the details below were mostly assembled a long way back, mainly for one session of a B.Ed course I ran in the 1980s - word processing was fairly new then (1986) but looking back, it remains curiously useful - so here it is, word for word from 1986

Also, I have added to the foot of this page a collaborative writing task from that time that I still use today...

computer based writing so far

A summary

Research into the use of word processors in the classroom has typically shown that children are mutually supportive and cooperative in their collaborative groups when working with a word processor. They are typically NOT intimidated by the presence of the computer and are innovative and inquisitive in their use of the word processor.

There are several obstacles to the development of children as writers:

It is generally suggested that WP relieves children of the motor-aesthetic problems and allows greater focus on the content. Initially a linear approach is typical with text added at the end and the WP treated as a form of electronic Tippex but gradually (and with encouragement), as children are exposed to WP for longer periods they increasingly focus on insertion of text and the reorganisation of information, often at the expense of initial accuracy.

Written output dramatically increases despite a lack of keyboarding skills. Childrens conscious awareness of the mutability of text contributes to their reappraisal of composing procedures. This typically leads to, amongst other things, a heightened level of dialogue about the organisation of written text.

An unexpected bonus has been the finding that uniformly high levels of presentation lead to a parity of self esteem which dramatically motivates those whose poor presentation skills (and lack perhaps of role models with similar difficulties?) had slowed progress in both composition and creation. The typically high levels of motivation found with children using WP are reflected right across the ability / attainment spectrum.

Most surveys of home access to computer equipment reveal very high levels of penetration of WP equipment into homes with children of school age. Access to printing equipment has been relatively poor in contrast, but improving. A major survey of 12,000 US students, across the all age phases, has suggested (1989) that WP has become the dominant computer based activity for classroom users. in the UK a 1991 survey of 700 observed lessons with an IT component (by HMI) revealed that WP accounted for some 50% of activity but around 75% of those word processing were only doing a best copy of something that they had already written by hand! A major OFSTED for this, appropriately enough!) survey this year (1995) into IT in the classroom suggested that things had not improved.

When we surveyed people who wrote for a living - technical writers, copywriters, authors, marketing people, estate agents, etc. we found that writing was typically collaborative and based on previous work. Typesetting was seen as fundamentally important. Is this what we teach in school?

Three good practical ideas for creative writing:

First idea: altering the look and feel of text

Right said
he knew the
right way to build
a boat. Uncle Wrong was
convinced it would never float.
Wrong, said Right, Please dont gloat.
I'm sure this boy would like to float in a super-
fabulous fan-terrific boat. If he did, said Wrong,
he'd rue the day. Before he could blink, that boat would
quibbled and they squabbled and Id heard it all before, so I built
my own boat and sailed it from the seashore, while Uncle
Right and Wrong argued bitterly (though they
stopped at lunchtime and sometimes during tea)

Brian Patten

This is not new. From George Herbert (see his Easter Wings) through the Mouse's Tail in Alice, to Brian Patten above the shape of text on the page has been used as an additional cue to meaning.

Some work with textual look and feel is also being done in schools with concrete poetry:

pirate words as skull n crossbones

Second idea: playing with fonts

Typography and the use of fonts is important to conveying meaning.

Text on a page carries much contextual information (and of course readers bring their own interpretation to text too, based on the hand luggage of their own previous experience) Typeface is an important part of this. Some children find difficulty in generating lots of text (largely because finding their way around the keyboard is difficult) this activity can start with a common poem, or they can write their own.

The idea is simple, they change the font of the writing or poem, print it out and offer their own annotations explaining how the font they have chosen changes what they are reading.

For example:

peopm in varied typefaces


Third idea:  Starting story writing...

The great thing about creative writing on a computer is that text can be moved around, words can be thrown at the screen and refined later. This is particularly conducive to helping children think about the components of a story, because they can build the components and then assembled / link / refine / finesse them later.

