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My daughter loves creative writing but her Hong Kong school seems to neglect the subject

Stories and poems can get sidelined when schools need to teach other skills, but there is much you can do to encourage your daughter’s interest and help her improve

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2016, 8:00am

My daughter loves writing stories and poems, but now she’s in Primary Five in Hong Kong she complains that the class hardly ever does this kind of writing. I have looked through her books and most of the work is comprehension exercises and research. What is happening to creative literature?

Language is at the heart of any curriculum and creative literature is an important part of this. Creative writing develops students’ thinking and imagination, while encouraging a love of language. As well as developing the child as a person, creative thinking and thinking “out of the box” are highly valued in today’s job market.

Each school curriculum dictates what is taught in language and literature lessons – and, particularly as pupils get older, the demands for them to acquire a wide range of writing skills increase. Teachers need to teach explicitly different text types, such as recount writing, exposition (explaining both sides of an argument) and explanations. Becoming competent in research work and note taking are also crucial as pupils head towards secondary school, so don’t be too disappointed to see that your daughter is covering this.

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The creative side of language can be lost when the key focus becomes “skills” and the timetable is crammed with other writing tasks. Here, the enthusiasm of the individual teacher is key.

A teacher who is passionate about literature and understands its importance will make sure the students get regular opportunities for creative writing, however tight the timetable. They will also try to engender a lifelong love of reading, as this is a prerequisite for developing great writing skills. It would certainly be worth talking to your daughter’s teacher or the school language coordinator to ask about the school’s approach to creative writing in the upper years, and make them aware of her personal interest.

As your daughter is already inspired to write creatively, there may be an after-school club she can join. Many are available in Hong Kong – but also encourage her to write at home. Advise her to carry around a small notebook to write down ideas as they come to her, and provide her with other writing books for drafting ideas. Make sure she has access to a computer and help her to set up a file so she can be organised when saving her stories and poems.

A good start would be for her to write stories from her personal experience, by reliving humorous and treasured family events at the dinner table. Also, tell her stories about your childhood days and ask grandparents to do the same. Encourage your daughter to talk about the current books she is reading and films she likes.

All types of pictures, including famous paintings, can provide interesting starting points. Your daughter could brainstorm everything she can see in the picture then use these ideas as inspiration for a short story. Reading the beginning of a story and finishing it off or rewriting the ending is also an effective idea. Comparing her version with the original will bring up some interesting points for discussion.

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Another good stimulus can be a collection of unusual objects that she has to incorporate in a story. Verbal storytelling is a fun family game – use the “conch” idea where someone tells part of a story then passes an object to someone else in the group, who will continue it.

Some children prefer to devise and plan a precise storyline, while others like to write from scratch and allow the plot and characters to unfold. Your daughter will need to experiment in order to develop the methodology that suits her.

She already loves poems and this can be an easy, fun way into creative writing. They are shorter than stories, and can be emotive and enjoyable. There are some fantastic children’s poetry books around, many of them humorous. She could choose her favourites, both rhyming and non-rhyming, and work on her own versions using the same structure or pattern.

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Drafting and improving her work is a vital part of the process that leads to producing meaningful and entertaining writing. Feedback from you and other family members can be extremely encouraging and will help your daughter to grow as a writer as well as giving her an audience. Start by giving positive feedback, praising parts you thought were particularly well written or imaginative, then discuss areas she might improve. Focus on the content of the writing, as spelling and grammar can be checked later.

Whether or not children need creative writing skills and a love of literature for future examinations or careers, what these give to their lives is immeasurable.

Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary school teacher