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Tips for Teaching Creative Writing

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By Sarah Small

Creative Writing

Creative writing is definitely one of those areas in which parents struggle. There is plenty of dull material out there and kids get cross-eyed with frustration. But there is a better way. Here are some suggestions for making creative writing a more exciting experience, taken from
my years teaching creative writing.

Reading is fundamental

Nothing will prepare your children to be good writers more than good books. Read to them every day and encourage them to read on their own as much as possible. We have been reading to our children from the day we brought them home from the hospital. I'm sure our firstborn didn't understand much of Western Civilization when he was 48-hours old, but he did hear words and language and the cadence of our voices.

Don't expect your kids to understand how to write creatively if you aren't reading aloud to them or if they aren't reading books themselves. The best book I've found so far on this topic is If You're Trying to Teach Kids to Write, You've Gotta Have This Book! by Marjorie Frank, which is packed with fun writing exercises. Two other books I like are WordPlay Café by Michael Kline and Kids Write by Rebecca Olien

Taking inspiration from these books, you can create your own creative writing curriculum. Take a page or idea each week and you'll easily have a year's worth of stimulating
creative writing exercises. I'm not talking about sentence structure, paragraphs and essays, but you can help your kids explore creatively with words and language. Here are some specifics:

Step 1. One day a week, have an actual lesson in creative writing. Start at the beginning—with words. Explain that all writing is made up of words. Make a list of words that sound really interesting: sassafras, oozing, buttery. Be word collectors.

Try putting words together in odd ways, such as "The oozing sassafras sleeked and slithered onto the buttery Birkenstock." Read "Jabberwocky." Encourage your kids to collect words that they like throughout the week. (You might post this in a central location, like the refrigerator.) Your kids need to learn to appreciate and really get to know words intimately.

Step 2. Talk about synonyms and adjectives. Give them a list of "bad words" that they absolutely cannot use: big, good, nice, pretty, small, very, cool, went, said. Have them make posters outlawing those words. Encourage them to think of more descriptive words, and fill those in around the poster. For example, instead of "said," they can write, "chattered," "shrieked," "whispered," etc. This is a good time to introduce them to a thesaurus.

Step 3. Talk about strong verbs. Ask your kids to come up with exciting substitutes for everyday words, such as eat (e.g., gobble), walk (e.g., lumber), and talk (e.g., chatter). Try to get them to outdo each other (and you) by coming up with outrageous words for simple actions. Look for poems with strong verbs, or find examples in stories where the author chose to use a word like "tiptoe" instead of "walk."

Step 4. Teach them how to turn boring sentences into exciting ones using adjectives and strong verbs. This has been a favorite exercise for all my writing classes. Take a sentence like "She ate dinner" and turn it into "The headstrong acrobat insisted upon slurping her spaghetti upside down." Make up lots of sentences and expand them together.

In class recently we turned "The man went to the city" into "The aging rock star rode his psychedelic tour bus into Chicago for his final performance." Come back to this exercise again and again. They love this.