Want to Incorporate Creative Writing Into Your English Classroom?
Creative writing, sometimes called “the art of making things up,” is writing that involves invention and imagination. It isn’t strictly professional, academic, journalistic, or technical. And most often, it isn’t taught in schools.
Major exams, such as standardized tests, don’t typically assess students’ creative writing abilities. And unless they plan on being literary authors, students likely won’t write creatively in college or in the workplace. For these reasons, creative writing isn’t part of the typical English curriculum.
However, it may be time for school districts, administrators, and English teachers to rethink this stance.
Why Teach Creative Writing?
Creative writing benefits students in many ways, including:
- Improving overall writing ability
- Boosting critical/analytical thinking and reading skills
- Helping them build confidence and find their voices as writers
- Allowing students to tap into their emotions and self-expression
- Teaching an important modern business skill: creativity
- Making writing enjoyable
Rebecca Wallace-Segall, founding executive director of the creative writing program Writopia Lab, explains that creative writing “not only provides [students] with a safe space to make sense of the human dynamics around them, but it teaches them writing at the highest level, going beyond lucidity into the realm of literary tension, and then further into humor, narrative complexity, abstraction, and metaphor.”
Creative writing is an engaging way to teach thinking skills, grammar, or even reading. For instance, you can have students write a journal entry from the perspective of a literary character. This requires reading comprehension, an understanding of point of view, critical thinking, and creativity.
And even if your students won’t write stories at work, the modern workplace does value creativity. An IBM survey of over 1500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries found that creativity is “the most important business skill in the modern world.” Academia has even started providing courses in creativity.
Not only will your students enjoy creative writing, but they’ll also learn valuable and transferable skills like self-expression, higher-level thinking, creativity, grammar, voice, and the list goes on.
How to Incorporate Creative Writing into Your Curriculum
If you want to build creative writing into your English classroom, but aren’t sure where to begin, try a few of the ideas and tips below.
Use 10-Minute Writing Prompts
Also called a “freewrite,” a 10-Minute Writing prompt is a quick creative writing exercise that you can incorporate into your class weekly (or as you see fit).
Pose an interesting topic or question to your class, such as:
- Write a self-portrait.
- What do you think about when you can’t fall asleep? Turn it into a poem or piece of writing.
- If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be? Why?
- Write about your first memory.
- Describe ten things that make you smile. Don’t name the items/people/places you’re describing.
You can also post a picture and have students write about it. Or you can provide students with a first sentence, a line of dialogue, or a list of words that must be included in a short writing piece. Whatever the topic is, students have ten minutes to respond to it.
Students don’t have to worry about grammar, spelling, a rubric, etc. They’re just writing whatever comes to mind for ten minutes.
If you have the time and the desire to do so, you can have students select one piece each quarter or semester to workshop. These pieces will be expanded, polished, and eventually graded.
Even if you don’t workshop any pieces, these quick writing activities will help your students write more naturally and feel more confident about their abilities. You’ll also be surprised how much their writing improves, particularly the ability to elaborate on a topic. And the best part? Students enjoy it!
Pair Creative Writing With Reading
Another effective way to incorporate creative writing is to pair it with reading. Here are a few ideas:
- Ask students to step into the shoes of a literary character. Write a journal entry from the perspective of a character you’re reading about, or rewrite a story from a different character’s point of view. Alternatively, have students write about what one of the characters is doing when he’s “offscreen,” or not part of the story’s action.
- Assign a “found poem.” Give students words or phrases from a novel, story, or even nonfiction text you’re reading. Ask students to rearrange the words to create a poem related to the text.
- Have your students adapt a text to fit their own lives. For instance, in the epic poem Beowulf, the title hero makes a speech beginning, “Hail, Hrothgar,” in which he lists his many skills and accomplishments to King Hrothgar. You can ask your students to write a “Hail, Hrothgar” speech of their own, following a similar format.
- Discuss themes from a literary text that you’re reading, and ask students to write short stories or personal narratives with the same theme.
There are endless possibilities for pairing creative writing with the texts your students are reading in class. Not only do students tend to enjoy these assignments, but they also deepen your students’ understanding of a text.
These assignments also relate to more traditional English standards. The ideas listed above help your students think analytically about characterization, theme, diction, style, and more. These aren’t “fluffy,” pointless assignments—they require challenging higher-level skills.
Make It Optional
If you’re finding it difficult to regularly assign creative writing, you can also make it optional. Providing choice to students is a simple and highly effective way to differentiate learning.
For example, let’s say you’re asking students to write a literary analysis essay about theme in a novel you’ve read. You could also provide a more creative option, like the one listed above. Have students write a short story that shares a theme with the assigned text.
You can make the assignment more challenging if needed. Require students to write a paragraph or two explaining what theme they’ve selected. How is this theme developed in the text you read? By contrast, how is it developed in their short story?
Students who choose the creative writing option are learning the same skills, but in a manner that may be more engaging for them.
Don’t Always Grade It
Creative writing doesn’t always have to be graded. It’s useful to give students low-pressure writing opportunities, allowing them to simply express themselves creatively.
Instead of critiquing grammar or organization, you can make creative writing assignments a participation or completion grade. If you have the time, leave an encouraging comment about the content or ideas your students have expressed.
Eventually, you may want your students to finetune a piece for grading, but this isn’t necessary every time. Even without the grade, the act of writing creatively will benefit your students.
WriteLab brings together Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence, and English Language Instruction. Student writing is analyzed in seconds with the WriteLab app—giving students feedback and suggestions on how to revise and polish their draft.