|Beyond the apostrophe!|
In this blog I appear to have sketched out fifty-two creative writing methods, strategies, and some pedagogic principles. Please add your suggestions and ideas to the comments section at the end of this blog.
52 Creative Writing Activities
1. The Forked Paths
This was a group exercise which was created on a large whiteboard. This game involved writing a story. At the end of each short sentence there are multiple pathways to carry on the story in different directions.
Work with the children to adapt the activities described in this list. When a child says, But Can I Do It This Way, that’s music to my ears. But remember that this approach only works if teachers and learners are constantly thriving on new inspiration, outgrowing their comfort zones, and moving beyond dull repetition.
3. Bite Size Steps
We create a three word poem. We can write the words anywhere on the page. The words can be small, medium or large. They can be hidden in a diagram. We are thinking about how they look on the page and how they relate to each other. This activity is very good for younger children; but also expect some surprises with the older ones.
4. Word Monster
We stick words together and deform our writing so that the result depicts a text-monster. Serpents are good for joining words, but we can also use long words for arms and legs and shorter ones for eyes, ears, noses, mouths, fingers and toes.
5. Rap, Rap, Rap
This activity involves writing songs, using music, creating funny tunes and rhythms based on real life situations. But don’t become too technique-obsessed: let this evolve. Re-writing serious songs in a comic vein ... lowering the tone. Humour is a great tool in teaching. Why not let the students choose the tunes?
6. If person A were an X, what would they be?
Starting with a list of characters, or real people, make a list of their equivalent ‘quality’ in terms of weather, plants, fruit, vegetables, animals, flowers, colours. This approach helps to build skills in metaphor, symbolism and personification.
7. Subject Ransack and Pillage
Each school subject/field/special topic has its own jargon, terminologies and discourses. Specialised or technical words can really stand out if you create a poem drawn from the language of a car repair manual, a biology casebook, a theory of physics article, an engineering study guide.
8. Surgical Cut and Entitlement
Take a story and cut out everything except the best phrase/sentence. The result becomes the new title for the story, which could then be retold in fewer words than the original, modified, or improved according to your taste preferences.
9. Choices and Combinations
We could try out different tasks, rather than having them chosen for us. Sometimes we combined three or more short activities in one lesson. This approach allows learners to experiment with learning styles and to express their own preferences.
10. Morph the Limerick
Starting with a traditional limerick we replaced words one at a time in order to create a new poem. Students progress to explore ideas of the absurd, the bizarre, and the grotesque. You might end up with something more weirdly funny than the original. They key is to have fun with words and to relish their transformative power.
11. Acting Out
Acting out short stories (NOT learning lines) helps with confidence, spontaneity and improvisation. A sense of humour helps. Try picking random roles and characters rather than predictable ones. Why not add sound effects using your home-made instruments?
12. Ball of Wool
Working in a circle, we passed the ball of wool to the person who must supply the next sentence of the story. Stories are tangled webs! This activity is a brilliant way to demonstrate the intricacy of narrative in a kinaesthetic interpersonal fashion.
13. Superhero Job Advert
Write an advert designed to recruit a superhero. The task is to outline the most appropriate skills, qualifications and experience needed for the role. This activity leads naturally into storytelling.
14. Role Transformations
In this activity we invented a basic story but then made some major changes in the characters, e.g. male to female, young to old, human to animal, hero to victim etc. This approach encourages children to think outside their comfort zone.
15. Secret Instructions
These poems can be discovered or created. Secret instructions are hidden in a metaphor or a simile, on in highlighted words. This activity helps to build skills in skimming and scanning for key information.
16. In the Middle Game is the Opening Gambit
We start by writing a 3 or 5 part story as a ‘real time’ sequence. Then we re-write it, starting in the middle. This activity helps children to understand complex sequences and also flashback or foreshadowing techniques.
17. How Did I Get here?
As above. This means that your opening is rather weird, so you want to find out how you got there. ‘Here I am, writing this, covered in green paint, on the church bell-tower ...’ Dodie Smith’s novel, I Capture the Castle, began with the words: ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it, the rest of me is on the draining board.’
18. New Locations
An old tired story can be renewed. Produce a new story by giving it a more exotic location. Pictures from Google maps and images also helped to make this transformation from the local to something more exotic and strange. The new environment presents innovative challenges for the actors in the story.
Use animation software, sound effects and text, in order to create our own animated short stories. This activity helps children to understand storyline or plotting techniques.
20. Superhero Job Application
We wrote a letter, and filled in an application form, explaining our relevant superhero skills. (See also activity 13.)
21. Word Magnet
These are the plastic words that you stick on your fridge, or on a metal surface. You re-arrange the words to make a poem, or to tell a story. Playing with words in this way functions as an effective warm-up exercise that promotes children’s creativity. It also prompts learners to work within the resources available.
22. The Land of Infinite Possibility
We used a sample of text by a published writer and started to deform/reform it using search and replace on a word processor. Persist in this process until the original has almost disappeared. Curiously, the bizarre results sometimes stimulate a new creative departure.
23. Comic Strip
Images and text are combined in order to create your own storybook. There are several companies online who will publish your book as print-on-demand publication that can be sent to your friends and family.
