11+ creative writing guide with 50 example topics and prompts

by | Nov 17, 2022 | Exams, Writing | 0 comments

The 11+ exam is a school entrance exam taken in the academic year that a child in the UK turns eleven.

These exams are highly competitive, with multiple students battling for each school place awarded.

The 11 plus exam isn’t ‘one thing’, it varies in its structure and composition across the country. A creative writing task is included in nearly all of the 11 plus exams, and parents are often confused about what’s being tested.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the plot of your child’s writing task is important. It is not.

The real aim of the 11+ creative writing task is to showcase your child’s writing skills and techniques.

And that’s why preparation is so important.

This guide begins by answering all the FAQs that parents have about the 11+ creative writing task.

At the end of the article I give my best tips & strategies for preparing your child for the 11+ creative writing task, along with 50 fiction and non-fiction creative writing prompts from past papers you can use to help your child prepare. You’ll also want to check out my 11+ reading list, because great readers turn into great writers.

Do all 11+ exams include a writing task?

Not every 11+ exam includes a short story component, but many do. Usually 3 to 5 different prompts are given for the child to choose between and they are not always ‘creative’ (fiction) pieces. One or more non-fiction options might be given for children who prefer writing non-fiction to fiction.

Timings and marking vary from test to test. For example, the Kent 11+ Test gives students 10 minutes for planning followed by 30 minutes for writing. The Medway 11+ Test gives 60 minutes for writing with ‘space allowed’ on the answer booklet for planning.

Tasks vary too. In the Kent Test a handful of stimuli are given, whereas 11+ students in Essex are asked to produce two individually set paragraphs. The Consortium of Selective Schools in Essex (CCSE) includes 2 creative writing paragraphs inside a 60-minute English exam.

Throughout the UK each 11+ exam has a different set of timings and papers based around the same themes. Before launching into any exam preparation it is essential to know the content and timing of your child’s particular writing task.

However varied and different these writing tasks might seem, there is one key element that binds them.

The mark scheme.

Although we can lean on previous examples to assess how likely a short story or a non-fiction tasks will be set, it would be naïve to rely completely on the content of past papers. Contemporary 11+ exams are designed to be ‘tutor-proof’ – meaning that the exam boards like to be unpredictable.

In my online writing club for kids, we teach a different task each week (following a spiral learning structure based on 10 set tasks). One task per week is perfected as the student moves through the programme of content, and one-to-one expert feedback ensures progression. This equips our writing club members to ‘write effectively for a range of purposes’ as stated in the English schools’ teacher assessment framework.

This approach ensures that students approaching a highly competitive entrance exam will be confident of the mark scheme (and able to meet its demands) for any task set.

Will my child have a choice of prompts to write from or do they have to respond to a single prompt, without a choice?

This varies. In the Kent Test there are usually 5 options given. The purpose is to gather a writing sample from each child in case of a headteacher appeal. A range of options should allow every child to showcase what they can do.

In Essex, two prescriptive paragraphs are set as part of an hour-long English paper that includes comprehension and vocabulary work. In Essex, there is no option to choose the subject matter.

The Medway Test just offers a single prompt for a whole hour of writing. Sometimes it is a creative piece. Recently it was a marketing leaflet.

The framework for teaching writing in English schools demands that in order to ‘exceed expectations’ or better, achieve ‘greater depth’, students need to be confident writing for a multitude of different purposes.

In what circumstances is a child’s creative writing task assessed?

In Essex (east of the UK) the two prescriptive writing tasks are found inside the English exam paper. They are integral to the exam and are assessed as part of this.

In Medway (east Kent in the South East) the writing task is marked and given a raw score. This is then adjusted for age and double counted. Thus, the paper is crucial to a pass.

In the west of the county of Kent there is a different system. The Kent Test has a writing task that is only marked in appeal cases. If a child dips below the passmark their school is allowed to put together a ‘headteacher’s appeal’. At this point – before the score is communicated to the parent (and probably under cover of darkness) the writing sample is pulled out of a drawer and assessed.

I’ve been running 11+ tutor clubs for years. Usually about 1% of my students passed at headteacher’s appeal.

Since starting the writing club, however, the number of students passing at appeal has gone up considerably. In recent years it’s been more like 5% of students passing on the strength of their writing sample.

What are the examiners looking for when they’re marking a student’s creative writing?

In England, the government has set out a framework for marking creative writing. There are specific ‘pupil can’ statements to assess whether a student is ‘working towards the expected standard,’ ‘working at the expected standard’ or ‘working at greater depth’.

Members of the headteacher panel assessing the writing task are given a considerable number of samples to assess at one time. These expert teachers have a clear understanding of the framework for marking, but will not be considering or discussing every detail of the writing sample as you might expect.

