How to initiate children and young people in creative writing

By encouraging creative writing from an early age, language learning is developed and boosted, from aspects like lexical richness, to knowledge of structure and forms that constitute a particular language. It also promotes a passion for reading and also for authors and literary genres.

Apart from the cognitive enhancement it triggers, creative writing also improves attention, memory, comprehension, creativity, concentration, imagination, team work and so on.

Organizing a creative writing workshop for children and teenagers is a rewarding optional school subject. Whether it takes place in school or outside it (at the library, cultural center, youth center, in a book shop…), what you need first and foremost is a room with a table and chairs, and stationery.

The recommended time for starting this activity is around age 8 or 9, when students can already express themselves correctly in writing. When forming workshop groups depending on age, a good option is to put together boys and girls between 8 and 12 years of age, and form another group for children who are 13 or more. As for the number of students for each group, between 4 and 8 students would be ideal, to take full advantage of each class. Note that once writing exercises have been done, each student needs to show his work to the others, and also to share commentaries and constructive criticism that will help everyone improve their work. The frequency of the workshop meetings is another aspect to take into account: it is best to gather once a week, or, as often happens, once every fortnight, in order to prevent the young from losing interest and commitment.

Of course that the workshop coordinator is the one who will decide upon these aspects, and who will also choose the subjects and exercises, always keeping in mind the kind of students that will accompany him/her in the creative adventure, and, later on, their preferences and tastes. If a certain group is more attracted to a particular genre, such as horror, mystery or fantasy, it would be great to take advantage of their enthusiasm.

Ideas for the start

There are various elements that prove essential when it comes to literary creation, and all of them have to find their place throughout the workshop: plot, characters, narrative voice, setting, dialogue, etc.

However, a good way to break the ice and initiate the young writers consists in making suggestions that will arouse their imagination and their desire to express themselves.

  • Suggest a sentence that could start a story, something as simple as “In a summer morning, …”, or “The light went out and…”, “During my last holiday, …”, “The car came around the corner”.
  • Suggest certain words (rain, red, dog, sock, etc.) that must be included in a text of a given number of lines.
  • Choose an ordinary subject and describe it: how they get to school, what their room looks like, what they do during recess, how they spend their afternoons, how is their pet, if they have a favorite place, etc.
  • Take a story that everybody knows, a popular anecdote, a comic strip or a saying, for instance, and write a version of it. The coordinator can also select a short text that would be read aloud, and then ask the students to continue the story.
  • Read a poem aloud, and ask the students to describe what it evokes to them and what they understand from it.
  • Create a self-portrait in words.
  • Show them photos or drawings representing landscapes, animals, people. From this, there can result an interesting source of inspiration that creates connections between what they see, what they feel and what they imagine, before putting all these on paper.
  • Take them on an outing in the park, on the beach, in a library or museum. Each child will jot down in a notebook what they see, as well as other thoughts. Later, they will use their notes to write a personal description of the visit.

Examples of activities

Further, we will describe other literary creation exercises and games to use as the workshop advances.

  • The circuit: Each child will write a sentence on a piece of paper, then he/she will hand the paper to his colleague on the right. They will have one minute each to write a sequel sentence, until the paper gets back to the first student. Then, each student will have five minutes to correct the resulting story and give it an appropriate ending.
  • Titles. A paper containing 25 possible story titles is shared among students. Each boy or girl will choose a title, and, starting from it, they will have to describe the characters that appear in the story and the place where the action happens. Then, they will write a short, one-page story containing those details.
  • Acrostics. Choose a sentence that will act as the acrostic, then use each letter as the beginning of a new line to obtain a meaningful story.
  • Dialogues. Describe the conversation between two persons who are seeing each other again by chance, after many years (choose different locations for each student). Another variant would be to write the dialogue that would occur between two persons who have just met for the first time.
  • Bad words. Each student will say three words that they don’t like, and the coordinator will write them down. After doing this, all students will write a collective story (each one will come up with a sentence) in which the mentioned words will have positive meaning.
  • Dictionary. After opening a dictionary at a random page, each member of the group will choose two rare words , or two words he/she doesn’t know. The student will write the chosen words, as well as their definitions. Then, they will create a short story that will contain at least six of the targeted words, which must appear in a comprehensible context.
  • Magic box. The group coordinator prepares a closed box with all kinds of words (numerals, verbs, adjectives, etc.) written on paper and put inside the box. Each child will stick their hand in and take four words, which they will use to write two sentences. In the end, everybody will gather their sentences together, trying to create a meaningful micro story.
  • Collage. Using newspapers or magazines, each student will cut out 25 words that they will then use to write a meaningful paragraph.
  • Another ending. The participants will choose a classical or popular story that they like, and they will have to write another ending, different from the one that everybody knows.
  • Time travel. The coordinator will ask each member in what age they would have liked to live, and who they would have liked to be. Starting from this, each student will write a short essay from this perspective.

How Adjectives can help you

Adjectives are rich words that paint a beautiful images of just about any surrounding. Search for an adjective list that starts with a and see how it can help you describe everything in a more color and rich way.

 

Learning how to properly use adjectives without boring your audience is a skill that requires years of practices and a large and forgetful audience, but it is extremely rewarding. I encourage you to start today by writing about your every day life, Yes! writing about anything and start sharpening your skills and improving the quality of your work with a heavy dose of adjectives.

