Why Creating Pupil Anthologies Engages Your Students

Last session I was fortunate enough to teach a wonderful National 5 English class: hardworking, deeply interested in the coursework and genuinely interested in creative writing.

Throughout the year we undertook a number of fantastic writing opportunities including a public exhibition and poetry reading in the local library and cultural centre; creative pre-reading activities before analysing some of Carol Ann Duffy’s poems for the Scottish texts section of the N5 exam; producing the folio for SQA assessments; and for many of the learners a residential writing experience at the Arvon Centre in west Yorkshire.

With lots of great poetry, short stories, novel openings and in some cases drama scripts to draw on, I decided that I would put together a personal anthology of work for each pupil. I thought that a collection of each pupil’s best writing would make a wonderful gift for them and would be a keepsake to treasure for the family. I try to make a regular habit of creating class anthologies and at the moment on my class library shelves we have pupil collections on topics as diverse as the First World War, local history, domestic violence, and the dangers of inhaling butane gas.

The anthologies presented to the pupils were A4 size. The covers were all simply but effectively developed on Microsoft Publisher. Each had the names of the pupil and school, and a short blurb on the back cover. They were printed in colour and laminated to make them more durable and were finished off by being bound together using attractive spine bars. Internally I decided to keep all fonts and point size uniform as this gave the finished anthologies a more professional appearance.

One of the features I added was an introduction to each pupil’s collection. This gave me an opportunity to comment on everyone’s work and their personality; a chance to reflect on each individual in a way which the traditional “report card” does not really have room for. I was able to focus on a funny moment, show appreciation for a kind deed done, and really get to grips with an appreciation of their work.

One more inclusion was adding in comments on the pupils and their work by professional writers who they had either worked with at Arvon (Helen Cross, Alan Durant and Catherine Fox), or whom I had approached to offer constructive criticism (Cathy MacPhail, Skye Loneragan, and Lewis Hetherington). I must say that I can’t thank all these full-time writers enough for showing interest in my pupils and for offering them some very kind comments and practical advice.

Benefits

I think there can be no doubt that creative writing increases pupils’ self-esteem. I am also certain that it develops pupils’ proficiency and interest in reading and writing in a variety of areas. In addition, I am confident that the following benefits are apparent as well:

Showcasing adds value: When a pupil sees their writing anthologised it shows that the teacher respects and approves their work. One of my pupils, Kayleigh Murray, told me that she “was surprised and thrilled to be given her own personal anthology.” Kayleigh went on to say that the foreword written, “Really showed that you know me personally and that you acknowledged the hard work that I have put in.”

Other readers: I find that leaving anthologies of pupil work in the class library captures the interest of other pupils. Even reluctant readers feel tempted to read the work of other pupils in their school and their enjoyment is obvious. Graham Simpson, an S3 pupil who has not (yet!) been involved in such a project, thoroughly enjoys reading the work of other pupils he knows in the school community. After reading Kayleigh Murray’s “Mr Midas” (an alternative version of Duffy’s “Mrs Midas”), Graham commented that he, “Really enjoyed the poem” and that he especially liked how the poem, “Explored morality and dilemmas. How Kayleigh had shown how greed can betray character and that you shouldn’t need all the riches in the world to be happy.”  

Emotional connection: Aside from the numerous rewards of anthologising pupils’ work, I also value creative writing highly as an experience to help pupils connect emotionally with others. Many of the tasks asked pupils to imagine that they were someone else, for example a dramatic monologue from the point of view of a victim of domestic violence. This opens up for the pupils valuable insights into the ways human emotions are developed and experienced through the situations in which they find themselves. It encourages the learner to think about other people’s predicaments, the effects on their minds, thus building empathic skills. Raymond Williams, who wrote one such dramatic monologue, said that exploring the topic in this way made him, “Think deeply about how people’s actions can affect others ,” and that he, “Enjoyed exploring the personal side of individuals.”

Next steps

When I next publish individual anthologies I will:

  • Use pupil artwork for the cover
  • Use photographs/illustrations to enrich the text
  • Have an assembly to which I would invite parents and special guests
  • Perhaps sell them as an entrepreneurial activity for the pupils to raise money for school funds

I urge you to give creating personal anthologies a try. Just seeing the smiles of pride and joy on the faces of your students makes it all worthwhile.

Gordon has written some great blogs on our site about the creative activities he devised to support pupils' work on National 5 Scottish texts. Read about the pupils' exploration of war images in connection with Carol Ann Duffy's War Photographer, or discover why they found themselves in a Home Economics classroom as part of their work on Valentine

Gordon Fisher

Gordon is the principal teacher of English at Lochend Community High School.