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Teaching Creative Writing: Tips for Your High School Class
When I was first told that I’d be teaching creative writing, I panicked. While I had always enjoyed writing myself, I had no idea how to show others how to do it creatively. After all, all of my professional development had focused on argumentative writing and improving test scores.
Eventually, though, I came to love my creative writing class, and I think you will too. In this post, I hope to help you with shaping your own creative writing class.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that earn me a small commission, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I personally use and love, or think my readers will find useful.
The Importance of Teaching Creative Writing
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of how to teach creative writing, let’s first remind ourselves why you should teach a creative writing class.
How often do you see students freeze in your English class, wondering if what they’re writing is “right”? How often do your students beg you to look over their work to make sure that they’re doing it “right”?
We English teachers know that there’s no such thing as “right” when it comes to writing. But our students really struggle with the idea of there being no one correct answer. Creative writing is one solution to this problem.
By encouraging our students to explore, express themselves, and play with language, we show them how fun and exploratory writing can be. I know there have been many times in my life when writing clarified my own ideas and beliefs for me; creative writing provides this opportunity for our high school students.
Plus, creative writing is just downright fun! And in this modern era of standardized testing, high-stakes grading, and just increased anxiety overall, isn’t more fun just what our students and us need?
Creative writing is playful, imaginative, but also rigorous. It’s a great balance to our standard literature or composition curriculum.
Whether you’re choosing to teach creative writing or you’re being voluntold to do so, you’re probably ready to start planning. Make it as easy as possible on yourself: grab my done-for-you Creative Writing Class here !
Otherwise, preparing for an elective creative writing class isn’t much different than preparing for any other English class .
Set your goals and choose the standards you’ll cover. Plan lessons accordingly. Then, be sure to have a way to assess student progress.
Teaching Creative Writing Tip #1: Get Clear on Your Goals
First, what do you want to achieve with your creative writing class? In some school, Creative Writing is purely a fun elective. The goal is create a class that students enjoy with a side of learning.
For other schools or district cultures, however, Creative Writing might be an intensely academic course. As a child, I went to an arts middle school. Creative writing was my major and it was taken very seriously.
The amount of rigor you wish to include in your class will impact how you structure everything . So take some time to think about that . You may want to get some feedback from your administrator or other colleagues who have taught the course.
Some schools also sequence creative writing classes, so be sure you know where in the sequence your particular elective falls. I’ve also seen schools divide creative writing classes by genre: a poetry course and a short story course.
Know what your administrator expects and then think about what you as an instructor want to accomplish with your students.
Teaching Creative Writing Tip #2: List Out Your Essential Skills
Regardless of your class’s level of rigor, there are some skills that every creative writing course should cover.
First, you need to cover the writing process. Throughout the course, students should practice brainstorming, outlining, writing, and editing their drafts. In nearly every Poem Writing Activity that I use in my class, students follow the same process. They examine a model text, brainstorm ideas, outline or fill out a graphic organizer, put together a final draft, and then share with a peer for feedback.
That last step–sharing and critiquing work–is an essential skill that can’t be overstated. Students are often reluctant to share their work, but it’s through that peer feedback that they often grow the most. Find short, casual, and informal ways to build in feedback throughout the class in order to normalize it for students.
Literary terms are another, in my opinion, must-cover topic for teaching a creative writing class. You want your students to know how to talk about their writing and others’ like an actual author. How deep into vocabulary you want to go is up to you, but by the end of the course, students should sound like writers honing their craft.
Lastly, you should cover some basic writing skills, preferably skills that will help students in their academic writing, too. I like to cover broad topics like writing for tone or including dialogue. Lessons like these will be ones that students can use in other writing assignments, as well.
Of course, if you’re teaching a creative writing class to students who plan on becoming creative writing majors in college, you could focus on more narrow skills. For me, most of my students are upperclassmen looking for an “easy A”. I try my best to engage them in activities and teach them skills that are widely applicable.
Teaching Creative Writing Tip #3: Make Sure Your Materials are Age-Appropriate
Once you know what you’re teaching, you can begin to cultivate the actual lessons you’ll present. If you pick up a book on teaching creative writing or do a quick Google search, you’ll see tons of creative writing resources out there for young children . You’ll see far less for teens.
Really, the content and general ideas around creative writing don’t change much from elementary to high school. But the presentation of ideas should .
Every high school teacher knows that teens do not like to feel babied or talked down to; make sure your lessons and activities approach “old” ideas with an added level of rigor or maturity.
Take for example the haiku poem. I think most students are introduced to haikus at some point during their elementary years. We know that haiku is a pretty simple poem structure.
However, in my Haiku Poem Writing Lesson , I add an extra layer of rigor. First, students analyze a poem in which each stanza is its own haiku. Students are asked not only to count syllables but to notice how the author uses punctuation to clarify ideas. They also analyze mood throughout the work.
By incorporating a mentor text and having students examine an author’s choices, the simple lesson of writing a haiku becomes more relevant and rigorous.
Teaching Creative Writing Tip #4: Tell Students What They Should Not Write About
You’ll often be surprised by just how vulnerable your students are willing to be with you in their writing. But there are some experiences that we teachers don’t need to know about, or are required to act on.
The first day of a creative writing course should always include a lecture on what it means to be a mandated reporter. Remind students that if they write about suicidal thoughts, abuse at home, or anything else that might suggest they’re in danger that you are required by law to report it.
Depending on how strict your district, school, or your own teaching preferences, you may also want to cover your own stance on swearing, violence, or sexual encounters in student writing. One idea is to implement a “PG-13” only rule in your classroom.
Whatever your boundaries are for student work, make it clear on the first day and repeat it regularly.
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Teaching Creative Writing Tip #5: Give Students Lots of Choice
Creative writing should be creative . Yes, you want to give students parameters for their assignments and clear expectations. But you want them to feel a sense of freedom, also.
I took a class once where the story starters we were given went on for several pages . By the time we students were able to start writing, characters had already been developed. The plot lines had already been well-established. We felt written into a corner, and we all struggled with wrapping up the loose ends that had already been created.
I’ve done an Author Study Project with my class in which students were able to choose a poet or short story author to study and emulate. My kids loved looking through the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Acevedo, Neil Gaiman, and Jason Reynolds for inspiration. They each gravitated towards a writer that resonated with them before getting to work.
Another example is my Fairy Tale Retelling Project. In this classic assignment, students must rewrite a fairy tale from the perspective of the villain. Students immediately choose their favorite tales, giving them flexibility and choice.
I recommend determining the form and the skills that must be demonstrated for the students . Then, let students choose the topic for their assignment.
Teaching Creative Writing Tip #6: Use Hands-On Activities
If you’re teaching a class full of students who are excited to write constantly, you can probably get away writing all class period. Many of us, however, are teaching a very different class. Your students may have just chosen an elective randomly. They might not even have known what creative writing was!
(True story–one of my creative writing students thought the class would be about making graffiti. I guess that is writing creatively!)
For students who have no long-term writing aspirations, you need to make your lessons and activities a little more engaging.
When possible, I try to make writing “hands-on.” Adding some tactile activity to a standard lesson breaks up class, engages students, and makes the lesson more memorable.
For example, when I teach students the old adage “Show. Don’t Tell” , I could just give them a scene to write. Instead, I print simple sentences onto strips of paper and have students randomly select one from a hat. (Then they turn this simple sentence into a whole “telling” scene.)
Simply handing students a strip of paper that they can touch and feel makes the lesson more exciting. It creates more buy-in with students.
Another one of my favorite hands-on activities is a Figurative Language Scavenger Hunt. I hang up posters of mentor poems around the room, each full of different figurative language techniques.
Then, students must get up and explore the posters around the room in an attempt to find an example of 10 different figurative language techniques.
We could do the same lesson on a worksheet, but having students up and moving increases engagement, collaboration, and gives everyone a break from constantly sitting.
Teaching Creative Writing Tip #7: Incorporate Mentor Texts
One way to make sure that your creative writing class is rigorous–and valuable–enough for high school students is to use mentor texts .
Mentor texts are essential for older students because it shows them what’s possible . Many of my students will rush through an assignment just to be done with it. If you ask them what they could do to improve their writing, they say that they think it’s fine.
But when they’re shown mentor texts or exemplar products produced by their peers, suddenly students see a myriad of ways in which they could improve their own work. They’re quick to make edits.
I try to always include a mentor text and several examples whenever I introduce students to new ideas or teach a new lesson. You can pull mentor texts from classic writers. However, I also recommend including writing from more modern poets and writers as well.
Teaching Creative Writing truly is a special job. Your students trust you with writing that many adults in their lives will never see. You’ll be able to watch students grow and bloom in a totally new way.
That doesn’t mean that teaching creative writing is without challenges or difficulties, however. If you want an easy place to start, or just want to save yourself a ton of planning time, I highly recommend checking out my Complete Creative Writing Class .
Inside this bundle, you’ll receive daily warm-ups, weekly lessons, two projects, several activities, a lesson calendar, and more! It’s truly everything you need for an engaging 9-week elective course!
Teaching and Assessing Creative Writing in High School
Whether you're teaching a creative writing class or just sprinkling it into your curriculum to spice things up, it can be a little intimidating. Students often either love or hate creative writing, and the emotional investment has been known to create some challenges.
