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Strengthening Creative Writing Through the Arts
How a bridge project supported 45 schools to experiment with creative approaches to teaching writing.
Creative Writing Through the Arts in action at Northwick Park Primary School, Canvey Island.
Image credit: leila balin.
This case study is about an innovative programme designed to bring creative practitioners and primary teachers together to support the teaching of creative arts and promote children’s writing skills. Written and led by Royal Opera House Bridge .
This is one of 25 case studies highlighting the value of arts in schools and education settings, curated by arts education researcher Sarah B Davies. The suite of case studies illustrates the research The Arts In Schools: Foundations for the Future , by Pauline Tambling and Sally Bacon, due to be published in 2023.
About the project
Creative Writing Through the Arts (CWttA) set out to demonstrate how learning through the arts can accelerate children’s writing skills. The effect of the programme on teachers’ practice and the quality of children’s writing was noticeable immediately and it was exciting to see the impact cascade across a school. We are still receiving enquiries from participating schools who would like to induct new staff through similar processes.
Royal Opera House Bridge (ROHB) formed a robust partnership to support this action research. We identified a well-networked group of primary schools operating as a SCITT in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University who became our Higher Education partner. Following a small pilot with early career teachers, ROHB secured Paul Hamlyn ‘More and Better’ funding (£237,000) which, combined with further investment from ROHB and 45 participating schools initiated and supported the CWttA programme for three years (September 2016 to July 2019).
The programme was managed by a steering group representing all partners and co-ordinated throughout by the deputy headteacher of a participating school, who was also a music specialist. Project funds were used to purchase her time from her school. ROH Bridge chaired the steering group, managed the budget and supported selection of artists.
For more detailed information on rationale see the following article.
What worked well
“It has made many of us think about how we approach writing, what we are asking our children to write about, how we motivate them. We have thought about the arts and how we can introduce our children to far more of the art forms - though visits, visitors or enhancing our own teaching.” (Headteacher)
How did we approach the action research?
Teachers took part in regular, high quality, live, professional development in arts subjects, led by creative practitioners (one day per art form). They gained ideas to integrate creative arts (art, dance, drama, film and music) into the teaching of writing, with children of different ages. Opportunities were created to team teach and co-design lessons alongside artists and to network with peers through facilitated action learning sets. Each academic year, sharing events or Teach Meets provided an opportunity for each cohort to share with a wider audience the approach, its impact and ideas for how it might be sustained. The programme was repeated three times with different cohorts of teachers.
A logic model has been developed. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to evaluate the project: teacher action research; independent assessment of samples of children’s writing; teacher questionnaires; interviews with head teachers; and observation visits to project schools (with a specific focus upon pupil voice).
The project had many benefits for children. Learning and teaching through Creative Arts inspired children to write. They wrote at greater length and their writing was judged to be of better quality. CWttA proved to be an inclusive approach. It was notable that the writing of pupils with special educational needs, children who speak English as an Additional Language and children in receipt of Pupil Premium showed particularly rapid improvement. Children showed enthusiasm, confidence and motivation to learn. Learning through the arts created opportunities for children to collaborate and express ideas about their learning.
There were also benefits for teachers and schools. Working with artists inspired the teachers. They increased their confidence in using creative art forms in the classroom and in teaching literacy through the arts. Teachers were creative , increasingly taking more risks and adapting and developing ideas and approaches. The training had a cumulative effect which meant that teachers began to blend approaches from different artists together. Teachers shared ideas throughout and beyond their schools. Broader and more balanced curricula evolved in participating schools that included arts and cultural learning, within and beyond the classrooms.
“ Children who previously shied away from more creative activities, now love it when we incorporate visual art activities into lessons … The class are so eager to share their work with their peers and their confidence as writers has blossomed … Even previously reluctant writers are those who are coming up to me, asking if they can share their work with the class. Children have also mentioned that they are regularly writing stories and poems at home. There has definitely been a shift in terms of enthusiasm to write and what is being produced has been to a much better standard than before.” (Teacher)
“We needed to make our curriculum broader and balanced and heighten the foundation subjects. By approaching creativity through the arts, we could raise the expectations in writing (a core subject) whilst at the same time raise expectation of the foundation subjects, so it was a double win for us.” (Headteacher)
What was challenging about the project?
Longitudinal programmes of this scale require detailed project management. We were lucky to retain a high level of continuity, trust and confidence across the core steering group. This mitigated against any adverse impact from unexpected changes that needed to be made to the programme and helped us with quality assurance. Formally contracting all key partners also helped to ensure commitment.
The programme was set up as a piece of action research and because there was a University partner and third parties including children were involved in the initiative the proposal had to pass through the University’s ethics committee. Having a long run-in time was therefore helpful.
We knew it would be important to recruit generous, reflective artists who had experience of promoting creative writing through their creative interventions in the classroom and who were also experienced trainers. We interviewed widely at the start of the programme and this selection process was crucial to the programme’s success. We were also able to diversify the background of artists by meeting a wider field.
The University hired an independent literacy consultant to review samples of written work annually from 6 children per participating class and make criterion referenced judgement about progress. However, at the end of the first year, headteachers quickly requested that their staff be more involved in negotiating the criteria for assessing the quality of creative writing. It was also necessary to alter criteria for the youngest children. For years two and three, amended criteria were used.
Flexibility was also important. The school-based programme-co-ordinator had a direct relationship with participating teachers which made formative tweaks to the programme, in response to teacher feedback, straightforward.
Covid 19 sabotaged our live and online dissemination events! The website has been useful and the work has been duplicated in different parts of Essex twice now.
What can others learn?
The model works and has been duplicated successfully. It hinges on teachers having some autonomy in planning their lessons. The current tendency for centralised curriculum planning across groups of schools could pose limitations on this kind of work, or actually be an opportunity for greater impact, depending on the value placed on this kind of work by those in charge of curriculum planning. Having teachers at different stages of their career is interesting and useful. Schools also following an Artsmark journey found this helpful.
