work and no play? Introducing new views and creative ways into plays. In this workshop we gained fascinating insight into ways that we can help pupils to develop characters in plays. However, these ideas are not limited to plays and could be a worthwhile starting point for creative writing and folio work.
One of the first tasks that Kat introduced us to was ‘What’s in my Bag?’ Pupils choose two items from their bag and the rest of the group/class have to work out what the persons ‘holes’ (flaws) might be because of the items. I would say it is important to tell the pupils to think about the person with the items as a character rather than as themselves so no feelings get hurt in the process! For example if I had a small mirror in my bag, my flaw, as a character, might be that I care too much about my appearance and what people think of me. This immediately allows the pupils to start to develop a character in their own head and what the person might be like. If you have some pupils in your school that don’t have a bag or you might not feel comfortable doing this task, you could use YouTube. There are many videos out there with YouTubers promoting ‘What’s in my bag?’ You could pause it in-between items and ask the pupils to discuss or write down what their flaws might be because of their chosen items. This is also a fantastic task for getting to know a class or letting them get to know you.
Another task ( and probably my favourite) was Killer Lines. In this task pupils would be given a number of lines in their groups and they have to work out what kind of character would say these lines. You could make these lines up or use famous quotes from characters and see if the pupils can work out who is the baddie (we all know they get the best lines.) You might want to provide images and see if the pupils can match up the line with the character and give a reason why they think they could say that. For example if you use the line ‘Long Live the King!” Some pupils might say Scar because he is desperate to become the King and get rid of his brother. However, there may be another opportunity for an interesting discussion on ambiguity. Perhaps it depends on the way that a character says a line and the tone they use. Voice is so important in order to develop an accurate character; we have to hear them speak, right down to the laugh that they use. This line might have been said by a bunch of servants that are loyal to their ruler, so the status of the character is vital. Where is the character in terms of the food chain? Are they a boss or are they a disgruntled ex employee looking for revenge? Therefore an important lesson could come out of this task – delivery is often more important than what the line actually is.
As previously stated delivery is important when it comes to creating a character. Another task that I used from the workshop with my pupils was ‘Words that Annoy You.’ I asked the pupils to write down a word on a post-it that made their blood boil when someone said it (or, at least, caused them some discomfort.) To say they loved it was an understatement. They were doing this as a group and looking at each others and saying ‘Ugh, I hate that too! Why do people do that?’ I then asked the pupils to start to think about the mannerisms people use or do that annoys them. Now, if you want a successful task you should say the things that teachers do (obviously telling them to keep it anonymous) that annoys them. Each group had loads of words and mannerisms and I then asked them to explore how they think each of these words would be said or what the mannerisms would look like. I then asked them to think about what kind of character would suit this line. What personality would the character have? How would they interact with other people? How would their voice sound as they said it? Then, and I think this is really important for character development, to think about the back story. What makes this person have this mannerism? Where did the use of a word come from? Did they start to use it when their status changed in society? Do they only use these words or mannerisms with certain people and do they change depending on who they are around? This task really was fascinating and it was interesting to hear pupils saying ‘Well they only say that to us because we are a pupil, I bet they are different around the Heedie!’
The final task, and one that I think is brilliant, is getting the pupils to eavesdrop on a conversation. This could be at break, lunch or on their way home from school. The pupils should take an anonymous comment that they find unusual or funny and bring it back to class. The pupils can then explore these comments as a group, perhaps putting them all together to create a short sketch. Pupils could also provide the lines that they think came before and the lines that they think would follow. Again, another interesting opportunity to explore voice if you get the pupils to exchange their comment with someone else.
This was a fantastic and beneficial workshop that I will most certainly use to help pupils develop their characters in creative writing. Pupils often only have an image of a character in their head but it is important to delve into the history of a character in order to explore what their strengths and flaws might be.
Leanne Welsh is an English teacher in a Falkirk Council secondary school. Any views expressed are her own.