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How to Teach Creative Writing | 7 Steps to Get Students Wordsmithing

how to teach creative writing in english class

“I don’t have any ideas!”

“I can’t think of anything!”

While we see creative writing as a world of limitless imagination, our students often see an overwhelming desert of “no idea.”

But when you teach creative writing effectively, you’ll notice that  every  student is brimming over with ideas that just have to get out.

So what does teaching creative writing effectively look like?

We’ve outlined a  seven-step method  that will  scaffold your students through each phase of the creative process  from idea generation through to final edits.

7. Create inspiring and original prompts

Use the following formats to generate prompts that get students inspired:

  • personal memories (“Write about a person who taught you an important lesson”)
  • imaginative scenarios
  • prompts based on a familiar mentor text (e.g. “Write an alternative ending to your favorite book”). These are especially useful for giving struggling students an easy starting point.
  • lead-in sentences (“I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somehow overnight I…”).
  • fascinating or thought-provoking images with a directive (“Who do you think lives in this mountain cabin? Tell their story”).

student writing prompts for kids

Don’t have the time or stuck for ideas? Check out our list of 100 student writing prompts

6. unpack the prompts together.

Explicitly teach your students how to dig deeper into the prompt for engaging and original ideas.

Probing questions are an effective strategy for digging into a prompt. Take this one for example:

“I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somehow overnight I…”

Ask “What questions need answering here?” The first thing students will want to know is:

What happened overnight?

No doubt they’ll be able to come up with plenty of zany answers to that question, but there’s another one they could ask to make things much more interesting:

Who might “I” be?

In this way, you subtly push students to go beyond the obvious and into more original and thoughtful territory. It’s even more useful with a deep prompt:

“Write a story where the main character starts to question something they’ve always believed.”

Here students could ask:

  • What sorts of beliefs do people take for granted?
  • What might make us question those beliefs?
  • What happens when we question something we’ve always thought is true?
  • How do we feel when we discover that something isn’t true?

Try splitting students into groups, having each group come up with probing questions for a prompt, and then discussing potential “answers” to these questions as a class.

The most important lesson at this point should be that good ideas take time to generate. So don’t rush this step!

5. Warm-up for writing

A quick warm-up activity will:

  • allow students to see what their discussed ideas look like on paper
  • help fix the “I don’t know how to start” problem
  • warm up writing muscles quite literally (especially important for young learners who are still developing handwriting and fine motor skills).

Freewriting  is a particularly effective warm-up. Give students 5–10 minutes to “dump” all their ideas for a prompt onto the page for without worrying about structure, spelling, or grammar.

After about five minutes you’ll notice them starting to get into the groove, and when you call time, they’ll have a better idea of what captures their interest.

Did you know? The Story Factory in Reading Eggs allows your students to write and publish their own storybooks using an easy step-by-step guide.

The Story factory in Reading Eggs

4. Start planning

Now it’s time for students to piece all these raw ideas together and generate a plan. This will synthesize disjointed ideas and give them a roadmap for the writing process.

Note:  at this stage your strong writers might be more than ready to get started on a creative piece. If so, let them go for it – use planning for students who are still puzzling things out.

Here are four ideas for planning:

Graphic organisers

A graphic organiser will allow your students to plan out the overall structure of their writing. They’re also particularly useful in “chunking” the writing process, so students don’t see it as one big wall of text.

Storyboards and illustrations

These will engage your artistically-minded students and give greater depth to settings and characters. Just make sure that drawing doesn’t overshadow the writing process.

Voice recordings

If you have students who are hesitant to commit words to paper, tell them to think out loud and record it on their device. Often they’ll be surprised at how well their spoken words translate to the page.

Write a blurb

This takes a bit more explicit teaching, but it gets students to concisely summarize all their main ideas (without giving away spoilers). Look at some blurbs on the back of published books before getting them to write their own. Afterward they could test it out on a friend – based on the blurb, would they borrow it from the library?

3. Produce rough drafts

Warmed up and with a plan at the ready, your students are now ready to start wordsmithing. But before they start on a draft, remind them of what a draft is supposed to be:

  • a work in progress.

Remind them that  if they wait for the perfect words to come, they’ll end up with blank pages .

Instead, it’s time to take some writing risks and get messy. Encourage this by:

  • demonstrating the writing process to students yourself
  • taking the focus off spelling and grammar (during the drafting stage)
  • providing meaningful and in-depth feedback (using words, not ticks!).

Reading Eggs Library New Books

Reading Eggs also gives you access to an ever-expanding collection of over 3,500 online books!

2. share drafts for peer feedback.

Don’t saddle yourself with 30 drafts for marking. Peer assessment is a better (and less exhausting) way to ensure everyone receives the feedback they need.

Why? Because for something as personal as creative writing, feedback often translates better when it’s in the familiar and friendly language that only a peer can produce. Looking at each other’s work will also give students more ideas about how they can improve their own.

Scaffold peer feedback to ensure it’s constructive. The following methods work well:

Student rubrics

A simple rubric allows students to deliver more in-depth feedback than “It was pretty good.” The criteria will depend on what you are ultimately looking for, but students could assess each other’s:

  • use of language.

Whatever you opt for, just make sure the language you use in the rubric is student-friendly.

Two positives and a focus area

Have students identify two things their peer did well, and one area that they could focus on further, then turn this into written feedback. Model the process for creating specific comments so you get something more constructive than “It was pretty good.” It helps to use stems such as:

I really liked this character because…

I found this idea interesting because it made me think…

I was a bit confused by…

I wonder why you… Maybe you could… instead.

1. The editing stage

Now that students have a draft and feedback, here’s where we teachers often tell them to “go over it” or “give it some final touches.”

But our students don’t always know how to edit.

Scaffold the process with questions that encourage students to think critically about their writing, such as:

  • Are there any parts that would be confusing if I wasn’t there to explain them?
  • Are there any parts that seem irrelevant to the rest?
  • Which parts am I most uncertain about?
  • Does the whole thing flow together, or are there parts that seem out of place?
  • Are there places where I could have used a better word?
  • Are there any grammatical or spelling errors I notice?

Key to this process is getting students to  read their creative writing from start to finish .

Important note:  if your students are using a word processor, show them where the spell-check is and how to use it. Sounds obvious, but in the age of autocorrect, many students simply don’t know.

A final word on teaching creative writing

Remember that the best writers write regularly.

Incorporate them into your lessons as often as possible, and soon enough, you’ll have just as much fun  marking  your students’ creative writing as they do producing it.

Need more help supporting your students’ writing?

Read up on  how to get reluctant writers writing , strategies for  supporting struggling secondary writers , or check out our huge list of writing prompts for kids .


Watch your students get excited about writing and publishing their own storybooks in the Story Factory

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How to Teach Creative Writing

Last Updated: March 13, 2024 References

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 116,835 times.