Schools are provided with a report after the samples have been assessed. This is very brief indeed. Often it will simply say ‘lack of precise vocabulary’ or ‘confused paragraphing.’

So there is no mark scheme as such. They won’t be totting up your child’s score to see if they have reached a given target. They are on the panel because of their experience, and they have a short time to make an instant judgement.

Does handwriting matter?

Handwriting is assessed in primary schools. Thus it is an element of the assessment framework the panel uses as a basis for their decision.

If the exam is very soon, then don’t worry if your child is not producing immaculate, cursive handwriting. The focus should simply be on making it well-formed and legible. Every element of the assessment framework does not need to be met and legible writing will allow the panel to read the content with ease.

Improve presentation quickly by offering a smooth rollerball pen instead of a pencil. Focus on fixing individual letters and praising your child for any hint of effort. The two samples below are from the same boy a few months apart. Small changes have transformed the look and feel:

11+ handwriting sample from a student before handwriting tutoring
Sample 1: First piece of work when joining the writing club
Cursive handwriting sample of a boy preparing for the 11+ exam after handwriting tutoring.
Sample 2: This is the same boy’s improved presentation and content

How long should the short story be?

First, it is not a short story as such—it is a writing sample. Your child needs to showcase their skills but there are no extra marks for finishing (or marks deducted for a half-finished piece).

For a half hour task, you should prepare your child to produce up to 4 paragraphs of beautifully crafted work. Correct spelling and proper English grammar is just the beginning. Each paragraph should have a different purpose to showcase the breadth and depth of their ability. A longer – 60 minute – task might have 5 paragraphs but rushing is to be discouraged. Considered and interesting paragraphs are so valuable, a shorter piece would be scored more highly than a rushed and dull longer piece.

I speak from experience. A while ago now I was a marker for Key Stage 2 English SATs Papers (taken in Year 6 at 11 years old). Hundreds of scripts were deposited on my doorstep each morning by DHL. There was so much work for me to get through that I came to dread long, rambling creative pieces. Some children can write pages and pages of repetitive nothingness. Ever since then, I have looked for crafted quality and am wary of children judging their own success by the number of lines competed.

Take a look at the piece of writing below. It’s an excellent example of a well-crafted piece.

Each paragraph is short, but the writer is skilful.

He used rich and precisely chosen vocabulary, he’s broken the text into natural paragraphs, and in the second paragraph he is beginning to vary his sentence openings. There is a sense of control to the sentences – the sentence structure varies with shorter and longer examples to manage tension. It is exciting to read, with a clear awareness of his audience. Punctuation is accurate and appropriate.

Example of a high-scoring writing sample for the UK 11+ exam—notice the varied sentence structures, excellent use of figurative language, and clear paragraphing technique.
11+ creative writing example story

How important is it to revise for a creative writing task?

It is important.

Every student should go into their 11+ writing task with a clear paragraph plan secured. As each paragraph has a separate purpose – to showcase a specific skill – the plan should reflect this. Built into the plan is a means of flexing it, to alter the order of the paragraphs if the task demands it. There’s no point having a Beginning – Middle – End approach, as there’s nothing useful there to guide the student to the mark scheme.

Beyond this, my own students have created 3 – 5 stories that fit the same tight plan. However, the setting, mood and action are all completely different. This way a bank of rich vocabulary has already been explored and a technique or two of their own that fits the piece beautifully. These can be drawn upon on the day to boost confidence and give a greater sense of depth and consideration to their timed sample.

Preparation, rather than revision in its classic form, is the best approach. Over time, even weeks or months before the exam itself, contrasting stories are written, improved upon, typed up and then tweaked further as better ideas come to mind. Each of these meets the demands of the mark scheme (paragraphing, varied sentence openings, rich vocabulary choices, considered imagery, punctuation to enhance meaning, development of mood etc).

To ensure your child can write confidently at and above the level expected of them, drop them into my weekly weekly online writing club for the 11+ age group. The club marking will transform their writing, and quickly.

What is the relationship between the English paper and the creative writing task?

Writing is usually marked separately from any comprehension or grammar exercises in your child’s particular 11+ exam. Each exam board (by area/school) adapts the arrangement to suit their needs. Some have a separate writing test, others build it in as an element of their English paper (usually alongside a comprehension, punctuation and spelling exercise).

Although there is no creative writing task in the ISEB Common Pre-test, those who are not offered an immediate place at their chosen English public school are often invited back to complete a writing task at a later date. Our ISEB Common Pre-test students join the writing club in the months before the exam, first to tidy up the detail and second to extend the content.

What if my child has a specific learning difficulty (dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, ASD)?

Most exam boards pride themselves on their inclusivity. They will expect you to have a formal report from a qualified professional at the point of registration for the test. This needs to be in place and the recommendations will be considered by a panel. If your child needs extra arrangements on the day they may be offered (it isn’t always the case). More importantly, if they drop below a pass on one or more papers you will have a strong case for appeal.

