Creative Writing: The Be-All and End-All
I used to get moans when I asked students to write a poem. But in the last few years, I’ve noticed an increased interest in my student’s willingness to write creatively. I can’t help but think this is the consequence of the variety of storytelling media available to students. They see stories unfold all around them, in quick online videos, images, or podcasts. Even memes often contain a witty aphorism. I noticed recently that Amazon music will display the lyrics to songs, once hidden in little booklets tucked away in CD cases. Maybe our students see how easy it is to go viral with a great story. Or maybe this is exactly what happens after students read their whole life: a newfound longing to go from consumer to creator.
Once they study the playfulness of sounds, images and structure, they see the fun in say, writing a metaphor rather than interpreting it. Our students have been making meaning for so long, and now it’s their turn to conjure up a world entirely their own. When they write creatively, they realize a simile is deliberate, and the beauty of accidental symbolism. I once told my students in my Creative Writing course to write a poem with as many literary techniques as possible. I had them write about a birthday party - it was hilarious and fun, but it also showed them that talent comes from practice.
Instead of interpreting the author’s intensions with analytical writing, they imagine a world that expresses their understanding of their culture and experiences. With creative writing, they go from the passenger’s seat to the driver’s seat.
Writing a poem doesn’t take much time in class, but I’m always happy when students ask to spend more time at home to complete their poem. I also submit my student’s poems to my school’s literary magazine, and they get excited if their poem gets published. I emphasize that writing can be personal and authentic but should ultimately be for an audience.
My students had a lot of fun writing short magical realism. Writing sudden or flash fiction can also be a quick and fun process. Sometimes I will ask students to write a short story in the style of an author or write in a specific narrative mode like free indirect discourse.
There are many possibilities with podcasts including interviews, group conversations on a topic of choice, or an independent project. I never ask students to publish podcasts online because the internet can be a brutal place, although I’ve heard a lot of great podcasts by students. Podcasts require some planning, but can also be spontaneous like a live broadcast.
To make a video essay, students write the essay first and then record a reading of their essay. This functions as a voiceover for video clips and images that correspond to the words. Series like Explained take this style.
This works the same as a video essay, but students read a poem instead. It can be their poem, or a favorite poem they find online. Video poetry often contains light background music that enhances the mood of the poem.
For my unit on James Joyce’s Dubliners, students created a film adaptation of one of the short stories. You can imagine a contemporary setting for stories like “Eveline”, “An Encounter” or “A Little Cloud”. Students take some elements of the plot and then create their own short film with modern characters.
For creative nonfiction, I will often use examples from the yearly anthology, The Best American Essays. Sometimes I’ll ask students to write on a topic covered in a novel unit. Instead of writing literary analysis, they will use a novel as a way of introducing a topic like family, colonialism, religion, or fear.
Philosophical writing assignments give students the opportunity to have fun with open-ended questions about life, time, being, and identity. There is no pressure to find the right answer, but rather make sense of anything and everything.
Although not considered creative writing, visuals are an important part of modern media and how we consume information. When students create one pagers, sketchnotes, or mind maps, they organize and connect their thoughts in a logical way. They also practice visualizing the events and characters, rather than just consuming plot.
Sometimes, if we simply give students the time to free write with absolutely no expectations, great things happen. They tell stories and think about their experiences.
Short skits can be funny and often memorable. Instead of a short film, students can create a short plot related to a scene in a novel or short story and perform it in front of the class.
It can be hard to find time for creative assignments, and they can be difficult to grade, but it’s worth it. We want them to know that it’s easy to be a critic, but that it takes courage and an explosive imagination to be a creator.
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers