Learning Resources Segedunum Roman Fort


Amanda met with Beth O’Connell, the Learning Officer from Segedunum Roman Fort and they talked about how objects from the collection could be used to inspire creative writing. Each video comes with a list of exercises to use in the classroom or on a museum visit. They’re designed to get children writing, especially if they lack confidence or don’t know where to start. 

Both Amanda and Beth had a go at the exercises themselves.  
Beth O'Connell - A Light in the Dark (padlet.com)
Amanda Quinn - A Light in the Dark (padlet.com)

We’d love to know what happened if you tried any of the exercises with your class.

Writing Without Fear

Sparks, Gaps and Anxieties

Amanda and Beth talk about how it can be difficult to start writing, especially without much information or if you're worried about making mistakes.


The following are designed to get children writing without worrying about it being perfect:

1. Free Writing:

  • Ask students to write for a set period of time (no more than ten minutes) without stopping or correcting anything.
  • Explain that it doesn’t matter what they write as long as they keep writing. 
  • Be clear that students won’t have to share what they’ve written. This is important as the point of free writing is not to worry about what you are writing or what people may think of it. 
  • Students can just write or you can provide a prompt (e.g. object, first line, film clip, music, poem).
  • Students can use the results as raw material for other pieces of writing. Ask them to pick out a word, sentence or idea they like. They could write this on a separate piece of paper and work with others to create a communal poem. Or they could expand on it to create a new piece of writing.
  • You can also use free writing as a quick 'warm up' exercise before setting another writing task.  

2. Random Words:

  • Be clear that students won’t have to share what they write in the first part of the exercise.
  • Ask students to free write based on a random word (e.g. ‘apple’).
  • After one minute read out another random word (e.g. ‘magic’) and ask students to include as they write.
  • Keep sharing random words for students to include as they write (about five or six work best).
  • Ask students to re-write their piece until they are happy for someone else to hear or read it. They could choose to keep all the random words or just a few of them. 

3. Story Chain:

  • Give students a piece of A4 paper.
  • Read out the start of a sentence and ask students to finish it. Or give students a subject to write a sentence about. They could also write their own first sentence without a prompt. 
  • When everyone has written a sentence ask them to pass their paper to the person sitting next to them.
  • Then ask everyone to read what’s on the paper and write the next sentence of the story.
  • Keep passing the stories round until the pages are full. 
  • Read out the stories.
  • You can vary this exercise by asking students to fold their paper over so the next person doesn’t see what they’ve written. Or use it to write a poem. 


  • If you are visiting Segedunum, you could try some of the fear busting exercises in the Roman Gallery. Find a comfortable space in the gallery to use as a base. You could bring prompts with you or use the gallery and collections as inspiration.


Pre-writing & Planning

Digging for Ideas 

Amanda and Beth discuss what lies beneath the ground and how writers need to keep digging to find the best ideas.

Pre-writing and planning a piece of writing can help to generate original ideas and make it easier to get started.  

1. Maps
Ask students to draw a map. It could be a map of anything. Try one of the following:

  • An imaginary world or place  map (you could provide place names as a prompt or ask students to invent their own).
  • A map or drawing of somewhere they have been before such as on holiday or where a relative lives. 
  • A map of where they live. 
  • A map based on a story you are reading in class or a film or TV programme.

Ask students to add as much detail to the map as they can. They could add names of people or things that have happened in particular places. 

Students could either talk about their map to the class or write a piece inspired by their map (or both). 

2. Lists
Making a long list is a good way of coming up with original ideas as well as helping students to remember things. Lists can be on any subject. Try:

  • What's underground. Make a list of everything that might be found underneath where they are or a particular place (see the picture of digging at Segedunum in the resource box).
  • Everything they can think of that is a particular colour.
  • Names for a cat or dog or monster (or anything that may be a character in a story).
  • Items in a familiar place (e.g. relative’s house) or somewhere they have visited recently (e.g. for a class visit).
  • What a mystery object might be (e.g. a museum exhibit).
  • A ‘What if?’ list (e.g. ‘What if dinosaurs came back? What if I could fly? What if cats could talk?).

