What I’ve Learned by Teaching Creative Writing in the Unconventional Workshop
I consider myself quite lucky to be teaching creative writing workshops independently, which allows greater freedom of lesson choices, and the ability to establish a relaxed non-school environment for my young writers. However, I believe this can still be achieved in a traditional classroom with the right tools and attitude!
- R-E-L-A-X: Sitting in a circle is informal, cozy and personal – everyone can see everyone else, literally exposed, like our writing makes us. If you project a relaxed attitude, they’ll lighten up and let their guards down, too. TRUST is so important when these young writers are about to share a very personal creation: their thoughts on paper.
- F-U-N: Use the terms games, exercises, warm-ups, or even let’s try something new or this is gonna be fun! Anything that flips the switch in their brains that what you’re about to “teach” isn’t like “teaching” at all. Maybe even go so far as “You’re not going to be graded on this, but you do have to participate.”
- Mouths CLOSED, Ears OPEN: When the young writers start their pens a-movin’, resist the urge to keep jabbering away. I learned this when one student looked up from his notebook with a sideways nod and a glare that said, “OK, we get it, now shut it!” If one or more students seem stuck, then you can give examples to get them going, otherwise, just walk around and be available for individual questions. Let them know when time is almost up, by whispering, “OK, finish your thought/sentence/paragraph, etc.” This is also applicable when the young writers are sharing their work aloud. Remind students to LISTEN with their EARS and EYES, they shouldn’t be writing, reading or fidgeting and especially should hold all comments and questions until the young writer has finished reading.
- TEACH by EXAMPLE: Write when they write, even if you don’t share with them, it’s important for them to see that you’re excited to write, too, and that you have something important to say.
- REIN them IN: The risk that comes from running a relaxed workshop is the level of excitement (and volume of that excitement) getting out of control. Sharing usually reminds students of their own experiences, and the talking can get the workshop off course. When you see that the focus is going awry, rein them back in with a gentle but firm, “OK, guys, let’s get back to what makes this a memorable character, (or whatever fits.)”
- Getting UNSTUCK in Beginning and Revising: ASK QUESTIONS! To get the young writer(s) started, ask questions. If they’re writing fiction, ask them about their protagonist: Who is Johnny’s best friend? What do they have hidden under their bed? Empty the villain’s pockets: what do you find? What is the worst possible thing that could happen to Protagonist now? What’s worse than that? While Revising: I wonder why she hid the note under her pillow? I’d love to hear more about how he looked when the car splashed him with muddy water. The story moves quickly, but I’d like to get a sense of what happened between A and B, can you tell me more about how he escaped, plotted the prank, defeated the knight, etc.?
- R-E-A-D to them from genres that interest them NOW. Older kids can listen to parts of edgy teen fiction to see how authors “speak” like teens speak (showing Voice). Fantasy is great for description of setting, pacing and character development. Read specific sections and discuss. Re-read as writers and determine HOW the author delivered those results.
What have your students taught you?
Want to bring more excitement to your classroom? Please consider hiring me to run a one-day workshop for your students! I’m also available for teacher workshops. Email me at mjcwriter”at”comcast”dot”net.