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We love to begin a workshop with lists of words. The activity breaks into the white space of the page and then into the air and ears of the workshop.
This is how it works: make a list of words, five or six, that simply come to mind. They may be words that sound good, have good associations or are simply rattling around in your head. Try not to censor yourself, and try not to show off. Nouns and verbs are good, and short words: try ‘and’, ‘under’, ‘if’….. Proper nouns work well –place names, personal names, brand names, and words in other languages are good. When everyone has some words written down, each person in turn says one word from their list. Speak clearly and slowly and leave a short pause after each word spoken. Go around the group three or four times and notice the patterns and surprises, the words that made you laugh, the ripple of sound, the unexpected juxtapositions.
In our primary school writing club we don’t write the words down, but simply ask children to have a word in their head to say aloud. We hear the words around the circle once or twice –three times if it is going well.
barnacle, plug, conspire, ball bearing, girder, although, Constantinople, sandwich, calamity, cheesy, nincompoop….
That’s it. Words on the air. We think of it as a bit like an orchestra tuning up. We get words out here. We are reminded of words, introduced to words, find them as unlikely neighbours:
We always begin like this. The poet Michael Laskey from whom we learned this activity notices that the list of words is always differently surprising. It encourages young writers, especially, to notice words. Sometimes children will tell us during the day that they have thought of a really good word to share later. As they get used to the activity, they become more inventive. They (and we) realise the power of a proper noun or of a word like ‘if’. We wonder if ‘disinfectant’ sounds better than ‘beautiful’ and think about interesting ways of saying ‘chocolate’.
We’ll write more about these word circles in later blogs.