Ask students to pick something interesting from their list and talk about and/or write some more about it. Or writing a list could help them to write a more detailed description of a place. 
3. Finish the Sentence:

  • Read out the start of a sentence and ask students to finish it in as many different ways as they can.
  • Try ‘Happiness is…’, ‘Winter feels like…’, ‘I like…’.
  • The finished list could be a poem. Or students could pick their favourite line to share or contribute to a communal poem. 
  • You could also ask students to write as many different, random sentences as they could in a set time period. Then they could choose one and use it as the first line of a new piece of writing. 


  • If you are visiting Segedunum you could use the map of Hadrian's Wall and the Fort model in the Roman Gallery as a starting point. See the Maps and Plans PowerPoint in the resource box below.
  • Students can get a birds-eye view of the fort from the viewing tower. Talk about the key features you can see. What can you see now that wouldn't have been here in Roman times?
  • Ask the students to draw a plan of the fort from the viewing tower. They could draw the view as it looks now, imagine how it looked in Roman times, or create an imaginary setting based on the view.
  • You could use the reconstruction of the barrack room in the Roman Gallery, or the settings image bank which shows reconstructions from Segedunum and Arbeia Roman forts, to create lists. 
  • Out on the fort site, you could imagine what else lies undiscovered below ground. Part of the fort lies beneath the road. What are the cars driving over? 


Ways Into Stories

Places and People

In this film, Amanda and Beth look at ways to start writing stories with the help of objects from the collection at Segedunum.

Getting started on a piece of writing can be difficult. But you don't necessarily need much to begin. Here are some ideas:

1. Characters
A good way to start any piece of writing is with a character. Try the following:

  • Ask students to choose an object (this could be a museum exhibit – see the resource box for some examples) and talk/write about who owned it.
  • Distribute pictures of people’s eyes. Ask students to describe them and the kind of person they might belong to. They could also write a story describing how their character sees the world.
  • Give students the name of a character. They could draw a picture of what they think the character would look like. Or answer questions about the character (e.g. How old are they? What do they like doing? Who do they live with? See the resource box for some examples.). 

2. Filling in the Gaps
You don’t need much to inspire a piece of writing. Give students an object or picture or word and ask them to fill in the gaps and add extra information. You might do this by prompting them under different headings, for example asking them to write notes under headings of the five senses. Or you might ask them to draw a spider diagram of ideas and associations. 

3. Random Words and Sentences
Look in the resource box for links to story starters. Or try combining random words to generate interesting prompts. Try the following word combing exercise:

  • As a group, come up with a list of twenty adjectives. Display them so everyone can see them.
  • Ask students to write a list of five things they can see in the room. 
  • Ask students to add an interesting adjective to each thing on their list.
  • Students can then choose one and write about it. 
  • You can do this exercise with other combinations of words. You could also put words in a box and ask students to draw out random combinations.


  • If you are visiting Segedunum Fort, try to imagine the characters who lived there. 
  • Look at some of the objects in the gallery or use the Segedunum image bank in the resource box. (There is additional information about the objects in the notes of the PowerPoint). Can the object tell us anything about its owner? 
  • Out on the fort site, you could try some role play. Where would characters like the Commanding Officer or the ordinary soldiers live? How would they talk? How would they move around the different buildings? Would you move differently in the hospital compared to your barrack room, for example? 


Interests & Obsessions

Finding Your Favourite

In this film, Amanda and Beth talk about museum exhibits they are interested in. 

These exercises are designed to encourage students to explore and record what they are interested in:

1. Keeping a Notebook:
Most writers keep a notebook of ideas and rough drafts. Ask students to keep a notebook of their interests and ideas for stories. You could share examples of the notebooks of famous writers. Also see in the resource box for information about Cressida Cowell's 'Free Writing Friday' initiative with the National Literacy Trust which encourages primary school children to write for 15 minutes in their own notebook every Friday.

2. My Museum:

  • Ask students to think of an object they own that they would like to display in a museum.
  • Ask them to write a label to explain what the object is. Or you could ask them to talk about it as if to a museum visitor. 



A Portable Shrine 

All exhibits at Segedunum were found on the site. Amanda and Beth consider some of these: a portable shrine and oil lamp.

The following exercises are designed to provide space for students to fill in the gaps with their imagination. If students struggle to get started you could tell them to start writing anything (e.g. ‘I can’t think of anything to write…’). Reassure them this will turn into something more creative as they go on and that they can delete the first few sentences.  

