In college and during your teacher training, you probably spent a lot of time discussing how to teach writing to students. Even if you didn’t discuss writing pedagogy, you know the basics of academic writing from having gone through academia yourself. You might feel unprepared, then, when you need students to do creative writing. How do you approach–and teach–academic vs. creative writing?
Teaching the Differences Between Writing Goals
Many of the differences between the two types of writing center on the goal, audience, and purpose of the writing. It’s important to understand these so that you can better communicate them to your students.
You don’t want students fabricating rich stories for their essays, and you also don’t want them to panic when asked to use their imaginations. Teaching both academic and creative writing is essential, then, for students to be able to respond to the variety of tasks life will throw their way.
While you might intuitively understand the difference, your students probably have not developed this awareness yet. Use this breakdown of the differences between academic and creative writing to help them know when to use each.
Academic Vs. Creative Writing Difference #1: Style
It’s important for students to have at least a basic understanding of style before walking them through the differences between academic and creative writing.
Academic writing uses a much more formal style of writing. Academic settings, like universities and schools, use it almost exclusively. For this reason, your students are probably already familiar with the basic expectations of academic writing.
Academic writing uses an objective, unbiased tone and focuses on presenting research and evidence to support an argument or claim. Academic writing is typically based on factual information and aims to inform and educate the reader about a particular topic.
Creative writing, however, is more expressive and imaginative and aims to entertain its reader. It can take many forms, including fiction, poetry, and personal essays.
Creative writing uses emotive language. Creative writing is less concerned with presenting factual information and more focused on exploring themes and ideas through the use of storytelling and descriptive language.
Teaching students about style can help them see the differences between academic and creative writing for themselves. It will also help them maintain the correct style for the writing task at hand.
(Want a fun activity to start a discussion about style? Try this lesson on Literary Voice!)
Academic Vs. Creative Writing Difference #2: Intended Audience
Academic writing is typically aimed at a more specialized and educated audience. For students, the intended audience for most of their academic writing will be teachers, professors, and fellow students. If they pursue academics, they may one day write for peer-reviewed journals or share scholarly articles.
Because academic writing audiences tend to already be knowledgeable, the writing may be more technical and difficult for a general audience to understand.
Creative writing, meanwhile, is often aimed at a wider, more general audience. Your students should be able to list all kinds of examples of creative writing from children’s books to fiction novels to even the old classics they read in class.
Creative writing may be more accessible and engaging to a wider range of readers. (Although this isn’t necessarily true–just look at how our students struggle with Shakespeare today.) Creative writing uses more poetic and figurative language.
It’s important to discuss intended audiences with your students regardless of what kind of writing they’re doing. Their audiences should inform their choices of language, form, and style in all of their writing.
Academic Vs. Creative Writing Difference #3: Purpose and Goal
Academic writing is typically focused on presenting research and evidence to support a specific argument or claim. This means that academic writing may be more structured and follow a specific format.
Your students are probably very familiar with the good old five-paragraph essay. They may even have learned C-E-R or some other highly structured format for presenting claims, evidence, and logical reasoning.
Creative writing on the other hand is more focused on exploring ideas and emotions through storytelling and descriptive language. The intent of a poem can sometimes be as simple as to convey strings of beautifully sounding words.
While academic writing often feels formulaic, creative writing is more open-ended and creative in its approach. (This may actually frustrate some of your students!)
How many ways have you seen authors discuss love? There are poems, plays, stories, and more. Even if you just look at “love poems,” you can see there are countless ways to structure creative writing.
To demonstrate just how open-ended creative writing can be to students, it might be helpful to show them a variety of mentor texts. For example, you can compare E. E. Cummings’s abstract style with Shakespeare’s highly-structured sonnets.
These Poem of the Week activities are a great way to incorporate a variety of mentor texts and bring different opportunities into your classroom for poetry discussion.
If you’re teaching a Creative Writing class for the first time, it’s important to go into it with a firm understanding of how it varies from academic writing. This will help you to begin thinking about what lessons and skills you’ll need to focus on in your class.
Even more important, however, is making sure your students understand these differences for themselves. After all, once they leave school, no one is going to tell them whether to write a formal, five-paragraph essay or a villanelle to summarize their notes for the big meeting.
Students need to understand the characteristics of both–and learn when to use each–if they’re going to find success (and possibly fulfillment) in writing in their futures.
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