Creative writing is one of the most enjoyable types of writing for students. Not only does it allow students to explore their imaginations, but it helps them to structure their ideas and produce writing that they can be proud of. However, creative writing is a relatively difficult type of writing to teach and offers challenges to both new and seasoned teachers alike. Fortunately, though, with some work of their own, teachers can better develop their own abilities to teach creative writing.

Providing Students with the Fundamentals

Step 1 Introduce the important elements of storytelling.

  • Theme. The theme of a story is its message or the main idea behind it.
  • Setting. The setting of a story is the location or time it takes place in.
  • Plot. The plot is the overall story, narrative, or sequence of events.
  • Characterization. Characterization is how a character or person in a story is explained or presented to the reader.
  • Conflict and dramatic action. Conflict and dramatic action are the main events of focus in the story. These events are often tense or exciting and are used to lure the reader in. [1] X Research source

Step 2 Encourage students to engage the reader.

  • Explain how your students, as writers, can appeal to the humanity of their readers. One great way to do this is to ask them to explore character development. By developing the characters in their story, readers will become invested in the story.
  • Discuss the triggers that engage readers in an effective story. Most great stories start with a problem, which is solved with the resolution, or conclusion of the story. Encourage students to create an engaging problem that will hook the readers in the first few pages of a short story or novel. [2] X Research source

Step 3 Explain the importance of tone and atmosphere.

  • By setting the tone and atmosphere of a story, the author will establish his or her attitude to the subject and the feel of the story.
  • Tone can be positive, neutral, or negative. [3] X Research source
  • Atmosphere can be dark, happy, or neither.
  • Descriptive words like “darkness” or “sunshine” can help set both the tone and atmosphere. [4] X Research source

Step 4 Promote the use of active verbs.

  • Active verbs are used to show action in the story.
  • Active verbs are very often a better alternative to passive voice, as it keeps your writing clear and concise for your readers. [5] X Research source
  • For example, instead of writing “The cat was chased by the dog” your student can write “The dog chased the cat.”

Guiding Students through the Process

Step 1 Allow students to pick their topic.

  • Tell your students to brainstorm about ideas they are truly interested in.
  • If you must restrict the general topic, make sure that your students have a good amount of wiggle room within the broad topic of the assignment.
  • Never assign specific topics and force students to write. This will undermine the entire process. [6] X Research source

Step 2 Have your students write a flexible outline.

  • Letting your students know that the outline is non-binding. They don’t have to follow it in later steps of the writing process.
  • Telling your students that the parts of their outline should be written very generally.
  • Recommending that your students create several outlines, or outlines that go in different directions (in terms of plot and other elements of storytelling). The more avenues your students explore, the better. [7] X Research source

Step 3 Avoid teaching a story “formula.”

  • Tell students that there is no “right” way to write a story.
  • Let students know that their imaginations should guide their way.
  • Show students examples of famous writing that breaks normal patterns, like the works of E.E. Cummings, William Faulkner, Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare.
  • Ask students to forget about any expectations they think you have for how a story should be written. [8] X Research source

Step 4 Provide feedback on rough drafts.

  • Gather the first drafts and comment on the student's work. For first drafts, you want to check on the overall structure of the draft, proper word use, punctuation, spelling, and overall cohesion of the piece. [9] X Research source
  • Remind them that great writers usually wrote several drafts before they were happy with their stories.
  • Avoid grading drafts for anything other than completion.

Step 5 Organize editing groups.

  • Let students pair off to edit each others' papers.
  • Have your students join groups of 3 or 4 and ask them to go edit and provide feedback on each member’s story.
  • Provide guidance so students contribute constructively to the group discussion. [10] X Research source

Step 6 Evaluate your students based on their creativity.

  • Reward your students if they are innovative or do something unique and truly creative.
  • Avoid evaluating your students based on a formula.
  • Assess and review your own standards as often as you can. Remember that the point is to encourage your students' creativity. [11] X Research source

Spurring Creativity

Step 1 Inspire students with an appreciation of literature.

  • Teach your students about a variety of writers and genres.
  • Have your students read examples of different genres.
  • Promote a discussion within your class of the importance of studying literature.
  • Ask students to consider the many ways literature improves the world and asks individuals to think about their own lives. [12] X Research source

Step 2 Provide your students with a large number of resources.

  • Make sure your room is stocked with a wide variety of fiction stories.
  • Make sure your room is stocked with plenty of paper for your students to write on.
  • Line up other writing teachers or bring in writers from the community to talk to and encourage your students.

Step 3 Have your students write practice stories based on random photos or pictures you provide.

  • Cut out pictures and photographs from magazines, comic books, and newspapers.
  • Have your students cut out photographs and pictures and contribute them to your bank.
  • Consider having your students randomly draw a given number of photos and pictures and writing a short story based on what they draw.
  • This technique can help students overcome writer's block and inspire students who think that they're "not creative." [13] X Research source

Step 4 Arrange an audience.

  • Pair your students with students from another grade in your school.
  • Allow your students to write stories that younger students in your school would like to read.
  • Pair your students with another student in the class and have them evaluate each others' work. [14] X Research source

Step 5 Create a writing space.

  • If you just have a typical classroom to work with, make sure to put inspirational posters or other pictures on the walls.
  • Open any curtains so students can see outside.
  • If you have the luxury of having an extra classroom or subdividing your own classroom, create a comfortable space with a lot of inspirational visuals.
  • Writing spaces can help break writer's block and inspire students who think that they're "not creative." [15] X Research source

Step 6 Publish your students’ work.

  • Involve students in the printing process.
  • Publication does not have to be expensive or glossy.
  • Copies can be made in the school workroom if possible or each student might provide a copy for the others in the group.
  • A collection of the stories can be bound with a simple stapler or brads.
  • Seek out other opportunities for your students to publish their stories.

Expert Q&A

Christopher Taylor, PhD

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About This Article

Christopher Taylor, PhD

To teach creative writing, start by introducing your students to the core elements of storytelling, like theme, setting, and plot, while reminding them that there’s no formula for combining these elements to create a story. Additionally, explain how important it is to use tone and atmosphere, along with active verbs, to write compelling stories that come alive. When your students have chosen their topics, have them create story outlines before they begin writing. Then, read their rough drafts and provide feedback to keep them on the right path to storytelling success. For tips from our English reviewer on how to spur creativity in your students, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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how to teach creative writing in english class

Creativity and Innovation in the Writing Classroom

Learn more about how to teach creativity and innovation along with, and as an important part of, traditional writing and research skills.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” —Maya Angelou

Creativity is fundamental to the teaching of writing. Although WR 153 focuses specifically on creativity and innovation, all WR courses ask students to approach their reading, viewing, writing, and research in creative ways. One important approach to creativity is “design thinking,” which emphasizes that creativity is a non-linear, iterative process. Design thinking is based on two foundational assumptions:

  • Everyone can be creative.
  • Creativity can be taught.

The principles of design thinking can be used in any WR course to teach students that creativity is a process of asking questions, using multiple strategies and approaches in answering those questions, taking risks in conceiving and executing original work, developing and refining ideas in response to feedback, and learning from productive failure. The metacognitive aspects of design thinking invite students to think about their own creative processes and identify factors that promote creativity.

