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4 Tips for Teaching Creative Writing to Elementary School Students

   
 
A card I received from a 4th grade class I visited.
 
     Not only have a written a full year creative writing curriculum (currently under reformatting), but I have taught two homeschool students. Also, I have visited two classrooms to teach them the excitement of writing. Looking back, there are many things I'd do differently. Mainly, I've learned things that would change how I approach elementary students and their writing. 

     These are the four biggest things to remember about teaching Creative Writing.

     Every kid is different.
               
     Every educator is aware of how different each student is. They learn differently, process stories differently, and will write differently. Analytical, process-oriented thinkers will struggle with brainstorm but thrive with an editing checklist. Imaginative, result oriented thinkers will pounce on brainstorm but struggle with outlining and plot. Every kid is going to latch onto something that makes a story interesting to them. One might enjoy monsters and only want to write about them. Instead of trying to get him to write about something else, try getting him to stretch his thinking about monsters or look at them in a different way. Encourage him to write something different about monsters rather than something different than monsters. At this age, challenge them within the boundaries of things they enjoy. Which leads me to my next point. 

     Writing is scary to them.
     
     Writing a story intimidates all kids. Even the big readers are going to hesitate about writing a full story. From a practical sense, a book seems more daunting than a movie. They're both a story, but the book takes more effort to read than watching a movie. There are kids that get overwhelmed about every aspect of writing, but others just struggle with the idea of coming up with a story, writing it down, or editing it to make it the best it can be. Ease them into it. Start off with mini story prompts. Not the "tell about your summer" kind, but give them a first sentence to a story, and ask them to write the next one hundred words. Challenge them to write as if the story continued but they don't have to have any idea of what is to come. Read them a short story but stop at the climax. Have your students finish the story. Finishing a story that has already been started is a great way to ease them into writing a full story, but it is also great for you to see how their brains are working. Take notice of the way they resolve the plot, so you can encourage them later if they become stuck. 

     The stories that your students choose to read/watch will greatly influence the stories they will come up with.

     Kids are going to write what they know. That sounds crazy and contradictory when a ten year old writes about time travel and dragons. But that child knew about fantasy creatures and concepts because of the stories she loved to read. Even the kids who don't enjoy reading probably watch movies or play video games. While you don't have to refer to those stories continually, (Some kids might find it hard to think of original ideas if reminded of other stories they know well.) you can use the knowledge of their favorite books and movies as a baseline. Try to get to know each kids likes and dislikes. If you know a child likes comedy, you can encourage him to think of events that a certain character might find humorous. If you know a child dislikes comedy, you can steer him in a different direction. If you can make writing enjoyable by sticking to a style they enjoy, do it. They're still young. If only one could be obtained, the enjoyment of writing is worth more than a varied skill in genres. 

     Ask questions. 

     Asking questions is the best way to help students write. Most of the time, every student has it in them to resolve a plot hole, break writer's block, and develop a complex character. However, they need prompting. After teaching the preliminaries, you can expect many students to be excited to begin. Many will lose this enthusiasm once they get stuck. Asking questions can help them get themselves unstuck without you telling them what to do. It's easy as a teacher to point out where a character acts unlike themselves. But instead of saying, "I don't think your main character would say that," try, "What do you think your main character is thinking right now? What do you think your main character is feeling? What would you say if you were thinking and feeling that?" Asking questions is much more effective than correcting their writing. There comes a time, especially if you choose to teach significant editing skills, where a checklist of "do this, don't do that" is appropriate. But until a student is confident in their ability to create a story that their peers will want to read, asking questions is your best chance at success. 

     Do you teach Creative Writing to elementary students? How have you approached teaching writing? What would you do differently next time? 

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