"Stefan completely revolutionised my teaching of writing - not an understatement!"
Sarah, Deputy Head & Literacy Leader, Leeds

"I believe I have seen a genuine correlation between children involved in the ARTiculate workshops and target children making Age Related Expectation (ARE)...Every child benefited with progress, clearly evident in their school books."
Simon, Y4 Teacher, Leeds

"Very inspirational and creative - lots of new ideas to improve writing and unlock children's imaginations."
Nadia, Year 4 teacher

Friday, 16 December 2016

Engaging your Rogue Ones: bringing Star Wars into the classroom (TES)

I wrote the following article for publication on the TES online 'Subject Genius' blog series.
The original article can be found at: https://www.tes.com/blog/engaging-your-rogue-ones-bringing-star-wars-classroom

Engaging your Rogue Ones: bringing Star Wars into the classroom

Not that long ago, in a primary school just down the road, a young boy - let’s call him Luke Schoolboy – was in a rut. Disenchanted with Darth Teacher’s regime, rebellion was most definitely in the air. Bringing his encyclopaedic knowledge of Star Wars into his timetable, however, turned this Phantom Menace into a Jedi Master. As the latest film instalment hits our cinema screens this year, bringing Star Wars into the classroom is a sure way to get your rogue ones engaged in literacy lessons.

Luke Schoolboy is a character many primary teachers would easily recognise. Year 5, disengaged with his work, disruptive and simply not making any progress, especially in writing. With this in mind, I was asked to design for him a creative writing intervention with the aim of engaging him, not in battle, but in practical, fun lessons to give him the skills to make him a better, more independent writer. There was only one topic that would do it: Star Wars.

Initially, he was not convinced. “I hate literacy,” he said with a scowl. “But”, he added, brightening, “I do like Star Wars… so I guess I’ll give it a go.” And give it a go, he did. Over the next few weeks we developed strategies for writing complex sentences, learned how to write a realistic setting, selected high quality vocabulary and plotted out a short story. All of it about his favourite characters and films.

The more Luke wrote, the more engaged he became and the confidence flowed into his writing. (Or was it the Force?) In a few short weeks, he had gone from a miserable clone, dragging his feet to school to a boy transformed - bounding into class, eyes shining, finally relieved that something he was learning at school actually resonated with him. The darkside was well and truly banished.

I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like a farfetched Nerf-herder’s tale. Well, see for yourself. You can listen to Luke Schoolboy’s Star Wars story here.

In the meantime, here is some advice for how to engage your reluctant writers with a literacy topic that is out of this world…

First, you’ll need to choose the right book to use. Many of the Star Wars novels are too complex for primary school children and many of the graphic novels are too adult or too niche to be suitable. Skywalker Strikes and Vader (both Marvel) are two excellent modern graphic novels that are ideal for Year 5 and 6. They follow the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia in their battle against Darth Vader and the evil Empire. Handily, they are broken into short scenes, usually two pages long and they feature great characters doing interesting and exciting things. Perfect for bringing to life in a short, snappy pieces of writing. Allow the children plenty of time to read the stories to get to grips with the plot.

Before the children can write anything, they’ll need plenty of descriptive and technical vocabulary. Finding the right adjectives and adverbs to describe the evil Lord Vader, the heroic Han Solo and the mindless Stormtroopers is a good starting point. To make the writing convincing, however, children will need to know the names of the weapons and equipment carried by characters as well as names for their species, languages, allies and enemies. Get your hands on a Star Wars character encyclopaedia to help with this – unpicking the pages of character profiles is a great way to develop reading comprehension skills whilst building the language to write with. Making a vocabulary poster for each character will help embed new language and it will make an amazing working wall.

Setting the scene is also important for getting the right feel for your stories. Fortunately, most of the scenes either take place inside a space ship or on a planet. We watched selected scenes from a New Hope (Episode IV) and took notes on things we could see in the two settings. Once we had a list of features and descriptive vocabulary, it made writing a story intro a lot easier!

Using drama to bring the scenes to life from the graphic novels was one of the most fun aspects of the whole project. Photocopy a key scene from the novels such as a lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader or a daring escape. In pairs, replace the dialogue in the speech bubbles and get the children acting out the scenes considering tone of voice, body language and so on. If you’re feeling brave, let the children choose different scenes in pairs. A little more work for you, but much more engaging for the children as they can take real ownership of a story.

