What I think, and I do so passionately!
Creative writing is the fun aspect of writing, so why do we do so little of it and why do so many teachers shy away from it? I believe that by neglecting this aspect of literacy, a teacher loses very many opportunities to motivate and inspire learners to enjoy and make progress in across the board writing skills. I truly believe that creative writing should be the main stay of all classroom writing activities and, from the work produced, the teacher can diagnose the learner’s areas of weakness and create a slick and relevant punctuation/spelling/grammar./handwriting programme to improve on those skills. Too often, the teacher feels intimidated by the prospect of a creative writing session and substitutes an exercise on the chalk board for all the children, whatever their differing levels of attainment, to do the same work. But children are not the same and their skills are not the same, so the impact of such a chalk board lesson is weakened and the children sit bored and labouriously copy the chalkboard task sometimes trying to set their own challenges to make a neat job of it, other times scribbling down the sentences in bored frustration and anger. What a waste for everyone! And what a waste of chalk and paper!Other children in the world are working in a creative-writing-at-the-centre way, out stripping those children whose teachers stick to the old routine of writing endless grammar and spelling and comprehension excercises on the board, These classroom learners deserve more than this. They deserve a creative teacher who can happily give them the chance to catch up and have fun with words and ideas.
Where to start
Of course, it begins with talking a lot with writers engaged and interested in what the task might be. And they need thinking time too. And they need to have the right tools to write, not just a good pencil and paper, but a stimulating introduction to the idea, and in a stimulating environment with an atmosphere conducive to working and with easy access to words and phrases they might want to use.
Creative ideas to inspire creative writing.
Something visual really helps. like the Bottle Village model, or a table with flowers and a label saying Fleur the Florist’s Shop (see Navigating Bar re Bottle Village) or a box that might look as if it has been dragged out of the sea, or a picture , a large one if the whole class is working from the same visual starting point, or smaller picture cards if learners are working individually or in a small group. Brown paper bag puppets can stimulate ideas for character writing or dialogue for play writing. A piece of patchwork, with each child choosing a scrap and writing about where it came from and its story has, more than once, inspired excellent creative writing and the finished work can be displayed beside the appropriate patch on a table or display board, or a cardboard box viewed from all four sides. In this case, the patchwork stimulus inspires the learners to not only consider the sight of the piece they choose, but also the texture and fragrance too. Imagine the richness of vocabulary this might inspire.
I have used scents and perfumes as a stimulus for creative writing. Using old matchboxes with a small piece or tissue inside , I have put the scent on the tissue, like bleach, curry powder, cinnamon, air freshener, chocolate…and shut the lid. Then I have allowed the writers to close their eyes and sample the scent, put this scent in a context and go from there. Smells are particularly evocative and I am sure tastes would be similarly so.
Sounds can be an effective stimulus for creative writing, especially if you get the listeners to close their eyes. The sound of cellophane gently rubbed, can not only create the sound of the sea, but can create the image of it too. Now all the writer has to do is to put that image into words. Corks tapped across a table can sound like footsteps. Teachers need to go round the school and around their environment making sounds to try out and to consider for use as sound stimuli in creative writing. (Your colleagues and family might wonder what you are up to, so maybe you should explain first!) And what about a group of sounds to get the eyes-closed writers to imagine the sequence of what might be happening to make those sounds?
The list of possible stimuli is endless, but the first contact with the stimulus to creative writing should instantly intrigue the writers and will need to be followed up in an inspiring way. So how do you do that?
How to get from stimuli to the writers creating their ideas?
Where? How? Who? When? Why?,
getting the writers to go into increasing detail about what they are imagining. And, to add quality, the teacher might draw, on the board, or have ready on a chart,
some eyes, some ears, a nose, a tongue, a hand and a heart.
Then you focus on each drawing by pointing and you get the writers to tell you
what they see in their imagination, what they hear, what they smell, what they taste, what they feel on their skin and what they feel in their heart.
And you give praise, praise and more praise for what they say. And you NEVER question what they are describing, as you do not have the insight into what is in their imaginations so how is it you might dare to challenge it?
Please note that all this is done long before a pencil is picked up. Writers need opportunities to speak and to think and to speak again and think again until they seem really ready to get their ideas, which should be bursting by now, ready to put onto paper. Sometimes. plan not to pick a pencil up, but get the writers to talk and keep the writing for later. You will be surprised at how many will come next day and show you what they wrote at home. Congratulate them on this and start the editing process with their work ready for their best copy publishing for a display.
Using different genres.
The teacher needs to encourage writers to write in different genres, for example,
Reported Writing, which encourages sequencing ideas and writing in the past tense. (If using Bottle Village as a theme, this could be a newspaper report “Bottle bobs to shore” with the stimulus being drama of the children on the beach seeing the bottle and pulling it in.)
Descriptive Writing, encouraging much detail within the script. (With Bottle Village, this might be “Living in Bottle Village” , “The Bottle Village Flower Show”, “My journey across the Ocean” by A Bottle. The stimulus here could be from puppets or from the bottle “talking”.
Play Writing,..a dialogue between Bottle Village characters.
How to Writing..”How to make a garden in a bottle”, “How to make a bottle shaped cake”, “How to do a Bottle Dance!”
Letter writing…a letter of thanks for the Bottle Village gardener and builder…a letter asking the Bottle Village baker to make special buns for the “Welcome to Bottle Village” ceremony. Maybe a letter to put in a bottle to throw in the sea and, in this case, the writing can be displayed inside a see through plastic bottle or behind a flat, bottle shaped, see through, plastic cut out. Make the back ground behind the bottles out of scrunched up ocean coloured paper.
Postcard Writing..a postcard illustrated and written as if by someone staying on holiday in Bottle Village.
Poster Writing…A poster made by the Bottle Village florist advertising her flowers..or a poster advertising the Bottle Village Flower Show.
Poetry Writing on a theme of “Ocean”, or “Sunshine”, or “Orange” or “Sand”
Click here for page on Poetry writing
In short, there are far too many exciting, creative writing avenues to explore than to spend hours and hours of school hours making writers copy sentence exercises from a chalk board. Do some exercises in this more traditional way, especially in follow-up work from what you need to teach from the last creative writing experience, but put your timetabled emphasis on the writers creating writing, rather than copying your writing.
And last, but most certainly and most definitely NOT LEAST
Marking writers’ creative writing
Be creative when marking creative writing. Mark for creativity. Write positive comments and write clearly and neatly. Do not over mark with writer condemning red ink, but make a note in your planner of specific weaknesses and plan a follow up from there. Encourage writers to be free, by allowing them to draft their work first on not so tidy paper ( too pristine a sheet can sometimes be intimidating) and to then follow up with editing (checking and correcting ) and then writing out a best copy (publishing) for a display. The writers will be so proud they will want to repeat the process again and again. Invite other students, parents teachers etc. to come and read.