We recognised early on that there is a reticence in some artists to work in this way because they are sharing techniques and strategies that are their bread and butter for day to day income and longitudinal work is time-consuming. While we made an early commitment to set up open workshops where we could disseminate our learning to creative practitioners the small number of sessions we did set up were not well attended. If we had the opportunity again we would try and find other ways of involving more artists in this work to increase the legacy beyond schools.
Key prompts to help others
- Put the time in to develop the partnership and don’t rush to start.
- Consider piloting your approach on a small scale to trial and test your hunch.
- Place programme management in a participating school.
- Choose your artists carefully and offer face to face teacher training.
- Contract partners and include a commitment to be represented on a steering group.
- Establish common language and understanding of aims and objectives across all stakeholders.
- Share learning both formatively and summatively.
- Maximise peer to peer learning.
More Arts in Schools Case Studies
- Case Study theme: Curriculum need
- All case studies
- Arts in Schools Case Studies
- The Arts in Schools Consultation
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We are once again proud to be leading the Creative Writing Through the Arts programme to Primary and Secondary schools across the Chafford Hundred Teaching School Hub network from September 2023 .
This programme is suitable for KS1-2 and KS3 class teachers. The programme will connect local schools with specialist artist practitioners from Music, Visual Arts and Drama to explore how to improve student writing.
'The programme has transformed writing in our school’ (Head Teacher)
Applications are now open. Primary and Secondary schools within the local authority areas of Basildon, Brentwood, Castle Point, Maldon, Rochford, Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea are eligible to apply as well as Primaries in CPTSH area and Essex. Schools outside these areas should contact us.
Places are limited. In case of high demand, schools may need to meet eligibility criteria.
Click the link below to apply:
Apply for Creative Writing through the Arts Programme
Programme for each school:
- £395 per school (subsidised by Royal Opera House Bridge)
- Programme delivery period: Sep 2023 – July 2024
- 3 Training Days led by specialist arts Practitioners
- 6 online, 2.5 hr facilitated peer-learning sessions
- Sharing Event for teachers, senior leaders and governors
- 9 CPD sessions per school in total
Key Dates: Head Teacher Information Event: Thursday 2nd Novembe r - 9.30am to 10.30am
Online Teacher On-boarding: Monday 6th November - 16.00 to 17.00
Training Days: 1. Music: Thursday 16th Noevember - 09.30 - 15.30 Harris Academy Chafford Hundred (Thurrock) 2. Visual Arts: Thurs. 11 th January - 09.30 - 15.30 Chalkwell Hall (Southend) 3. Drama: Thurs. 18 th April - 09.30 - 15.30 Harris Academy Chafford Hundred (Thurrock)
The Creative Writing through the Arts programme has previously delivered to 45 Primaries in South Essex. Research by Anglia Ruskin University demonstrated that the qualities and competence of children’s writing improved in a number of areas.
The programme first ran between 2016-2019 and was led by five Teaching School Alliances, Royal Opera House Bridge and Anglia Ruskin University, with funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Evidence and findings can be found below:
The Programme will be subsidised by the Royal Opera House Bridge.
For more information please contact Sarah Goldsmith: [email protected]
Photos by: Leila Balin
To book a place please click on the link below:
Creative Writing through the Arts - Celebration Event Tickets, Tue 27 Jun 2023 at 16:00 | Eventbrite
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- Our Mission
Inspire Thoughtful Creative Writing Through Art
A few years ago, I showed my sixth graders The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer. It's an epic painting of a young black sailor in a small broken boat, surrounded by flailing sharks, huge swells, and a massive storm in the distance. I asked my students the simple question, "What's happening?" The responses ranged from "He's a slave trying to escape" to "He's a fisherman lost at sea." The common theme with the responses, though, was the tone -- most students were very concerned for his welfare. "That boat looks rickety. I think he’s going to get eaten by the sharks," was a common refrain. Then a very quiet, shy girl raised her hand. "It's OK, he'll be fine," she said. "The ship will save him."
The room got quiet as everyone stared intently at the painting. I looked closely at it. "What ship?" I responded. The young girl walked up to the image and pointed to the top left corner. Sure enough, faded in the smoky distance was a ship.
This revelation changed the tone and content of the conversation that followed. Some thought it was the ship that would save him. Others thought it was the ship that cast him off to his death. Would the storm, sharks, or ship get him? The best part of this intense debate was hearing the divergent, creative responses. Some students even argued. The written story produced as a result of analyzing this image was powerful.
Since this experience, I have developed strategies that harness the power of observation, analysis, and writing through my art lessons.
Children naturally connect thoughts, words, and images long before they master the skill of writing. This act of capturing meaning in multiple symbol systems and then vacillating from one medium to another is called transmediation . While using art in the classroom, students transfer this visual content, and then add new ideas and information from their personal experiences to create newly invented narratives. Using this three-step process of observe, interpret, and create helps kids generate ideas, organize thoughts, and communicate effectively.
Step 1: Observe
Asking students to look carefully and observe the image is fundamental to deep, thoughtful writing. Keep this in mind when choosing art to use in class. Look for images with:
- Many details: If it is a simple image, there's not much to analyze.
- Characters: There should be people or animals in the image to write about.
- Colors: Find colors that convey a mood.
- Spatial relationships: How do the background and foreground relate?
Lead your students through the image. "I like it" is not the answer we are looking for. Ask questions that guide the conversation. Encourage divergent answers and challenge them. Try these questions:
- What shapes do you see? Do they remind you of anything?
- What colors do you see? How do those colors make you feel?
- What patterns do you see? How are they made?
- Do you see any unusual textures? What do they represent?
- What is the focal point of the image? How did the artist bring your attention to the focal point?
- How did the artist create the illusion of space in the image?
- If you were living in the picture and could look all around you, what would you see?
