7 strategies for teaching creative writing

Picture this: second set of S5 tracking reports in two weeks; S1 parents’ evening; double period of that “challenging” S3 class - last two on a Thursday (and you’re doing Close Reading). How does that prospect grab you?

Well, we all know that the lot of a lowly English teacher is a tough one, but have no fear for there is light keeking over the horizon. Yes, it’s the Creative Writing Unit with S2!

You can help every student to develop their potential

Despite the somewhat curmudgeonly opening paragraph of this blog, in all truth being an English teacher is the best job in the world, and helping the pupils to develop their creative writing expertise has to be one of the high points of the role.

Although some people have argued that you cannot really teach creative writing, I would strongly refute this. Sure, some people have more of an aptitude for imaginative writing than others, but you can help every student to develop their potential.

While I am well aware of the old adage about grannies and eggs, I thought I’d share some of the strategies that have worked for me when teaching creative writing in the classroom.

1. Free writing

At the start of the period I give the pupils 5 minutes, sometimes slightly more if it is going well, to write in any way they want on a ‘spark word’ with some visual stimulus. For example, freedom, space, ouch, etc. They pair and share and are invited to read out their work. Often, they come up with unique and surprising responses. I always find something to compliment and praise in their writing.

2. Flying balls

Get some light plastic balls - like the ones that you can find in a child’s ball tent – and write some opening sentences on them. Toss the first ball to one of your pupils who then needs to either continue the sentence using a suitable conjunction or come up with a new sentence. They then throw the ball to another pupil who needs to continue the story, and so on for five or six turns. This is great for getting them to think creatively about tone, character, plot, setting development as well as engaging with language on a general level.

3. Modelling

When asking them to write, I try to write something too which makes the exercise a truly collaborative experience. Explain what your word choice, punctuation, imagery, etc. Once again, pair, share and praise their work.

4. Character

I really labour the point that all good stories have strong characters that we can relate to in some way. At the start of a substantive piece of writing, I get them to answer prompt questions based on pictures of quirky people culled from the internet for use in their own stories.

5. Skills lessons

Chunk various aspects of the writer’s craft into sections that the pupils can manage. This could take the form of a discrete lesson on: dialogue; developing setting; conflict; narrative point of view etc.

6. Music

You supply the atmospheric music – instrumental works best for this – while the pupils supply the words of wisdom.

7. Learning outcome and success criteria

Bit boring this one, but the pupils need to know exactly what is expected of them at various points in the creative process.

So, what’s holding you back (apart from those pesky reports)? Creative Writing Rules!

To find further inspirational ideas about teaching creative writing, check out our other creative writing blogs.

Stuck for creative writing resources? Check out our Teaching Resources section.

Marcus Roskilly

Marcus Roskilly is a Teacher of English at James Gillespie's High School.