An added obstacle: When it comes to creative writing, students seem to become very attached to their work. Designing rubrics? Choosing which specific writing skills to evaluate? It can all be very overwhelming.
Though she's taught for over a decade, my long-time friend Lauralee from Language Arts Classroom has just begun her journey as a creative writing teacher. As any instructor knows, there's a steep learning curve when tackling a new prep.
In this interview, Lauralee has graciously offered to share some of the valuable lessons she has grasped early on about teaching and assessing creative writing at the high school level. Keep reading to discover what she has to say about building teenagers' confidence, making assessment meaningful, and obtaining student buy-in.
BUILDING STUDENTS' CONFIDENCE
Teaching creative writing can be overwhelming. Students become so attached to their ideas and often take it personally when they earn a grade less than an A. What are your tips for building students’ morale?
Immediately with creative writing students, I establish that all stories have value. I want this entire message to permeate the classroom community. My motto for creative writing students: your concept, your stories, your ideas are great; we simply must find the best method to convey them.
I show students The Danger of the Single Story .
I do this to emphasize that all of their stories are important. I never want to hear a single story from my students; I want them to teach me, to help me understand their experiences.
Then, during lessons, we work on collaboratively forming these messages. We study humor, over-arching themes, and narrative structures . It’s a cliche in writing classes, but it is true: we write frequently, every day. Students experiment with odd questions or writing prompts often! I want them thinking.
All of this, hopefully, creates the idea that I don't grade them on their stories; I grade them on their vehicle of telling it.
ASSESSING WITH RUBRICS
Speaking of grading, how do you decide which skills to grade when you assign creative writing? Do you recommend focusing on all traits of writing, or on one specifically?
My rubrics for creative writing take into account that this is informal writing. Students still should abide by grammatical rules, but I understand they might take liberties. I do want them to explore - will adding sentence fragments be effective? does a character use incorrect subject verb agreement? However, dialogue has punctuation rules, as does an ellipsis. We collaborate on papers, lots of conferences! Students have told me in advance when they are breaking grammatical rules.
We also implement different strategies with writing. For instance, my students wrote a comedy sketch. They had to include certain elements, such as irony and 'the rule of three.' When I grade it, I'm not necessarily grading the "funniness," but rather the attempt at implementation.
ENGAGING ALL LEARNERS
Some students fall in love with creative writing immediately. For others - it’s a chore. They don’t see the relevance. What’s your favorite assignment for engaging all students and encouraging buy-in to the genre?
The most buy-in that I have had is with a profile activity. A "profile" is not a report on a student, and it details more than the interviewee's life. It’s not just a biography.
It is not: she was born in 2000; she has three brothers.
It is: she flips through her phone under the covers every night. Her parents won’t check on her, but she feels as if she should hide anyway.
Through this creative writing assignment, students reveal something unknown, something deeper about another individual. I asked them to search for a "something" that defines another student.
Students got to choose who they would profile. I left the activity very open; my rule was that it should not read as a report. I wanted true analysis, a larger arc about the person. I encouraged them to find minor characteristics about their profile pieces. These pieces turned out very analytical.
Although I provided students with several examples, I limited the guidelines. I credit the student buy-in with allowing student choice. I didn't assign partners, I didn't provide a strict paper format, and I didn't require certain elements.
And that's a wrap for Lauralee's advice. We hope her answers have provided some worthwhile inspiration and practical guidance. Looking for further ideas to support your creative writing instruction? You can follow the Pinterest board where Lauralee and I share our favorite creative writing tips, activities, lessons, assessment ideas, and philosophies here.
What additional questions do you have about teaching and assessing creative writing? Please start a conversation about your questions, frustrations, struggles, or success stories in the comments.
Lauralee Moss has taught English in Illinois for more than a decade. She blogs at Language Arts Classroom and posts real classroom pictures on Instagram ( @elaclassroom ). She lives with her husband, three kids, and crazy dog.
This Earth Day creative writing project is one of many resources available from Language Arts Classroom's shop. Click on the image to read more details about this product.
Teach Creative Writing In High School With 10 Fun Activities
Creative writing is a meaningful aspect of literature that mandates you to utilize your expertise, ingenuity, and story to depict a critical message, emotion, or plot. It defies the traditional bounds of other forms of writing and is completely subjective to our preferences and experiences. In creative writing, it’s all about imaginativeness!
Using creative imagination and originality to convey feelings and concepts in a unique way is at the heart of creative writing. Simply stated, it’s about infusing your own ‘flair’ into your writing, moving beyond academic or other technical kinds of literature.
In this post, we will explore the various activities which would be advantageous for a high schooler who wishes to indulge in creative writing!
What Happens When Creative Writing Is Put To Use?
Creative writing is any form of writing that deviates from traditional professional, investigative journalism, educational, or technological forms of literature. It is typically distinguished by emphasizing narrative craft, character development, literary tropes, or various poetic traditions.
Here are the few ways how high schoolers can benefit from creative writing –
When you write creatively, you expand your imagination by creating new environments, scenarios, and characters. This way, you are also boosting and stretching your imagination, as well as “thinking out of the box.” This allows you to concentrate your energy on many other things and improve your ability to find fresh ideas and alternatives to problems you’re having. Whether you’re a researcher or a businessman, creative writing will increase your imagination and help you think more creatively, and push the boundaries.
2. Empathy and Communications skills
When you create characters, you’ll be constructing emotions, personalities, behaviors, and world views that are distinct from your own. Writers must conceive personalities, emotions, places, and walks of life outside of their own lives while creating universes with fictional characters and settings.
This can give children a good dose of empathy and understanding for those who aren’t like them, who don’t live where they do or go through the same things they do daily. Writers are better equipped to communicate when they have a greater understanding of other points of view. They can come up with creative ways to explain and debate subjects from multiple perspectives. This ability is crucial in both professional and personal situations.
3. Clarification of Thoughts
Creating structures in creative writing allows you to organize your impressions and emotions into a logical procedure. You may express both your thoughts and your sentiments through creative writing. For example, if you’re a marketing executive, you could create a short tale in which your clientele reads your promotional emails. You can guess what they’re up to, where they’re seated, what’s around them, and so on.
This enables you to focus on the language and strategies you employ. Alternatively, if you’re a technical writer writing on a new desktop platform, you could create a creative scenario in which a user encounters a problem.
4. Broadens Vocabulary and gets a better understanding of reading and writing
You’ll learn a larger vocabulary and a better understanding of the mechanics of reading and writing as you begin to practice writing exercises regularly. Even if you’re writing a budget report, you’ll know when rigid grammar standards work and when they don’t, and you’ll know what will make your writing flow better for your readers. Exploring different ways of expressing yourself when writing creatively allows you to extend your vocabulary.
You’ll notice a change in your use and range of language as you improve your writing over time, which will be useful in any professional route and social scenario. You’ll be able to bend and break the rules when you need to, to utilize your voice and make what you’re writing engaging without coming off as an amateur, dull, or inauthentic once you’ve grasped the fundamentals of writing professionally and creatively.
5. Building Self-Belief
When you write creatively, you’re actively involved in an activity that allows you to fully develop your voice and point of view without being constrained. You have a better chance to investigate and express your feelings about various issues, opinions, ideas, and characters. And you’ll feel more at ease and secure stating your thoughts and perspectives in other things you write as a result of this.
Writers who don’t write creatively may be concerned about appearing authoritative or trustworthy. They accidentally lose their voice and sound like drones spouting statistics by omitting to include their perspective on the topics they’re writing about. As a result, they miss out on using their distinct voice and presenting themselves as an expert with real-world expertise.
Creative Writing Activities That Will Strengthen Your Writing Skills
Short spurts of spontaneous writing make up creative writing activities. These writing exercises push a writer to tackle a familiar topic in a new way, ranging from one line to a lengthy tale. Short, spontaneous projects are common in creative writing programs, but any writer should make them a regular practice to extend their abilities and learn new tactics to approach a series of stories.
These activities must be performed for ten minutes at a time, several times a week – by creative writers. They’re designed to help you improve your writing abilities, generate fresh story ideas, and become a better writer.
1. Free Writing
Writing is the first and foremost activity that is going to give your creative writing a boost. Start with a blank page and let your stream of thoughts and emotions flow. Then simply begin writing. Don’t pause to think or alter what you’re expressing. This is known as “free writing.” This writing activity is referred to as “morning pages” by Julia Cameron, the author of ‘The Artist’s Way.’ She recommends that authors do this every day when they first wake up. Stream of consciousness writing can provide some intriguing concepts.
Allow your intellect to take the lead as your fingers type. Or write a letter to your younger self. Consider a topic you’d like to discuss, such as a noteworthy event, and write it down. Give guidance or convey a message that you wish you had heard as a youngster or a young adult.
2. Modify a Storyline – Read
Most of us like to read. However, just reading won’t really help augment your creative writing skills. While reading bestows insight into the deeper meanings of numerous things, you need a more concrete approach to better your aptitude. To do this, you can modify any storyline. Take an episode from a chapter, if you’re feeling brave—from one of your favorite books and recreate it. Write it from the perspective of a different character. Swap out the main character in this exercise to examine how the story may be conveyed differently.
Take Percy Jackson’s thrilling conclusion, for instance, and rework it with Annabeth as the primary character. Another way to approach this creative activity is to keep the primary character but switch viewpoints. Rewrite a scene in the third person if the writer has told a story in the first person.