- If you were living in the picture, what would you smell? What would you hear?
Keep your questions open-ended, and record what students say so that they'll have a reference for later. Identify and challenge assumptions. At this point, we are not looking for inferences or judgments, just observations.
Step 2: Make Inferences by Analyzing Art
Once they have discussed what they see, students then answer the question, "What is happening?" They must infer their answers from the image and give specific reasons for their interpretations.
For example, while looking at The Gulf Stream , one student said, "The storm already passed and is on its way out. You can tell because the small boat the man is on has been ripped apart and the mast is broken." That is what we are looking for in their answers: rational thoughts based on inferences from data in the picture. No two responses will be exactly the same, but they can all be correct as long as the student can coherently defend his or her answer with details from the image. When children express their opinions based on logic and these details, they are analyzing art and using critical thinking skills.
Here are some tips to model a mature conversation about art:
- Give adequate wait time. We are often so rushed that we don't give children time to think and reflect.
- Ask students to listen to, think about, and react to the ideas of others.
- Your questions should be short and to the point.
- Highlight specific details to look at while analyzing art (characters, facial expressions, objects, time of day, weather, colors, etc.).
- Explain literal vs. symbolic meaning (a spider's web can be just that, or it can symbolize a trap).
Step 3: Create
After thoughtful observation and discussion, students are abuzz with ideas. For all of the following writing activities, they must use details from the image to support their ideas. Here are just a few of the many ways we can react to art:
For Younger Students:
- Locate and describe shapes and patterns.
- Describe time of day and mood of scene.
- Describe a character in detail with a character sketch. Characters may be people, animals, or inanimate objects.
- Write a story based on this image including a brand new character.
- Give students specific vocabulary that they must incorporate into their story.
For Older Students:
- Write down the possible meaning of the image, trade with a partner, and persuade your partner to believe that your story is the correct one based on details in the image.
- Identify characters and their motives. Who are they and what do they want? Explain how you know based on details.
- Pretend that you are in the image, and describe what you see, smell, feel, and hear.
- Describe the details that are just outside of the image, the ones we can’t see.
- Introduce dialogue into your story. What are they saying?
- Sequence the events of the story. What happened five minutes before this scene, what is happening now, and what happens five minutes later? How do you know?
- Write from the perspective of one of the characters in the image.
- Explain who is the protagonist and antagonist. What is their conflict?
Thinking and Communicating
We don’t know what the future holds for our students, but we do know that they will have to think critically, make connections, and communicate clearly. Art can help students do that. During this year's commencement speech at Sarah Lawrence College, Fareed Zakaria said, "It is the act of writing that forces me to think through them [ideas] and sort them out." Art can be that link to helping students organize their ideas and produce coherent, thoughtful writing.
As you consider teaching writing through art, I recommend reading In Pictures and in Words by Kate Wood Ray and Beth Olshansky's PictureWriting.org website.
How have you used the arts to inspire creative thinking in your students? Please tell us about it in the comments.
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Use art to inspire poetry and creative writing
KS3 (ENG) , KS4 (ENG) , KS3 (NI) , KS4 (NI) , CfE L4 (SCO) , CfE L3 (SCO) , KS3 (WAL) , KS4 (WAL) , CfE Sen. (SCO)
Cubism , Pre‐Raphaelitism , Post‐Impressionism , Figurative art , Abstraction
Reading and writing , Literature , Self portraits
Cubist Head (Portrait of Fernande) c.1909/1910
Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
About this resource
How can we use art for creative writing inspiration?
This resource suggests ideas for using artworks as the starting point or inspiration for a poetry or creative writing project.
Use it to explore:
- poets and poetry inspired by art
- artworks on Art UK to use as a starting point for creative writing projects
- suggestions for looking closely at an artwork
- ideas for planning a creative written response to an artwork
The resource offers opportunities for cross-curricular study across English and Art & Design. The examples of artworks, related poems and activity ideas included in the resource can be used together as a lesson plan or as individual components to integrate into your own scheme of work. The resource is devised for KS 3/CfE Level 3 & Level 4 students but could also be suitable for Key Stage 4 and CfE senior phase students and 16+ learners.
See also our related resource: How can poetry be used to inspire art?
Art and design
- Evaluate and analyse creative works - Actively engage in the creative process of art - Know about great artists and understand the historical and cultural development of their art forms
Reading Pupils should be taught to:
read and appreciate the depth and power of the English literary heritage through:
- reading a wide range of high-quality, challenging, classic literature. The range should include works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries; poetry since 1789.
understand and critically evaluate texts through:
- reading in different ways for different purposes, summarising and synthesising ideas and information, and evaluating their usefulness for particular purposes - drawing on knowledge of the purpose, audience for and context of the writing, including its social, historical and cultural context and the literary tradition to which it belongs, to inform evaluation - identifying and interpreting themes, ideas and information - seeking evidence in the text to support a point of view, including justifying inferences with evidence - distinguishing between statements that are supported by evidence and those that are not, and identifying bias and misuse of evidence - analysing a writer’s choice of vocabulary, form, grammatical and structural features, and evaluating their effectiveness and impact - make an informed personal response, recognising that other responses to a text are possible and evaluating these.
Pupils should be taught to:
write accurately, fluently, effectively and at length for pleasure and information through:
- adapting their writing for a wide range of purposes and audiences - selecting, and using judiciously, vocabulary, grammar, form, and structural and organisational features, including rhetorical devices, to reflect audience, purpose and context, and using Standard English where appropriate - make notes, draft and write, including using information provided by others [e.g. writing a letter from key points provided; drawing on and using information from a presentation]
Grammar and vocabulary
consolidate and build on their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary through:
- studying their effectiveness and impact in the texts they read - drawing on new vocabulary and grammatical constructions from their reading and listening, and using these consciously in their writing and speech to achieve particular effects - analysing some of the differences between spoken and written language, including differences associated with formal and informal registers, and between Standard English and other varieties of English - using linguistic and literary terminology accurately and confidently in discussing reading, writing and spoken language.
