A more basic piece of writing that the children enjoy is writing a precis – but you do have to engineer the text. Beneath, I reproduce a passage that you can use and then set the challenge of re-writing it in exactly 100 words. Explain about tautology (saying the same thing more than once) – then about things that are similar. Ask if the same thing could be said by using a different grammatical structure. Finally, make a point about whether you can infer something without it being directly written. Copy and paste the text about Persephone into a document. Double or treble space it, so your pupils can write underneath the printed version. Step 1, delete tautology – then take the next steps. Working in pencil first works well, then let them edit on the computer and use the word count feature.
The kidnap of Persephone – from the Ancient Greek myth that explains the seasons.
Word count begins here:
Once upon an ancient time, many years ago, the warm world was always eternal summer. The goddess Demeter filled the whole world with food to eat and heat and warmth and bright colour. The Earth was bright because Demeter’s heart was full of happiness and love and the one she loved most of all was her beautiful daughter, Persephone.
One day Persephone was on the island of Sicily, walking in a meadow with her friends. They were picking flowers when Persephone saw the most beautiful blossom. Her fingers held it tightly and pulled sharply. Nothing moved. She pulled again. The flower stem would not break. Again she pulled. With all her strength she strained. She looked like a slim girl, but she was a goddess and in her thin arms was the strength of a hundred men. She strained and pulled so hard the ground itself began to lift. The field of grass peeled back like an emerald green carpet. In the dark shadows below horses were snorting, black hooves, the colour of night were stomping and there was just a tiny glint of a golden crown.
187 words – re-write it in exactly 100 words.
Look for repetition – more than one word – saying the same thing – pick the best word or phrase. Don’t just delete the shortest, think about what sounds best or fits in best with the genre of a myth or legend.
If you still need to lose words, decide which parts of the story are the most important & edit down those that are less important.
A more advanced follow on is to challenge them to write a coherent version, losing nothing significant, in the fewest possible words – or reduce it to bullet points for a plot. This is a very valid exercise, and you can bring in many sophisticated techniques, but remember, it works best if you alter your text so that features such as tautology are made explicit.
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