3. Add Creative Writing Prompts or Create Flash Fiction
Use writing prompts, often known as narrative starters, to produce writing ideas. A writing prompt is a sentence or short excerpt that a writer uses to start composing a story on the spot. You can look up writing prompts online, pick a sentence out of a magazine at random, or use a brilliant line from a well-known work as the start of your short scene.
Another thing you can do to accentuate your writing is to create flash fiction. Sit down at your desktop or pick up a pen and paper and write a 500-word story on the spur of the moment. This isn’t the same as just writing whatever comes to mind. With no fixed guidelines, free writing generates a stream of consciousness. All of the basic components of a story arc, such as plot, conflict, and character development, are required in flash fiction, albeit in a shortened form.
4. Create a Fictitious Advertisement
Pick a random word from a nearby book or newspaper and create a fictitious commercial for it. Write one ad in a formal, abbreviated newspaper classified format to require you to pay special attention to your word choice to sell the item. Then write one for an online marketplace that allows for longer, more casual text, such as Craigslist. Describe the item and persuade the reader to purchase it in each one.
5. Engage in Conversations
Engaging in conversations with your friends/family – or simply communicating can help brush up your writing skills. Talk to your loved ones about their hobbies, career, views on societal issues – any suitable topic for that matter. This helps implement others’ points of view and expands your mental ability. Another useful thing that you can do is – make another person’s tale and create it by implementing your own thoughts. Then talk about it in an impeccable manner. Also, talk in complete sentences. This goes to show your Linguistic intelligence proficiency – and helps augment your creative writing skills.
6. Create Your Own Website/Blog
Start your search for blogging. There are a million writing suggestions out there, but they all boil down to the same thing: write. Blogging is excellent writing practice because it gives you a place to write regularly.
To keep your fingers and mind nimble, write a post every day. Like most bloggers, you’ll want to restrict your subject—perhaps you’ll focus on parenting or start a how-to site where you can tell stories from your point of view.
7. Participate in Debates/Extempores
Participating in debates, extempores – anchoring for your school function, giving a speech, all of these activities help boost your creative spirit. These group events make you understand what other people are envisioning, which in turn helps you generate new ideas, approaches, and methods. Not only do they improve your articulation and research skills, but they also develop critical thinking and emotional control abilities. All of these promote a better creative writing aptitude.
8. Start a YouTube Channel or Podcast
Starting a YouTube channel or podcast will definitely level up your creative game. YouTube is a never-ending platform, covering myriads of topics. Choose a particular niche for your channel.
Then do your topic research, create content, manage SEO, approach brands, talk to clients and influencers – do all the good stuff. Communicating with other influencers and creating content will take your creative writing skills to another level. Starting a podcast will have a similar impact.
9. Love them? Say it with your words!
We have many festivals, occasions, birthdays, parties, anniversaries and whatnot! You can employ these special days and boost your creative writing skills. You can make a token of love for them – writing about your feelings. You can also make gift cards, birthday cards, dinner menus, and so on. So let’s say, it’s your mother’s birthday, you can write her a token of love, elucidating your feelings and letting her know what all she’s done for you and that you’re grateful. Do this for all your near and dear ones. This not only spreads positivity and love but helps you develop your creative aptitude.
10. The What-if Game
The What-If game is an incredible way to upgrade your creative abilities. You can play this game with your friends, cousins, relatives, or solo. Here, you need to find links to many interesting hypothetical questions. For instance, what if the sun doesn’t rise for a week? What if there’s no oxygen for one minute? Play it with your peeps, or ask these questions to yourself. It can be anything random but concrete. If you don’t know the answers to the questions, look them up on Google. This way, you’re training your mind to learn new concepts all the while enhancing your visualization process.
We can conclude that creative writing encourages students to think creatively, use their imaginations, imply alternatives, expand their thinking processes, and improve their problem-solving skills. It also allows the child to express themselves and grow their voice. Besides, it enhances reasoning abilities. The principle behind the creative writing concept is that everyone can gain the qualities that are needed to become a successful writer or, rather become good at writing. Creative writing is all about using language in new and innovative ways.
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Teaching Creative Writing with High School Students
Teaching creative writing will stretch you as a person and as a teacher. If you’re looking for h ow to teach a creative writing class, I hope my refection process benefits you.
This past semester, I was tasked with teaching creative writing for the first time. Before I dive into the second semester, I want to reflect on my experiences. This sort of class is one that I will never teach the same way twice because my writers will always have different needs. Still, I need to process what approaches worked and did not work.
If these ideas help another teacher, great! Below is what I learned from teaching creative writing with high school students. As I consider h ow to teach creative writing, I realize that much of the process includes diverse learning tools and encouragement from me to students.
Also! I have a freebie in this post that you can hand students tomorrow! Sign up for Language Arts Classroom’s library to receive the handout and other freebies:
Now, here are my ideas for h ow to teach creative writing with high school students.
Encourage peer collaboration and feedback.
High school students don’t always value interaction, brainstorming, and creating with peers. Such collaboration is important in any class; in creative writing, it is vital. When I began collaboration with students, I didn’t always see the results I wanted. As I continue to t each creative writing, I realized the importance of providing a model.
Even though I work with older students, I still need to model the collaborative process. I often did this by writing a sample, verbalizing what I liked and disliked, and asking for student approval. Plus, I never let questionable feedback offend me; I would instead articulate what the student said about my work.
The next time that I teach creative writing, I need to be more intentional with designing feedback. Sure, older students understand that collaboration is important and that kindness moves their messages forward. Still, I should provide exact examples for them to model their feedback.
Creative writing improves with feedback.
Because imaginations dominate the writing, it is easy for students to lose track of transitions and explanations. The story might be interesting, but a fresh reader might be confused. Part of the fun of creative writing includes breaking grammar rules. But! The subtraction of rules can’t include adding confusion. Creative writing assignments for high school must include discussions of structure, organization, and clarity.
Remind students that at the end of a book, the author thanks a list of people who provided feedback and encouragement. The list of readers is long . Professional writers gladly accept feedback. Train students to think of feedback as part of the process. Show students what authors think of their process.
Students might understand that they should provide feedback, but they should also understand that receiving feedback is important too.
Use images to spur creativity.
Creative writing assignments for high school should include images! Pictures are a perfect scaffolding tool for teaching creative writing.
This brainstorming technique worked multiple times when students found a wall. Grab some pictures from the Internet and compile them into a presentation like I did for this character activity . You can also head outside or ask students to contribute pictures. I have many Pinterest boards that inspire my own writing. Encourage students to develop a process that inspires them as writers.
Now that you have pictures, try brainstorming. What colors, depths, and shadows do students see in these images? How can those descriptions better their writing?
Another opportunity for images is to head outside with your writers. You might focus students by providing certain images for them to analyze.
Review dialogue rules.
Dialogue confused my students, and I’m not sure I have a solid reason as to why. I’m guessing that the rules differ from citations in formal writing, and that is their typical writing assignment. I had my students bookmark this page . We reviewed and practiced dialogue frequently.
Practicing punctuation, reviewing grammar rules, and breaking grammar rules can be great addition to teach creative writing.
Implement literary devices.
All those literary devices students find in literature? Now it is their turn to implement them! Some, like similes and direct characterization, come naturally. Students automatically include many literary devices. Don’t be afraid to read literature as you teach creative writing. Inspiration and examples help young writers, especially concerning literary devices.
Trickier literary devices? My class and I really worked with indirect characterization, conflicts , and setting . Students had too much telling and not enough showing. I’ve found that using pictures is a great scaffolding technique as I teach creative writing. Pictures inspire students to see angles they normally wouldn’t by simply imagining their story. Pictures provide a step for students as they implement literary devices in their creative writing activities.
As I teach creative writing, I realize the importance of pulling examples from literature. Students read creative writing! Emphasize that point with them.
Whatever your creative writing activities for high school students, you should include character development. Students really bloom when they craft characters. Sometimes students need prompting, so I created a brainstorming list for students, and you may download it for free .
Why did I do this? Creating and developing characters is hard! Students know interesting characters; in fact, I spent time brainstorming memorable ones with students. Then, we discussed why those characters stayed in their memories.
From our discussions, students realized that these characters have multiple levels. They have quirks and unlikable traits. No human is perfect; a realistic character isn’t either. We gave our characters mild obsessions (chewing nails), memorable habits (eating cheesy waffles for breakfast), and a unique style (red jean jacket). To do this, I asked characters to brainstorm more information for their character than they would ever include in their story. Creative writing assignments for high school can be analytical: Older students have years of viewing and reading characters!
Why? Well, students then had an image of the character which flowed into the development. The ideas were easier to weave into the story when students had this background information. Finally, students had a unique character they invested in before they began writing a story.
Teaching creative writing was rewarding in many ways. Students expressed their concerns and fears, joys and triumphs. When I took over this class, I wondered what the outcome would be. This was my first experience teaching creative writing, and I was nervous. Now as I prepare for the new semester, I’m excited to see what students develop and what I can create to help them.
You are welcome to download the characterization brainstorming sheet for free! Sign-up for Language Art Classroom’s library to download it and other freebies.
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How to Teach Creative Writing | 7 Steps to Get Students Wordsmithing
“I don’t have any ideas!”
“I can’t think of anything!”