A story has a setting, characters, some initiating event, activity and a climax. By (rather artificially) turning this into building blocks as a whole class activity different groups can be tasked with writing the components. Here is the way I slice up the components:

You can engage children in this debate by looking at stories they are familiar with - it really helps them with their own writing later; but you can also engge them in the debate - and get them writing - by giving them great starting or ending points as a stimulus and asking them what the components might have been in one or two that they choose - they can also have fun writing the "bit that came next" of the the "bit that came just before" these starting and ending sentences...

Here are some that I use for this - I'm sure you can think of more:

Some starts

Then all their sorrows were ended for ever and ever The horsemen make for the forest once again. They had everything they needed except the one thing that would make their quest complete

The car came round the corner with a screech of brakes. Nobody watching could have imagined how important the next three minutes would be in all their lives

Up, up they went until all they could see was darkness

"Welcome aboard", said The Captain. "We shall be away for 200 years. Please make yourselves very comfortable!

Under the cover of darkness she slipped through the gate

"That's the ugliest thing I have ever seen!" said Julie. "Where did you get it?"

Slowly and carefully he slithered towards them. They watched, fascinated, horrified and completely unable to move a muscle

"Come on you lot, weve only got 24 hours to finish the whole job and we havent got anything we need yet"

"I think Id better tell you the whole story, from the beginning, no matter how unbelievable it sounds"

It was a simple sentence. I suppose that, looking back, what happened next seemed pretty straightforward too, but Judy would never have said it if she had known the trouble that would result

"Hurry, open the box and lets all look inside." They all gathered round, excited, a little wary and above all optimistic. This time it would be the one

Some ends

Gently at first, but gathering speed quickly the huge spaceship rose until its shadow covered them all. They knew that it would leave now, and leave forever.

The Princess pulled up her skirts and waded into the water. This is not the way it should end she thought, smiling.

The city under the sea shone with glittering jewels. They looked up at the shafts of light twinkling down through the deep ocean and thought of what they had done; they were content.

At least they were all together again, but from now on they would always look in the shadows.

He awoke dazed and confused; there was no one in the room. The silence was so complete that the hairs on the back of his neck stood out in nervous anticipation. It had started all over again.

Looking down he saw he was gripping the silver shell in his hand. A smile spread slowly across his face. I did it. I really did do it he chuckled.

She fumbled the package. Her cold, wet hands struggled to work in the dark. Finally, it opened to reveal nothing. She sat down, shocked. That's it then, they've won she whispered and they were the last words spoken on the planet.

They said their goodbyes and waved as the train left. See you next year they all shouted, back and forth. But in their hearts they knew: no holiday would ever again compare to this one.

Free, free at last! They'd done it and no one would ever realise.

"If you think I'm marrying you sunshine, think again. Life is not a fairy story and I've got a great life ahead of me!"

"I never want to experience another voyage like that!" said Sarah.

They looked at the wreckage. Who would have believed that it would come to this!

The trumpets sounded as the Royal Proclamation was read. And this time, no one laughed!

As darkness fell they got ready. This time they were ready willing and able.

When another frog asked "Will you let me eat from your golden plate and sleep in your bed?", she knew this time exactly what to do!

Like all the best fairy stories they lived happily ever after ..... well almost!

Then, finally, all their sorrows were ended. He thought he heard a bird sing, in the distance.

┬ęstephen heppell 1986 - this page last modified Thursday, September 6, 2012 12:11 PM

writing together

great fun to do with a group od children, or adults on a CPD session... or anyone really. The way a narrative evolves, the key comonents, the way different groups take similar paths through similar stimulus objects... and more, are all good talking points as you unpack the activity at the end. It helps if the person typing onto the big screen is fairly adept at it.

Given a scurrilous character, and the imaginations of a lively group, the whole event can be both worthwhile and hilarious!

storyboard ideas

I simply use images from my own photo album - iPhoto in my case - and organise them as you see in the image above:
The group together chose a place, then select a couple of objects that will be in the story, and finally they need a lead character and can simply use their imaginatios for that.

Then, sitting around a big screen, the start to assemble their narrative - how did the character arrive at the place?, when, why and where did the objects appear?,