Inspiration for writing: teaching resources

By the Engaging Places team | 24 August 2009

For generations, writers have been inspired by where they live. Without the backdrop of buildings and places, how different would be Thomas Hardy’s novels, or the poetry of Betjeman and Wordsworth?

Photo of student writing

Student inspired to wirte, by her built environment © A&M Photography Ltd

Buildings and places are a great resource for inspiring children to write. As well as providing a stimulus for narratives, non-fiction and poems, they offer opportunities to write for a range of audiences. Having an immediate, tangible starting point unleashes children’s creativity as they imagine, explore, inform, explain, persuade, review and comment.

We have collated a list of activities, organisations and resources based on using buildings and places for developing creative writing skills with your students.

Subjects: English, history, geography, ICT, citizenship.

Cross-curriculum dimensions: creativity and critical thinking, identity and cultural diversity.

Initiatives: Learning Outside the Classroom, Every Child Matters (enjoy and achieve), PLTS (creative thinkers).

Teaching activities
Report on the past

Visit an historic building and collect information about important moments in its history – perhaps its construction and opening, famous people who have visited, dramatic events that have occurred over the years, changes made to the structure… Back in the classroom, make a timeline recording the building’s life.

Ask the students to choose one of these moments in history and to write a newspaper article reporting on the event. Remind them to set the scene, describe the events that took place in chronological order and include comments from people involved. Do they have a strong opening and conclusion? Have they used appropriate vocabulary?

Why not ask the students to be creative in presenting their articles, dropping in photographs and drawings from the visit? You could bring all the reports together to create a newspaper tracing the building’s history.

Search the to find an historical building in your area.

Photo of male students visiting historical venues

Students discovering the history of the British History Museum © Alys Tomlinson

Make it concrete
Concrete poetry – also known as shape poetry – is almost architectural in the way words are built up to convey meaning through their presentation.

Show the students examples of concrete poems. Get them to experiment with simple one- and two-word poems based on the built environment – perhaps ‘skyscraper’, ‘hairpin bend’, ‘arched window’ or ‘chimney pot’. Explain that they can change the size, colour and shape of letters.

Ask your students to write their own concrete poem inspired by a building of their choice. They could base it on the school, a local landmark or even their own house.

The Woodland Trust’s website offers a resource for experimenting online with layouts for concrete poems.

Pros and cons
Identify a controversial issue to do with the built environment in your area – perhaps a new road scheme or plans to build a shopping centre or extend an airport. As a class, research the issue. If possible, invite people with opposing views to come into school and explain their standpoint.

Ask the students to write a reasoned and balanced overview of the issue. What are the arguments for and against? What evidence is there to support the different views? Encourage them to end with a summary and a recommendation.

The RTPI & Planning Aid educational resources help teachers to use local planning issues in the classroom.

Photo of retail development in Birmingham

Birmingham City Centre retail development © David Cowlard

A sci-fi adventure
Research images of futuristic buildings on the internet and show students some of the most exciting examples.

Ask them to write a piece of science fiction inspired by one of the buildings. The year is 2050. Who lives in the building? What are the rooms like? Where do they sleep and eat? Do they work? How do they travel? Encourage the students to be creative and imaginative as they construct an adventure around the building and their character.

RIBApix, a user-friendly online image library, has good quality images of contemporary architecture. The pictures are free to download for educational use.

Sell your town!
Take the class on a walk around your local town to identify interesting buildings and places – churches, old schools, monuments, gardens, historic houses… Encourage them to take photographs, sketch and collect information as you go.

Back in class, ask the students to write a visitor leaflet persuading people to come and visit your town. Show them examples of different tourist leaflets and talk about how effective they are. Who are they aimed at? Are they easy to read? Do they make you want to visit the place?

Encourage the students to think carefully about how they organise and illustrate their information.

Tourist Information Centres hold a wide range of visitor leaflets – visit the Information Britain website to find your nearest.

Photo of students using the computer

Students using ICT to help them with their work © A&M Photography Ltd

Helpful organisations and venues
The National Trust

The National Trust is committed to placing learning at the heart of everything it does by creating opportunities for self-development, creativity and discovery. Get in touch to find out about the educational programmes on offer at your closest National Trust venue.

English Heritage
English Heritage offers a range of resources to help schools make the most of the historic environment. Visit the English Heritage website to find out about site visits, publications and downloadable resources.

Historic Royal Palaces
The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace are all looked after by the charity Historic Royal Palaces. They offer a range of on-site educational activities, courses and resources for teachers and students.

Local architecture and built environment centres
There are 23 architecture and built environment centres around the UK. Contact the one nearest you to see how it can help you discover and explore buildings and places in your local area.

Find your local architecture centre now.

The London Eye
, with its spectacular views over London, provides an exciting starting point for imaginative work. The venue has produced an easy to use resource pack to support cross curricular study at key stages 1, 2 and 3.

Photo of female student inside a London Eye capsule

Student inside a London Eye capsule © Alys Tomlinson

Teaching resources
Our street: learning to see handbook

, published by CABE, provides key stage 2 teachers with an in-depth project for awakening students’ curiosity about local buildings and places through detective work in a street near their school. Activities cover several aspects of the English programmes of study.

Archikids Club website
This Archikids Club website, developed by Open House, provides a range of activities and games – many related to the English curriculum – to make primary children more aware of buildings.

Unlocked for literacy
Wolverhampton Art Gallery has produced a range of photocopiable worksheets and activities that use the historic Bantock House as a stimulus for literacy work at key stage 2. You could adapt the activities for a historic house near you.

Images of England website
A photographic library of England’s listed buildings from the turn of the 21st century produced by English Heritage. Use the website to view over 300,000 images of buildings and places in your area, from lamp posts and lavatories to historic houses and churches.

Go back to St John’s CE Primary School case study.

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