While we see creative writing as a world of limitless imagination, our students often see an overwhelming desert of “no idea.”
But when you teach creative writing effectively, you’ll notice that every student is brimming over with ideas that just have to get out.
So what does teaching creative writing effectively look like?
We’ve outlined a seven-step method that will scaffold your students through each phase of the creative process from idea generation through to final edits.
7. Create inspiring and original prompts
Use the following formats to generate prompts that get students inspired:
- personal memories (“Write about a person who taught you an important lesson”)
- imaginative scenarios
- prompts based on a familiar mentor text (e.g. “Write an alternative ending to your favorite book”). These are especially useful for giving struggling students an easy starting point.
- lead-in sentences (“I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somehow overnight I…”).
- fascinating or thought-provoking images with a directive (“Who do you think lives in this mountain cabin? Tell their story”).
Don’t have the time or stuck for ideas? Check out our list of 100 student writing prompts
6. unpack the prompts together.
Explicitly teach your students how to dig deeper into the prompt for engaging and original ideas.
Probing questions are an effective strategy for digging into a prompt. Take this one for example:
“I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somehow overnight I…”
Ask “What questions need answering here?” The first thing students will want to know is:
What happened overnight?
No doubt they’ll be able to come up with plenty of zany answers to that question, but there’s another one they could ask to make things much more interesting:
Who might “I” be?
In this way, you subtly push students to go beyond the obvious and into more original and thoughtful territory. It’s even more useful with a deep prompt:
“Write a story where the main character starts to question something they’ve always believed.”
Here students could ask:
- What sorts of beliefs do people take for granted?
- What might make us question those beliefs?
- What happens when we question something we’ve always thought is true?
- How do we feel when we discover that something isn’t true?
Try splitting students into groups, having each group come up with probing questions for a prompt, and then discussing potential “answers” to these questions as a class.
The most important lesson at this point should be that good ideas take time to generate. So don’t rush this step!
5. Warm-up for writing
A quick warm-up activity will:
- allow students to see what their discussed ideas look like on paper
- help fix the “I don’t know how to start” problem
- warm up writing muscles quite literally (especially important for young learners who are still developing handwriting and fine motor skills).
Freewriting is a particularly effective warm-up. Give students 5–10 minutes to “dump” all their ideas for a prompt onto the page for without worrying about structure, spelling, or grammar.
After about five minutes you’ll notice them starting to get into the groove, and when you call time, they’ll have a better idea of what captures their interest.
Did you know? The Story Factory in Reading Eggs allows your students to write and publish their own storybooks using an easy step-by-step guide.
4. Start planning
Now it’s time for students to piece all these raw ideas together and generate a plan. This will synthesize disjointed ideas and give them a roadmap for the writing process.
Note: at this stage your strong writers might be more than ready to get started on a creative piece. If so, let them go for it – use planning for students who are still puzzling things out.
Here are four ideas for planning:
A graphic organiser will allow your students to plan out the overall structure of their writing. They’re also particularly useful in “chunking” the writing process, so students don’t see it as one big wall of text.
Storyboards and illustrations
These will engage your artistically-minded students and give greater depth to settings and characters. Just make sure that drawing doesn’t overshadow the writing process.
If you have students who are hesitant to commit words to paper, tell them to think out loud and record it on their device. Often they’ll be surprised at how well their spoken words translate to the page.
Write a blurb
This takes a bit more explicit teaching, but it gets students to concisely summarize all their main ideas (without giving away spoilers). Look at some blurbs on the back of published books before getting them to write their own. Afterward they could test it out on a friend – based on the blurb, would they borrow it from the library?
3. Produce rough drafts
Warmed up and with a plan at the ready, your students are now ready to start wordsmithing. But before they start on a draft, remind them of what a draft is supposed to be:
- a work in progress.
Remind them that if they wait for the perfect words to come, they’ll end up with blank pages .
Instead, it’s time to take some writing risks and get messy. Encourage this by:
- demonstrating the writing process to students yourself
- taking the focus off spelling and grammar (during the drafting stage)
- providing meaningful and in-depth feedback (using words, not ticks!).
Reading Eggs also gives you access to an ever-expanding collection of over 3,500 online books!
2. share drafts for peer feedback.
Don’t saddle yourself with 30 drafts for marking. Peer assessment is a better (and less exhausting) way to ensure everyone receives the feedback they need.
Why? Because for something as personal as creative writing, feedback often translates better when it’s in the familiar and friendly language that only a peer can produce. Looking at each other’s work will also give students more ideas about how they can improve their own.
Scaffold peer feedback to ensure it’s constructive. The following methods work well:
A simple rubric allows students to deliver more in-depth feedback than “It was pretty good.” The criteria will depend on what you are ultimately looking for, but students could assess each other’s:
- use of language.
Whatever you opt for, just make sure the language you use in the rubric is student-friendly.
Two positives and a focus area
Have students identify two things their peer did well, and one area that they could focus on further, then turn this into written feedback. Model the process for creating specific comments so you get something more constructive than “It was pretty good.” It helps to use stems such as:
I really liked this character because…
I found this idea interesting because it made me think…
I was a bit confused by…
I wonder why you… Maybe you could… instead.
1. The editing stage
Now that students have a draft and feedback, here’s where we teachers often tell them to “go over it” or “give it some final touches.”
But our students don’t always know how to edit.
Scaffold the process with questions that encourage students to think critically about their writing, such as:
- Are there any parts that would be confusing if I wasn’t there to explain them?
- Are there any parts that seem irrelevant to the rest?
- Which parts am I most uncertain about?
- Does the whole thing flow together, or are there parts that seem out of place?
- Are there places where I could have used a better word?
- Are there any grammatical or spelling errors I notice?
Key to this process is getting students to read their creative writing from start to finish .
Important note: if your students are using a word processor, show them where the spell-check is and how to use it. Sounds obvious, but in the age of autocorrect, many students simply don’t know.
A final word on teaching creative writing
Remember that the best writers write regularly.
Incorporate them into your lessons as often as possible, and soon enough, you’ll have just as much fun marking your students’ creative writing as they do producing it.
Need more help supporting your students’ writing?
Read up on how to get reluctant writers writing , strategies for supporting struggling secondary writers , or check out our huge list of writing prompts for kids .
Watch your students get excited about writing and publishing their own storybooks in the Story Factory
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Embark on the Journey
High school creative writing.
You can teach high school creative writing even if you’re not a writer yourself! Come see how you can do it without killing their creativity.
What do you do when your child loves creative writing, and you have no idea how to teach it?
You research, of course! We have used so many writing programs over the years trying to find something that would combine my daughter’s passion for creative writing with my desire to train her to write college-level papers.
The problem is that I’m not a creative writer. Yes, I know. I’m a blogger, and I just said “I’m not a writer.” I’m a chatter. I talk to you through my blog. I write as if we’re hanging out at the coffee shop talking about homeschooling and being moms. I write non-fiction. True stuff. Life lessons.
High School Creative Writing Curriculum
Writing essays and research papers…
That’s a whole different story. I can teach the basics of a five-paragraph essay. I can teach the proper way to site resources in a research paper. But, my math-loving, left-brain self cannot “teach” creative writing.
What is Writing Fiction in High School?
Writing Fiction [in High School]: Bringing Your Stories to Life is a writing curriculum designed to introduce high school students to the concepts of fiction. Seems pretty clear cut, huh? But, what exactly does that mean?
This writing course is designed to help high schoolers write fictional short stories and novels.
There are two tracks available in this course. One track is designed for all writers no matter how proficient they are with writing. The second track, which is optional, is designed for students who have already begun writing their own short story or novel. The assignments throughout the course are clearly marked as to which ones are for everyone and which target the manuscript tract.
Topics covered throughout this course include point of view, conflict, dialogue, theme, plot, and more.
What do we think about it?
My daughter, 8th grade, has many notebooks full of short stories and the beginnings of novels. She turns her interests and life stories into stories that she may or may not ever publish. Her goal for this program is to “get better writing skills for my stories.”
She is really enjoying the assignments so far. “They’re fun, and they are helping me grow as a writer.”
How do we use it in our homeschool?
Writing is best done in some form of a group setting so writers can receive critiques and feedback on their work. Since we don’t have a writing group of our own, she and I are going through this course together.
I have no desire to formally write a short story or novel so you could consider me a reluctant writer. My kiddo, as I mentioned above, has notebooks and notebooks full of short stories.
The beauty of Writing Fiction [in High School] is that it appeals to us both. For my writer, it is showing her new techniques and honing the skills she’ll need to continue working on the stories she’s started. For me, the lessons are easy to follow, easy to understand, and not intimidating. They’re easy to teach and fun to do. We’re both having a lot of fun!
Each of the thirteen chapters in the book contains multiple lessons. There is a clear “end of today’s lesson” sign at the end of each section. We try to complete at least one section 3-4 days a week.
We’re having lively discussions about the lessons and about our writing. Sharing our writing offers us a chance to look at each other’s perspective. So far, our favorite activity has been to write an ABC story – a 26 line story with each line beginning with the next letter of the alphabet.
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How to Prepare to Teach Creative Writing
Last Updated: November 3, 2022
wikiHow is a “wiki,” similar to Wikipedia, which means that many of our articles are co-written by multiple authors. To create this article, 16 people, some anonymous, worked to edit and improve it over time. This article has been viewed 13,699 times.
