Writing for Meaning

One of the main jobs of the primary class-teacher is to ensure pupils have mastered the rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar in addition to writing for different contexts. All of this is, of course, important but there is one aspect which does not get much of a look-in which is Writing for Meaning.

One reason for this is that it requires a small group setting and a different skill set on the part of the facilitating adult. Professionals who attend a training in Therapeutic Storywriting learn how to provide emotional containment for pupils who may be emotionally anxious by using Mindfulness exercises, developing pupils’ emotional vocabulary and, most importantly, applying active listening skills to reflect back to the pupil the emotions they have expressed in their stories.

Rhea’s story

Here is a story written by 11-year-old Rhea (name changed for confidentiality) to illustrate the point. Rhea was referred to a Therapeutic Storywriting Group because of her tendency to get quite distraught at times. The SENCO said that she had recently been very upset and ‘had a couple of days when she got in a complete state – beside herself, stuff with friendships’.   

Her story, The Magic Stone, had been written over a couple of weeks in the 10-week intervention. She said it felt ‘special’ for her.

The main character, John, is a seven-year-old boy who has his magic dream-maker stone stolen, and this means he can only make nightmares. On his journey to find the magic stone he is followed by a rain cloud. At one point in the story he notices the rain cloud is only above him and his dog:

‘He tried to run away from it but wherever he went the cloud followed him. He was now out of breath from doing all the running.  He just sat under the umbrella which was under the rain cloud which was under the trees which was under the clear blue sky.

When he gets angry with the cloud  it just gets bigger and starts to speak and tease him.  The boy cannot believe his ears. He feels that his head has gone mad’ and says he has an image of my head trying to bomb the world’.  However, after a rest in a tree house he has an idea that instead of getting cross with the cloud he could compliment it:

‘I’ve sussed you out’ John said walking over to the cloud.  ‘You are very pretty’. The cloud looked at John and grew a size smaller.  ‘Your wind smells like fresh flowers’. The cloud grew another size smaller. ‘I knew my dream was right.  Your rain is like a constant reminder of summer’. The cloud grew a size smaller. 

The cloud then offers to fly John to where he can find his precious dream-maker stone.

Mood metaphor

The cloud in this story seems to be a powerful metaphor for the mood that Rhea feels hangs over her at times. In her interview Rhea mentioned how she particularly enjoyed receiving the feedback from the teacher about the story.

Comments from the teacher included ‘I imagine it was really scary for the boy to have that cloud following him all the time.’ And ‘It seems the boy is relieved to have made friends with the cloud’.

The teacher, mindful of Rhea’s difficulties in the playground had also included in her story a fairy-like creature who lived in a tree house in a school playground and helped to sort out friendship difficulties at playtime. Rhea picked this idea up and integrated into her own story.

In Therapeutic Storywriting Groups the focus is not on the technical aspect of writing but focuses on what it is that the pupil is communicating about their inner world. Here Rhea was describing what it felt like to be sad wherever she went- until she rested in the tree house where she finds a strategy to change this pattern.

In her final evaluation interview Rhea said that the group had helped her feel included and no one there had laughed at her. She added that she could now write more ‘which helps me in the classroom’

Dr Trisha Waters

March 2024