Some ideas for teaching creative writing
Creative writing scares a lot of pupils. Hell, it scares a lot of teachers. Here are some tips to make it a bit easier for everyone as well as links to websites and resources.
Do a free writing exercise as a starter whenever you are planning to do creative writing in class. You will be amazed at how giving permission to write anything with the promise that nobody but them is ever going to read it liberates pupils and makes the rest of the lesson flow. The instructions are as follows. Take a blank piece of paper. Now write continuously for five minutes without stopping. You can write anything that comes into your head. Don’t try to edit. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar and punctuation. Just put whatever comes into your head down on the paper. While the pupils are doing this exercise you should do it yourself. When the time is up, share some of yours with the class. Emphasise how gobsmacked you are the surreal nature of what you wrote. Ask if anyone wants to share something about theirs but stress that they don’t have to. With luck, you’ll get a lot of laughter as people share the random thoughts that were going through their head and a general sense of liberation from the constraints of having to be right and do writing ‘properly’.
Supposing a bear walked into the classroom?
This is a great group or whole class exercise to combat the I don’t know what to write about blues. One person picks a character – a nine-year-old boy for instance. The next person provides a setting – walking down the street. A third person suggests a time – middle of the night. The fourth person then ignites the action by the use of a suppose question – ‘Suppose the boy were sleepwalking?’ and the story is developed until it runs out of steam and someone throws in another suppose question to get it moving again.
Switch on your inner movie camera.
Someone is stuck because they don’t know what a character is going to do next? Tell them to close their eyes and watch the scene are writing unroll like a movie on the inside of their eyelids. Then open their eyes and write down exactly what they saw. Notice the details. Did the character pick the book up with their left hand or their right? What colour exactly was their jumper? Describe it in as close detail as possible. This simple visualisation technique is a much better way of making writing vivid than any amount of advice to add adjectives blah, vary your verbs blah. Just show what you see.
Outlaw Awful Adverbs
Ban adverbs from the classroom. Adverbs are the enemy of good writing. Fact. Why the hell the KS2 curriculum places such emphasis on them is beyond me. Every time a pupil uses an adverb to qualify the verb, they haven’t chosen the right verb in the first place. Adverbs (and many adjectives) are weighing down your writing with redundant words. Using fewer words better is the key. The first rule of good writing is show not tell, and adverbs are telling words. And another thing, when did you last hear someone use an adverb in spoken English? Dialogue that contains adverbs is completely unnatural. Bin it.
Get every pupil to start a blog
Investigate the main blogging platforms with your class and look at how different writers use them. Introduce them to the idea of blog chains, such as the one run by TeensCanWriteToo. Start a class blog, follow interesting bloggers and encourage pupils to interact with other writers via comments on their blogs. There is a great article here on how one teacher uses blogging as a classroom tool. http://mbdoneducation.blogspot.co.uk/2012_07_01_archive.html
Sharing your own writing with pupils is a great way to model the process of writing. It really helps pupils to know that everyone finds writing hard, that everyone does messy early drafts and needs to think about how to improve and redraft their work, even teachers. Feeling that the teacher is engaging in a collaborative act with them rather than sitting in judgement, gives pupils the confidence to share their writing and own up to the difficulties they are experiencing. They can see that nobody’s writing springs fully-formed from the page, and that all good writing is the result of careful drafting and editing.
Teach careful critiquing
Creative writing critique is a form of peer assessment, so many of the same rules apply, but because creative writing is so personal it is important that those giving a critique should be both objective and sensitive.
Ø Start with the positive. Focus on the best thing about the piece, then suggest a way in which it could be improved.
Ø Always read the work at least twice. The first time as a reader, the second time as a writer.
Ø Critique the writing, not the writer. Always refer to ‘the piece’ rather than ‘you’.
Ø Understand the author’s intention and focus on whether they’ve achieved it. If you don’t like the genre the story is in, for instance, don’t critique by suggesting that they should have chosen a different genre. Never tell a writer how you would have written the piece. It’s irrelevant.
Publish and be damned
Writing is meant to be read. Use lulu.com to help your
pupils produce a printed version of their best work. Upload it to the class
blog. Get the class to make a Youtube channel and film pupils performing their
work. Create a Tumblr feed. Search out writing
competitions and encourage pupils to enter. Every November, flag up NaNoWriMo’s
Young Writers Program. It all helps to encourage pupils to think of themselves
Websites for young writers
Blog chain and writing ideas organised by and for teenagers.
Online teenage writing community, competitions, author interviews and lots more
Huge forum for young writers to chat, post their work and get advice
Creative writing website with helpful advice and forums
Lots of information about teenage fiction, book review and competitions.
Write a novel in a month for under 17s.
Describe your life in six words. Amazingly addictive.
Stuck for an opening sentence? Get one here.
Fun advice on improving your writing.
Creative writing prompts to help you when you are stuck
Loads of writing exercises, a random name generator and lots of other fun things
Generates random elements to incorporate into a story
Great Powerpoint of creative writing prompts to use as starters
Supermarket receipts as a creative writing prompt.
Some really useful ideas from the Scottish Book Trust, particularly appropriate for struggling KS3 writers.
90 things to do with a picture.
Creative writing handbooks from the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program.
American English teacher’s personal website – lots of lesson plans and ideas.