Preparing to teach creative writing requires a mixture of formal instruction in teaching methods as well as an inborn appreciation of the craft of writing honed by instruction and practice. If you wish to teach others how to write, here are steps to take and things to consider in building a career as a creative writing teacher.
Academic and Writing Preparation
- Required courses for a bachelor's in English include classes in language and literature as well as in writing. English majors may be required to take classes in technical as well as creative writing. Students preparing for a bachelor of science in education with a concentration in English also take classes in the nature of language and how to teach an English class to others. Some programs may also require a certain number of hours in foreign language classes.
- Most MFA programs require a 2- to 3-year commitment, which culminates in preparing a thesis, consisting of some form of creative writing, such as a novel or anthology of short stories or poetry. Programs consist of a mixture of writing opportunities and coursework, which may either be conducted on-campus or online. Some programs offer stipends to fund students' writing projects, while others offer teaching assistant positions to pay students' expenses and may even offer graduate students the opportunity to design their own courses.
- PhD programs in creative writing are structured similarly to MFA programs, but over a longer period of time (8 years on average), with a greater amount of independent study and the requirement to create a doctoral dissertation. It is possible to engage in a more research-oriented PhD program, although some colleges may consider this a detriment instead of an advantage for candidates applying for teaching positions.
- While being published by a college or university press still has more cachet than a mainstream publisher or small press, the rise of print-on-demand publishers has raised the status of non-university presses. You still need to provide your best-quality writing samples when applying for a college position.
- Other activities you can take part in include reading submissions to literary magazines or raising funds for them.
Applying for a College Writing Teacher Position
- One candidate used his prior experience to learn the names of his interviewers and what works they had published. On many of his interviews, he was complimented for being the only candidate to have an interest in his interviewers' work.
- Letter of application: A 2-page summary of your credentials, written in a clear, captivating style and tailored to the position you're applying for. If you're already teaching writing somewhere, you can use the letterhead of the institution you're presently teaching at.
- Curriculum vitae (CV/resume): Your CV should list your education, teaching experience, list of publications, service, list of references with contact information, and availability of letters of recommendation. Although you don't have to list every last publication, your CV should be comprehensive. (Unlike a business resume, which is typically 1 to 2 pages in length, a CV can be whatever length it needs to be to cover everything significant you've done.)
- Writing sample: Choose your best writing sample that is most appropriate to the institution you're applying to, preferably a book if you have one and can afford to send a copy to each institution you're applying to.
- Recommendations: You should have 4 to 8 letters of recommendation from professors and other writers who know your work and are familiar with your teaching style. The letters should be written as close to the time you start applying for positions as possible; allow 6 weeks' time for your recommender to draft the letter. Letters should be sent to the career center of your current institution or to the dossier service run by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) if you're applying for your first position.
- Transcript: Not always required, but many institutions require a transcript as a quick means to verify that you actually earned the degrees you claim to hold. Photocopies are acceptable.
- Interviews may be held either on-campus or at the Modern Language Association (MLA) convention, held either December or January in a major city. Your travel expenses to a college campus are usually covered by the institution, but you'll have to pay your own way to the MLA convention.
- You may find it helpful to have writing experience outside the field or genre for which you plan to apply. Skills in journalism and grant writing can be particularly beneficial. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Competition for tenure-track creative writing teaching positions can be fierce, due to the number of MFA and PhD programs in creative writing and the number of graduates from those programs who have published their work. It's helpful to prepare as fully as possible, while also considering other options for using your degree, such as advertising or working for a publishing house. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
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How to Teach Creative Writing
Jan 20, 2021 | Articles , General
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.
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Great write-up. Learnt a lot from it. Although I have no intentions of teaching writing, it did give me a few insights on ways to look at things to make myself a better writer.
I think that is a very fair closing. Not everyone learns creative writing the same nor do they develop skills within writing itself the same. I know some brilliant writers who are horrible at grammar but they can tell some of the best stories. I think that whatever approach you take, you learn from your own experiences and learn from where you are. Things like grammar can be corrected but you can’t correct a poorly written story.
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Our 2020-21 Writing Curriculum for Middle and High School
A flexible, seven-unit program based on the real-world writing found in newspapers, from editorials and reviews to personal narratives and informational essays.
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Update: Find our 2021-22 writing curriculum here.
Our 2019-20 Writing Curriculum is one of the most popular new features we’ve ever run on this site, so, of course, we’re back with a 2020-21 version — one we hope is useful whether you’re teaching in person , online , indoors , outdoors , in a pod , as a homeschool , or in some hybrid of a few of these.
The curriculum detailed below is both a road map for teachers and an invitation to students. For teachers, it includes our writing prompts, mentor texts, contests and lesson plans, and organizes them all into seven distinct units. Each focuses on a different genre of writing that you can find not just in The Times but also in all kinds of real-world sources both in print and online.
But for students, our main goal is to show young people they have something valuable to say, and to give those voices a global audience. That’s always been a pillar of our site, but this year it is even more critical. The events of 2020 will define this generation, and many are living through them isolated from their ordinary communities, rituals and supports. Though a writing curriculum can hardly make up for that, we hope that it can at least offer teenagers a creative outlet for making sense of their experiences, and an enthusiastic audience for the results. Through the opportunities for publication woven throughout each unit, we want to encourage students to go beyond simply being media consumers to become creators and contributors themselves.
So have a look, and see if you can find a way to include any of these opportunities in your curriculum this year, whether to help students document their lives, tell stories, express opinions, investigate ideas, or analyze culture. We can’t wait to hear what your students have to say!
Each unit includes:
Writing prompts to help students try out related skills in a “low stakes” way.
We publish two writing prompts every school day, and we also have thematic collections of more than 1,000 prompts published in the past. Your students might consider responding to these prompts on our site and using our public forums as a kind of “rehearsal space” for practicing voice and technique.
Daily opportunities to practice writing for an authentic audience.
If a student submits a comment on our site, it will be read by Times editors, who approve each one before it gets published. Submitting a comment also gives students an audience of fellow teenagers from around the world who might read and respond to their work. Each week, we call out our favorite comments and honor dozens of students by name in our Thursday “ Current Events Conversation ” feature.
Guided practice with mentor texts .
Each unit we publish features guided practice lessons, written directly to students, that help them observe, understand and practice the kinds of “craft moves” that make different genres of writing sing. From how to “show not tell” in narratives to how to express critical opinions , quote or paraphrase experts or craft scripts for podcasts , we have used the work of both Times journalists and the teenage winners of our contests to show students techniques they can emulate.
“Annotated by the Author” commentaries from Times writers — and teenagers.
As part of our Mentor Texts series , we’ve been asking Times journalists from desks across the newsroom to annotate their articles to let students in on their writing, research and editing processes, and we’ll be adding more for each unit this year. Whether it’s Science writer Nicholas St. Fleur on tiny tyrannosaurs , Opinion writer Aisha Harris on the cultural canon , or The Times’s comics-industry reporter, George Gene Gustines, on comic books that celebrate pride , the idea is to demystify journalism for teenagers. This year, we’ll be inviting student winners of our contests to annotate their work as well.
A contest that can act as a culminating project .
Over the years we’ve heard from many teachers that our contests serve as final projects in their classes, and this curriculum came about in large part because we want to help teachers “plan backwards” to support those projects.
All contest entries are considered by experts, whether Times journalists, outside educators from partner organizations, or professional practitioners in a related field. Winning means being published on our site, and, perhaps, in the print edition of The New York Times.
Webinars and our new professional learning community (P.L.C.).
For each of the seven units in this curriculum, we host a webinar featuring Learning Network editors as well as teachers who use The Times in their classrooms. Our webinars introduce participants to our many resources and provide practical how-to’s on how to use our prompts, mentor texts and contests in the classroom.
New for this school year, we also invite teachers to join our P.L.C. on teaching writing with The Times , where educators can share resources, strategies and inspiration about teaching with these units.
Below are the seven units we will offer in the 2020-21 school year.
Unit 1: Documenting Teenage Lives in Extraordinary Times
This special unit acknowledges both the tumultuous events of 2020 and their outsized impact on young people — and invites teenagers to respond creatively. How can they add their voices to our understanding of what this historic year will mean for their generation?
Culminating in our Coming of Age in 2020 contest, the unit helps teenagers document and respond to what it’s been like to live through what one Times article describes as “a year of tragedy, of catastrophe, of upheaval, a year that has inflicted one blow after another, a year that has filled the morgues, emptied the schools, shuttered the workplaces, swelled the unemployment lines and polarized the electorate.”
A series of writing prompts, mentor texts and a step-by-step guide will help them think deeply and analytically about who they are, how this year has impacted them, what they’d like to express as a result, and how they’d like to express it. How might they tell their unique stories in ways that feel meaningful and authentic, whether those stories are serious or funny, big or small, raw or polished?
Though the contest accepts work across genres — via words and images, video and audio — all students will also craft written artist’s statements for each piece they submit. In addition, no matter what genre of work students send in, the unit will use writing as a tool throughout to help students brainstorm, compose and edit. And, of course, this work, whether students send it to us or not, is valuable far beyond the classroom: Historians, archivists and museums recommend that we all document our experiences this year, if only for ourselves.
