Creative Writing: Sensory Boxes

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‘To begin writing…sensually acute writers almost invariably engage…in some form of physical activiy.’ (Fleckenstein 2002) 

This was a lesson I devised in my training year and I will admit that it took a lot of preparation and will quite possibly prove to be a bit of a logistical nightmare. Having said that, it was one of the most memorable lessons I’ve taught and if you’ve perhaps got time in the summer term then maybe you could give it a go.

 What you will need:

  • 5 boxes which you can put your hand in to but can’t see the content
  • 5 items with different temperatures, textures and consistency etc. As you might have guessed, I used kidney beans, mash potato, jelly, ice and grass.
  • Somewhere for students to wash and dry their hands (I just brought in a washing up bowl and paper towels)
  • A short story with lots of sensory detail – you may have one or you are welcome to use mine but it’s no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination and was written around the preferences of my class (an assignment requirement).
  • Some very spooky music

The key objective for this lesson was for students to understand the impact sensory detail has on the reader and for them to develop their skills of writing about touch (I personally found this to be one of the most underdeveloped senses in their writing).

 I began the lesson with the room cleared, blinds down, lights off and spooky music playing as students entered the room. I asked students to sit on the floor and I read them a short ghost story. Afterwards we discussed where the writer had used sensory detail and what the effect of it was. We also discussed what effect the music had on them and how music could make you feel different emotions – this fed into a discussion about how powerful the senses are and the impact they can have on how we feel.

Following this, students were put into small groups and I laid down some very strict ground rules for the lesson (I think this is probably essential for any lesson involving kidney beans and mash potato…). One person in the group was to play the role of the ‘writer’ and they were to place their hand inside the box and try to describe what it was they could feel without saying what they thought it was. The rest of the group were the ‘readers’ and through the ‘writer’s’ description they had to try and guess what the item was. The aim was that students would be forced to think of imaginative ways to put across what they could feel and would be encouraged to focus on a variety of details including texture, temperature and consistency. Students moved round the different boxes and took it in turns to be the ‘writer’.

This fed into further sensory tasks involving an adaptation of the infamous ‘Sherbert Lemon Game’ using Werther’s Oringal and ended with students writing their own ghost stories using what they had learnt about sensory detail.

I was apprehensive before the lesson that students were going to put their hands in the boxes and food/grass/ice would end up everywhere. However, much to my surprise and joy they were incredibly well behaved despite the potential for mayhem. They conducted themselves with maturity and were only a tiny bit silly about the kidney beans which I have to say felt disgusting! Best of all, their ghost stories included some lovely sensory detail and they really made my day by behaving so beautifully.

Here’s my ghost story (feel free to use/adapt/slate): ghost-story.doc

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