Getting the class writing is much easier than it might first appear, but break it down into manageable sections. Allow the children to write short powerful descriptions of the characters that appear in their scene, and also of the setting. When they come to write the full story, they can incorporate these descriptions into the action and dialogue.

One interesting twist is to get the children to invent their own characters to replace the key actors in the stories. Replacing Darth Vader with a new, even meaner Sith is a lot of fun, especially considering the possibilities for costumes, special abilities, weapons and, of course, a cool name. Our groups created robotic Siths with four arms, humanoid Jedi and blaster-toting bounty hunters! 

Finally, to crown it all, the children need to give their epic adventure a title and, of course, choose an episode number before performing them out loud to a backdrop of the glorious Star Wars soundtrack.

So what are you waiting for, kid? Grab your blaster and join the battle for the galaxy!

Star Wars Volume 1: Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron (Marvel Worldwide, 2015)

Darth Vader Volume 1: Vader by Kieron Gillen (Marvel Worldwide, 2015)

Thursday, 8 September 2016

NEW TRAINING COURSE! Supporting Creative Writers for primary teaching assistants - November 2016

I am delighted to announce a new training course for primary teaching assistants. Supporting Creative Writers is specially designed to help staff engage and guide children through the writing process.

The full-day course is on Friday 11th November 2016 at Bowery Cafe and Visual Arts Centre, Headingley, Leeds.

See the poster below for details!

To book a place or for more information, please email me

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

"Excellent, inspiring, thought-provoking!" - ARTiculate Teacher Training Day

Course title: Becoming a DIY Writer by Stefan Kucharczyk
Venue: Pudsey Lowtown Primary School, Leeds
Monday 5th September 2016

Forget the back-to-school, doom and gloom Facebook memes, the start of a new term is a chance to bounce around new ideas and get back to being creative (even if it doesn't seem like that at 7am in the morning). 

What better way to get started than spending time discussing ideas for writing with the wonderful staff at Pudsey Lowtown Primary in Leeds.

I was asked to deliver a teacher training session focused on embedding the writing process, especially how to get children in a position to write and how to help them edit and redraft their work afterwards.

The school are embarking on a new direction with their literacy planning this half term, using picture books as inspiration for getting children acting, talking and writing. To prepare them, we looked at ways to unlock the mysteries of Armin Greder's chilling tale, The Island. 

The staff loved the practical ideas of this workshop. Year 2 teacher Lizzie reflected that "all of it was relevant and fabulous"while another member of staff commented that the training offered inspiring support for writing - a subject they found difficult to teach. Teaching assistants also found the training constructive with one delighted that "the training will help [her] pre-teach children on the journey to becoming more fluent, creative writers." 

It was an incredibly positive afternoon and thanks to everyone for getting involved!

Would you like "inspirational, practical, interesting" training on writing for your school? See my staff training workshops page or email me for details!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Blood thirsty Macbeth posters

Creative writing workshop, KS2

Macbeth is a blood-drenched, gory and spooky tale. Too gruesome for little ones? Apparently not! The Year 4 and 5 children I have been working with this half term have become completely immersed in the Scottish play. 
As well as getting the children to write short playscripts, developing the climactic showdown between Macbeth and Macduff (more on this at a later date), my groups have designed some concept posters for the play.
The children chose a colour and symbol that represented some aspect of the play (bloody red, royal purple, a black cat for the witches, a chess piece for the king) and overlayed it with words that help tell the story. We used emulsion paint and big worn-out brushes (the ones at the back of the cupboard that nobody uses...) to achieve a battle-worn, scratchy effect. Gory blood splatters went down a treat too! Here are some fine examples!

Royal Shakespeare Company, take note!


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Sakura - Making the most of spring blossom with some creative writing!

Sakura, Sakura!  
Creative writing workshop, KS2

Children inspiring their writing with a trip to the school garden!
Spring has well and truly sprung! Old news for most in the Northern Hemisphere, I know, but as the cherry tree at the end of my garden has now exploded into a cloud of pink blossom, the beautiful growing season is hard to miss. 