Unit 2: The Personal Narrative
While The Times is known for its award-winning journalism, the paper also has a robust tradition of publishing personal essays on topics like love , family , life on campus and navigating anxiety . And on our site, our daily writing prompts have long invited students to tell us their stories, too. Our 2019 collection of 550 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing is a good place to start, though we add more every week during the school year.
In this unit we draw on many of these resources, plus some of the 1,000-plus personal essays from the Magazine’s long-running Lives column , to help students find their own “short, memorable stories ” and tell them well. Our related mentor-text lessons can help them practice skills like writing with voice , using details to show rather than tell , structuring a narrative arc , dropping the reader into a scene and more. This year, we’ll also be including mentor text guided lessons that use the work of the 2019 student winners.
As a final project, we invite students to send finished stories to our Second Annual Personal Narrative Writing Contest .
Unit 3: The Review
Book reports and literary essays have long been staples of language arts classrooms, but this unit encourages students to learn how to critique art in other genres as well. As we point out, a cultural review is, of course, a form of argumentative essay. Your class might be writing about Lizzo or “ Looking for Alaska ,” but they still have to make claims and support them with evidence. And, just as they must in a literature essay, they have to read (or watch, or listen to) a work closely; analyze it and understand its context; and explain what is meaningful and interesting about it.
In our Mentor Texts series , we feature the work of Times movie , restaurant , book and music critics to help students understand the elements of a successful review. In each one of these guided lessons, we also spotlight the work of teenage contest winners from previous years.
As a culminating project, we invite students to send us their own reviews of a book, movie, restaurant, album, theatrical production, video game, dance performance, TV show, art exhibition or any other kind of work The Times critiques.
Unit 4: Informational Writing
Informational writing is the style of writing that dominates The New York Times as well as any other traditional newspaper you might read, and in this unit we hope to show students that it can be every bit as engaging and compelling to read and to write as other genres. Via thousands of articles a month — from front-page reporting on politics to news about athletes in Sports, deep data dives in The Upshot, recipes in Cooking, advice columns in Style and long-form investigative pieces in the magazine — Times journalists find ways to experiment with the genre to intrigue and inform their audiences.
This unit invites students to take any STEM-related discovery, process or idea that interests them and write about it in a way that makes it understandable and engaging for a general audience — but all the skills we teach along the way can work for any kind of informational writing. Via our Mentor Texts series, we show them how to hook the reader from the start , use quotes and research , explain why a topic matters and more. This year we’ll be using the work of the 2020 student winners for additional mentor text lessons.
At the end of the unit, we invite teenagers to submit their own writing to our Second Annual STEM writing contest to show us what they’ve learned.
Unit 5: Argumentative Writing
The demand for evidence-based argumentative writing is now woven into school assignments across the curriculum and grade levels, and you couldn’t ask for better real-world examples than what you can find in The Times Opinion section .
This unit will, like our others, be supported with writing prompts, mentor-text lesson plans, webinars and more. We’ll also focus on the winning teenage writing we’ve received over the six years we’ve run our related contest.
At a time when media literacy is more important than ever, we also hope that our annual Student Editorial Contest can serve as a final project that encourages students to broaden their information diets with a range of reliable sources, and learn from a variety of perspectives on their chosen issue.
To help students working from home, we also have an Argumentative Unit for Students Doing Remote Learning .
Unit 6: Writing for Podcasts
Most of our writing units so far have all asked for essays of one kind or another, but this spring contest invites students to do what journalists at The Times do every day: make multimedia to tell a story, investigate an issue or communicate a concept.
Our annual podcast contest gives students the freedom to talk about anything they want in any form they like. In the past we’ve had winners who’ve done personal narratives, local travelogues, opinion pieces, interviews with community members, local investigative journalism and descriptions of scientific discoveries.
As with all our other units, we have supported this contest with great examples from The Times and around the web, as well as with mentor texts by teenagers that offer guided practice in understanding elements and techniques.
Unit 7: Independent Reading and Writing
At a time when teachers are looking for ways to offer students more “voice and choice,” this unit, based on our annual summer contest, offers both.
Every year since 2010 we have invited teenagers around the world to add The New York Times to their summer reading lists and, so far, 70,000 have. Every week for 10 weeks, we ask participants to choose something in The Times that has sparked their interest, then tell us why. At the end of the week, judges from the Times newsroom pick favorite responses, and we publish them on our site.
And we’ve used our Mentor Text feature to spotlight the work of past winners , explain why newsroom judges admired their thinking, and provide four steps to helping any student write better reader-responses.
Because this is our most open-ended contest — students can choose whatever they like, and react however they like — it has proved over the years to be a useful place for young writers to hone their voices, practice skills and take risks . Join us!
Ideas, Inspiration, and Giveaways for Teachers
We Are Teachers
10 Creative Writing Activities That Help Students Tell Their Stories
Lower the stakes and help them get started.
“I don’t have a story. There’s nothing interesting about my life!” Sound familiar? I don’t know a teacher who hasn’t heard students say this. When we ask our students to write about themselves, they get stuck. We know how important it is for them to tell their own stories. It’s how we explore our identities and keep our histories and cultures alive. It can even be dangerous when we don’t tell our stories (check out this Ted Talk given by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and share it with your students for more on that). Storytelling is essential for every subject, not just English Language Arts; students dive deeper and engage when they practice thinking about how their own stories intersect with historical events, civic engagement, and the real-world implications of STEM. These 10 creative writing activities can work in every subject you teach:
Here are 10 of our favorite story telling activities that inspire students:
1. write an “i am from” poem.
Students read the poem “I am From” by George Ella Lyon. Then, they draft a poem about their own identity in the same format Lyon used. Finally, students create a video to publish their poems. We love this one because the mentor text gives a clear structure and example that students can follow. But the end result is truly unique, just like their story.
2. Design a social media post to share an important memory
How can you use your unique perspective to tell a story? We want our students to learn that they are truly unique and have stories that only they can tell that other people want to hear or could relate to or learn from. In this activity, students watch two Pixar-in-a-Box videos on Khan Academy to learn about storytelling and perspective. Then, they identify an interesting or poignant memory and design a social media post.
3. Create an image using a line to chart an emotional journey
How do you show emotion using a single line? In this activity, students watch a Pixar in a Box video on Khan Academy to learn about how lines communicate character, emotion, and tension. Then they experiment with these aspects as they write their story. We love using this for pre-writing and to help students explore their story arc. Also, for students who love to draw or learn visually, this can help them get started telling their story and show them that there are many different ways to tell a story.
4. Tell the story behind your name
Sharing the story behind our name is a way to tell a story about ourselves, our culture, and our family history. And if there isn’t a story behind it, we can talk about how we feel about it and describe what it sounds like. In this activity, students use video to introduce themselves to their classmates by discussing the origin of their name. This project asks students to connect their names (and identities) to their personal and familial histories and to larger historical forces. If you’re looking for a mentor text that pairs well with this one, try “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros .
5. Develop a visual character sketch
Give students the time to create a character sketch of themselves. This will help them see how they fit into their story. In this lesson, students create a visual character sketch. They’ll treat themselves like a character and learn to see themselves objectively.
6. Create a webpage to outline the story of your movie
Building a story spine is a great way to show students how to put the parts of their story in an order that makes sense. It’s an exercise in making choices about structure. We like this activity because it gives students a chance to see different examples of structure in storytelling. Then, they consider the question: how can you use structure to set your story up for success? Finally, they design and illustrate an outline for their story.
7. Respond to a variety of writing prompts
Sometimes our students get stuck because they aren’t inspired or need a different entry point into telling their story. Give them a lot of writing prompts that they can choose from. Pass out paper and pencils. Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Then, write 3-4 writing prompts on the board. Encourage students to free-write and not worry about whether their ideas are good or right. Some of our favorite prompts to encourage students to tell their story are:
- I don’t know why I remember…
- What’s your favorite place and why?
- What objects tell the story of your life?
- What might surprise someone to learn about you?
8. Create a self-portrait exploring identity and self-expression
Part of what makes writing your own story so difficult for students is that they are just building their identity. In this activity, students explore how they and others define their identity. What role does identity play in determining how they are perceived and treated by others? What remains hidden and what is shown publicly?
9. Film a video to share an important story from your life
Encourage students to think about how to tell the story of a day they faced their fears. Students consider the question: How can you use different shot types to tell your story? They watch a video from Pixar in a Box on Khan Academy to learn about different camera shots and their use in storytelling. Then, they use Adobe Spark Post or Photoshop and choose three moments from their story to make into shots. We love using this to help students think about pace and perspective. Sometimes what we leave out of our story is just as important as what we include.
10. Try wild writing
Laurie Powers created a process where you read a poem and then select two lines from it. Students start their own writing with one of those lines. Anytime that they get stuck, they repeat their jump-off line again. This is a standalone activity or a daily writing warm-up, and it works with any poem. We love how it lowers the stakes. Can’t think of anything to write? Repeat the jump-off line and start again. Here are some of our favorite jump-off lines:
- The truth is…
- Some people say…
- Here’s what I forgot to tell you…
- Some questions have no answers…
- Here’s what I’m afraid to write about…
Julie Mason is a Senior Editor at WeAreTeachers. She taught middle and high school English, and is a blended and personalized learning instructional coach. She loves reading a book in one sitting, good coffee, and spending time with her husband and sons.
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With larry ferlazzo.
In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected] Read more from this blog.
