We begin a series from Lois Elsden about how to not only get people reading your work, but to continue reading it! It’s not enough for them to be interested in the bait, they have to be hooked!
I’ve always been a story teller, first to myself, then to my sister, then to others… I wrote stories as soon as I could write, and poems, and drew pictures to illustrate them… but I’m not an artist, it has always been words, words, words.
Needing a day job I became an English teacher and I taught through stories and poems, writing my own for my students when there was nothing specific enough for them. My first longer tales for students with comprehension and creative writing exercises were “The Sports Day Fiasco,” and the “Valuables Box Job.” I was teaching English to non native speakers, young people in their teens from Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Vietnam and a variety of other countries. My main characters were young people of a similar age, from similar backgrounds… I think the hero was a lad called Arshad… he was involved in a bank raid, and that plot device is echoed in my next novel to be published THE STALKING OF ROSA CZEKOV!
I began to teach in PRUs, Pupil Referral Units for young poeple who for various reasons were not succeeding in state schools; this may be through violence, truancy, drug-taking, alcohol and other substance abuse,school phobia… anything which stopped them achieving all they were capable of. Many came from disfunctional families and were accustomed to violence and abuse in their lives. Most of them were of average or above average intelligence, some were extremely able and in other circumstances would have been looking ahead to further education and university… but for whatever reason they were with us. They were aged 15-16 years and in their last statutory school year.
These students were great, challenging certainly but such personalities! I loved teaching them, their potential was awesome if only they could realise it themselves! Most of them were reluctant readers, not because they couldn’t but because they wouldn’t read. Convinced of their abilities I pushed them towards doing public exams, GCSE English and as part of the course they had to read poetry, Shakespeare and a novel… To get them to read.. how to get them to read… They all could read and read fluently, but none of them wanted to.
I wrote a comprehension exercise for them. It was about a lad called Blue who was conned out of some money by a man he had done some work for, went home to find the trailer he lived in had been trashed and his dad was missing. Some angry men were approaching the trailer with baseball bats, the boy grabbed an envelope he had hidden and fled.
“What was in the envelope?” my students demanded.
“No, idea… now let’s look at this comprehension…”
“But what was in the envelope?”
I prevaricated and continued with the lesson. The following week, time for comprehension and it was another passage about Blue going to his girlfriend’s house and after being insulted by her mother, threw a brick through their window and fled. He met up with a weedy little kid called Des who told him three men in black were going round the area asking for Blue.
“Who are the three men? What are they after? Do they want the envelope?” my students asked.
“No idea… now this week we’re going to be thinking about punctuation…”
“But who are the men?”
“Haven’t a clue… Now, speech marks, when do we use them?”
By this time they had realised it was a continuous story they were reading, but they were hooked, they wanted to keep reading.
There were ten or eleven chapters altogether and by the end we were reading a couple of chapters at a time, following Blue’s adventures and discussing his character and those of the others in the story, plot development, use of language, new vocabulary… and doing creative writing based on what they had read as well as the grammar and punctuation.
Blue’s story was finished, but reading hadn’t.
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