Are you struggling to keep your creative writing classes new and interesting? Maybe your students are getting bored with learning terminology, or maybe you’re getting bored reading the same, stock writing over and over again! If you’re looking for a way to jazz up your class time, sometimes throwing the rulebook away is the best place to start. Instead of working with traditional exercises that focus on plot outlines, point of view, and setting, give your students some challenges that will force them to really use their imaginations—and maybe even fuel a little friendly competition. Here are ten exercises and projects that you can try adding into your classes to put some of the fun back into your classroom:
1. Start a pseudonym project. A lot of student writers—especially younger students—are very shy about sharing their writing with their peers. Many hold back from writing anything too personal or passionate when they know someone else will see it and might even say something negative about it. To give new writers a sense of safety, try adding some anonymity. Have students privately pick a pseudonym that they will use for all of their assignments. They can hand in their writing to a drop box outside the classroom, so that others won’t get a chance to discover their identity. This way, students can feel comfortable having their writing read and critiqued without worrying that any comments or judgments are personal.
You can also add an element of competition to this project, if you like. Once your class seems more comfortable about sharing their writing, challenge them to figure out one another’s pseudonyms. Encourage them to mix it up by picking a second pseudonym and writing two pieces for each assignment, finding an ally and switching pseudonyms, or completely changing their writing style to throw their peers off the scent. At the end of the semester or year, have everyone submit their guesses and find out who was who. If anyone managed to keep their pseudonym without being found out, award them with bonus points.
2. Create an on-running class story. This can be a way to get your students comfortable with each other and to keep the ideas flowing when they feel stuck on their own writing. At the beginning of the semester, write the premise of a very simple story for your students. For example, it could be something like: “Dan, Michelle, and George are three best friends. Dan likes Michelle, but Michelle is in love with George. George likes someone, but won’t tell anyone who it is.” Every day (or once a week, or whatever suits you best) have your students brainstorm in groups and write a scene of what happens next in the story. Maybe Michelle goes out with Dan to make George jealous, but then Dan dumps her when he finds out. Then, George confesses that the person he has feelings for is actually Dan. What happens next? To make it even more fun and challenging, give your students requirements they have to fulfill every time they collaborate on a new scene. For example, there has to be a fight and somebody has to spill coffee all over their favorite outfit. Or, an element of fantasy has to be included. Pick whatever you like, and see what your class comes up with.
Working together to plot a story can help students learn from each other's strengths as writers.
3. Relay writing. Split your class into teams of 3-5 students and assign them a writing prompt. Begin with one student from each group writing on their own. After 5 minutes, have them stop wherever they are (mid-sentence, whatever) and pass off the paper to the next member of the group. Continue with this drill either for a set period of time or until the groups are all finished writing their scenes. This is a good exercise for encouraging students to learn and benefit from each other’s ideas and varied writing styles.
4. Copy cat. This is a great exercise for encouraging students to broaden their skill set as writers. Ask them to bring in a poem, short story, or novel from a writer they admire. Have them choose an excerpt from the piece (no longer than two paragraphs) that they feel is a good example of that author’s writing. Next, ask them to write their own poem or paragraph about whatever they want. The clincher is, they have to try to write exactly like the published writing they’ve brought in with them. Most students won’t have perfect matches, but it will force them to analyze the writing carefully and figure out what it is that makes it so good. Does the author use unusual imagery, or perhaps excel at realistic dialogue? What is it that makes their characters so realistic, or their descriptions so vivid?
5. Do some art writing. Bring a collection of random snapshots, posters, and photos of famous artwork to class with you. Have students choose randomly from your pile and ask them to write a scene based off what they see. Give them a mix to make it diverse and interesting. For example, one photo might include a group of friends sitting around a campfire. Another might be a photo of a building, or painting of a flower with no people in it at all. Maybe their character painted the flower, or maybe their character isthe flower. After twenty minutes or so, switch and have each student choose a new image to write from.
6. Art writing #2. Inspiration is often found in pictures, but sometimes it’s found by making pictures, too. Ask your students to spend some time drawing out a part of their story. It can be a character, a room, an important object, or an entire scene. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t good at drawing—the point is to encourage them to visualize what they are writing before they write it. This can help students with adding important and engaging details to their writing. Once they see what someone or some place from inside their mind looks like, they will be much better at describing it.
7. Rewrite. Give your students a famous story and have them rewrite a portion of the tale. You can do this with fairy tales, classic literature, or even pop fiction. It’s common for fiction writing classes to rewrite the endings of stories, but why stop there? Have your students change an event that occurs in the middle, or even in the very beginning. How does that affect the outcome? For example, what would have happened if Belle had refused to live with the Beast after her father had promised her to him in order to save his life? Would her father have been killed? Would she and the Beast still have met? This is a good exercise for stretching the imagination and for examining the nuances of plot.
8. Sign your class up for National Novel Writing Month. November has just ended, and all over the world aspiring authors are heaving huge sighs of relief after completing the ultimate writing challenge: to write a 50,000 word novel in just thirty days, during the month of November. This challenge isn’t only for adults; kids can participate, too! In fact, the organization that runs National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) has resources for teachers of all age groups to help them take their students through the challenge (for younger students, the word count goal is lower). You can spend the earlier months of fall prepping for the event with writing exercises, character sketches, and plot outlines. Once November begins, turn your classes into writing sessions for your students. Offer small prizes for every five or ten thousand words, and encourage students to openly discuss their writing and help each other with challenges along the way. It’s great fun, and your students will have gained an immense amount of both experience and confidence by the time they’ve finished. Give them a break at the end of the month, and then you can start working on revision techniques!