Four Strategies for Effective Writing Instruction
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(This is the first post in a two-part series.)
The new question-of-the-week is:
What is the single most effective instructional strategy you have used to teach writing?
Teaching and learning good writing can be a challenge to educators and students alike.
The topic is no stranger to this column—you can see many previous related posts at Writing Instruction .
But I don’t think any of us can get too much good instructional advice in this area.
Today, Jenny Vo, Michele Morgan, and Joy Hamm share wisdom gained from their teaching experience.
Before I turn over the column to them, though, I’d like to share my favorite tool(s).
Graphic organizers, including writing frames (which are basically more expansive sentence starters) and writing structures (which function more as guides and less as “fill-in-the-blanks”) are critical elements of my writing instruction.
You can see an example of how I incorporate them in my seven-week story-writing unit and in the adaptations I made in it for concurrent teaching.
You might also be interested in The Best Scaffolded Writing Frames For Students .
Now, to today’s guests:
Jenny Vo earned her B.A. in English from Rice University and her M.Ed. in educational leadership from Lamar University. She has worked with English-learners during all of her 24 years in education and is currently an ESL ISST in Katy ISD in Katy, Texas. Jenny is the president-elect of TexTESOL IV and works to advocate for all ELs:
The single most effective instructional strategy that I have used to teach writing is shared writing. Shared writing is when the teacher and students write collaboratively. In shared writing, the teacher is the primary holder of the pen, even though the process is a collaborative one. The teacher serves as the scribe, while also questioning and prompting the students.
The students engage in discussions with the teacher and their peers on what should be included in the text. Shared writing can be done with the whole class or as a small-group activity.
There are two reasons why I love using shared writing. One, it is a great opportunity for the teacher to model the structures and functions of different types of writing while also weaving in lessons on spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
It is a perfect activity to do at the beginning of the unit for a new genre. Use shared writing to introduce the students to the purpose of the genre. Model the writing process from beginning to end, taking the students from idea generation to planning to drafting to revising to publishing. As you are writing, make sure you refrain from making errors, as you want your finished product to serve as a high-quality model for the students to refer back to as they write independently.
Another reason why I love using shared writing is that it connects the writing process with oral language. As the students co-construct the writing piece with the teacher, they are orally expressing their ideas and listening to the ideas of their classmates. It gives them the opportunity to practice rehearsing what they are going to say before it is written down on paper. Shared writing gives the teacher many opportunities to encourage their quieter or more reluctant students to engage in the discussion with the types of questions the teacher asks.
Writing well is a skill that is developed over time with much practice. Shared writing allows students to engage in the writing process while observing the construction of a high-quality sample. It is a very effective instructional strategy used to teach writing.
Michele Morgan has been writing IEPs and behavior plans to help students be more successful for 17 years. She is a national-board-certified teacher, Utah Teacher Fellow with Hope Street Group, and a special education elementary new-teacher specialist with the Granite school district. Follow her @MicheleTMorgan1:
For many students, writing is the most dreaded part of the school day. Writing involves many complex processes that students have to engage in before they produce a product—they must determine what they will write about, they must organize their thoughts into a logical sequence, and they must do the actual writing, whether on a computer or by hand. Still they are not done—they must edit their writing and revise mistakes. With all of that, it’s no wonder that students struggle with writing assignments.
In my years working with elementary special education students, I have found that writing is the most difficult subject to teach. Not only do my students struggle with the writing process, but they often have the added difficulties of not knowing how to spell words and not understanding how to use punctuation correctly. That is why the single most effective strategy I use when teaching writing is the Four Square graphic organizer.
The Four Square instructional strategy was developed in 1999 by Judith S. Gould and Evan Jay Gould. When I first started teaching, a colleague allowed me to borrow the Goulds’ book about using the Four Square method, and I have used it ever since. The Four Square is a graphic organizer that students can make themselves when given a blank sheet of paper. They fold it into four squares and draw a box in the middle of the page. The genius of this instructional strategy is that it can be used by any student, in any grade level, for any writing assignment. These are some of the ways I have used this strategy successfully with my students:
* Writing sentences: Students can write the topic for the sentence in the middle box, and in each square, they can draw pictures of details they want to add to their writing.
* Writing paragraphs: Students write the topic sentence in the middle box. They write a sentence containing a supporting detail in three of the squares and they write a concluding sentence in the last square.
* Writing short essays: Students write what information goes in the topic paragraph in the middle box, then list details to include in supporting paragraphs in the squares.
When I gave students writing assignments, the first thing I had them do was create a Four Square. We did this so often that it became automatic. After filling in the Four Square, they wrote rough drafts by copying their work off of the graphic organizer and into the correct format, either on lined paper or in a Word document. This worked for all of my special education students!
I was able to modify tasks using the Four Square so that all of my students could participate, regardless of their disabilities. Even if they did not know what to write about, they knew how to start the assignment (which is often the hardest part of getting it done!) and they grew to be more confident in their writing abilities.
In addition, when it was time to take the high-stakes state writing tests at the end of the year, this was a strategy my students could use to help them do well on the tests. I was able to give them a sheet of blank paper, and they knew what to do with it. I have used many different curriculum materials and programs to teach writing in the last 16 years, but the Four Square is the one strategy that I have used with every writing assignment, no matter the grade level, because it is so effective.
Joy Hamm has taught 11 years in a variety of English-language settings, ranging from kindergarten to adult learners. The last few years working with middle and high school Newcomers and completing her M.Ed in TESOL have fostered stronger advocacy in her district and beyond:
A majority of secondary content assessments include open-ended essay questions. Many students falter (not just ELs) because they are unaware of how to quickly organize their thoughts into a cohesive argument. In fact, the WIDA CAN DO Descriptors list level 5 writing proficiency as “organizing details logically and cohesively.” Thus, the most effective cross-curricular secondary writing strategy I use with my intermediate LTELs (long-term English-learners) is what I call “Swift Structures.” This term simply means reading a prompt across any content area and quickly jotting down an outline to organize a strong response.
To implement Swift Structures, begin by displaying a prompt and modeling how to swiftly create a bubble map or outline beginning with a thesis/opinion, then connecting the three main topics, which are each supported by at least three details. Emphasize this is NOT the time for complete sentences, just bulleted words or phrases.
Once the outline is completed, show your ELs how easy it is to plug in transitions, expand the bullets into detailed sentences, and add a brief introduction and conclusion. After modeling and guided practice, set a 5-10 minute timer and have students practice independently. Swift Structures is one of my weekly bell ringers, so students build confidence and skill over time. It is best to start with easy prompts where students have preformed opinions and knowledge in order to focus their attention on the thesis-topics-supporting-details outline, not struggling with the rigor of a content prompt.
Here is one easy prompt example: “Should students be allowed to use their cellphones in class?”
Swift Structure outline:
Thesis - Students should be allowed to use cellphones because (1) higher engagement (2) learning tools/apps (3) gain 21st-century skills
Topic 1. Cellphones create higher engagement in students...
Details A. interactive (Flipgrid, Kahoot)
B. less tempted by distractions
C. teaches responsibility
Topic 2. Furthermore,...access to learning tools...
A. Google Translate description
B. language practice (Duolingo)
C. content tutorials (Kahn Academy)
Topic 3. In addition,...practice 21st-century skills…
Details A. prep for workforce
B. access to information
C. time-management support
This bare-bones outline is like the frame of a house. Get the structure right, and it’s easier to fill in the interior decorating (style, grammar), roof (introduction) and driveway (conclusion). Without the frame, the roof and walls will fall apart, and the reader is left confused by circuitous rubble.
Once LTELs have mastered creating simple Swift Structures in less than 10 minutes, it is time to introduce complex questions similar to prompts found on content assessments or essays. Students need to gain assurance that they can quickly and logically explain and justify their opinions on multiple content essays without freezing under pressure.
Thanks to Jenny, Michele, and Joy for their contributions!
Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.
Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.
You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .
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Your Essential Guide to Teaching Narrative Writing
UK Writer and Teacher
By the time students have learnt the basics of writing, they should have encountered many types of narrative and personal accounts. As they get older, they need to develop this understanding into rounded pieces of writing. That’s where you come in.
What should you include? How can you get the best out of your class? We unpick key strategies you can use to teach narrative writing well.
Show Students Good Examples of Narrative
Inspire students with a stimulus, give purpose to the writing, give students choice, look at structure, have a way to measure success, create a quick draft, teach writing skills, teach editing skills.
Why is it often only younger students who get a daily story?
You can’t write something you’ve never imagined. Students need to read widely to create good work. Expose them to significant works of fiction to inspire them. Promote reading in your school and share lists for different year groups to help them find something they’ll love. Watch out for the latest releases from popular authors.
Do you find your students always read the same types of stories? It’s hard for them to be creative when they’ve only experienced one genre style. Help them move out of their comfort zone with personalised recommendations.
Which leads us to your own reading habits. Make young adult (YA) fiction part of your own reading list. Then you can make recommendations and talk to your students about the books they’re going to love.
It’s wonderful to see many high school teachers finding time for creative writing. But all too often students struggle to think of ideas or face the dreaded ‘blank page’ feeling.
Use a stimulus to make creative writing sessions more exciting. Whether it’s a picture, text extract, or object, you’ll find a stimulus is useful for generating ideas and adding a purpose to the writing.
