Teaching students with an ‘XBox imagination?’ Bring the game to them!

From the beginning of my teaching career, right up until present day, I’ve repeatedly encountered the same problem within the realms of creative writing. How do we teach children, mostly boys it has to be said, whose imagination seems limited only to story-lines relating to XBox or Playstation games?

Time and time again, I’ve excitedly climbed up story mountain with my pupils, only to be confused and disappointed when the main character suddenly pulls a sub-machine gun out of his pocket, murders everyone brutally before living happily ever after.

Sidenote: I realise that I am bypassing the issue that games like Call of Duty: Black Ops and GTA 5 are certificate 18 games, and no doubt shouldn’t be played by eight year old children who aren’t mentally prepared for the content of these games. Regardless of how I feel about this issue, the fact is that it’s happening. It’s happening in high school and it’s happening in primary school.  Like it or not: the kids are hooked.

So what can we do here? It’s pretty obvious really. Use the games’ characters, settings and storylines as creative writing stimulus.

Bring the game to them. 


We’re told often that the more relevant topics are; the more our students can relate to the characters and themes; the more engaged they’ll be and the better outcomes we’ll get. It’s only natural then that a story based around Lara Croft will produce better writing than one based around Snow White.

Just to note: it’s not that these particular students have a lack of imagination. Writers write what they know about – they use their own life experience – so for kids who spend an hour a day in an alternate games reality, this is what they know.

With this in mind, I’ve attached a little writing stimulus, based on the game scenario from Ark: Survival Evolved. As it happens, the game (like many others) has a pretty good story line. The main character is stranded on an island, inhabited by dinosaur-like monsters, and has to find ways to survive and escape. This has the makings of a great action story!

The creators of Ark, like many other games’ developers, have successfully created an entire cyber world, providing even more scaffolding for children who struggle at coming up with their own ideas. Visit the website and see for yourself: there’s gameplay clips and pictures which make great stimulus for students who both have and haven’t played the game, and there’s a huge, detailed glossary of creatures that inhabit the island, like this description of the ‘Glowtail’ below. Providing students with ready-made creatures like this can be just the inspiration that some need to just start writing. Plus, they’ll develop reading comprehension skills along the way! 

As a teacher, it can be incredibly deflating to see your students struggle to come up with ideas, and even more so when they continuously repeat the same predictable action scenarios.

But remember: it’s pretty rubbish for them too. Many students are actually desperately excited to come up with a good story. It’s just that sometimes, it’s too big of an ‘ask’ to have them create characters, a setting, a story-line; all of this before they’ve even thought about how they’re going to write this, punctuate it, spell it and make it grammatically correct. Even when we do provide a ready-made world for our students to write in, it’s often a place that some students just can’t see in their heads. All things considered, it’s no wonder that some students liken ‘Big Writes’ to an exercise in torture.

If left uninspired and unsupported, your struggling writers will only worsen in confidence over time, developing that ‘can’t do’ attitude. Why not harness the good feelings that they have in relation to their game-play and fold this into their literacy work? Give them a ready-made canvas, on which they can comfortably and confidently paint their ideas. Bring what they know to them so that they might explore what they don’t in safety, unleashing some creativity (and even enjoyment) along the way.

Agree/disagree? Have you encountered XBox imaginations in your classrooms? Are you already an expert in game-based storylines? I’d love to hear your ideas:


‘Ice Cool’ Creative Writing: Mindfulness-based Literacy

I was thinking recently about my first ever class as an NQT. All those years ago, I arrived in year 4 and met with my colleagues, ready to plan literacy for the term ahead. I’d actually qualified as a secondary history teacher and only spent a week volunteering in primary school at this point – I was full of enthusiasm but definitely felt like a fish out of water. I have to teach Music… and French?!

Thankfully, in my year 4 team were two lovely, experienced and creative teachers, who not only looked after me and guided me throughout that year. They gave me countless ideas to use across the curriculum, including the one that I’ll share now – Ice Balloons.

You will need: A balloon, a tap, room in a freezer, a bowl/dish and scissors. That’s it!