Children with a specific learning difficulty often struggle with low confidence in their work and low self-esteem. The preparations set out above, and a kids writing club membership will allow them to go into the exam feeling positive and empowered. If they don’t achieve a pass at first, the writing sample will add weight to their appeal.

Tips and strategies for writing a high-scoring creative writing paper

  1. Read widely for pleasure. Read aloud to your child if they are reluctant.
  2. Create a strong paragraph plan where each paragraph has a distinct purpose.
  3. Using the list of example questions below, discuss how each could be written in the form of your paragraph plan.
  4. Write 3-5 stories with contrasting settings and action – each one must follow your paragraph plan. Try to include examples of literary devices and figurative language (metaphor, simile) but avoid clichés.
  5. Tidy up your presentation. Write with a good rollerball pen on A4 lined paper with a printed margin. Cross out with a single horizontal line and banish doodling or scribbles.
  6. Join the writing club for a 20-minute Zoom task per week with no finishing off or homework. An expert English teacher will mark the work personally on video every Friday and your child’s writing will be quickly transformed.

Pressed for time? Here’s a paragraph plan to follow.

At Griffin Teaching we have an online writing club for students preparing for the 11 plus creative writing task. We’ve seen first-hand what a difference just one or two months of weekly practice can make.

That said, we know that a lot of people reading this page are up against a hard deadline with an 11+ exam date fast approaching.

If that’s you (or your child), what you need is a paragraph plan.

Here’s one tried-and-true paragraph plan that we teach in our clubs. Use this as you work your way through some of the example prompts below.

11+ creative writing paragraph plan

Paragraph 1—Description

Imagine standing in the location and describe what is above the main character, what is below their feet, what is to their left and right, and what is in the distance. Try to integrate frontend adverbials into this paragraph (frontend adverbials are words or phrases used at the beginning of a sentence to describe what follows—e.g. When the fog lifted, he saw…)

Paragraph 2—Conversation

Create two characters who have different roles (e.g. site manager and student, dog walker and lost man) and write a short dialogue between them. Use what we call the “sandwich layout,” where the first person says something and you describe what they are doing while they are saying it. Add in further descriptions (perhaps of the person’s clothing or expression) before starting a new line where the second character gives a simple answer and you provide details about what the second character is doing as they speak.

Paragraph 3—Change the mood

Write three to four sentences that change the mood of the writing sample from light to gloomy or foreboding. You could write about a change in the weather or a change in the lighting of the scene. Another approach is to mention how a character reacts to the change in mood, for example by pulling their coat collar up to their ears.

Paragraph 4—Shock your reader

A classic approach is to have your character die unexpectedly in the final sentence. Or maybe the ceiling falls?

11+ creative writing questions from real papers—fictional prompts

  1. The storm
  2. The day the storm came
  3. The day the weather changed
  4. The snowstorm
  5. The rainy day
  6. A sunny day out
  7. A foggy (or misty) day
  8. A day trip to remember
  9. The first day
  10. The day everything changed
  11. The boat
  12. The beach
  13. The mountain
  14. The hillside
  15. The river
  16. The lake
  17. The old house
  18. The hotel
  19. The balloon
  20. The old man
  21. Lost
  22. Alone
  23. The accident
  24. The unfamiliar sound
  25. A weekend away
  26. Moving house
  27. A family celebration
  28. An event you remember from when you were young
  29. An animal attack
  30. The school playground at night
  31. The lift pinged and the door opened. I could not believe what was inside…
  32. “Run!” he shouted as he thundered across the sand…
  33. It was getting late as I dug in my pocket for the key to the door. “Hurry up!” she shouted from inside.
  34. I know our back garden very well, but I was surprised how different it looked at midnight…
  35. The red button on the wall has a sign on it saying, ‘DO NOT TOUCH.’ My little sister leant forward and hit it hard with her hand. What happened next?
  36. Digging down into the soft earth, the spade hit something metal…
  37. Write a story which features the stopping of time.
  38. Write a story which features an unusual method of transport.
  39. The cry in the woods
  40. Write a story which features an escape

11+ creative writing questions from real papers—non-fiction prompts

  • Write a thank you letter for a present you didn’t want.
  • You are about to interview someone for a job. Write a list of questions you would like to ask the applicant.
  • Write a letter to complain about the uniform at your school.
  • Write a leaflet to advertise your home town.
  • Write a thank you letter for a holiday you didn’t enjoy.
  • Write a letter of complaint to the vet after an unfortunate incident in the waiting room.
  • Write a set of instructions explaining how to make toast.
  • Describe the room you are in.
  • Describe a person who is important to you.
  • Describe your pet or an animal you know well.