I recently volunteered as a mentor on an adult literacy course called Improve your English through Creative Writing. Most of the students on the course had little or no understanding of punctuation and many of them had never had the courage to pick up a book for fear of not understanding a single word. Having been an avid reader since the age of about two, I found this quite difficult to comprehend. For me this would be the equivalent of trying to read in Japanese, a language I know nothing about. I was saddened by one student, Jack, who said, ‘I have so many stories in my head but I can’t write them down.’
As the course progressed, the students not only learned where to put the commas and apostrophes they also learned new vocabulary, how to spell and how to construct grammatically correct sentences. It wasn’t just their writing which improved but also their speaking skills.
It’s easy to use creative writing as a teaching method. Here are a few writing exercises to get the ink flowing in your classrooms:
• Who’s the best liar? Ask the students to write a mini biography about themselves but to include one thing that isn’t true – the other students have to guess the lie. I was born in London, I have three younger sisters and work as an editor. I like running and sleeping. The lie – I only have two younger sisters.
• Ask the students to write a detailed description of 10 objects found in a bag or 10 items on a given vocabulary list. For example, a birthday card: the birthday card was dog-eared and watermarked but the words ‘I’ll see you in October’ could just be made out.
• Ask the students to write a couple of paragraphs about someone in disguise. The idea is not to give away the disguise and the other students have to guess who or what is being described. He had very large feet, a red nose and curly orange hair. The answer – a clown.
Now the students will be ready to write their first story. A good starting point for any writer is to remember that a story is about people and things in the ‘wrong’ place. This doesn’t have to be literal – ‘wrong’ could just mean unusual or out of the ordinary. A few examples are: someone who gets on the wrong train, a lost bag, a misfit, a trip to the beach in a thunderstorm, a missing person, a broken leg
Here are the five elements that help make up a story:
1 Introduction (introduces characters, setting, time, weather etc.)
2 Rising action (something goes wrong, there are complications)
3 Climax (the most intense point, the conflict reaches it’s peak and the character has to make a decision)
4 Falling action (With the decision made, what will the character do now?)
5 Conclusion (Does the character feel the same as at the beginning of the story?)
You don’t need to be an expert story writer to teach creative writing. Your students will do the hard work for you. Give them each a dictionary each to get lost in and let the creativity commence!