Although WR 153 is structured by the steps of the design process (understand, empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, assess/reflect), all WR courses can benefit from incorporating elements of design thinking and an emphasis on creativity and innovation. Approaching writing instruction in this way can:

  • Increase student engagement by focusing on creative responses to problems that students care about;
  • Give students a sense of agency as a result of greater choice in what to write and how to write about it;
  • Encourage taking intellectual risks and reward productive failure as a means of learning;
  • Help students develop skills that are transferrable to other academic situations and their professional lives; and
  • Enhance students’ personal lives by allowing them to learn about themselves and their own creative potential.

Principles of Design Thinking

Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative approach to creativity that involves between three and seven steps. Although it is based on theories of design practice that go back to the early twentieth century, it has most recently been popularized by the design firm IDEO and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, commonly known as the The process involves understanding the issues involved in a design project, empathizing with the audience for an end product, defining the scope of the project, generating ideas for and creating prototypes of the product, testing and assessing those ideas and prototypes, and revisiting the steps of the design process until a final product is created.

The complete set of seven steps can be applied to the writing process in a WR course:

Understand: Students develop a foundation for their work by exploring issues and approaches relevant to the course topic, as well as previous work in the field.

Empathize: Students practice empathy by demonstrating their awareness and understanding of the audience for whom they write or create.

Define: Based on their observations and insights, students articulate a problem or question that will motivate their work over the course of the semester.

Ideate: Students generate new ideas and possible solutions by challenging assumptions and engaging in a variety of creative activities.

Prototype: Students start to create solutions and implement their ideas into written, digital or other forms in order to capture ideas, but also redefine choices.

Test: Students share drafts with others in order to gain feedback and insight into improving final versions.

Assess/Reflect: Students reflect on and evaluate their peers’ and their own processes and final outcomes.

The steps of the design thinking process are not meant to be followed in a rigid way. They should be flexible and customizable to the particular project: students may need to define, ideate, and prototype multiple times and in various modes/genres before they are ready to create a final draft. The skills students gain in going though these steps should be transferrable to other projects and courses.

Learn more about design thinking:

  • “What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular?” by Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang provides an overview of design thinking.
  • David Kelly of IDEO explains the history of design thinking in “How to Design Breakthrough Inventions,” an interview with 60 Minutes .
  • “How to Solve Problems Like a Designer,” which includes an interview with Tim Brown of IDEO, explains the basic principles of design thinking.

Understand and Empathize

The first step of the design process asks students to understand not only the course material, but also the resources necessary for their particular project. Since this usually involves additional reading/viewing, the “understand” step is part of the research and information literacy component of WR15X. Assignments that focus on this step may include conducting library or online research, categorizing research material using BEAM/BEAT, and creating annotated bibliographies.

Define, Ideate, and Prototype

Before they begin the process of generating ideas, it is often useful for students to define, at least in a preliminary way, what question or problem their paper/project is addressing. Assignments that help students define their projects may include questionnaires that ask students to state what they intend to work on and why, as well as more formal paper/project proposals.

In the IDEO design process, the goal of ideation is to generate a multitude of ideas without rejecting those that may seem impractical or even silly. Ideas can be rejected later, after a sufficient number of ideas have been generated. The most common ideation assignment involves various forms of brainstorming, often in teams. Ideas should be written down in some way, such as on sticky notes or index cards. To encourage divergent thinking in the brainstorming process, consider posting some fundamental principles in the classroom, such as these from IDEO:

  • Defer judgment.
  • Encourage wild ideas.
  • Stay focused on the topic.
  • Build on the ideas of others .

In the IDEO design process, prototypes are models that can be easily revised and even discarded if necessary. Prototypes for writing courses might include outlines, storyboards, slide decks, oral or video presentations, and preliminary drafts. Prototypes should be tested and assessed in some way that allows for reconsideration and revision before students turn in their final products.

Learn more about brainstorming and prototyping:

  • “What is Brainstorming?” by Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang provides helpful information and ideas for the ideation step of the design process.
  • This example of “Brainstorming at IDEO” shows one popular way of brainstorming with sticky notes.

Test and Assess/Reflect

The final steps of the design process, testing and assessing/reflecting, are not meant to be the final steps in completing a student’s paper/project. After testing and assessing a prototype, students will likely need to reconsider and revise their papers/projects, which will take them back to earlier steps—they may need to conduct further research, generate additional ideas, or refine their prototypes. The design process is meant to be iterative, with students returning to steps in the process as needed until they have completed a final draft.  

Just as designers test their prototypes, students should test drafts of their papers/projects by sharing them with others. Assignments that focus on this step usually involve workshopping with one or more peers, but testing may also include making an oral or video presentation to the class, meeting with the professor or a writing tutor, or sharing the student’s work with any other reader/viewer capable of providing feedback. Students may also test their papers/projects using techniques such as reverse outlining to assess the strength and clarity of their arguments.

The final step in the design process, assessing the student’s work, may lead back to any earlier step as students come to understand what they still need to work on to complete their papers/projects. This step may also involve the broader metacognitive task of reflecting on the student’s creative process. Assignments that focus on this step may include a variety of reflective exercises, including a final reflection for the course.

A Note on Assessment

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” —Samuel Beckett

Because WR 153 courses can include such a wide range of papers and project, contract grading is recommended. Other WR courses that incorporate creativity and innovation may also wish to use contract grading, either for specific assignments or the course as a whole. More information on contract grading can be found here .

An important component of creativity and innovation is productive failure. We learn to create new things or develop new skills by failing and trying again until we succeed. Productive failure is failure that leads to new knowledge, insight, or innovation. Courses that focus on creativity can encourage productive failure by requiring prototypes that will be reconsidered and revised extensively, asking students to share examples of failure as valuable learning experiences, and assigning reflective work on how students have grown through failure over the course of the semester.

Learn more about productive failure:

Both readings below argue for the importance of productive failure. The Burger article contains specific examples of how to validate and reward productive failure in the classroom.

  • “Next Time, Fail Better” by Paula M. Krebs, The Chronicle of Higher Education , May 11, 2012.

Further Reading

The quickest and easiest way to understand design thinking is to start with videos that explain the concept, where it originated, and how it can be used to address a variety of problems.

  • In “How to Design Breakthrough Inventions,” David Kelly of IDEO and the Stanford talks about design thinking in an interview on 60 Minutes and CBS This Morning .
  • In “How to Solve Problems Like a Designer,” Vox provides a general overview of design thinking, featuring IDEO CEO Tim Brown.

If you would like to deepen your understanding of design thinking, there are a number of websites that address the concept in greater detail.

IDEO is a design and consulting firm that popularized the concept of design thinking. According to IDEO’s website, “Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, which is known as design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.” The IDEO website has a number of useful resources on design thinking:

  • A definition of design thinking .
  • A brief history of design thinking .

