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.
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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.
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!