This natural inspiration is priceless and, following on from a workshop about iconic Japanese print The Great Wave, provides the perfect backdrop for some writing on the Japanese Hanami cherry blossom (sakura) festival.

Using a selection of Hiroshige and Hokusai woodblock prints as inspiration, my group spent the morning outside in the school garden getting up close and blossomy with the pink blooms. Following their senses, the children developed a vocabulary bank featuring precise verbs (floating, dancing, waving, gliding and so on) and evocative adjectives (silky, glossy, transparent, baby pink, sweet aroma and many more).

This was great fun and, as the blossom tree is in the middle of the playground, this is a wonderful way of introducing children to their surroundings in a new way. This could be a great link to your Forest School or outdoor classroom.

We even used the vocabulary to write some short Haiku poems. Here are a few great examples...

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

"We couldn't fail to turn when we heard it brutally roaring...." Creative writing based on Hokusai's The Great Wave

The Great Wave - Creative writing workshop, Year 6
Week 2: Drafting a narrative

After our previous work on vocabulary, this week's workshop was a chance for the children to put their rich language and ideas into action.

A first draft of writing based on The Great Wave (Hokusai) - Year 6 boy, Leeds primary school
Writing from the perspective of one of Hokusai's cowering sailors, we tried to convey the right mood and atmosphere as the fishermen face down the monster wave. The superb example above, by a Year 6 boy, shows how we captured this scene perfectly... "One again, we faced our nemesis, the flowing nightmare: The Great Wave." Zing!

A good author needs a strong command of language. This writing, although excellent, didn't just happen! It was built upon the foundations of creative thought, a rich bank of vocabulary and the experience of applying it in sentences.

These were key parts of the process: 

  • Children read a model text to see how a piece is structured. We used this to make a plan for our own writing.
  • We tried to retain a sense of mystery and suspense by not naming the wave, simply referring to 'it'. We thought about scary movies we had seen and how people behave when the big-bad appears unexpectedly.
  • The sentences we practised last week formed the spine of each paragraph drawing in simile, adjectives and adverbs as well as personification. 
  • To give the writing an authentic feel, we included references to Shinto deities and the Japanese names for animals (including the symbols - they were great fun to draw!) 
Next week... we will edit and redraft the writing further! More excellent examples to follow.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Banter like the Bard, thou goatish, Earth-vexing clack dishes!

Macbeth Creative Writing Workshop
Week 1: Bard Banter
Text: Macbeth, adapted by Leon Garfield.

With the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death this weekend, I have taken the opportunity to introduce a little bit of bard banter into my creative workshops. Starting a writing and drama project on any of Shakespeare's plays can be a daunting task, but helping the children get to grips with some cutting Shakespearean language is a great place to start. It goes without saying that getting the chance to insult the teacher with some saucy, impish quips certainly helps loosen up the shy performers!

Using the fabulous Shakespeare Insult Kit as a starting point, the children were quick to get to stuck into a little Elizabethan trash-talking. Here are some zingers:

Wipe thy ugly face thou fishified, fat-kidneyed ratsbane!    

Hark! Thou logger headed, earth-vexing hugger mugger!

Lead apes in hell thou toad-faced, gorbellied flaxwench!

Hark! Wipe thy ugly face thou goatish, guts-griping malt worm. Quoth I, malt worm!


As we are focusing on Macbeth, the children reenacted the play's thundering climactic sword fight between the murderous Macbeth and the vengeful Macduff. Investing in a few plastic swords was a wise step and this really helped the children bring this scene to life.

As well as reading the text, we are using art as a way of building our understanding of the play. The children selected appropriate symbols to represent aspects of the story. Next week, we will overlay them with text: descriptive vocabulary about our gruesome tyrant, Macbeth. And a few blood splatters of course...

The Shakespeare Insult Kit can be found here (external link).

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Creative writing based on Hokusai's The Great Wave

The Great Wave - Creative writing workshop, Year 6

Week 1: Vocabulary development

Inspired by Japanese artist Hokusai's masterpiece The Great Wave, Year 6 are starting on a creative voyage to bring the iconic print to literary life! We spent some time poring over the features of painting: the spray, the wave, the boats and, well hidden, Mount Fuji.

After reading an account of Ellen MacArthur's sailing voyages, we began to generate some cutting edge vocabulary to give our writing some sparkle.