IDEO U, the educational arm of IDEO, has a separate website that contain more information on design thinking as well as additional resources.

  • What is design thinking?
  • Resources related to design thinking .
  • An overview of brainstorming .
  • Resources related to innovation .

The Interactive Design Foundation provides useful information on design thinking on its website. According to “What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular?” by Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang, “Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. At the same time, Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods.” This article describes the basic concept of design thinking and five basic steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.

Books on design thinking are generally aimed toward a popular audience. They draw on anecdotal evidence rather than research to support their claims, but they can be valuable resources for understanding how design thinking is applied in a variety of settings, including both corporations and the educational sector. To provide a sense of how design thinking developed over time, these books are listed chronologically:

  • The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelly, Doubleday, 2001.
  • Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown, HarperCollins, 2009, revised and updated 2019.
  • Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work by Nigel Cross, Bloomsbury, 2011.
  • Design Thinking: A Guide to Creative Problem Solving for Everyone by Andrew Pressman, Routledge, 2018.
  • The Design Thinking Toolbox: A Guide to Mastering the Most Popular and Valuable Innovation Methods by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer, Wiley, 2020.

Resources on design thinking in writing pedagogy:

If you would like to focus specifically on how the design thinking process relates to writing pedagogy, there are number of academic articles that address design thinking in the writing classroom as well as the larger issue of creativity as it relates to composition. To provide a sense of how the scholarship on creativity and design thinking in writing pedagogy developed over time, these articles are listed chronologically:

  • “The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical Problem” by Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, College Composition and Communication 31.1 (1980), 21-32.
  • “Process Paradigms in Design and Composition: Affinities and Directions” by Charles Kostelnick, College Composition and Communication 40.3 (1989), 267-81.
  • “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” by Richard Buchanan, Design Issues 8.2 (1992), 5-21.
  • “Design and the New Rhetoric: Productive Arts in the Philosophy of Culture” by Richard Buchanan. Philosophy & Rhetoric 34 (2001), 183-206.
  • “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing” by Diana George, College Composition and Communication 54.1 (2002), 11-39.
  • “Embracing Wicked Problems: The Turn to Design in Composition Studies” by Richard Marback, College Composition and Communication 61.2 (2009), 397-419.
  • “Design as a Unifying Principle: English Departments in a New Media World” by Maureen Goldman, Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal 5.3 (2011), 249-257.
  • “Sustainability as a Design Principle for Composition: Situational Creativity as a Habit of Mind” by Matthew Newcomb, College Composition and Communication 63.4 (2012), 593-615.
  • “Design Thinking: Past, Present, and Possible Futures” by Ulla Johansson-Sköldberg et al., Creativity and Innovation Management 22.2 (2013), 121-146.
  • “Writing in Design Thinking: Deconstructing the Question of Being” by Tassoula Hadjiyanni and Stephanie Zollinger, International Journal of Architectural Research 7.1 (2013), 116-127.
  • Design Thinking and the Wicked Problem of Teaching Writing by Carrie S. Leverenz, Computers and Composition 33 (2014), 1-12.
  • “What Can Design Thinking Offer Writing Studies?” by James P. Purdy, College Composition and Communication 65.4 (2014), 612-641.
  • “Wicked Problems in Technical Communication” by Chad Wickman, Journal of Technical Communication 44 (2014), 23-42.
  • “The UnEssay: Making Room for Creativity in the Composition Classroom” by Patrick Sullivan, College Composition and Communication 67.1 (2015), 6-34.
  • “Design Thinking Via Experiential Learning: Thinking Like an Entrepreneur in Technical Communication Courses” by Jennifer Bay et al . , Programmatic Perspectives 10.1 (2018), 172-200.
  • “Dissensus, Resistance, and Ideology: Design Thinking as a Rhetorical Methodology” by April Greenwood et al., Journal of Business and Technical Communication 33.4 (2019), 400-424.
  • “Using Design Thinking to Teach Creative Problem Solving in Writing Courses” by Scott Wible, College Composition and Communication 71.3 (2020), 399-425.

General resources on creativity:

If you are interested in resources that focus on the larger issue of creativity, one place to start is with videos that define what creativity is and how it can be cultivated, including in an academic setting.

  • Ken Robinson’s “What is Creativity” addresses the general issue of how we can both define and encourage creativity.
  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Your Elusive Creative Genius” offers one way to think about creativity and deal with fear of failure.
  • David Kelly’s “How to Build Your Creative Confidence” discusses how we can be more confident in our creativity and build creative confidence in others.

There are a number of books that focus more generally on creativity. Some of these books are theoretical, while some focus practically on how we can become more creative in work and life. The books by Tom and David Kelly, and by Sarah Stein Greenberg, approach creativity from the design thinking paradigm used at the Stanford

  • Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, HarperPerennial, 1996.
  • The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity , edited by James C. Kaufman and Robert J. Sternberg, Cambridge University Press, 2003, revised and updated 2019.
  • The International Handbook of Creativity , edited by James C. Kaufman and Robert J. Sternberg Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Developing Creativity in Higher Education: An Imaginative Curriculum , edited by Norman Jackson, Martin Oliver, Malcolm Shaw, and James Wisdom, Routledge, 2006.
  • Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelly and David Kelly, HarperCollins, 2013.
  • Habits of the Creative Mind: A Guide to Reading, Writing, and Thinking , by Richard E. Miller and Ann Jurecic, Macmillan, 2015, revised and updated 2020.
  • Creative Acts for Curious People: How to Think, Create, and Lead in Unconventional Ways by Sarah Stein Greenberg, Ten Speed Press, 2021.

The following books are listed separately because they reflect creative practices in specific fields, such as creative writing, the visual arts, and dance. They contain ideas and exercises that are transferrable to writing classes and may be helpful in designing WR courses.

  • The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron, Tarcher/Putnam, 1992, reissued 2002.
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, Anchor Books, 1994.
  • The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp, Simon & Schuster, 2003.
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon, Workman Publishing Company, 2012.
  • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, Riverhead Books, 2015.
  • You Are an Artist: Assignments to Spark Creation by Sarah Urist Green, Penguin, 2020.

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Creative Writing Skills: 6 Lessons You Need To Teach Today

Creative Writing Skills: 6 Lessons You Need To Teach Today

So, you’re going to teach Creative Writing. Congratulations! Now comes the hard part–what exactly does that mean? What should you be teaching? What skills should your students be learning? In this post, I’m going to share some essential Creative Writing skills you should be teaching in your high school Creative Writing class. 

If you’re looking for more tips to teach Creative Writing, check out this post . And if you need help planning the Creative Writing semester, this post should help . 

(Looking to skip the planning entirely? Grab all of my Creative Writing skills lessons right here! )

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Creative Writing Skills #1: Show. Don’t Tell.

The advice to “show, don’t tell” is some of the oldest and most consistent advice given to young writers. And it’s for a good reason–they really struggle with it!

About half of my students come into Creative Writing with these big elaborate stories they want to tell. But when they actually get into writing, their stories feel more like a list of events that happened. 

