2nd Person and Present Tense

I love teaching writing. It’s one of my favourite things and I’ve always found it to be the thing I enjoy most and have a real enthusiasm for. Hopefully this comes across in my teaching – I often find myself getting really into modelling story openings, or creating illustrations that match what we’ve written about, or jumping around the classroom in celebration as children use amazing words in their writing (seriously). It’s fun to teach.

Having said that, I’ve found 2nd person and present tense are two areas within writing that I’ve not really touched on… until now.

They don’t, typically, fit into much. We’ve done instructions but, otherwise, they seem isolated from general writing. Stories have tended to be either 1st or 3rd person and past tense. Reports have also been 3rd person and present tense, usually. Diaries are 1st person, past tense… You get the idea. I’d struggled for ages to come up with a really interesting way of teaching 2nd person and present tense together.

It wasn’t until our head was doing his weekly assembly and mentioned stories that give the reader choices that I had an idea. You know the ones. Those ones that you read as a kid that dragged you into some sort of adventure where you had to rescue someone, find some hidden treasure or escape from a crashed wreckage of a plane.

Your plane judders to a stop on the runway and the captain announces your arrival. As the door opens, a blinding light shines through and a gust of humid air rushes past your face. Its already hot and you’ve only just arrived in this baron land.

2nd person, past tense! I made that up, by the way, but there really are plenty of these books out there.

What makes them even better is that they offer the reader a choice every now and then. Levers, doors, forks in roads, carry on or turn back… etc.

The road ahead ends abruptly and before you lay two tracks into the jungle. The one to your left is narrow but flat. The trees grow high on each side and the sunlight is already nearly gone. The other is wider but, further down, you see it disappears here and there. You can only think of deep ravines waiting to swallow clumsy explorers.

But you decide you must press on.

To take the track to the left, turn to page 12.

To take the path to the right, turn to page 27.

I loved these as a child and had almost forgotten entirely that they even existed until, as I said, they were brought up in an assembly. And that’s when I started thinking about how I could get them into English lessons.

We spent a week in class practising writing in the second person and present tense, which were both skills that seemed to be difficult for the children at the beginning. The children weren’t used to writing including the reader in their story – they were used to inventing characters or including themselves in the story. The thought that the main character in this story would be whoever was reading took some getting used to.

By the end of the week though, we were ready for a challenge. So we started planning our very own choice stories. I printed a huge A3 grid off and we used it as a storyboard, putting arrows from one box to another indication the direction of the story. Whenever there was a choice, more than one arrow went from a box. We’re fairly used to planning stories using storyboards so this wasn’t too challenging.

After the planning, we’ve, obviously, started the writing. We’ve used Powerpoint for this. Normally, we’d use Word but we opted for Powerpoint this time because it meant that each new choice could be put onto a new slide and then magically stitched together into a complete story using hyperlinks! Clicking on the choice you want to take can move you to the right slide to continue down that path.

Although we’re not quite finished yet (it’s a pretty big task to write one from beginning to end; especially when you’ve set a minimum of 3 choices), the stories are coming along nicely and I’d definitely consider doing this again in the future.

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