This post provides a rationale for teaching creative writing more often and how to balance instructional goals and structure weekly lessons to accommodate creative writing. This is part of a larger series on integrating creative writing in your curriculum. Part 1 is here.
Back to Basics
The first question that might come to mind is WHEN? Sure, we might love getting creative with kids, but how do we make enough time for ALL THE OTHER STUFF?
By linking to standards and making use of the writing workshop structure, more creative expression is possible every week.
Our first answer is, the Common Core English Language Arts standards work beautifully hand in hand with creative writing tasks. The following seventh grade Common Core English Language Arts standards are just some that dovetail beautifully with creative writing (whether fiction or memoir, also known as creative nonfiction).
Whether it’s a blog post, or epic poem, or whether it’s a how-to manual or a screenplay, or whether a persuasive argument or a graphic novella–students can harness any one of these standards and skills below. Professional writers–novelists, journalists, marketers, screenwriters, playwrights, lyricists–spend their entire careers refining these competencies.
These standards, which also focus Duke TIP’s unit, Creative Writing: Adventures Through Time, can spiral up through higher standards in any week of your curriculum where a student must write a story that compels the reader to read on.
How do you thread creative writing across curriculum? Share with us below!
Sample Writing Standards That Connect
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3a: Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3b: Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3c: Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3d: Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3e: Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.10: Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Ask yourself how much your students are writing regularly, both in short and long form, and how much they are putting into practice models you give them and the analysis your teaching encourages. What you’re looking for, ultimately, is more practice time. Is that mini-lesson on the apostrophe or the metaphor, or that whole-group activity acting out a scene from the novel as crucial as pursuing meaningful writing tasks? Discarding the fun and cool activity or the didactic teaching and subsequent practice can feel like a Sophie’s Choice but sometimes it’s really worth it.
Make the Links
Approach mentor texts with the lens of “How/Why did this author do that?” If students are practicing professional writers, they should lean in close to examine the method to authors’ magic. They should be stepping back to discuss these techniques and then head off to try it themselves.
Taking that angle as you craft discussion questions–knowing that the next time students see the term for a particular technique, they’ll be utilizing it themselves–is a way to shape analysis of mentor texts–from the worksheet to the small group to the discussion to the large group discussion. You can convert what were once quiz and test questions into real-time discussion questions, and get students to creative writing.
Formative writing assessments of 50-100 words, rather than short answer or multiple choice quizzes, are the best ways to test particular writing concepts and skills, as well as knowledge such as grammar and mechanics. For example:
- Original test question: Explain why Scout beat up Walter Cunningham using her backstory and character traits. –> Becomes in-class discussion question
- New formative assessment/homework or in-class assignment: Write a scene of backstory where one of your characters bullies someone else. Establish back story and character traits in this scene.
This doesn’t mean you never, ever ask another literary analysis question on a test. Those should indeed pepper our culminating assessments. But so should creative writing prompts asking students to show what they know. Having students practice both before the summative will develop deeper understandings.
Make it Happen
Writing workshops are driven by student interest and require students to regularly determine audience and purpose in their writing. Writing workshops create agency, daily. They develop independence and persistence. They create a habit of mind that’s a definite paradigm switch for many students, so it’s a process that won’t manifest results immediately.
The writing workshop structure requires extensive on-task writing time, peer review time, teacher review time, and reading time. It’s fueled by student choice.
With all that is expected of educators by local, state, and national standards, we recommend the whole-part-whole approach as you integrate workshops. Here is a typical week’s design we recommend. Take it, modify it, critique it, and tell us what you think. What do you do?
Day 1: Whole group instruction, groupwork, and skill assessment
- Teach a mini lesson via direct instruction, using mentor texts, led by standards.
- Offer different levels of direct practice exercises for small groups.
- Circulate to provide direct instruction to groups and individuals..
- Some days, alternate with 30-45 minute Socratic discussions of literary texts or whole-group activities such as debates, scene re-enactment, special projects.
- Give formative and summative assessments every few weeks (timed analytical writing–essays and short-answer questions–and grammar quizzes). Note that these should not occur until students have built a few months’ of confidence with Socratic literary discussion. For more on designing Socratic seminars on texts, visit Paideia Active Learning. Provide creative writing prompts on some of these per the model above.
- Homework: Provide further practice and writing prompts and extension activities that prepare students for summative assessments.
Days 2 and 3: Writing and reading workshops
- Allow independent and small group reading and writing, per the Atwell design.
- Expect students to produce one to two pieces a month. Allow students, like professional writers, to work on more that one piece at a time.
- Allow students who have successfully produced an individual work.
- Homework: Ongoing work on individual student pieces. A writing assignment fueled by student choice might need several nights of homework and lead to an exciting portfolio.
Day 4: Whole group instruction, groupwork, and skill assessment
Day 5: Peer review and Performance
- Feedback routines between and among students, and pair or one-to-one conferences
- Sharing for an audience, with celebrations of formative and summative accomplishments, and goal setting, with discussions of areas for growth.
For more detail on designing the day-to-day writing workshop structure, be sure to check out Nancie Atwell’s work.