I’ve seen months of plot happen in just a paragraph of my students’ writing. Students need to learn to slow down and create an experience for their readers. It’s how a story unfolds, after all, that makes it worthwhile–not the events themselves. 

Tips for Teaching “Show. Don’t Tell”

Cover of It's Lit Teaching Product: Creative Writing Workshop and Mini Lesson for Showing, Not Telling in Writing

Like all creative writing skills, you’ll want to show your students some really good mentor texts first . Find some excerpts from books with really juicy descriptions. Share these with your students. 

After they have some examples, give students time to try “telling” an event, description, or emotion instead of “showing” it. 

I do this by giving each student a “telling sentence” and asking them to turn it into a “showing” paragraph. A student might get a sentence that says something like, “Billy felt angry.” Then, they’ll have to write a whole paragraph that implies Billy is angry without actually saying it bluntly. 

If you want to save yourself some time (and the mental anguish of brainstorming a bunch of bland sentences), you can get my “Show. Don’t Tell” Mini-Lesson right here. It includes a slideshow, student worksheets, and those telling sentences.  

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Creative Writing Skills #2: Precise and Concise Language Choice

Now that your students are learning to slow down and offer descriptions in their writing, it’s time to help them focus on their word choice. 

Diction is immensely important to a writer–especially when storytelling gets more advanced. A lot of our students want to write down the first words that come to their minds and then “be done.” 

But we know great writing doesn’t happen like that. We have to teach our students to find the best word, not the first word–without abusing a thesaurus. 

Tips for Teaching Better Word Choice

First, you’ll want to show your students some examples of really great concise and precise word choice. You’ll also want to show some not-so-great examples. The comparison should be eye-opening for your students. 

Now, the best way to become more precise in your diction is to improve your vocabulary. We probably can’t make great strides in improving our students’ vocabulary in just a quarter or semester of Creative Writing. 

how to teach creative writing in english class

But we can show them how to improve some of the most commonly used vague language . One great example of this is the word “got.” 

It’s pretty rare that “got” is the best verb for a situation, but we–and our students–use it all the time. If we can teach students that “got” is a red flag for vague language, that’s a huge step!

We can also teach our students to avoid filler words. 

If you need help putting this all together in a lesson, I have a no-prep Precise and Concise Langauge Mini-Lesson right here for you . Included is a slideshow, students worksheets, and a reference handout for students they can use every day. 

Creative Writing Skills #3: Dialogue

Your students are starting to put words on a page and–hey–they’re not bad!

But at some point, your students are going to have their characters talk to each other. And this can be when stories get really, really bad. 

Early on in your Creative Writing class, encourage your students to start listening to the way others speak. Where do they pause? What slang do they use? When do they use complete sentences and when don’t they? You can even ask students to jot down conversations they overhear.

A great writer has an ear for dialogue, and this skill begins when students become aware of speech around them. Encouraging them to eavesdrop will help them write realistic dialogue later.  Just remind them to be respectful. Eavesdropping in the cafeteria is one thing. Listening outside someone’s bedroom door is another.

Our students not only struggle with mimicking real, authentic speech, but they also struggle with punctuating it. Depending on the skill level of your students, you may have to pick your battles here. Cheesy speech might be worth ignoring if there’s no quotation mark in sight. 

Tips for Teaching Dialogue Writing

First, and foremost, I like to cover punctuating dialogue first. For one reason, it’s because punctuating dialogue is either right or wrong. It’s easier to learn something that is objective. 

how to teach creative writing in english class

For another reason, I, personally, can’t stand reading poorly punctuated dialogue. My English teacher’s eyes just can’t see past it. 

Only once the quotation marks, commas, and periods are at least close to the right spot do I focus on trying to improve the content of students’ dialogue. 

Students’ dialogue writing is only going to get better through practice and observing real-life speech. However, you can give them some tips for writing dialogue better. 

For example, remind your students not to have characters talk too much . I’ve seen stories with pages and pages of dialogue. Each character’s every little “hi,” “‘sup?” and “‘nothin’ much” gets recorded. Let your students know they can skip anything that doesn’t add value to the story. 

If you need help planning this lesson, I have a done-for-you Dialogue Mini-lesson right here. It includes a slideshow lesson, worksheets for focusing on both punctuation and craft, and a writing exercise. Get it here. 

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Creative Writing Skills #4: Mood

If you can only teach your students the above Creative Writing skills, you will no doubt improve their writing tremendously. But if you want to take your students’ writing up a notch, encourage them to think about the mood in their poetry and stories.  

Students will no doubt have heard this literary term from their regular English classes, but it’s always worth reviewing first. Plus, they’ve probably read for mood, but creating it is a totally different game. 

Tips for Teaching Mood

There are so many ways you can teach your students to create mood. It’s a pretty fun topic!

You might want to begin with some brainstorming. Like, what kind of mood might a horror story have? A comedy? You want students to understand why, as a writer, mastering mood is important to them. 

how to teach creative writing in english class

Then, like always, you’ll want to share some solid mentor texts. I love horror stories for showcasing well-written mood, but love poems are also good for this. 

Whenever possible in Creative Writing, I like to mix up the media, so I have students first analyze the mood of various classic paintings. As an English teacher, it tickles me to show students that these literary terms apply to art of all kind. Film clips would work really well, too. 

Then, challenge students to write a scene and evoke a specific mood. You could randomly assign the mood or let students pick. 

In my Mood Mini-Lesson , I have students analyze the mood in painting first. Then, I have them choose a card. Each card has a different mood written on it. Then, students must describe a setting that evokes that mood. You can get this mood lesson for yourself here.  

Creative Writing Skills #5: Tone

Well, if you’re going to teach mood, then tone is the likely next skill, right?

Teaching tone and mood is important because their differences are subtle, but important. Until students study tone, they might mistake it for mood and mix the two together. 

I never expect my students to master tone. It’s difficult and something that even professional writers polish over the course of many drafts. But it doesn’t hurt to get students thinking about the impact of their word choice. 

Don’t forget to remind students of the importance of choosing those precise and concise words. With tone, it’s truly what makes a difference. 

Tips for Teaching Tone

After defining tone and showing great examples of it to your students, give them some space to practice identifying it.  

Cover for It's Lit Teaching product: Creative Writing Mini Lesson and Workshop Tone

I like to cover informal and formal tones–not just emotional tones. Identifying whether a piece of writing is formal or informal is a great first step for students. It’s a little easier but an important skill and might give your students a bit of confidence in their tone-identifying skills. 

Once they know what tone looks like, they can try to create it themselves.  

The activity I do involves having students write a short scene.

I randomly give my students a tone to use. I also randomly give them a situation. So, a student may have to describe “eating lunch in the cafeteria” with a “romantic” tone. The results can be pretty entertaining!

If that sounds like a lesson you’d like, you can get my Tone Mini-Lesson right here . Includes are a slideshow, students worksheets, and the slips for tones and situations.

