The ABCs of Teaching Creative Writing

OR - The ABCs of Teaching Creative Writing - SJ - HSLDA Blog

A major act of rebellion in my husband’s young life was in fifth grade when they tried to make him do creative writing.

This is the kid, mind you, who taught himself to read by age four. He read The Lord of the Rings trilogy by age six. But when his teachers put a blank page in front of him and said, “Write!”, he completely froze up. He refused to write. Today, he enjoys speaking to support groups about literature, homeschooling, and parenting; but he still hates that awful blank page.

As both a writer and a homeschooling parent, I didn’t want writing to cause my children that kind of anxiety. Over the years, I’ve discovered a few tricks to ease a child into the process without triggering a panicked shutdown.

I’m talking here about creative writing, which is different from structured composition. Both are important, but the latter usually takes more formal instruction and a good curriculum/teacher. The writing I’m talking about is for expressing thoughts, and a “lesson” doesn’t have to take more than 15 minutes at the time.

Here are a few tips, helpfully arranged A – E.

AVOID A BLANK PAGE. When you invite a child to write, provide a prompt. It can be either a sentence (“Describe your favorite ice cream.”) or a picture. Some kids will react by wanting to write anything except what you suggest. Fine. Knock yourself out. The point is to get them thinking and writing.

BE SENSUAL (this point isn’t as interesting as you think it is). One of the best exercises for creative writing is to access all five senses. For most of us, it’s easy to use sight words to describe our surroundings. What if you must describe something using only your sense of hearing? Or smell? One group of young writers insisted that they couldn’t think of a sentence using the sense of touch because they weren’t really touching anything. I pointed out: clothes, jewelry, air conditioning on the skin, your toes in your shoes, your bottom in your chair…They surprised themselves by what they came up with.

CRITIQUE LATER. Notice that I didn’t use the word “criticize.” You never should criticize a child’s writing. It communicates that the work—and the person—falls short. Criticism has no place in guiding your child to write creatively.

But critique—a respectful discussion of how a piece of writing works, and where it needs improvement, including grammar and spelling—is a very important element of writing. However, when your child is exploring his own voice or her own stories, it’s not the time for critique. While you can make a gentle suggestion here or there, it’s the time to accept the work for the effort, not for its polish.

DO A LITTLE EXTRA. Initially, ask for only a sentence. Not a paragraph or a story, just a sentence. You might get something like, “The cat sat.” Ask the child to add an adjective. “The black cat sat.” Better! How about a better verb? “The black cat purred.” We’re not up for a Newbery Medal yet, but already your child has created an impression instead of just a collection of words.

EXPRESS PRAISE. At that writer’s group I mentioned, one girl wrote a descriptive sentence about a pond and trees, using words like “silvery” and “gleaming.” The next girl apologized that hers wasn’t as good. She’d written a concise sentence about a quilt hanging on the wall—which nobody else had even noticed. I complimented the first girl on her choice of adjectives and the second girl on her observation skills. You can almost always find something to praise if your child has made an honest effort.

Follow these suggestions, and your child will love writing! That’s probably a false guarantee, sorry. We don’t all have an innate love for expressing ourselves through words—just ask my husband.

However, God made each one of us unique. We all have our own stories in our own voices. It’s a perk of homeschooling that we get to inspire our children into discovering the voice that God gave them.

-Sara
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.

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