Creative writing for the 11+: how to stand out from the crowd

Creative writing for the 11+: how to stand out from the crowd


Preparing for the 11+ exams can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to the creative writing section that features for some schools – refer to the website of your local grammar or independent school to find out if it applies to you. With competition fierce and expectations high, it’s essential to equip your child with the skills and strategies to make their writing shine. Here are some helpful tips to develop your child’s creative writing and ensure they stand out from the crowd on exam day.

Understand the exam format

Familiarise yourself and your child with the format of the 11+ creative writing exam. This will involve understanding the duration of the writing element, which can vary from 20 minutes to 50 minutes depending on the exam board or the school.

Research the types of prompts they may encounter, such as narrative, descriptive or persuasive writing. One quite unique approach that some schools may use is presenting a picture stimulus to a child and asking them to write creatively. Knowing what to expect in the exam will help your child feel more confident and prepared.

Practice planning

Effective planning is key to producing coherent and well-structured writing. Teach your child to explore ideas and organise their thoughts before they begin writing.

There are a number of ways to produce a plan. Below is an image of a story mountain which helps children structure a piece of writing and is a simple format that could be replicated in an exam situation. Often pupils are given 5 – 10 minutes planning time before they start their main piece of creative writing.

Image credit: Tan Mei Mei via TES, CC BY-SA 4.0


 Another useful approach is using your senses. First, focus on what your characters can see in the scene. Then, one by one, think about what they can hear, smell, feel and taste. Assort your various descriptions and pick out your most powerful few.

After writing the plan, it is vital to refer to it during the writing process. This should ensure you don’t deviate from the plan or run out of time.

Emphasise descriptive language

Vivid descriptions are essential for engaging the reader’s senses and creating immersive experiences. 11+ examiners will want to see that your child has good ideas, so encourage them to think of an original twist on the subject matter they are given. While their interpretations should be original, it should not be so off the wall that they don’t get anything done because they’ve made their idea overly complicated and are thinking too hard about it!

Encourage your child to use descriptive language that paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. A useful acronym which helps children improve the quality of their narrative writing by starting sentences in different ways is DADWAVERS, a concept created by The Literary Shed:

  • Description
  • Action
  • Dialogue
  • Where
  • Adverb
  • Verb
  • Estimation of time
  • Rhetorical question
  • Simile or metaphor
  • ! Exclamation or onomatopoeia

Create an exam situation

Giving your child the opportunity to sit a mock test will allow them to experience the timing aspect of the writing test and hopefully overcome any exam nerves. One of the hardest elements of the creative writing is producing a finished, polished piece of prose within the time allowed. Doing a paper with realistic timings will help your child familiarise themselves with this side of the exam process. Present your child with a title and allow them the chance to write creatively. For example, give them the title ‘The Storm’ and see what they can produce.

Encourage reading

Reading and writing are interconnected skills. Exposure to a wide range of literature enriches vocabulary, sparks creativity and provides models for writing styles and structures. Encourage your child to read regularly, both for pleasure and educational purposes. Discuss their favourite books and characters and explore different genres together.

Model writing

Children learn by example, so let them see you engage in writing activities. Whether it’s composing emails, making lists or writing in a diary. Writing in a journal daily can become a routine which gives your child the opportunity to be writing regularly. This also demonstrates the practical applications of writing in everyday life. Additionally, consider writing alongside your child, sharing thoughts and experiences as you both work on your respective pieces.

Provide constructive feedback

Offer constructive feedback on your child’s writing, focusing on specific strengths and areas for improvement. Highlight what they did well and provide suggestions for enhancing clarity, coherence and creativity. Encourage them to review their work based on your feedback, reinforcing the idea that writing is a continuous learning process. To avoid overwhelming a child with comments it is worth focusing on one or two key areas to develop. For example, you might look at the use of powerful verbs or the correct use of punctuation in one writing piece, while in another concentrate on developing spelling or sentence openers.

 Create a writing-friendly environment 

Designate a comfortable, well-lit space for 11+ writing activities at home. Stock it with writing materials such as pens, pencils, notebooks and a variety of paper. Ensure that the environment is free from distractions to promote focus and creativity.

Supporting your child’s writing development is a rewarding journey that requires patience, encouragement and dedication. By implementing these suggested tips and strategies you can create a nurturing environment where your child feels empowered to explore their creativity, express their thoughts and develop essential writing skills that will serve them well not only for their 11+ exams but throughout their lives.

By Chris Pearse 

Chris Pearse is a qualified Primary School Teacher with 10 years' experience in teaching. He started Teachitright in 2006 to provide support for children taking secondary school exams and is passionate about helping children achieve their potential whilst enjoying education.

Discover more from Collins 11+ here