And, if you’re teaching mood and tone, I have a FREE Mood and Tone Handout right here!

Creative Writing Skills #6: Voice

I put voice last in this blog post, but it could just as easily have been first. Voice is difficult to define for students, but it’s something they should be working on crafting throughout your whole Creative Writing class. 

Even if your students never quite master their literary voice (who does?), it’s a good skill to discuss with them. If students understand the concept of literary voice, it will make them better writers and more analytical readers. 

Tips for Teaching Literary Voice

You’ll first have to define voice for your students. This can be challenging. It might be easier to focus on a few aspects of voice–like diction or syntax–in order to explain the concept. 

Discuss with students their favorite authors. What does their “voice” sound like? What about the authors you’ve read and studied together?

how to teach creative writing in english class

Give students examples of strong voice to examine (the stronger the better). Have them discuss the techniques and style of each mentor text. 

To drive this home, I do a fun activity with my students. I take three very different poems by authors with very different voices. Then, I cut them up, line by line, and mix the three poems together. My students are then tasked with putting the poems back together!

To do this successfully, they’ll have to look for styles that match. Rhyming may be part of one author’s voice, but not another. One author may create a dark mood while another uses humor consistently. It’s a great way to drive home how voice can be an author’s calling card. 

This activity and some additional practice are included in my Voice Mini-lesson . Also included is a slideshow to introduce the concept. You can save yourself some time and get the lesson here. 

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These are some skills that I think are essential for any Creative Writing class. There’s no one right way to teach any of these skills, and teaching from multiple angles is best. 

Whenever possible, I like to make my Creative Writing lessons hands-on. Even the most die-hard students get sick of writing every minute of every class. 

If you, too, would like some hands-on lessons and short activities that cover these essential skills, check out my Creative Writing Workshops Bundle . Each lesson includes everything you need to teach, model, and help your students master these skills one at a time. 

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Homer Simpson

Creative writing in the classroom: five top tips for teachers

1. The rules of writing

I always tell students that there are no set rules for writing and they can write whatever they like. I don't subscribe to the notion that all good stories must have, for example, an attention-grabbing opening, a turning point, a twist at the end and an extended metaphor. Incorporating these into writing doesn't automatically mean a story works, and you will read wonderful writing follows none of these rules. Pupils should be aware of what they are, of course, and why and where they might choose to use them, but it shouldn't be prescriptive.

That said, there are two rules of writing that I encourage them to follow. These rules are: "show, don't tell" and "all adverbs must die". Not the most original rules, perhaps, but if kids can master them their writing becomes much more powerful.

For "show, don't tell", I display a selection of sentences that tell the reader something and ask the pupils to rewrite them in a way that shows the same information. For example, "the man was angry" could become, "the man clenched his fists and hissed beneath his breath". It's about unpacking the emotions and finding ways to let the reader see the story for themselves.

When teaching "all adverbs must die", I concentrate on the importance of giving the power to the verb. "I ran quickly" becomes "I sprinted". "I shouted loudly" becomes "I screamed". Once pupils realise the potential in this, they quickly kill adverbs and load the power of the action onto the verb.

2. Characterisation

Not the most original method I'll wager, but this is tried and tested. Pupils divide a page in their jotter and give each quarter the headings likes, dislikes, motivations and flaws. These need to be explained and discussed; I use Homer Simpson and Edward Cullen as models. What makes these complex and rich characters? What makes them get out of bed every morning? What stops them from achieving their ultimate goals in life? How would they react in various situations?

Once pupils have thought about these characters, I ask them to complete the page in their jotter with as many pieces of detail as they can for their own character. They swap with a partner and, using another person's character notes, write a monologue beginning with the line, "I lay away, unable to sleep, and all because…" What is this new character excited about, or scared of? What have they done or what will they have to do? This exercise is always busy, exciting and produces promising and complex pieces of writing.

3. Video clips

There's something a bit weird about the idea of being a writer; it's a vague, wishy-washy concept for students. They don't yet understand the hours of admin, self-promotion, editing, graft, grief and rejection that writers go through. Many pupls seem to think writers have great lives, are fabulously wealthy and sit around all day making up stories, all of which go on to be published without much bother at all. So I always like to find video clips of writers talking about writing, sharing the pain they've gone through, their thought processes and daily routines. If you can find video clips of a writer whose work you're using as a model or studying in class, then this can really help pupils to engage with their work.

YouTube is full of interviews with writers, recordings of book festival appearances and spoken-word performances. Being a Scottish teacher working in Scotland, I use of a suite of videos filmed and hosted by Education Scotland , which features a number of writers discussing their inspirations and motivations, how to create characters, how to write in genre and how to redraft. The videos are all around five minutes long which makes them excellent starter activities; you can find them here .

4. Narrative distance

This can be modelled in class by the teacher projecting their work onto the whiteboard. Most pupils assume that once they've chosen a narrative perspective and tense, their narrative voice will take care of itself. But with a little coaching and training, maybe we can hone their skills and abilities that much more.

Narrative distance is the proximity of a reader's experience to the character's thoughts. How close will we get? A close-up narrative would allow us to share the character's complete thought process, hear their heartbeat, feel their discomfort. A mid-distance narrative would give us key insights into pertinent thoughts the character has, but not bother us with every detail; we would see the character going into a coffee shop and have to surmise their mood and personality by observing how they react and interact. This is more of a film director's vantage point. And for a long-distance narrative, we only see the character from a distance – in the midst of other people, operating in a vast and complex society. We would come to understand them from the way they move through the world and the opinions that other characters have of them. It's a bird's eye view.

There is a lot in here, and mastering these narrative distances would take considerable effort and time. But if pupils could get to grips with them and become comfortable in zooming in and out on a story, then they will have developed some intricate and powerful writing abilities.

5. Story prompts

The oldest trick in the book, perhaps, but still a good one. Writing Prompts is an excellent website full of creative writing resources to use in class. I get pupils to choose one at random, and as they write, I write. It's important to set attainable goals for this – agree that by the end of five minutes everyone will have written 50 words, say, including the teacher.

Plug away at this and I always check the class for any strugglers at the end of regular intervals; if someone is stumped, I'll ask them what the problem is, what they tried to start writing at the beginning, what their last sentence is, and give them a couple of options for where to go next. By writing together it's possible to get a whole class writing happily, and at some stage they'll be content and confident enough with their stories to want to be let free to write without being asked for regular progress reports.

Alan Gillespie teaches English at an independent school in Glasgow. He writes stories and tweets at @afjgillespie

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7 ways to bring Creative Writing into the #EFL classroom

Oxford University Press ELT

Here are 7 ways to bring creative writing to your classroom from teachers all over the world:

1. Bag of Props 

Stefan Chiarantano – Stefan has taught English in Taiwan, Japan and China for several years and in his hometown of Toronto, Canada.