KS 4 - Develop ideas through investigations, demonstrating a critical understanding of sources - Record ideas, observations and insights relevant to intentions as work progresses - Present a personal and meaningful response that realises intentions and demonstrates an understanding of visual language
Students should be able to:
- read and understand poetry - respond to poems critically and imaginatively - select and evaluate relevant textual material - use details from poems to illustrate interpretations - explain and evaluate the ways in which the poets express meaning and achieve effects - relate the poems to their social, cultural and historical contexts English Language Writing for purpose and audience Students should be able to: - write accurately and effectively - use an appropriate writing form - express ideas and/or information precisely and accurately - select vocabulary to persuade and/or inform the reader - use accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation Speaking and listening Students should be able to: - communicate clearly and effectively - present information and ideas - use standard English as appropriate - structure and sustain talk - choose and adapt language appropriate to an audience - respond appropriately to questions and views of others - interact with others - make a range of effective contributions - express ideas clearly, accurately and appropriately - listen and respond to others' ideas and perspectives - challenge what they hear where appropriate and shape meaning through asking questions and making comments and suggestions
Studying spoken and written language
Students should be able to: - understand the characteristics of spoken language - understand influences on spoken language choices - explore the impact of spoken language choices - understand how language varies in different contexts; - read and understand texts - understand how meaning is constructed - recognise the effect of language choices and patterns - evaluate how texts may be interpreted differently depending on the reader's perspective - explain and evaluate how writers use linguistic and presentational features to sustain the reader's interest Personal creative writing
Students should be able to: - write clearly and fluently (as well as imaginatively, if appropriate) - organise ideas to support coherence - use an appropriate writing form - select vocabulary appropriate to the task to engage the reader - use a range of sentence structures for effect - use accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation Reading Literary and Non-fiction Texts Students should be able to: - read and understand texts - understand how meaning is constructed - recognise the effect of language choices and patterns - select material appropriate to purpose - evaluate how texts may be interpreted differently depending on the reader's perspective - explain and evaluate how writers use linguistic and presentational features to sustain the reader's interest.
Level 4 - I can analyse art and design techniques, processes and concepts, make informed judgements and express considered opinions on my own and others' work (EXA 4-07a)
Literacy and English
Listening and talking
- When I engage with others I can make a relevant contribution, ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and encourage them to take account of others’ points of view or alternative solutions. I can respond in ways appropriate to my role, exploring and expanding on contributions to reflect on, clarify or adapt thinking (LIT 4-02a) - As I listen or watch, I can clearly state the purpose and main concerns of a text and make inferences from key statements; compare and contrast different types of text; gather, link and use information from different sources and use this for different purposes (LIT 4-04a) - As I listen or watch, I can make notes and organise these to develop thinking, help retain and recall information, explore issues and create new texts, using my own words as appropriate (LIT 3-05a / LIT 4-05a) - I can show my understanding of what I listen to or watch by giving detailed, evaluative comments, with evidence, about the content and form of short and extended texts (LIT 4-07a) - When listening and talking with others for different purposes, I can: communicate detailed information, ideas or opinions; explain processes, concepts or ideas with some relevant supporting detail; sum up ideas, issues, findings or conclusions (LIT 4-09a)
- Through developing my knowledge of context clues, punctuation, grammar and layout, I can read unfamiliar texts with increasing fluency, understanding and expression (ENG 2-12a / ENG 3-12a / ENG 4-12a) - I can make notes and organise them to develop my thinking, help retain and recall information, explore issues and create new texts, using my own words as appropriate (LIT 3-15a / LIT 4-15a) - To show my understanding, I can give detailed, evaluative comments, with evidence, on the content and form of short and extended texts, and respond to different kinds of questions and other types of close reading tasks (ENG 4-17a) - I can: discuss and evaluate the effectiveness of structure, characterisation and/or setting using some supporting evidence; identify how the writer’s main theme or central concerns are revealed and can recognise how they relate to my own and others’ experiences; identify and make a personal evaluation of the effect of aspects of the writer’s style and other features appropriate to genre using some relevant evidence and terminology (ENG 4-19a)
- I enjoy creating texts of my choice and I am developing my own style. I can regularly select subject, purpose, format and resources to suit the needs of my audience (LIT 3-20a / LIT 4-20a) - As appropriate to my purpose and type of text, I can punctuate and structure different types of sentences with sufficient accuracy, and arrange these to make meaning clear, showing straightforward relationships between paragraphs (LIT 3-22a / LIT 4-22a) - Throughout the writing process, I can review and edit my writing independently to ensure that it meets its purpose and communicates meaning clearly at first reading (LIT 4-23a) - I can justify my choice and use of layout and presentation in terms of the intended impact on my reader (LIT 4-24a) - I can use notes and other types of writing to generate and develop ideas, retain and recall information, explore problems, make decisions, or create original text. I can make appropriate and responsible use of sources and acknowledge these appropriately (LIT 4-25a) - By considering the type of text I am creating, I can independently select ideas and relevant information for different purposes, and organise essential information or ideas and any supporting detail in a logical order. I can use suitable vocabulary to communicate effectively with my audience (LIT 3-26a / LIT 4-26a) - I can engage and/or influence readers through my use of language, style and tone as appropriate to genre (ENG 3-27a / ENG 4-27a) - I can create a convincing impression of my personal experience and reflect on my response to the changing circumstances to engage my reader (ENG 4-30a) - Having explored and experimented with the narrative structures which writers use to create texts in different genres, I can: use the conventions of my chosen genre successfully and/or; create an appropriate mood or atmosphere and/or; create convincing relationships, actions and dialogue for my characters (ENG 4-31a)
Art and design - Students use their knowledge about the work of other artists to enrich and inform their work through analysis and evaluation - Students evaluate their work through discussion
