How to teach . creative writing
From birds chirping aloft the trees to sapphire blue lakes sparkling in the sun, the sights and sounds of summer make it the perfect time of year for a spot of creative writing. Getting students to put pen to paper is a good way to spark their imaginations, develop reading and writing skills, and teach about empathy.
To help you and your class get inventive, this week’s how to teach brings you a selection of ideas and resources to inspire the creativity of young wordsmiths.
Author Nick Hesketh recommends that before children start writing, you should discuss what makes a good story. He shares this and other advice in his creative writing video series for the Scottish Book Trust. Get students thinking with these “badly written” exemplars, which provide a handy baseline to work from.
Next, capture young imaginations by getting students to think about the story they want to tell. Where is it set? At what time of day? What is the weather like? What can you hear, see, smell or feel? This worksheet by Creative Writing Now will help students get to know their main character, while this plot questionnaire will encourage them think about what is going to happen. Then get your class penning their masterpieces, writing just a few sentences to begin with. Stress that they shouldn’t worry about spelling, instead, just put a wavy line under any words they are unsure of. There are examples of well thought-out sentences here.
Creative writing should be fun, and playing games is good way to help students develop story ideas. Try an alternative word association game in which you think of words that are at odds with each other (such as “boat” and “rock”) instead of words that are connected (such as “boat” and “water”). The aim is to show that good story ideas often involve some sort of tension. We also have instructions for a fun game called The Invisible Book, which involves students coming up with the first three sentences of a story on the spot, which helps them find their writer’s voice.
If ideas aren’t flowing, kickstart things by stepping outside of the classroom and into the playground as suggested in this resource by WordSpace. Give students unusual things to write on, such as the back of an envelope, a leaf, or a rough piece of wallpaper. Or challenge them to write a short story in just 50 words.
A quick way to conjure up story ideas is through pictures. Use prompts such as this image of two boys sitting on the wing of an aeroplane or this one of a dinosaur in the garden, which can work really well. Another tip from writer and teacher Heather Wright is to ask students to start several stories then choose the one they want to finish. This writing checklist will help students evaluate their work when it’s finished.
Challenge secondary students to write a story in just six words or get them to compile a list of objects for an imaginary cabinet of curiosity. These are just some ideas offered by the Writers’ Centre Norwich, a literature development agency based in England’s only UNESCO City of Literature. They have produced an easy-to-use 20-page activity pack for the classroom, which introduces a range of genres and draws on a variety of writing stimuli including photographs and poems.
If students want to get to the heart of a character, ask them to address the audience as their favourite fictitious creations. Writing a monologue is the focus of this key stage 4 resource by the Poetry Society. A second resource encourages students to create a piece of writing based on what they can – and can’t – see out of an imaginary window. The aim is for students to make effective use of descriptive detail as they write short lines of poetry in response to a series of prompts. As a homework task, ask students to repeat the exercise while looking out of a real window.
Students doing creative writing at A-level need to work in a whole range of written forms and genres including creative non-fiction and web content. They should be prepared to share work-in-progress with others, responding to feedback and developing drafting and editing skills. They should also write regularly to deadlines and keep a journal of writing ideas. You’ll find useful advice on approaching the first term of teaching in this guide by AQA. You’ll also find additional ideas to support learning and teaching here.
For those who are eager to take creative writing even further, this resource offers useful information on how to set up a creative writing club.
Finally, remember to encourage young people to read as often and as widely as possible – this is one of the most effective ways to teach creative writing. With this in mind, be sure to set your students off on the Summer Reading Challenge. You’ll find lots of reading and writing activities in this year’s pack.
How to teach creative writing to grade 3
You’ll find additional resources for poetry teaching at Poets.org.
Resources for teaching children
Our contributor, Linda Leopold Strauss, has written a book on creative writing for children with an accompanying workbook.
How to teach writing – general thoughts
As creative writing teachers, our most important task is to motivate and encourage.
Writers learn their craft through reading and through practice. If we can instill a love of reading and writing, students will improve naturally over time.
Beginning writers are easily discouraged, so it’s important to create a safe space where they can experiment and develop their skills without fear of being judged.
- help students to understand the elements of craft (e.g., story structure, poetic meter, etc.) so that they can recognize them in their reading and consciously experiment with them in their writing.
- open students’ eyes to the options available to them when they write a story or poem (e.g., “showing” instead of “telling”, using different kinds of narrators and narrative viewpoints, using different poetic forms).
- encourage students to become close observers of the world around them and to find creative material in their environments.
- teach students the value of specificity, of using all five senses to discover details that may not be obvious to the casual observer.
- help students to separate the processes of writing and editing, to avoid self-criticism while writing their rough drafts to allow ideas to flow freely (for this to work, their teachers also have to avoid criticizing rough drafts!). Teach students to treat self-editing as a separate stage in the writing process.
- get students reading in the genre they’ll be writing; e.g., if they’re writing poetry, encourage them to read a lot of poems.
- help students learn to trust their own perspectives and observations, to believe that they have something interesting to say.
- teach students not to wait for inspiration, that they can write even when not inspired.
- get students excited about writing!
Feedback on Our Courses
“As usual – I already love the course on Irresistible Fiction, rewriting a lot and improving greatly even after the first lesson. Thanks so much for the great courses.”
– Kitty Safken
“Essentials of Fiction proved that I could indeed write and I wrote every day, much to my boyfriend’s dismay (waa sniff).”
– Jill Gardner
“I am loving the course and the peer interaction on the blog is fantastic. ”
– Bill Lane
“I’m enjoying the weekly email course, Essentials of Poetry Writing. Thank you for offering a basic, no nonsense basic poetry course at a reasonable price.”
“Thank you for all the material in this course. I have learnt so much.”
– Jacqueline Tasik
“I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the lessons and feel they were very helpful in introducing new ideas and perspectives to my writing. I am sure I will go back frequently to review them for reference during many of my future writing projects. Thanks again!”
– Jenny Jacks
“Thanks very much for this course. It’s been really helpful and well-explained. I look forward to any more courses you run.”
– Robin Gott
“I’m learning so much. This course is amazing.”
– Karl Tobar
“Thank you so much!! You’re always there. The course is great. You are always looking forward to the next lesson like a good novel. ”
– Nuria Alberti
“Thank you for a course that builds writing skills with direction to excellence. Everything was included, possibly more than college courses can offer.”
– Janett Lee Wawrzyniak
“It was a nice journey for me to be able to write in answer to your e-mail lessons. Being able to post the answers on WordPress is exciting. I had not done that before taking your writing class. I plan to take another of your e-mail class, either the 8-week descriptive or the new poetry class.”
– James Sciullo
“The Irresistible Fiction course is going well. I see why it’s a bestseller. I can’t wait for the next email.”
“Thank you so much for putting together this writing course. It was of good value to me as it got me started thinking more deeply about my characters. I don’t have a lot of time to write, working two jobs, but I am doing the ten-minute exercise with each lesson, and each evening, trying to get in the habit of sitting myself down to write. I would recommend the course to anyone.”
– Barrie Creamer