This was the process:
  • Children labelled the features of the picture, including parts of the wave (crest, barrel, swell, lip)
  • We chose personified verbs for the different features. 'Grabbing', 'scratching' and 'grasping' for the finger-like lip of the wave; 'screaming', 'slapping' and 'whistling' for the wind.
  • The group selected similes for each of the features. The wind became 'a bellowing dragon', the boats were 'a floating feather'.
  • We then wrote complex sentences using the vocabulary, building the complexity one stage at a time (see below). We even tried to include some Japanese characters!

The results were very promising and the children developed some very arresting, captivating images. Now we have applied some excellent vocabulary, the children are ready to write!


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

ARTiculate Bulletin wc 14.3.16 Have you tried Bambert's Book of Missing Stories?

Buy this book!
Image copyright by the owners.
ARTiculate Bulletin wc.14.3.16
Bambert's Book of Missing Stories

This story is not just a book of writing. It is a book about writing. Bambert lives a lonely, detached life with only Mr Bloom the greengrocer and the characters in his stories – The Book of Wishes - for company. Not convinced he knows enough of the world to make his writing believable, he sets his stories free on paper lanterns to find the characters and settings they deserve.

In brief: Have you tried? 
Ideas for talking and thinking: How do writers write? That is the question and this book gives you the starting point for a discussion about where ideas come from.

Ideas for writing: Collaborate as a class or with another school on creative story writing.

Ideas for art: Give your stories wings by building paper lanterns.      

If you try any of the ideas I'd love to see the work your children produce!

'Have You Tried?' ideas sheet for Macbeth can be found here

To request this in pdf format, please join the mailing list by clicking here and sending me a blank email with your full name and the word subscribe.




A galaxy far, far away... EPISODE IV

Turn your most wayward apprentices from scruffy-lookin’ nerf herders into Jedi Masters with this creative writing and illustration workshop.
Creative writing workshop -- six sessions -- fiction

*all spellings are the children's originals!

Before they were to start writing their drafts, I set the group some short writing tasks: one short piece describing the setting and two pieces to describe the main characters that appeared in their story. We watched the first twenty minutes of Episode VI and discussed the different features of the settings. What would it be like to be in the desert of Tatooine? What would you see there? What would the Death Star be like? What could you hear, smell, see? I wrote a short description as an example which included some model sentences. The children analysed it and then used it to help structure their own
descriptions. Here is one example for a story set in a junkyard....

This fiery place, full of destruction, was a swollen junkyard. The dusty land was covered with broken machinery. The sand dunes in the distance were high and it was scorching under the two suns. This was a place of battle.
Wizzing across the surface of the planet was the most brave and loyal hero in the whole universe: Luke Skywalker.

By Mohsen

We set this aside and followed it up with two character descriptions. Again, I wrote a model text to set the expectation and the children used it to write their own. This is where the vocabulary profile posters became valuable. The words were already there for the children to use leaving them to focus on the sentence structure, including getting to grips with a semi-colon! Here are two examples, one for Darth Vader and the other for bounty hunter, Boba Fett.

Standing in the middle of Jabba’s repulsive palace, with his straight faced Stormtroopers behind him, was the most grim, forbidding villain of the entire universe: Darth Vader. The abominable sith lord looked like an obsidian shadow. His monstrous black military armour hid his unforgettable wrinkly face; he is more machine than man. He holds his luminous lightsaber carefully in his metal hand. All who see him fall to there knees and beg for mercy. 
By Aman

Legendary and cunning, he started like as a clone but now he is one of a kind. His armour was strong and green; his wrist rocket and flame thrower are deadly. One shot is enough to blast you to pieces. He is not to be messed with for money.
By Nayshawn 

Now, although their descriptions were energetic and full-blooded,  I am really not suggesting this was easy! The children were eager to get started on writing the juicy action they had read in the graphic novels and they were a little frustrated with taking a step-by-step approach. “When are we going to write the stories!?” they demanded. “You’re already writing it, kid,” I wish Harrison Ford had been on hand to reply. But taking it slowly would pay it’s reward later on!

Next time... Drafting a story stars in EPISODE V: THE HIGHLIGHTERS STRIKE BACK