Learners should be given opportunities to:
- respond orally to continuous and non-continuous texts - respond orally to a variety of stimuli and ideas, including written and dynamic texts, e.g. paintings, music, film, still and moving images - communicate for a range of purposes, e.g. recount and present information, instruct, argue and explain a point of view, discuss an issue, persuade, question and explore interpretations, convey feelings - speak and listen individually, in pairs, in groups and as members of a class - present, talk and perform in formal and informal contexts and for a variety of audiences including teachers and peers - engage in activities that focus on words, their derivation, meanings, choice and impact - listen and view attentively, responding to a wide range of communication, e.g. written and dynamic texts, theatre and poetry performance, visiting speakers, explanations, instructions - speak clearly, using intonation and emphasis appropriately, e.g. recitation, oral storytelling - use appropriate vocabulary suitable for the situation or purpose - use appropriate vocabulary and terminology to discuss, consider and evaluate their own work and that of others, e.g. authors, peers
read a wide range of continuous and non-continuous texts, in printed and dynamic format, as a basis for oral and written responses. These should include:
– extracts and complete texts – traditional and contemporary poetry and prose – texts written by Welsh authors, texts with a Welsh dimension and texts from other cultures – texts that have challenging subject matter, which broaden perspectives and extend thinking – texts with a variety of structures, forms, purposes, intended audiences and presentational devices – texts that demonstrate quality and variety in language use – texts with a variety of social, historical and cultural contexts – texts that extend learners’ intellectual, moral and emotional understanding – texts with a variety of tone, e.g. irony, parody, word play, innuendo and satire
read individually and collaboratively, e.g. paired reading, guided group reading, shared reading
read for different purposes, e.g. for personal pleasure; to retrieve, summarise and synthesise key information; to interpret and integrate information; to verify information; to deepen understanding through re-reading; to identify language devices used by the writer to analyse purpose; to identify alternative readings of a text
develop appropriate vocabulary and terminology to discuss, consider and evaluate their own work and that of others, e.g. authors, poets, peers, in written and dynamic texts.
write for a variety of purposes, including to: – recount – inform – explain – argue/persuade – discuss/analyse – evaluate – narrate – describe – empathise
write in a range of continuous and non-continuous texts in a variety of forms
produce poetic writing, using imagery and poetic devices, e.g. rhyme and form
use a wide range of written and dynamic stimuli, e.g. stories, picture books, images, poems, experiences, film, paintings, music
use appropriate vocabulary and terminology to discuss, consider and evaluate their own work and that of others, e.g. authors, peers.
Exploring the expressive arts is essential to developing artistic skills and knowledge and it enables learners to become curious and creative individuals.
Progression step 5:
- I can investigate and analyse how creative work is used to represent and celebrate personal, social and cultural identities.
- I can independently research the purpose and meaning of a wide range of creative work and consider how they can impact on different audiences.
Responding and reflecting, both as artist and audience, is a fundamental part of learning in the expressive arts.
- I can critically and thoughtfully respond to and analyse the opinion and creative influences of others in order to independently shape and develop my own creative work.
- I can purposefully apply knowledge and understanding of context when evaluating my own creative work and creative work by other people and from other places and times.
- I can critically evaluate the way artists use discipline-specific skills and techniques to create and communicate ideas.
Languages, literacy and communication
Understanding languages is key to understanding the world around us
- I can listen empathetically, respecting different people’s perspectives and can critically evaluate them to arrive at my own considered conclusions.
- I can employ a range of strategies to recognise and predict the meaning across a wide range of texts and from this enhance my own expression and communication.
- I can use inference and deduction to gain in-depth understanding of complex texts, and can evaluate the reliability, validity and impact of what I read.
- I can use my knowledge of word construction, grammar , including syntax , and text organisation to support my understanding of what I hear and read.
- I can read empathetically to respect and critically evaluate different people’s perspectives, using them to arrive at my own considered conclusions.
- I can listen and read to build an extensive range of general and specific vocabulary, and I can use them with precision in different contexts.
Expressing ourselves through languages is key to communication
- I can convey meaning convincingly in a range of contexts so that the audience is fully engaged.
- I can make informed choices about vocabulary and grammar to enhance my communication skills
- I can reflect critically on my use of language and can consider the effects of my spoken, written and visual communication objectively.
- I can evaluate and respond critically to what I have heard, read or seen.
Literature fires imagination and inspires creativity
- I can engage with a wide range of literary genres in depth in order to explore and craft my own work.
- I can experiment with and craft my own literature.
- I can critically evaluate key concepts and the impact of language choices and techniques on the reader/viewer using an assured selection of relevant textual detail.
- I can appreciate literature, showing empathy when evaluating different interpretations of literature, including my own.
How to use this resource
1. Explore paintings and poetry
The first section of this resource introduces poems inspired by portraits, narrative paintings and abstract artworks.
Choose one or two of the paintings with accompanying poems to explore with your students. Look at the painting first, encouraging students to discuss what it shows and their response to it.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) 1853
William Holman Hunt (1827–1910)
You could think about:
- what does the artwork look like?
- is it an abstract arrangement of shapes and colours or has the artist represented something from the visible world?
- is there a story, meaning or message in the work?
- what is the mood of the work and how does this affect your response?
- how has the artist used techniques such as brushstrokes or chisel marks? What colours have they used?
Then discuss how the poet has responded to the painting.
- What aspects of the painting have they focused on?
- What type of language have they used?
- Have they used the painting as a starting point to discuss bigger ideas or themes or to reflect upon issues that are personal to them?
2. Activity ideas and suggestions
The second section of the resource includes ideas and suggestions for responding through poetry or another form of creative writing to an artwork.
Did you know?
There is a dedicated term for poems inspired by artworks. Ekphrastic poetry is taken from the Greek word Ekphrasis , meaning to describe something in vivid detail.
