Creative writing for the creatively challenged


Sometimes, setting creative writing tasks can be difficult because students are unsure just where to start, especially if they’re not naturally a creative type. But creative writing can be a really great task for getting students to use a wide variety of vocabulary and topics. So, if you’ve got a class of reluctant writers, here’s a lovely idea that will get your students’ creative juices flowing, originally courtesy of artist Nina Katchadourian and discovered through the website Brain Pickings. It’s called book spine poetry and is a really fun way of creative writing, without the pressure, and best of all, it works at every level!

The idea behind book spine poetry is to take books and make a poem out of the titles of those books, rearranging the order until you have something that makes sense. This can be very challenging, but in a fun, investigative way: students have to hunt around to find relevant titles that will, in combination, create a logical message. You could also expand to mixed media, allowing students to also use CDs and DVDs.

The great thing about this task is that you can be as flexible or rigid as you like. If you’re working on a particular topic and want to set this as a supplementary task, you can tell your students to stick to that theme. If you just want to do creative writing as the whole task, you can let students pick their own themes so that they have the artistic freedom to “write” whatever they like. And even if you’ve just covered a specific grammar point or a set of vocabulary, you could insist that these have to form the basis of the students’ poems. It really can be used however you like!

Another great thing about using this idea in the EFL classroom is that it can provide plenty of opportunity for getting your students to really communicate. Each student could present their poem aloud in small groups, and then explain how they came to write their particular poem, while other students can ask follow-up questions, before taking their turn. Having students read the poems aloud would also be a great way of focussing on both pronunciation and intonation, with endless opportunity for modelling and drilling. Before students present, you could put up a copy of every poem around the room and ask everyone to pick which is their favourite and why. You could also ask if they know any of the titles being used for each line, and it could bring up some new vocabulary that other students don’t know.

Here’s a little example, made by yours truly, from some popular novel titles from the twentieth century onwards:

As I lay dying
on the road,
in search of lost time,
everything is illuminated
from here to eternity.
Never let me go.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

So there you have it – a whole lesson from just a couple of books!


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