Increase their interest and ownership by giving them choices. Let them have fun with what they produce. Make it a surprising experience, rather than the same boring, familiar routine every time.
Why are they writing this? If there’s no reason for it, many will be wonder why they should bother. Be creative and find a purpose for each unit of work. Smaller pieces of writing can build towards this final outcome.
- Publish their work in a class blog
- Submit to the school newspaper
- Make classroom displays
- Write individual mini-books
- Enter writing competitions
- Create class books
- Read work out in assembly
- Record it as a video
- Publish on the school’s social media accounts or website
- Send it to the author whose work inspired them
The possibilities for purposeful writing are endless. It motivates students to try harder and gives a sense of achievement when finished. Writing for writing’s sake leads to lower outcomes.
Often, you’ll need your students to write in a particular way to improve one specific area. It’s easier to limit their choices so you can hone their abilities.
But do you shut down their other chances to get creative? When you limit one area of writing, try offering them more freedom in other areas. Students are less likely to chaff about a restriction, like writing in the first person, if they get to choose everything else.
When we read books, we get carried away by characters and plot. We don’t notice the structure of the text. Our students will not naturally spot the organisation that’s going on.
Unpick how narratives can be organised with your class. Play with the order of writing, looking at flashbacks, flash-forwards, alternative viewpoints, and change of narrator. When you draw attention to the structure, your students will start using it in their personal work.
Use diagrams to show how narrative writing can be structured in different ways, normally using conflict to drive the action forwards. There’s no correct way to show this. You’ll find inspiration on Pinterest and Google image searches for different story planner templates.
Students can’t imagine what you’re looking for. You must show them what you expect. Sharing ‘What a Good One Looks Like’ (WAGOLL) lets them see the structure and key features you’re looking for.
Discuss what makes the WAGOLL effective and the purpose behind organisational choices. This helps them see that good narrative doesn’t just appear when they write, but requires careful planning.
Along with a WAGOLL, share a clear list of what you expect to see in this piece of writing. Students can self assess against it. You can use it for marking and add comments against this checklist.
A student-friendly criteria is useful for improving work further. Use red, amber, green (RAG) ratings so they can see at a glance one key area to focus on improving.
Overcome the ‘blank page’ feeling by getting your students to create a quick draft. This will give all the key points, with none of the detail they’ll add in their final piece. It’s useful for checking plot holes before they become a problem.
Share supporting structures such as sentence starters, key questions, and picture boxes. You’ll find plenty online or create your own using a free template design tool like Visme .
Once the quick draft is complete, they can decide how much time to devote to fleshing out each section.
There’s so much for students to learn about narrative writing. Don’t overload them with everything or they’ll have no time for any independent work.
Choose key areas to focus on in each unit. Your overview documents should show how you cover every aspect of writing over the year with opportunities for over-learning and practising skills.
Key aspects to cover include:
- Creating and punctuating dialogue
- Exposition to share back story
- Creating effective characters
- Figurative language
- Transitions between paragraphs and sections
- Creating tension and building suspense
- Effective word choice
- Writing description
- Developing flow
- Varying sentence lengths
Start your lessons by direct teaching skills before allowing a long block of uninterrupted writing time. Use the end of each session to recap on the skill focus and look for evidence of it in their work.
Students generally feel they’ve finished when they’ve done their full draft. It’s difficult to get them to see the benefits of editing. Leaving a gap between writing and editing is one way to help them see their work with fresh eyes. Separate proofreading from editing so they can see the difference.
Editing doesn’t need to be a boring process. You can make it engaging and useful . This essential process will help them in every area of English, so it’s worth getting it right.
If you want to help your students visualise the editing process, use ProWritingAid. It's a useful tool that provides detailed reports and tips for a wide range of areas including dialogue and sentence structure. It’s perfect for editing narrative pieces. The Sentence Length Report highlights long sentences in a piece of text.
Just open a blank document in ProWritingAid, and paste an extract in. You can turn this visualisation into a fun exercise by getting your students to try and read the sentence all in one breath, and then working out how you might vary sentence length together.
High school English lessons should never be boring. Teaching narrative lets you be creative and shows your students that writing is fun. Thinking of an exciting purpose particularly supports reluctant writers or those who struggle with imagining new ideas.
Carefully plan how you will teach discrete skills to avoid cramming everything into one unit of work. Choose a few key areas for one unit and explicitly teach them with opportunities for over-learning.
Don’t forget time to edit and improve their writing. A clear success criteria makes it easy for students to make changes and improve.
Want to use ProWritingAid with your classroom? Download this free book now:
ProWritingAid Teacher's Manual
Editing technology like prowritingaid provides immediate, personalized feedback that will help students to better understand grammar and writing techniques., in this guide , we walk you through exactly how to use prowritingaid in your classroom and give you tools and templates for creating a rigorous, effective independent writing practice with your students..
Helly Douglas is a UK writer and teacher, specialising in education, children, and parenting. She loves making the complex seem simple through blogs, articles, and curriculum content. You can check out her work at hellydouglas.com or connect on Twitter . When she’s not writing, you will find her in a classroom, being a mum or battling against the wilderness of her garden - the garden is winning!
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ChatGPT will fundamentally change how we teach writing; that’s a good thing
March 13, 2023
The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT has forced educators to confront foundational questions about what we teach and why. One of the most important questions is: in the age of AI, what types of writing will students still need to master to be successful in life ?
To answer this, we must scrutinize the high-stakes, standardized writing assessments like the ACT/SAT and AP exams. Because of the outsized influence they have traditionally had on students’ access to college, many teachers align their writing instruction to mimic them, reducing the art of writing to generic, five-paragraph essays.
The fact that ChatGPT can churn out a standardized essay in seconds calls into question whether it is actually the best assessment of writing or critical thought. For example, a writing prompt from the ACT college entrance exam asks students to write an essay on the relative risks and benefits of artificial intelligence. It provides students with 2-3 sentence summaries of three contrasting perspectives and asks students to write a “unified, coherent essay” and to “develop and support your ideas with reasoning and examples.” (The AP English & Composition exam and SAT use similar structures.)
This task contains several problems. Assessments like these ask students to quickly compose an authoritative argument about a topic on which they have little knowledge, essentially asking students to feign expertise. Students have not been taught about the topics; yet they must plan and write within forty minutes. Thus, what is being assessed is not only writing, but also background knowledge, reading comprehension and time management skills. Some might argue that those elements can never be assessed in isolation from writing, and that is precisely the point. In order to fairly assess writing, we need to provide students with adequate time to research and think deeply about their topic, plan their essay and revise. This task is a poor approximation of the authentic writing students do outside of school, and a poor approximation for the extended writing assignments they will encounter in college or in the workplace, where they will have opportunities to research, plan, receive feedback, and revise. Yet, we still rely on them to make decisions that have profound impacts on students’ opportunities.
But, the ACT writing prompt is precisely the type of writing that ChatGPT does well. One journalist used ChatGPT to write a passing AP English essay , and others have tried experiments with similar results on other standardized writing assessments. ChatGPT essentially works by using enormous data sets to predict the next word in a sequence given the preceding words. By design, it is very good at producing writing that conforms to standard forms and conventions.
So, if computers make this type of writing obsolete, what kind of writing should students do instead? Think about the types of writing that are difficult to outsource to machines.
An example is writing about current events. At present, ChatGPT is trained on data that stops at 2021; its “knowledge” of the world after that is limited. Teachers could shift their writing assignments accordingly. Rather than asking students to write about historical events in isolation, social studies teachers could challenge them to draw connections between past and current events. English teachers could incorporate more contemporary literature or ask students to place “canonical” literature in conversation with contemporary issues. The pace of technological advancement suggests ChatGPT will soon “catch up;” yet, its limitations in this area offer possibilities for teachers to make writing more relevant for students.
Teachers could also encourage students to do more personal and creative writing. ChatGPT is trained on nearly 600 GB of data, mostly from the internet. Because of this, its writing is inherently im personal. It is often generic, better at mimicking the style of others than producing an original voice. Providing students with more opportunities for personal and creative writing positions them as experts and helps them develop their unique voice.
Most importantly, teachers should continue using writing as a mode of learning. Writing serves many purposes beyond transmitting information. One of the most important is that it is a form of learning. The process of researching, planning, drafting, and revising helps writers consolidate ideas and clarify thought. This requires educators to reorient much of what they have learned in their teacher training or as students themselves. It requires a shift away from formal writing as an assessment of knowledge and towards informal writing as a mode of learning.
Finally, as important as what type of writing teachers assign is how they teach writing. Instead of reverting back to timed, paper-and-pencil essays, teachers should see this moment as an opportunity to do the things we wish we had time to do anyway: allocate class time for planning, supervised drafting and revision, and timely feedback throughout the process.
ChatGPT and AI pose real and consequential risks for educators and students. But they also present a window of opportunity to accelerate needed re-imagining of what we teach and why. Teachers, administrators, and policymakers should recognize this opportunity and begin the difficult work of change.
Christopher Mah is a PhD student at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education . His research focuses on literacy, technology and teacher education.
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Martin Blythe 21 hours ago 21 hours ago
Spot on! I would only add that the CBEST Writing exam – by which the CTC decides who can teach and who can’t – has the same absurd rationale as the ACT/SAT/AP. Many a good (potential) teacher stumbled at that gate…
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