Elizabeth Jennings and Rembrandt's late self-portraits
Rembrandt van Rijn was a seventeenth-century Dutch painter. During his long career, he painted over 90 self-portraits that record how he looked from youth to old age. (See additional self-portraits on the Rembrandt artist page on Art UK and watch a video to find out more.)
Rembrandt's self-portraits from old age are brutally honest, showing melancholy eyes staring out from sagging features and dishevelled hair and clothing.
Self Portrait at the Age of 63 1669
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)
Poet Elizabeth Jennings responds to the self-portraits that Rembrandt painted in later life.
You are confronted with yourself. Each year The pouches fill, the skin is uglier. You give it all unflinchingly. You stare Into yourself, beyond. Your brush's care Runs with self-knowledge. Here
Is a humility at one with craft There is no arrogance. Pride is apart From this self-scrutiny.
Read the whole poem and listen to a recording of Elizabeth Jennings reading her poem
Explore an analysis of the poem
Raza Hussain and Holman Hunt's portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)
In 2017, we challenged five young poets to create an original piece inspired by a painting of their choice from Art UK.
Birmingham-based spoken word artist and rapper Raza Hussain chose an 1853 portrait of Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti by William Holman Hunt .
Hussain sees the Pre-Raphaelites as rebels who wanted to implement change and Rossetti as 'an iconic and profound symbol of passionate creative madness – the kind to change perspectives – the kind to change the world'.
Find out more about the portrait and Raza Hussain's response to it .
Rowan MacCabe and Ethel Wright's 'Bonjour, Pierrot'
Rowan McCabe is another young poet commissioned to respond to a painting on Art UK as part of the Art Speaks challenge.
Bonjour, Pierrot is an imagined portrait, made in the early 1890s, of the character of Pierrot from French literature. Pierrot has held a fascination for many artists including Jean-Antoine Watteau and Pablo Picasso . The poet Rowan McCabe responds to this depiction of Pierrot by British portrait painter Ethel Wright and sees Pierrot in the painting as a sad figure, despite his clownish appearance.
McCabe has been affected by mental health issues and, for him, the painting is a reminder that people might seem silly and fun on the surface but can, in fact, be hiding issues relating to their mental health.
Find out more about the painting and Rowan McCabe's response to it
Explore more paintings by Ethel Wright
A narrative painting is a painting that tells a story. The story could be from religion, literature, myth and legend or history. Or it could be a story of everyday life (often referred to as genre painting .)
Poetic responses to Titian's Diana and Actaeon
In 2012, The National Gallery in London invited 13 leading poets to respond to three paintings by Titian (c.1488–1576): Diana and Actaeon (1556–1559); The Death of Actaeon (about 1559–1575); and Diana and Callisto (1556–1559). The paintings depict stories from the epic poem Metamorphoses by the Classical poet Ovid , who lived from 43 BC to 17/18 AD.
Diana and Actaeon 1556-1559
The myth of Diana and Actaeon recounted in Metamorphoses tells the sad story of the hunter Actaeon who comes across Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting, while she is bathing with her escort of nymphs. The nymphs try to cover the naked Diana who, in a state of shock and embarrassment, splashes Actaeon. This splash turns Actaeon into a deer and he flees the scene. Tragically, however, his own hunting dogs don't recognise their master and attack and kill Actaeon.
Find out more about the paintings in the HENI Talks video on this artwork page
Patience Agbabi on Titian's 'Diana and Actaeon'
In this video poet Patience Agbabi reads her poem About Face inspired by Titian's painting Diana and Actaeon (1556–1559).
She imagines the thoughts and response of a Black nymph who is depicted standing beside Diana in the painting and helps to cover Diana from the gaze of Actaeon.
Hear more poets' responses to Titian's paintings on The National Gallery website
Sabrina Mahfouz and Ludolf Backhuysen's 'Boats in a Storm'
Ludolf Backhuysen 's painting, Boats in an Upcoming Storm with the Church of Zandvoort (1696) depicts a large sailing vessel, being buffeted by strong winds as it enters a harbour. Men on shore are pulling on a rope to steady her stern while other smaller boats come to the assistance of the distressed passengers.
British Egyptian poet Sabrina Mahfouz was drawn to the painting by its depiction of a storm, struck by the fact that something as still as a painting is able to capture such ferocious movement and activity.
E. E. Cummings and Cubism
American avant-garde poet E. E. Cummings was profoundly influenced by early twentieth-century art movements and the experiments with abstract style that Cubists and other modern artists were conducting. In 1913 he visited the International Exhibition of Modern Art in New York (also known as the Armory Show) where he saw work by artists including Pablo Picasso , Georges Braque , Henri Matisse , Paul Cézanne and Marcel Duchamp .
Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque's Cubist experiments revolutionised painting. In attempting to suggest the three-dimensionality of objects, landscapes and people by showing them simultaneously from different viewpoints they created fragmented, abstracted images.
E. E. Cummings was inspired by these fractured artworks and began to explore similar experimentation in his poetry. His poems became visual as well as verbal as he experimented with the form and arrangement of his words. (His poem r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r is a good example of this.)
Cummings begins his poem, Picasso , with the words:
'Picasso you give us Things which bulge: grunting lungs pumped full of thick sharp mind you make us shrill presents always shut in the sumptuous screech of simplicity'
The poem ends with:
'you hew form truly'
Read the full poem here
Anne Sexton and Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night
Artist Vincent van Gogh is best known for his powerful portraits, flowers and landscapes painted using bold colours and loose brushstrokes that seem to whirl around the surface of his canvases.
The Starry Night, painted in 1889, shows the view from Van Gogh's room in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum where he was placed after a breakdown (during which he self-mutilated his ear). The view was painted just before sunrise and as well as the trees and hills and starry sky that he could see, Van Gogh added an imaginary village to the landscape.
