6 Ways To Get Kids Excited About Creative Writing
A year ago, I visited a Grade 4 classroom to run a writing workshop. I started the workshop by asking the kids who liked writing. It was one of those schools where just about every kid threw up their hand. But there was one boy, sitting alone in the front row, who crossed his arms. No. No, no, no. This boy did not like writing.
I gave the kids a blank notebook they could keep. I told them that no one has to look inside their book. It was just for them. I told them that this workshop wasn’t like other school lessons. In this workshop, you could write about anything you liked. In fact, you didn’t even have to write – you could just draw! I told the kids there was no such thing as a mistake. Not in this workshop.
The first task was to design a character. Some kids made lists. Some wrote. Some drew. The boy in the front row tentatively picked up his pencil, and opened his book. He began to draw. I came by his desk at some point, and asked him some questions about his character. He was excited to tell me about his character’s secret talents, and special abilities. He told me his character lived alone in a big building, and could fly. He carried a special laser weapon.
‘What does he want?’ I asked the boy.
‘To save the world,’ he said.
The kids starting writing their story. Near the end of the workshop, I asked if anyone wanted to share. The boy in the front row threw up his hand. He ran to the front of the class, and read his story aloud. He showed us his sketches.
‘I’ve never seen him do anything like that,’ the Grade 4 teacher said to me, after the workshop. ‘He generally doesn’t like writing.’
But in that short workshop, it was obvious to both of us that the boy did like writing. He just needed to find a way in.
All kids are different and respond to different cues, and inspiration. But here are some of the strategies I find resonate well with kids in my writing workshops.
Create a fresh environment
When we visit schools with StoryBoard, we park our bus outside the classroom, and set up rugs and tee-pees. The kids love it. They disappear into the tee-pees, or find a special corner of the playground. And they write. Taking kids outside the classroom inspires creativity, and helps loosen ideas. It’s often more peaceful outside the classroom. And it gives kids a positive association with writing.
Allocate regular free writing sessions
Most published authors I know free write regularly – daily, even. Free writing is exactly like it sounds: writing freely. Allocate a certain time limit, and encourage kids to write whatever springs into their heads, without pausing to edit, or worry about the outcome. Sometimes, it helps to set a task, such as suggesting a word or place, and asking kids to write freely on the topic.
Free writing helps us build our writing muscles, and helps us overcome a fear of starting something. It helps us develop a unique writing voice. It also helps us let go, and have fun with creativity. I can tell when a teacher allocates regular free writing time in the classroom routine. The kids are confident writers, and tend to enjoy writing.
No mistakes possible
There’s lots of room for assessment in the classroom. But as most writers know, as soon as you start writing for assessment, your creativity cramps up. It suddenly becomes impossible to write anything. I always start a workshop by telling kids it’s impossible to make a mistake. Try out all ideas, and see where they go. Kids love this freedom.
Keep writing and editing separate
I generally give kids at least half of the workshop to develop their stories and ideas without editing or critique. Editing requires a completely different skill set. The first draft is an exploration of story. The writer goes on the journey with the character. Spelling, grammar and plot holes are irrelevant. What’s important is enjoying the process, and seeing where the story takes you. Give kids a break, then allocate time for editing.
Make sharing optional
If I told kids they have to share their story at the end of the workshop, many probably wouldn’t write a word. But I always make sharing optional. Their writing book doesn’t need to be read by anyone. That gives kids the freedom to write in their own way. More often than not, when sharing time comes at the end of the workshop, just about every student wants to share. I also give kids the option to share with me individually, as some are daunted by the idea of reading aloud in front of their classmates.
Write about what you are interested in
‘Write what you know’ is a familiar adage in the writing world. But I think it’s even more important kids write what they are interested in. For reluctant writers to engage with a writing workshop, they need to care about the topic.
You’d think having no set topic or theme would deter kids from coming up with ideas. But from workshopping with thousands of students, I find the opposite is true. Unlike many adults, kids have ready access to their own ideas. As soon as I say ‘write’, pencils get picked up, and words and pictures start to form. And generally, kids are writing about something that interests them.
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This post first appeared in the Greenleaf Press Agency newsletter