This past semester, I was tasked with teaching creative writing for the first time. Before I dive into the second semester, I want to reflect on my experiences.
If these ideas help another teacher, great! This is what I learned from teaching creative writing with high school students.
Also! I have a freebie in this post that you can hand students tomorrow! Sign up for Language Arts Classroom’s library to receive the handout and other freebies:
Encourage peer collaboration and feedback.
High school students don’t always value interaction, brainstorming, and creating with peers. Such collaboration is important in any class; in creative writing, it is vital.
Even though I work with older students, I still need to model the collaborative process. I often did this by writing a sample, verbalizing what I liked and disliked, and asking for student approval. I never let questionable feedback offend me; I would instead articulate what the student said about my work.
Creative writing improves with feedback.
Because imaginations dominate the writing, it is easy for students to lose track of transitions and explanations. The story might be interesting, but a fresh reader might be confused.
Remind students that at the end of a book, the author thanks a list of people who provided feedback and encouragement. The list of readers is long. Professional writers gladly accept feedback. Train students to think of feedback as part of the process.
Use images to spur creativity.
This brainstorming technique worked multiple times when students found a wall. Grab some pictures from the Internet and compile them into a presentation like I did for this character activity. You can also head outside or ask students to contribute pictures.
Now try brainstorming. What colors, depths, and shadows do students see in these images? How can those descriptions better their writing?
Review dialogue rules.
Dialogue confused my students, and I’m not sure I have a solid reason as to why. I’m guessing that the rules differ from citations in formal writing, and that is their typical writing assignment. I had my students bookmark this page and watch this video. We reviewed and practiced dialogue frequently.
Implement literary devices.
All those literary devices students find in literature? Now it is their turn to implement them! Some, like similes and direct characterization, come naturally. Students automatically include many literary devices.
Harder ones? My class and I really worked with indirect characterization and setting. Students had too much telling and not enough showing. I’m creating activities and ideas for development, but I will take any suggestions you want to offer!
I created a brainstorming list for students, and you may download it for free.
Why did I do this? Creating and developing characters is hard! Students know interesting characters; in fact, I spent time brainstorming memorable ones with students. Then, we discussed why those characters stayed in their memories.
From our discussions, students realized that these characters have multiple levels. They have quirks and unlikable traits. No human is perfect; a realistic character isn’t either. We gave our characters mild obsessions (chewing nails), memorable habits (eating cheesy waffles for breakfast), and a unique style (red jean jacket). To do this, I asked characters to brainstorm more information for their character than they would ever include in their story.
Why? Well, students then had an image of the character which flowed into the development. The ideas were easier to weave into the story when students had this background information. Finally, students had a unique character they invested in before they began writing a story.
Teaching creative writing was rewarding in many ways. Students expressed their concerns and fears, joys and triumphs. When I took over this class, I wondered what the outcome would be. This was my first experience teaching creative writing, and I was nervous. Now as I prepare for the new semester, I’m excited to see what students develop and what I can create to help them.
You are welcome to download the characterization brainstorming sheet – for free! Sign-up for Language Art Classroom’s library to download it and other freebies.