Teaching creative writing focuses only partially on teaching writing skills. Creative writing, like any art form, starts with a basic set of learnt skills, in this case grammar, vocabulary and spelling. Those skills are then engaged in the creative process to translate ideas to words. Creative writing lesson plans stimulate that creative process, and the teacher guides the students in using their writing skills to put it all down on paper.
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Poetry forms force beginning writers to craft words into a variety of very specific forms. Haiku and tanka require a specific number of syllables per line. Writing cinquains combines grammar and poetry skills. Other styles, like shape poetry, require the writer to craft lines in various lengths so that the text forms a shape. Poetry lesson plans are intensive and disciplined and build excellent prose writing skills.
Show and Tell
Show and tell exercises build upon the original kindergarten activity by using an object as a catalyst for creating stories. The student chooses or is assigned an object and then writes about it either free form or toward a directed purpose, using descriptive language effectively.
Basket stories divide elements of the story into parts. The teacher prepares baskets full of paper slips with the names and one-sentence descriptions of characters, of settings, of time periods and situations or challenges. Each writer chooses one slip from each basket and creates a story using those elements.
This type of exercise takes several days to accomplish. The teacher provides lists of objects for the students to find. They do not retrieve them, but write short descriptions in their notebooks. The students return to class with notebooks full of descriptions and turn them into short stories, using the objects they found and the exact descriptive words while building a story around them.
The student is given a historical figure and works through a series of questions such as: What scares you most? What are you proudest of? What is your greatest accomplishment? What is your favourite childhood memory? The questions should require several sentences to answer. The answers should not be obvious facts, but matters of the character's personal opinion. Finally, the questions should delve into the character's nonpublic life more than into commonly known historical fact.
This exercise uses the newspaper classified ads. Students choose an ad and write a piece describing who might have written such an advertisement, where they live, what they do for a living, what's going on in their lives and why they might be selling the item. The exercise forces the writer to closely observe small details and extrapolate them into a larger story.
The student chooses a place and an event from her childhood and writes it up as a children's book. The book must use primary level language and simple words that can be read by a second to fourth grader. The writers describe or draw pictures to fit with the text as they flesh out the story. Forcing the student to simplify her writing to this level provides valuable experience in paring down wordy or overly complicated text for clarity.
Students work together to create a story idea and write segments one at a time. The technique forces the students to write toward a goal cooperatively. If one member of the team doesn't work cooperatively, the story deteriorates rapidly as the odd team member takes the story off track. The teams meet with the teacher to present their story and discuss what was good and what was bad about the process.
Creative writing teachers devise new writing exercises as they identify their students' strengths and weaknesses. If, for instance, the student writing is overly flowery, try writing stories for children and trimming words of more than two syllables. If spelling, grammar or punctuation is a problem, try newspaper writing exercises and let the students "edit" each other's work and do rewrites. Exercises in impromptu plotting, storyboarding or even cartoon panel writing help inexperienced writers develop the ability to infuse continuity into their writing.
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