Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Cultivating Creative Writing

Creative writing is a joy to teach.  There is something wonderful about the freedom it allows the students.  They can express exactly how they feel and cloak that difficult emotion in a character, a scene or event. It helps them see the world, their world, in a different way.  Things they try not to think about suddenly surface and they can seem more manageable as they hash them out in their writing.  I love to write along with my students, off the cuff.  I ask them to guide me - what scene, who's there, what do I feel?  It is exciting - you never know what will come next.

I must say, the following ideas are not rocket science but they are useful!  Perhaps the English NQTs, Teach First participants GTP and PGCE students about to embark on their teaching career may find these ideas useful.  Below are just a few of the techniques I dip into from time to time when I teach creative writing.

I love using images in my lessons.  If I'm using a PPT, prezi, paper-based work or a blog post to teach the lesson I will rarely not have an interesting image on the in sight.  Students can connect with a theme or topic being explored in their writing as soon as they glance at the board, computer or task sheet.  A powerful image can really spark a students imagination.  A tropical island, a deserted house, an old woman with harrowing eyes, an image from another era or a foreign land. Get them using the image as the centre of a spider diagram and exploring the five senses.  Place students in groups and give them different things to focus on in the image and feed back after, amassing the ideas of the class.  Ask the students to hot seat a character in the scene or one they imagine is in the scene if there is none.  With the right approach, discussion and connection tasks when using an image students can produce the most wonderfully emotive writing in character.

Beautiful music melts the coldest of souls.  Music is great to amp up the fun factor or bring home the emotion of a topic, helping students to feel that emotion deeply prior to writing.  I have used a wonderfully flighty piano concerto to help the students write about someone feeling mixed emotions. I have played James Bond themes music to help student write exciting mystery / detective stories.  Mariah Carey, Sinead O'Connor or Mary J Blige (along many others!) have been dipped into to help them feel the love in a romance piece.  There are some wonderful audio clips on the BBC voices website of different accents.  This is great to help them understand how they can use language in different ways in their writing. Sometimes I use the audio clips before they write, during or both - depending on the task and class.  It always works a treat.

Drama is  great way to get students to lose their inhibitions and dive into a topic or theme.  Even the students that 'hate' drama with a passion can benefit from a short sharp burst of drama to help them feel more about what they are going to write about. I love a bit of hot seating, either as a whole class with me being the willing victim or one of the more lively students.  getting them to do it in groups is less daunting for some and works well too.  Conscience ally is great to immerse the students in a situation too.  Give the student a fairly detailed scenario, discuss it as a class.  Get a few students at a time to walk through a tunnel of students whispering their opinions on a character or scenario.  I could go on because I love drama in the English classroom.  It is not for everyone, but if you can show a little vulnerability and take a risk the pay off is worth it.

Story dice
This is a super creative writing planning tool that I have used often.  The idea is that the choice element is taken away from the  student, and indeed the teacher, when planning for creative writing.  It brings an exciting twist to stories as the students write about things they probably would not have do had it not been for the activity.  Students individually roll the dice to select the location, character, props and events of the story they are about to write.  This helps the most reluctant of planners plan for their writing in a quick, easy and fun manner.  A little hamming it up or phrases like 'what's it going to be....' doesn't go amiss.  There are various electronic and physical resources online to aid with this technique.  Two I have used in the past are story cubes  and story wheel. The premise is the same and you can very easily make your own to suite your style, lesson or class.  

This is  technique I picked up from a pal of mine and have adapted it for essay writing too.  The idea is simple - consequences.  We all remember the game of consequences that we played as a child.  That element of the unknown makes it exciting to unravel the paper and reveal the story at the end.  It makes you want to write something really good so that the story was worth the wait.  Convert that into a story format in the classroom and hay presto.  I will form a generic story plan with the class as a whole, a basic outline but missing the detail, so that all the stories will make sense at the end of the task.  For instance...
1. Set the scene.
2. Main male character walks into the scene (use name)
3. Another female character walks in and they talk to one another (use name).
4. A problem   occurs that they have to overcome (no names used) and so on.
Then students will all write the first section fold it over and pass it round the table.  Then they write the second section, fold it over and pass it round and so on until the story is complete.  The fun of reading the stories at the end is great.  I'll do it so they pass it around a table and read the stories out to one another at the end.  I have always been pleased and surprised at the amount the reluctant writer write in these lessons.  You can make the writing anonymous or names if you want to make them peer-mark at the end.  Great fun.

These are just a few of the techniques I use when approaching creative writing the classroom.  I enjoy experimenting and taking risks with creative writing. Creative writing is so unpredictable and there are times when the most unlikely student will blow your mind with something they produce.  It makes it all worth while.

Happy writing.

Top image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons - Gunckxx

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