When I first began teaching high school English, I had the opportunity to choose between teaching British literature or creative writing. I loved Dickens but lived a life as a writer before taking up teaching, so I decided that creative writing was the correct path for my career. Teach what you know, right? My first year of teaching creative writing was a nightmare. I tried my hardest to get my students to make outstanding works of fiction with grandiose plots and loveable characters, but it didn’t work. I worked for years to perfect my craft and learned that when teaching people to expressive themselves creatively, there is a way that works and a way that doesn’t.
Before the Pen hits the Page
Creative writing is a vulnerable endeavor. When we put our heart on the page, we open ourselves up to judgment and criticism. When you are 16, the last thing you want to do is put everything out there for all to see.
The first step in teaching creative writing is fostering a supportive and safe environment. If you want your students to put effort and heart into their writing, they need to feel safe and supported in sharing. The best way to begin is to show your students that you are willing to be vulnerable. My favorite way to do this is to read my in-progress work to the class. It shows them that the writing process is not polished and perfect on the first go, even when you have been doing it for a decade.
Another way to encourage vulnerability in your writing classroom is to do spontaneous group writing games. One of my favorites is called the “Around the Room Poem.” This is a game where a single piece of paper makes its way around the room. Every student adds a single line to the poem and, at the end, I perform a dramatic reading of our patchworked poem. Activities like this encourage all students to contribute and try their best when writing. After a while, your students will feel more comfortable writing pieces that show who they are as young writers
Writing anything can seem like an insurmountable task to anyone who has never done it before. A perfectly blank page may seem like a playground to more practiced writers. To sixteen-year-olds, a blank page can seem more like a long-term prison sentence. Trapped in an empty space with no way out. Before you can start working on the quality of the work students produce, you first have to get them used to writing.
Journaling with exciting journal prompts is a great way to give your students something to write about that is low stakes and allows them to practice putting words down on paper. Start small with only a minute of writing. Slowly increase the amount of time for each class. Soon, your students will be able to write for long periods of time. Once they feel comfortable doing this, writing assignments of significant length will feel doable.
Student Voice and Choice
Think about your personal history as a writer. Did you most enjoy doing assignments that were given to you or ones that you came up with on your own? When our students start as young writers, a complicated and boring writing assignment can be a death sentence for their creativity. If students are not motivated to write the assignment, the quality of the work will suffer. That’s why it’s important to allow your students to choose the topics they are interested in.
At the beginning of the class, it is always a good idea to take a survey of your students’ interests. Learning about your students and what they are interested in writing about can help you craft a curriculum that will garner the best possible results. Working in certain genres can keep kids interested by tying in other works that they love. Writing assignments based on other activities they enjoy may also be a good way to entice them to write more and higher quality work.
Figurative Language First
Now that students have opened up a little and practiced getting their thoughts down on the page, the next best thing to teach is figurative language. Figurative language makes creative writing creative. It can add the most value to a piece with the least amount of work. Similes and metaphors are a great place to start. Adding in these pieces of figurative language can make writing more complex and accessible. Being able to equate the intangible to the tangible. This is a great way for new writers to invite readers into their stories. Figurative language is a great tool to help students understand how to use language to their advantage. Choosing more interesting ways to say things will improve their writing quickly. It will also help them better understand the things they read.
Teach Creative Writing by Encouraging to Read
Good writers are even better readers. No writing classroom is complete without tons of books on the shelves for inspiration. When teaching young writers, it is important to help them set habits of reading. It is also important to make sure that they are reading the right things that will help them become better writers. A perfectly curated reading list can give more of a writing education than any high qualified teacher. As a teacher, it is your job to make sure your students have the tools that they need to learn and grow. If they want to be great writers, they need to be great readers first.
There is no 100% foolproof way to teach creative writing. Every student is different, and their inspiration and ability to write are different. The best thing you can do as a teacher is foster an environment or each individual can grow and create in the way they can. Limiting students may harm their creativity. Meeting them where they are at and supporting them and anything they wish to write will help them grow to love writing the same way you do.