To make learning English fun for my students I would bring in a bag of props that I could incorporate into my lessons. My bag of tricks included CDs of children’s songs, chants and pop music. I would use a chant with Total Physical Response (TPR) to begin a class with young learners or a pop song with adolescent junior high school students as a means to teach idioms, vocabulary or grammar. My bag also included puppets, which allowed me to teach target language such as greetings by acting out a dialogue skit with the puppets. I varied my voice for the puppets and soon discovered that it had introduced another native speaker in the classroom.. . It included stuffed animals, which I used to teach prepositions of place. There were coloured plastic balls to teach colours but which I also used in playful activities. . As silly as it sounds, I would be lost without my bag of tricks. It has infused creativity into the way I teach but more importantly it has made learning English an enjoyable experience for my students. 

2. A Sense of Adventure

Ezekiel Yerimoh – Ezekiel is a Certified Supply Chain Officer and the CEO of Tonell & Cole. He is also the National Coordinator of Quizzing Nigeria (a member of the International Quizzing Association – IQA) and the President of Knowledgefield International.  

Creative writing can bring a spirit of adventure into the classroom. Thinking about an unusual, exciting and dangerous experience or event is not only a great way to widen the horizons of students but also to give them great exposure to new vocabulary. Moreover, students’ talents, gifts, skills, environment, background and personality will play a major role in its ability to function effectively in creative writing. Basically, students should be well trained to undertake the task of creative writing.

A good example of an unusual event is for one to imagine the sunlight when it is supposed to be dark or a wild animal that speaks like a human being. Students can become more engaged if they use their personality traits and experiences to come up with their own unusual events and then perform free writing based on the event, letting their stories becomes more and more unusual.

3. Debates and Quotes

Tatyana Fedosova  – Tatyana has a PhD in English Philology, and is Professor of English at the Department of German Philology of Gorno-Altaisk State University, Altai, Siberia, Russia.

My favorite written task for intermediate-level students is to write an expert viewpoint on a challenging real-life situation or problem for a column in a magazine, for example, how to behave in a new school. I like to provide students with a quotation of a famous person on some hot topic and have them write a short argumentative passage on it. I also have my students debate a proposed amendment to the constitution by writing a speech for the TV debates or write the presidential pledge for the elections. I find it useful to ask students to make up an ending to a story, to complete the beginning of a sentence, or to write a report about an exotic place that they visited or a cultural/sporting event that took place in their region. These tasks help to reinforce key concepts under study, develop critical-thinking, cognitive, and creative skills and have practical applications as well. 

4. Mad-Libs

Peter Winthrop – Peter has been teaching kindergarten and primary school students in Shanghai, China since 2009. In addition to teaching he also assists in teacher training and mentoring.

Bringing creative writing into the classroom can be difficult, most textbooks do not focus on that part of learning another language. I like to start with Mad-libs, funny word substitutions. This allows students to have fun with the language and slips in a lesson on the importance of word choice. My big tip is to celebrate originality and learning language learned outside the classroom as much as using correct grammar. We want to show students they can use the language they have learned and can make their own sentences. They don’t just have to rely on the sentence patterns they drill in class.

I always base the Madlibs on whatever the lessons content is, so even while being silly we are practicing and using the lessons language. An example would be:

“Tim is going to the ___ because he wants to eat ___ .”  

Student One will pick the location, say library, then Student Two pick the object, say books. That gives us the sentence:

  “Tim is going to the library because he wants to eat books .”

The grammar is correct, the vocabulary is in its correct place but the meaning is silly, so everyone gets a laugh.

5. Shared Writing

Amira Shouma – Amira is a certified ESL teacher in Quebec and Ontario. She is also currently an MA graduate student in Applied Linguistics at Concordia University.

I found the article “Activities for Writing Instruction” by Sharon M. Abbey a good resource for teachers in their writing classes. The author offered various activities to activate students’ sense of writing, including shared writing. With shared writing, the teacher teaches students writing by writing with them. The process of writing starts with brainstorming ideas in a shared writing session. For example, at the beginning of the session, a teacher can establish the purpose of the shared writing session with his/her students. Then, he/she brainstorms ideas with the group. Next, the teacher selects one of the ideas and invites students to develop it. At the time of composition, the teacher and students start writing together. Finally, the teacher and his/her students revise their text together. Shared writing helps students gain their confidence, build their motivation, and also enrich their ideas. 

6. Alternate Endings

Anna Klis is an experienced English teacher and has worked for several renowned language schools. She holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Wroclaw and a bachelor’s degree in Film Production from the University of Wales, Great Britain.

Students (at least intermediate level) are asked in advanced by a teacher to watch a famous/popular film (or choose a  chapter from a well-known book) and choose one important and meaningful scene. At home they prepare a short description of a continuation of the scene but the way they want it to be, so that it is completely different from the original, and they work on a new version that would possibly lead to a different ending. When working on such a piece of writing students are supposed to use newly-learned grammar and/or vocabulary structures to practice them. Then during the lesson they can guess the alternate endings or compare their versions to decide which one is the best and how it fits the original story.

7. Writing with the Senses

Rachel Playfair – Rachel is a teacher-trainer and language coach working in Barcelona, Spain.

From time to time I like to use a short writing activity as a ‘Warm-Down’ end of class activity to help balance the ‘Warm-Up’ oral activities I do. One of my favourite ones is “Respond With Your Senses”: I will give students a sensory prompt (i.e. show them a picture, play them some music, put an object in a bag that they can’t see and let them feel it, let them smell something like peppermint extract), then students do free-writing about the prompt for about 3-5 minutes, depending on their level. I can also use the prompts to preview or review classroom topics. For further creative and/or collaborative writing activities, I will then put students together into small groups to combine and develop their paragraphs, which we can then share together or put up on the classroom wall. This activity can be adapted to a wide range of levels and ages as long as you make sure they have had previous vocabulary input. 

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Write on! - Creative writing as language practice

This article looks at creative writing and answers a number of questions about the benefits of incorporating a focus on creative writing in the classroom and how to set up activities successfully.

Write on! - Creative writing as language practice - writing article

  • For language learners in general
  • For students of literature
  • Starting up
  • Presenting and feedback
  • What can we write?
  • Reading first
  • Writing first
  • So, creative writing ...

What are the benefits of creative writing in the language classroom? For language learners in general There are three areas in which language learners at an intermediate level and above can benefit from creative writing.

Students express themselves and their own ideas. Most teachers would agree that what we want to say, what comes from the heart, we are happier to work on. Creative writing can be very stimulating and a lot of fun.

Creative writing involves playful but rigorous work with language. A lot of people seem to associate creative writing with an "anything goes" mentality. However, in order to produce a good text, poem, short story or dramatic scene, the language needs to be correct and it needs to work.

Creative writing requires greater precision in expression. In order to say precisely what they mean, students have to be very careful in their use of vocabulary and idioms. For students of literature For students of literature there are additional benefits.

Creative writing provides alternatives to traditional ways of discussing texts. Writing, say, a dialogue between two protagonists of a novel that is not in the text is not only fun but also requires a good understanding of their motivations and features.

Creative writing can lead to a more profound appreciation of a text. Any student who has tried to write a sonnet, for example, can appreciate what is involved in a sonnet discussed in class.

Discussing work in class improves debating skills and critical reading. In creative writing, an important feature is class feedback on texts students write.

How can creative writing work? Starting up Less confident students may feel under pressure to turn in a masterpiece, which may block them in their writing. To prevent this it pays to do the first activities either orally and/or in groups. Students can first explore an idea together, possibly without committing themselves on paper. If we want to explore a whole range of activities connected to a given field in class, for example, in characterisation, it pays to introduce the topic with a playful opening activity, ideally connected to the sort of language games students may play in their own language or in class, and to make use of the fact that most people find talking easier than writing. This opens ways into the field that are easy and non-threatening.  

Writing Much of this can happen outside the classroom with the exception of activities that require interaction, for example if two students write alternate lines of a poem in a 'ping-pong' writing activity (both partners write, say, a line of a poem, then exchange their sheets and write the next line of the poem, reacting to what the partner put there, then swop back, add another line to the one the partner wrote and continue until the text is finished). Students should also be encouraged to rewrite first drafts (which improves the language and the choice of vocabulary).  

Presenting and feedback A very important part of the creative writing process generally is presentation of texts for feedback to be incorporated in re-writes. For language training this opens up a range of possibilities, from suggestions for improvement of the text to group discussions.

What can we write? There are no limits in creative writing as far as genre is concerned. Students can try short stories, dialogue in short dramatic scenes and poems. The main constraint is time and therefore space: most texts will have to be relatively short.

For this reason it may be useful to focus on poetry as perhaps the most condensed of all the possible genres. It also has the double advantage that the brevity of poems allows us to write a first draft (or much of it) in class and to present a text in class with discussion.

The problem with poetry is that many teachers are uneasy about it because they see it as the most sublime form of writing. For students this is much less of a problem and their writing of poems can be become rather impressive once they realise that formal constraints, especially rhyme, are not indispensable for a good poem.  

What comes first, reading or writing? When we use creative writing for "creative" reading, one of the central issues is what comes first, reading or writing.  

Reading first Obviously this depends on the activity. If we try an activity like making characters of a narrative of a play meet "outside the text", we clearly need to know the text, the characters and their circumstances well before we can write about such a meeting. The same is true if students are asked to write a "what-would-have-happened-if" ending.

Writing first On the other hand, if we want to get students to write a text similar to a literary one, either formally or in terms of ingredients (characters, scenes, conflicts, experiences, etc.) the case is less clear: should students write first and then compare their results with the literary text or should they study the text and then write their own? The second approach may not work very well here. The canonical text may dominate too much, and the student result may be just a weak copy or, worse, students may be blocked entirely. However, very interesting work may result if the students explore a theme, conflict, or experience and then consider how an established writer has dealt with the same theme, conflict or experience.

So, creative writing …

  • is not the only way to breathe new life into a language class but provides interesting, lively opportunities for language practice.
  • is not uncontrolled and uncontrollable verbal doodling but requires precision and accuracy in expression and vocabulary.
  • is not writing about anything and everything but allows us to focus on specific ideas, forms or literary texts
  • is not intimidatingly out of reach for most of us but creates opportunities for students to explore their language and their imagination
  • is not a substitute or a replacement for oral communication but represents a lively, stimulating way to give new meaning to a somewhat lesser-used language skill.

Written by Franz Andres Morrissey, English Department, University of Berne

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  1. 7 Tips for Teaching Creative Writing

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  2. Teaching Creative Writing: Tips for Your High School Class

    how to teach creative writing in english class

  3. 5 Ideas for Teaching Creative Writing

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  4. Creative Teaching Press The Writing Process Small Chart

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  5. How to Teach Creative Writing

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  6. How Does Creative Writing Help Students. Teaching Creative Writing with

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  1. Diploma in Creative Writing in English Course DCE 6

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  1. How to Teach Creative Writing | 7 Steps to Get Students ...

    We’ve outlined a seven-step method that will scaffold your students through each phase of the creative process from idea generation through to final edits. 7. Create inspiring and original prompts. Use the following formats to generate prompts that get students inspired: personal memories (“Write about a person who taught you an important ...

  2. How to Teach Creative Writing (with Pictures) - wikiHow

    3. Avoid teaching a story “formula.”. One of the most important things to remember when teaching creative writing is to dispense with the idea that stories should follow certain arcs or formulas. While formulaic writing can aid students who need direction, it can also bind students and limit their imaginations.

  3. How to Teach Creative Writing to High School Students

    Teach Creative Writing to High School Students Step #6: Use Clear and Structured Expectations. While showing students excellent prose or perfect poetry should help inspire students, your writers will still need some hard parameters to follow. Academic writing is often easier for students than creative writing.

  4. Teaching Creative Writing: Tips for Your High School Class

    Teaching Creative Writing Tip #6: Use Hands-On Activities. If you’re teaching a class full of students who are excited to write constantly, you can probably get away writing all class period. Many of us, however, are teaching a very different class. Your students may have just chosen an elective randomly.

  5. Creativity and Innovation in the Writing Classroom | Teaching ...

    the more you have.”. —Maya Angelou. Creativity is fundamental to the teaching of writing. Although WR 153 focuses specifically on creativity and innovation, all WR courses ask students to approach their reading, viewing, writing, and research in creative ways. One important approach to creativity is “design thinking,” which emphasizes ...

  6. Creative Writing Skills: 6 Lessons You Need To Teach Today

    Creative Writing Skills #1: Show. Don’t Tell. The advice to “show, don’t tell” is some of the oldest and most consistent advice given to young writers. And it’s for a good reason–they really struggle with it! About half of my students come into Creative Writing with these big elaborate stories they want to tell.

  7. Creative writing in the classroom: five top tips for teachers

    3. Video clips. There's something a bit weird about the idea of being a writer; it's a vague, wishy-washy concept for students. They don't yet understand the hours of admin, self-promotion ...

  8. 7 ways to bring Creative Writing into the #EFL classroom

    Student One will pick the location, say library, then Student Two pick the object, say books. That gives us the sentence: “Tim is going to the library because he wants to eat books .”. The grammar is correct, the vocabulary is in its correct place but the meaning is silly, so everyone gets a laugh. 5. Shared Writing.

  9. How to Run a Creative Writing Class | The Writing Cooperative

    A creative writing session should always include actual writing and, if possible, the sharing of students’ work (more on which later). Fitting everything in, including stating your aims for the session, doing some warm-up writing exercises, having a 10-to-15-minute writing burst and still have time at the end for people to read aloud, needs ...

  10. Creative writing as language practice - TeachingEnglish

    Creative writing can be very stimulating and a lot of fun. Creative writing involves playful but rigorous work with language. A lot of people seem to associate creative writing with an "anything goes" mentality. However, in order to produce a good text, poem, short story or dramatic scene, the language needs to be correct and it needs to work.