The Starry Night
1889, oil on canvas by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
In her response to The Starry Night, poet Anne Sexton has managed to convey the powerful emotions as well as the loose abstracted style of Vincent van Gogh's painting.
'The town does not exist except where one black-haired tree slips up like a drowned woman into the hot sky The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars. Oh starry starry night!'
Ann Sexton researched Van Gogh and read his letters before writing the poem and includes, as an epigraph to her poem, a line from a letter that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother.
'That does not keep me from having a terrible need of – shall I say the word – religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.'
In creating her response to the painting she imagines Vincent van Gogh thinking about religion and mortality.
Read the full poem here
See an analysis of the poem
Activity: write a poem inspired by an artwork
Now that you have explored a range of poems inspired by paintings, have a go at writing a poem or piece of creative writing inspired by an artwork.
This activity includes tips and suggestions for finding, looking at and creating a written response to an artwork.
Step 1: find an artwork to inspire you
If you are a teacher, task students with finding an artwork that inspires them as a homework project in advance of the class. They could choose an artwork from a local collection or find one on Art UK.
Use the tips below to find artworks on Art UK.
Search by artist
Look for an artist on Art UK. Start typing the artist's name into the search box on the Art UK artworks search page .
A list of artists will appear. Select the artist that you are interested in.
Screenshot of Art UK's artwork search page
You will be shown a list of artworks on Art UK by your selected artist. Browse these and choose an artwork to inspire your creative writing project.
Screenshot of Art UK's artworks search page, showing art by Sonia Boyce
- Go to the artworks search page to search by artist
Search by theme
You can also type a subject or theme into the search box. This could be anything from 'holiday' to 'celebrity' to 'football'. Once you've typed your theme, click the search icon or press return.
You will be shown a list of artworks relating to the keyword.
- Go to the artworks search page to search by theme
Another way to search by theme is to explore Topics on Art UK. We have gathered together a selection of artworks related to a wide range of themes from 'home and family' to the 'natural world'.
- Browse Topics
Search by location
If you'd like to find artworks in museums or galleries near you, use our venue search.
This will allow you to search by UK country and region to find a local gallery or museum and see the artworks that they hold.
- Search by country, region and venue
Be inspired using the artwork shuffle
If you are not sure what you're looking for (but will know when you see it!), use our artwork shuffle.
The artwork shuffle shows a random selection of artworks in different media from collections around the country.
If you don't see anything you like, shuffle again to see another selection.
- Inspire me with the artwork shuffle
Step 2: look closely at your artwork
Once you have found an artwork to inspire you, look closely at it. Note down your thoughts about the work and your feelings in response to it.
- What does the artwork look like?
- Is it an abstract arrangement of shapes and colours or has the artist represented something from the visible world?
- Is there a story, meaning or message in the work?
- What is the mood of the work and how does it affect your response?
- How has the artist used techniques such as brush strokes or chisel marks? What colours have they used?
In this video, created by The Grampian Hospitals Art Trust , writer Shane Strachan shares some useful ideas for looking closely at an artwork.
Step 3: plan and write your creative response
How are you going to respond to the artwork in your creative writing piece?
Your response could be a poem, a text, a memory or a form of your own invention. As well as what you see in the artwork (the imagery, colours and mark-making or use of materials) think about your own interpretation and your response to it.
- What does the artwork make you feel?
- Does it make you think of other things such as memories, places or people?
- Does the artwork tell or suggest a narrative or story?
- Are there any details or imagery within the artwork that draws you in?
- What do the colours, shapes and marks remind you of?
Research and be inspired by others
You could also research the artwork to inform and inspire your approach. Find out more about the artist and their ideas and techniques or research the subject depicted.
Be inspired by the approach of other writers. Revisit the poetry included in the first part of this resource.
Or read creative responses to artworks written by young people for our Write on Art competition.
- Write on Art: Ruby Langan-Hughes on The Broken Mirror by Jean-Baptiste Greuze
- Write on Art: Variaam Tratt on Preserve 'Beauty ' by Anya Gallaccio
- Write on Art: Aoife Hogan on Childen and Chalk Wall 3 by Joan Eardley
Writing art: inspiration and tips
In this second video from Grampian Hospitals Art Trust , writer Shane Strachan shares ideas and tips for responding to an artwork creatively in writing. He also shares his own poems inspired by artworks.
Watch the video and then get started on your own creative writing project!
Find out more
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Creative Writing Through Visual Art
This course is now sold out. Please check out the remaining available courses or register to our mailing list for future updates.
This class is held in partnership with Imperial College London.
Dates: 11 October 2023 – 6 December 2023 (no class 25 October)
Time: 18:30 – 20:30
Tutors: Astrid Alben and Kathryn Maris
Location: 124 Kennington Park Road, London, SE11 4DJ
This creative writing course, directed at visual artists and art enthusiasts, introduces literary techniques that can be connected to art-making or responding to art. In this 8-week course, you will explore collage, fragmentation, notebook-scavenging, erasure, flash fiction, concrete poetry, lyric essay and other forms and devices that will expand your imagination and hone your skills in a supportive workshop setting.
Most traditional creative writing workshops are limited by genre: fiction, poetry, playwriting and creative nonfiction. This course, by contrast, favours a multi-genre, fluid approach that can incorporate ‘outside’ disciplines such as philosophy, memoir, criticism and – in particular – visual art.
The course is directed at artists, art enthusiasts and writers hoping to innovate their practice. In these 8 workshops, you will be introduced to literary techniques with affinities to art making and art writing. Among the topics we will explore are collage, fragmentation, notebook-scavenging, erasure, flash fiction, concrete poetry and lyric essays.
Astrid and Kathryn are acclaimed poets who work innovatively across genres. Teaching alternating weeks, they will provide a supportive and interactive workshop environment that will include a combination of tutor and peer feedback.