24. Riddle Poems
Read some riddles and then create your own, by working backwards ... from the answer .... to the questions and the clues.
25. Picture Captions
This could be a picture related to football, or some other sport, or cars, or games. Make a caption for the picture to give it maximum impact. Then writing the title for the newspaper story associated with it.
26. Sharing questions and answers as we write
What if? How? Why? When? What next?
27. Between Two Images
Choose two photographs and then wrote a story about the missing image that makes sense of the other two.
28. Recommendations / What next
Older boys/girls showed their work to younger children. They explained which activities they had enjoyed most, and why. There was a Q&A and a critical discussion afterwards.
29. Ekphrastic Writing
This involves writing a poem or a story based on, and inspired by another art work, such as a painting or a sculpture, or a piece of music
30. Detective Writer as Character
This activity involved reading a short story. But then the child turns up in the story as a detective ...
31. Upright Creativity
Writing standing up or composing while you are walking around. Writing does not have to be sedentary. Some of our most prodigious and creative writers such as Charles Dickens were great walkers. And didn’t Virginia Woolf write standing up?
32. Chaos Notebooks
Many artists don’t have tidy notebooks. In fact, you can scrawl any crazy ideas in any way. Tidy writing and full sentences are banned. You can start writing in the middle of your book, or work backwards. We can stick in any pictures that we find. We make weird diagrams of machines and inventions. Creative notebooks are a space to be messy.
33. Secret productions
We use codes to keep an idea secret. This can involve pictures and symbols. This makes our writing feel precious. Its revelation is a gift to the world.
34. Creating our own Newspaper
Taking on different newspaper roles each day, we created a daily newspaper covering the celebrity gossip and gang warfare between the Montagues and the Capulets. The ‘Mantle of the Expert’ approach usually involves the taking on of a professional role that is acted out in an evolving ‘process’ drama.
35. Funny Character Names
We invented ridiculous, absurd, and memorable names for our characters. This approach also helps children to understand that characters are sometimes symbolic or allegorical, rather than attempt to create real-life people.
36. Character Catchphrases
We invented a catch-phrase for a person in a story. This activity helps children to explore and challenge clichés, or to think about the main quality/ruling emotion of a character.
37. The Living and the Dead
This was an opportunity to think about crazy ways of killing off characters and then bringing them back to life. These became our new stories. Gruesome and miraculous. Children love this rather brutal activity.
38. Word theft and remix
We cut up all the words in a poem and then remixed them to make shorter new poems.
39. Finding You way out of the Maze
This is a found poem. In this activity we highlighted the words contained in someone else’s writing in order to create our own poem. Sometimes writers don’t know that they have a little poem lurking in their prose.
40. The Espionage (Spy) Poem
This poem is written with invisible ink, so you can choose who you want to read it. It was also fun to hide poems somewhere in the classroom, in the school, or in the playground. Some have still not been discovered.
41. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle
We make words and sentences disappear, and put new ones in their place. We experimented with turning sentences and ideas into their opposites. Reversal of expectations can have amusing and unexpected outcomes.
42. Parallel Universes
These verbal universes are like our known world but with very slightly different structural or theoretical principles, or arcane and odd rules. The game involves guessing or inventing the rules for the parallel universe. For instance, all words with double letter are banned in the World of Og; ‘in the World of Og ... they have forks but no spoons, windows but no glass.’
43. The Obstacle Challenge
Working in pairs, one of us maps out a character’s journey. The other person has to invent obstacles at each stage of the journey. These challenges test the strength and intelligence of the character. A map and pictures help to visualise/structure this adventure story.
44. Conflict role play
In pairs we tried out our skills in creative arguments. E.g. dialogues or conversation battles between father/son, mother/daughter, hero/villain, human/animal, hero/monster ...
45. Poems and Pen knives
We enjoyed carving words in wood and cardboard. Wordcraft.
46. The Flyting Match
This activity involve the use of insults and counter-insults in the form of a contest. This is a cruel and wicked creative game, but rude/offensive words are banned. ‘Flyting’ started in Scotland, but exists in many oral cultures. Basically it’s the art of creative quarrelling.
47. Sculpture poems
In this activity we learned that poems are shapes like sculptures, and that these can be made from any objects, and stuck together; they just have to be eye-catching. Think of this activity as three-dimensional writing.
48. Spray cans / Paint spray
This was a bit messy, but it was fun to create gigantic poems using lots of shape and colour and images. Creative vandalism at work? Don’t try this activity in your living room or kitchen unless you want a permanent record of children’s creativity.
49. Voting with our friends on our best creative work so far
We were a bit nervous about this at first, but everyone has one thing that’s their best work, and as it’s your friends deciding on what they liked best it’s not the same as the teacher stepping in and marking your work. Usually you know what your best work is, but sometimes there are surprises and something that did not start very well turns out to have a life of its own.
51. The Essential Gadget Show
We invented and described the gadgets that our characters can use on their adventures. Words come with a diagram and/or a picture, or a user manual.
52. Sharing and Valuing Our Work
Thanks for reading: I look forward to hearing about your experiences and to reading your views.
© Dr Ian McCormick 2013
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)
This recent Guardian Education article is also worth reading.