Thursday, 17 January 2013

52 Creative Writing Activities

Beyond the apostrophe!

In this blog I appear to have sketched out fifty-two creative writing strategies.

1. The Forked Paths

This was a group exercise which we 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.

2. Adaptation

Work with the children to adapt these activities. 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 and if we are growing beyond our comfort zones, and moving beyond dull repetition.

3. Bite Size Steps

We try a three word poem. We can write the words anywhere on the page. The words can be small, medium or large. The can be hidden in a diagram. We are thinking about how they look on the page and how they relate to each other.

4. Word Monster

We stick words together and deform our writing so that the result visually is 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

Writing songs, using music, 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.

6. If person were an X, what would they be?

Starting with a list of characters, or real people, make a list of their equivalent 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

Other school subjects often have their own jargon, terminologies and discourses. We found that special words can really stand out if you create a poem drawn from a car repair manual, a biology casebook, a theory of physics article, an engineering study guide.

8. Surgical Cut and Entitlement

We took a story and cut out everything except the best phrase/sentence. This became the new title for the story, which could then be retold in fewer words.

9. Choices and Combinations

We could try out different tasks, rather than having the chosen for us. Sometimes we combined two or three activities in one lesson.

10. Morph the Limerick

Starting with a traditional limerick we replaced words one at a time in order to create a new poem

11. Acting Out

Acting out short stories (NOT learning lines) helps with confidence, spontaneity and improvisation. A sense of humour helps.

12. Ball of Wool

Working in a circle, we passed the ball of wool to the person who supplied the next sentence of the story. Stories are tangled webs!

13. Superhero Job Advert

Write an advert designed to recruit a superhero with appropriate skills, qualifications and experience.

14. Role Transformations

In this activity we invented a basic story but then made some big changes in the characters, e.g. male to female, young to old, human to animal, hero to victim etc

15. Secret Instructions

These poems contained secret instructions hidden in a metaphor or a simile.

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.

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 ...”

18. New Locations

We produced a new story but gave 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 that presents new challenges for the actors in the story.

19. Animation

We used animation software, sound effects and text, in order to create our own animated short stories.

20. Superhero Job Application

We wrote a letter, and filled in an application form, explaining our relevant superhero skills.

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. This was a fun warm up exercise

22. The Land of Infinite Possibility

We used a piece of text by a published writer and started to deform/reform it using search and replace on a word processor. We kept going until the original had almost disappeared.

23. Comic Strip

We combined images and text in order to create our own storybook

24. Riddle Poems

We read some riddles and then created our own, by working backwards from the answer to the question and the clues.

25. Picture Captions

This could be a picture related to football, or some other sport, or cars, or games. We made a caption for the picture to give it more impact.

26. Sharing questions and answers as we write

What if? How? Why? When? What next?

27. Between Two Images

We chose two photographs and then wrote a story about the missing image that makes sense of the other two.

28. Recommendations / What next

Boys from the year up showed their work and they explained which activities they had enjoyed most, and why. There was a Q&A and a critical discussion

29. Ekphrastic Writing

This involves writing a poem or a story based on, and sinspired by another art work such as a painting or a sculpture, or a piece of music

30. Detective Writer as Character

This involved reading a short story. But then I turn 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

We learned that real artists don’t have tidy notebooks. 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.

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 creative different role each day, we created a daily newspaper covering the celebrity gossip and gang warfare between the Montagues and the Capulets.

35. Funny Character Names

We invented ridiculous, absurd, and memorable names for our characters.

36. Character Catchphrases

We invented a catch-phrase for a person in a story.

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.

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 where we highlighted words in someone else’s writing in order to create our own poem. Sometimes writers don’t know that they have a poem lurking in their prose.

40. The Espionage (Spy) Poem

This one’s 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

42. Parallel Universes

These verbal universes are like our known world but with very slightly different structurual or theoretical principles, or arcane and odd rules.

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 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.

46. The Flyting Match

Insult and counter-insult. This is a cruel and wicked creative game, but rude/offensive words were banned. It started in Scotland. Basically it’s the art of creative quarrelling.

47. Sculpture poems

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.

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?

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 its 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

We showed the younger children our work, and explained some of our tricks-of-the-trade. We took pictures of our work or scanned it to make an online resource.

Further Information

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.


  1. Some very good ideas here that I look forward to trying out with my writing class.

  2. Let me know which activities lead to the most creative results!

  3. Hi Ian,

    I'm currently compiling a guide for new English teachers and would love to feature some of your ideas on creative writing. I will, of course, ensure you receive all the credit and will link to your blog. Is that ok with you?



  4. of course that's fine, with attribution!