Method: Attach the balloon to the tap and fill with water. Tie into a knot and place the water balloon into the freezer. Bring out a day later, cutting the balloon away at the knot (run hot water over this to speed up.) The ice then sits in a dish (a pasta bowl is best to collect water but also show off the ice balloon) where it sits and acts as writing stimulus for your students.

It’s that simple and the kids just love it! 

We left our ice balloons out throughout the day in school. Once every hour, we would stop and examine them, looking out for changes in size, to see any new lines or cracks appearing. We spent a lot of time listening in silence, then describing the fizzing and crackling sounds we could hear. We used all of our senses, and we made notes. If only I’d known then what I now know, I’d have been patting myself on the back for incorporating #mindfulness into my literacy.

During the following week, we delved into the thesaurus, discovering wonderful new descriptive words that we might use to truly do our ice balloons justice. We uncovered similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia (CRACK!) and our ice balloons were no longer frozen water, but ethereal, magical orbs, personal to each one of us. The end result – the Ice Balloon poetry – was simply stunning. Below, I’ve written my own version of our poem, following the same structure that the kids used. It isn’t a patch on theirs, but it will give you a solid structure if you’re wanting to try this with your children/class/group/pupil.


My Ice Balloon

My Ice Balloon sizzles and crackles and hums with mystery.

It is strength, wisdom and power.

My Ice Balloon is a map, covered in paths, roads and rivers that lead to unseen places.

It is a magical, new world within a world.

My Ice Balloon is like a book, crammed with stories of good versus evil, heroes and villains.

It is a crystal ball, whispering secrets that only I can hear.

I will tread along the crystal paths and float on icy rivers.

I will open glass doors that have never been opened.


It’s tasks like this that restore your faith in humanity. Seriously people – just look at what you can do with a frozen lump of water.

Thinking of trying this? Already tried it? Think you can do better? Tell me below.

Slow writing? Quick progress for weak writers.

When I arrived at secondary school, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never heard of ‘slow writing.’ In fact, I only heard about it through a chance encounter with one of the English teachers in the work room. I was grumbling away about the lack of progress in my special needs English group and at the point where I felt like nothing I’d tried was working, when she suggested that I try ‘slow writing.’

Basically, the idea is that students are told what each sentence must include. For example, sentence one must start with an ‘ing ly’ opener; sentence two must include a connective and so on.

It’s true that this is very prescriptive, but it has worked wonders with my SEND writing group.

Previously, these students just couldn’t generate the ideas needed for a lengthy piece of writing, even with planning frames and speaking prep time. Many also were incredibly frustrated because they had the ideas, but just didn’t have the ability to get these onto paper. Then there were the students at the upper end of the group, who can spell and write, but tend to write huge streams of unconscious waffle.

Did they like this style of writing? Not at first, no. The group did complain a lot about having to write what they were told. I also had issues in that this approach relied on them understanding at least basic grammatical words and terms. Even with examples and explanations, I found I would have to recap individually what a simile was, or what a sentence with a subordinate clause would look like. Really though, as I find with any new approach, the key is training students up over time and patience.

We’ve just completed our fourth structured ‘slow write’ this term and the complaints have dropped. The work that my group is producing is of much higher quality and they’re all very proud of themselves. They’ve also built up their SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) knowledge as a positive side effect of this.

I’ve attached a slow writing sheet – Mr. Bean at the dentist – slow writing task and example – that I used with my SEND group at the end of a unit of work based on Mr. Bean. We watched a video clip of Mr. Bean getting up late for the dentist and I showed students examples of slow writing to match this. Their task was then to complete slow writing for the second half of the clip, following the set structure. While this isn’t really my kind of humour, I find that Mr. Bean is a MASSIVE hit with KS2 and SEND KS3 students so the fact that they’re happy and engaged certainly helps! Here’s the clip in full:

Slow writing really is such a simple idea, but it has made a huge difference to the progress, skill, understanding and confidence of some very weak writers. I will certainly be using this again.