By the end of the course, you will have learned new techniques, developed confidence in your writing, and acquired a portfolio of new written material.The course is suitable for all levels of writers, artists and creative thinkers. Some knowledge of art and literature is recommended.
All you need for class each week is a pen, a notebook and your imagination.
ABOUT THE TUTORS
Astrid Alben is a poet, editor and translator. She is the author of three poetry collections, Ai! Ai! Pianissimo, Plainspeak and Little Dead Rabbit, which is also published in Dutch by PoëzieCentrum. Her translation of Anne Vegter’s Island glacier mountain won an English PEN Translates Award in 2022. She has worked with BBC Radio and Wellcome Collection, and with performance and animation. Alben was awarded a Wellcome Trust Fellowship in 2014 for her work across the arts and sciences with PARS, an arts and sciences initiative she founded in 2002. She is currently working on a lyrical essay and the international editor for Prototype Publishing. www.astridalben.com | @AstridAlben
Kathryn Maris is the author of three poetry collections. Her most recent was The House With Only An Attic And A Basement (Penguin 2018), a portion of which won the Ivan Juritz Prize for creative experiment. She has won a Pushcart Prize and an Academy of American Poets award, and her poems have appeared in The Guardian, The Spectator, The Financial Times, Granta, Best British Poetry and the Forward Prize Book of Poetry. She has also written essays and book reviews for The Times Literary Supplement, The New Statesman and many literary magazines. A highly experienced teacher, she has taught creative writing at Boston University, Kingston University, Morley College, the Poetry School and residential Arvon courses. Until recently she was a Writing Fellow at City & Guilds of London Art School.
Image credit: Text Astrid Alben, Graphic design Zigmunds Lapsa.
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Creative Writing: Creative Writing Through Visual Art
At a Glance
- Classroom course at CGLAS Kennington
- Wednesdays 18:30 - 20:30
- 11 October – 6 December 2023 (no class 25 October)
- Tutor: Astrid Alben and Kathryn Maris
- Fees from £168 to £200
This class is taught at the City and Guilds of London Art School in Kennington.
Creative Writing Through Visual Art is a creative writing course for visual artists and art enthusiasts, who want to combine visual and written elements to produce works of art or responses to works of art.
Led by the poets Astrid Alben and Kathryn Maris, who also holds the position of Royal Literary Fund Fellow at City and Guilds of London Art School, we will be introduced to ways in which literary techniques can be connected to art, either as a maker or a viewer.
While most traditional creative writing workshops a structured by genre, such as fiction, poetry, playwriting and creative nonfiction, this course uses a more fluid approach to incorporate other creative disciplines, such as visual art and even philosophy, memoir and literary criticism.
The course is aimed at artists, art enthusiasts and writers hoping to innovate their practice. In these eight workshops, you will be introduced to literary techniques with affinities to art making and art writing. Among the topics we will explore are collage, fragmentation, notebook-scavenging, erasure, flash fiction, concrete poetry and lyric essays.
By the end of the course, you will have learned new techniques, developed confidence in your writing, and acquired a portfolio of new written material. All you need for class each week is a pen, a notebook and your imagination.
The course is suitable for all levels of writers, artists and creative people. Some knowledge of art and literature is recommended.
Founded in 1854, the City and Guilds of London Art School has a long historical association with Imperial College, through both institutions' links with the City and Guilds Institute. For the Art School this link continued until 1971, when it became an independent charitable trust. For Imperial College, the association with the City and Guilds Institute, also known as City and Guilds College, continued until 2001 when the City and Guilds College became one of the constituent institutions that formed Imperial College as we know it today.
The City and Guilds of London Art School is located very near Kennington Underground Station ( map ), in a row of beautiful late-eighteenth century Georgian town houses.
These classes are not recorded
Successful completion of this course leads to the award of an Imperial College/CGLAS attendance certificate
Terms and conditions apply to all enrolments to this course. Please read them before enrolment
Course Programme (subject to possible modification)
The course will be structured as a workshop in which participants will establish, with tutor support, their own individual pathway, exploring ideas with other participants and sharing work as it is produced.
The workship will be organised to be a supportive environment, where participants can feel comfortable exploring and sharing their ideas with others in the group.
Her translation of Anne Vegter’s Island glacier mountain won an English PEN Translates Award in 2022. She has worked with BBC Radio and Wellcome Collection, and with performance and animation.
Astrid was awarded a Wellcome Trust Fellowship in 2014 for her work across the arts and sciences with PARS, an arts and sciences initiative she founded in 2002.
She is currently working on a lyrical essay and the international editor for Prototype Publishing.
Kathryn Maris is the author of three poetry collections. Her most recent was The House With Only An Attic And A Basement (Penguin 2018), a portion of which won the Ivan Juritz Prize for creative experiment.
She has won a Pushcart Prize and an Academy of American Poets award, and her poems have appeared in The Guardian, The Spectator, The Financial Times, Granta, Best British Poetry and the Forward Prize Book of Poetry. She has also written essays and book reviews for The Times Literary Supplement, The New Statesman and many literary magazines.
A highly experienced teacher, she has taught creative writing at Boston University, Kingston University, Morley College, the Poetry School and residential Arvon courses. Until recently she was a Writing Fellow at City & Guilds of London Art School.
Course Fees and Rate Categories
Rate categories and discounts.
- Available to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.
- Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
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Proof of status might be requested at the first session. Please bring proof of status with you for the first class of your course.
It is possible to enrol on many of our adult education courses after the course has already started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.
Friends and Family Scheme
This course is eligible for the allowing Imperial College students and staff to share their discount with their friends and family.
Term Dates 2023-24
Web enrolment starts 1 August 2023
Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. When enrolling:
- Do check on the drop down menu above called "Course Fees and Rate Categories" to see if you are eligible for a discounted rate and also do make sure you select that rate when enrolling on the eStore
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If you have any questions about your enrolment or payment processes please contact the Programme Administrator, Christian Jacobi , [email protected]