1. A Light in the Dark
In the film we looked at some small oil lamps which would have been used in the hospital at Segedunum. We used this as a writing prompt by imagining what would happen and what we would see if the lamp was lit in a darkened room. See the box below to see the results of this exercise. 
2. What’s in the box?

  • Take a box with a lid and put something in it. It can be any object, but try to find something that makes an interesting sound when you shake the box – a sweet , a pine cone, a marble.
  • Take the closed box and show it to students. Ask them to pass it round and have a look at it. They are allowed to shake it and move it, but not to open it.
  • Ask students to write about what they think is in the box. You might want to tell them that they don’t have to get it ‘right’ – the exercise is about using their imagination.
  • You can show students what’s in the box at the end of the exercise. 

3. Visualisation

  • Ask students to close their eyes and explain that they will be thinking and imagining rather than writing anything down.
  • Give students some prompts to help them imagine a scenario, for example: You are walking down a tunnel. What does it smell like? What can you feel under your feet? Are you alone? You come to a door. Reach out and touch the door. What can you feel? Open the door. What can you see
  • Remember to leave gaps between prompts and questions to allow students to think and imagine. 
  • At the end of the exercise ask students to tell you about what they imagined. You could also ask them to write a story based on where they went to in their imagination. 

Light In the Dark Exercise Amanda and Beth tried out the Light in the Dark writing exercise. They've shared the different stages of their work through to their final poems at:

Beth O'Connell - A Light in the Dark (padlet.com)

Amanda Quinn - A Light in the Dark (padlet.com)


Story Structures

What's the story?

Amanda and Beth look at a piece of ringmail that was found buried under a stone on the site and wonder about the story behind it.


Planning out what is going to happen in a story or telling a story in a different format can make it easier to get started. Here are some exercises to help:
1. Story Elements:

  • Read out a simple short story or fairytale and ask students to suggest things that a story needs to include. These might be things such as: characters; a beginning, middle, and end; a setting; and a problem for the main character to overcome. But don’t worry about coming up with a definitive list – the main purpose of the exercise is to get students to start thinking about story structures and ways to plan stories before writing them. 
  • Choose four or five story element headings such as: 1. Setting. 2. Main character 3. Other character 4. Object.
  • Make a list of examples under each heading. You can do this as a group or you could ask students to write on slips of paper and add them to a box for each heading. Or you could pre-prepare a numbered grid and ask students to roll a dice to select their prompts. 
  • Ask students to write a story based on what they have chosen (e.g. a story set in a castle about a vet + a Pokémon + a radio). 
  • You could also use a pre-printed story grid or story mountain (see resource box for some examples) and ask students to come up with their own  ideas under each heading.

2. Cartoons:
Asking students to draw out a story as a cartoon strip is a good way to explore plot and story structure as well as getting them to think about different ways in which you can tell a story. You could ask them to draw a familiar story or fairytale or draw their own story as a cartoon. See the resource box for some helpful links about creating cartoons.


Life Writing

What We Throw Away

In this film, Amanda and Beth talk about things found that would have been thrown away and what this tells us about people at that time.

The following exercises aim to encourage students to write about themselves and their interests. They also aim to show and reassure students that they are interesting and unique and that other people will be interested in reading about them. 

1. Collage: 
Ask students to cut pictures and words out of magazines that reflect their interests. They can then glue them on a new piece of paper or card to create a picture that represents them or tells a story about their life. This exercise is based on one in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Macmillan (1994)
2. My Author Biography:

  • Share some examples of author biographies from the backs or inside jackets of books. You might also write your own author biography and share this with the class.
  • Ask students to write their own author biography. They could also take an author photograph to go with it.
  • In their author biography, they might include information about where they are from and what they like to write about/are interested in. If students find it hard to get started, they could write a list or draw a spider diagram of ideas first.
  • You can also do this exercise in pairs and ask students to write author biographies for each other. 

3. Mini Memoirs:
Ask students to write about particular times, things or places they can remember. You can start this exercise by asking them to do a picture, map or list of what they are trying to remember. Here are some suggestions:

  • My first day at school.
  • The first Christmas I remember.
  • My first memory.
  • The funniest thing that happened to me.
  • The worst thing I ever ate.
  • My favourite item of clothing.
  • The best thing I’ve ever seen on TV.
  • My favourite song.
  • My favourite baby toy.
  • An unusual/interesting place I visited.