After you have completed a couple of months with this exercise, try to continue by using adjectives in your daily conversations. This conversation can take place during anytime, place, setting or weather. Do not be afraid to approach a stranger if you have to, just as long as you start this conversation with somebody that you will have the time to listen to you.

The Secret Garden: The author

 

Frances Hodgson Burnett was born in Manchester, Great Britain, on 24 November 1849, and died in New York, USA, on 29 October 1924. She was an American writer of British origin.

The death of her father brought the family into ruin, so they had to emigrate to the United States in 1865. Here, Frances earned a living by writing poems and short stories. At the age of 23, she married doctor P. Burnett, with whom she had two children. In 1877 she published her first story, That Lass o’ Lowries, but she only gained a reputation after publishing Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885) and consolidated her popularity with A Little Princess (1905) and The Secret Garden (1910), which completed her trilogy of children’s books.

In 1901 she divorced doctor Swan M. Burnett and she married again, this time with Stephen Townsend, whom she also divorced. Having divorced twice and also having lost her eldest son, she settled to Bermuda and then in Long Island, where she embraced gardening, theosophy and spiritualism, until her death in 1924.

The Secret Garden becomes an important environmental message, in which the garden changes metaphorically into a place that teaches us to be ourselves. The garden is loaded with symbols about life, death, sickness and health, and brings a unique vision that the young can advance toward among their confusion. From this point of view, The Secret Garden is a small step that accompanies us throughout our youth and helps us see the Earth as a rich universe, full of lessons abut how to be more human.

All her works retain the theme of the different social classes and changes of luck.

The Secret Garden Story is well known

Mary Lennox, a homely but bossy girl, lives in India with her parents who work for the British government; her mother parades her beauty from party to party. As a nine-year-old, Mary is only busy making life miserable for the servants responsible for her upbringing; however, one night something happens that will change everything: a terrible cholera outbreak kills her parents. The little girl is sent to northern England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, who is said to be a grumpy hunchback with such a bad mood, that he doesn’t allow anybody to approach him. The girl travels all this way to find herself alone in a mansion that has over a hundred doors (most of them locked and bolted), and on whose halls a mysterious cry can be heard (that of Colin Craven). Later, she finds a walled garden that has not been opened in ten years, befriends a robin redbreast, a boy who has a soft way with animals (Dickon), an old sulky gardener and she also finds a hidden key. Page after page, the secrets and mysteries come one after another in this beautiful and immortal book, fascinating and able to touch the readers through the magical power of literature.

Book Review: The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden becomes an important environmental message, in which the garden changes metaphorically into a place that teaches us to be ourselves. The garden is loaded with symbols about life, death, sickness and health, and brings a unique vision that the young can advance toward. From this point of view, The Secret Garden is a small step that accompanies us throughout our youth and helps us see the Earth as a rich universe, full of lessons abut how to be more human.

Ana Belén Ramos, editor and translator of the book, writes in the Introduction:

“Lost principles, extremely poor children that inherit a great fortune, rich and noble people who possess everything, but who need to discover friendship, love and the beauty of life, orphans who meet their family among strangers; dangerous and selfish love relationships, and also love so pure and bright that lasts beyond death; loyalty vows that are upheld in spite of all hardships, secret rebellions against bloodthirsty governments, battles, mysterious secret meetings, intrigue, phantasm, adventure. This is the writing of Frances Hodgson Burnett, the literature that makes us dream.”

The edition presented here is a translation of the first edition of The Secret Garden, published in New York by Frederick A. Stokes Company, in 1911. We can see that the style of the author is clear and simple, always fit for the story, and I would like to highlight the beauty, humor and ability of evocation that the narration displays.

This is one of the secrets behind the success of this edition, and Ana Belén Ramos has managed to keep in her translation the emotion and personality of the original book which has captivated readers generation after generation, due to its plot, theme and eloquence.

Writing the body of an essay

Once you have a good rhetorical structure, you will find that writing an essay is much easier. Follow the advice below to write the three main parts of your essay.

  • The Introduction

This presents the initial information. It can be a short summary of the topic that is being developed or an illustrative example, written in an appealing manner, that leads to the theme. The idea is to introduce the reader into the general aspects of the problem that you intend to examine, and to direct him rapidly to your thesis. Always formulate your thesis in a clear manner, in the introduction. Remember that the reader wants to know exactly what ideas you are trying to demonstrate.

  • The Main Body of the text

Present your arguments – one in each paragraph – to convince the reader that your thesis is true. Don’t forget that your arguments must be followed by proofs and examples which would illustrate, support and demonstrate your thesis. A piece of evidence – an in-text quotation, an excerpt of a text, an image, etc. – is something that proves clearly that what you are claiming is actually true. An example is an illustration – a comparison, a reference to a similar case, etc. – which makes your argument more clear for the reader.

  • The Conclusion

Reiterate the thesis, but write it in a different way (do not just copy and paste it!). Briefly remind the reader why the thesis is true and discuss some of its general consequences: political, social, cultural etc. See that the end of the conclusion is eloquent, efficient and powerful.

  1. Revising your work

It is important to dedicate some time to revising your essay. Don’t make the mistake to deliver it without having read it several times. Search for spelling and typing errors. If possible, ask somebody you trust to read it and make some suggestions. Keep in mind that a text can still be improved as long as you haven’t handed it over to your teacher yet. Therefore, feel free to make changes, shift paragraphs, clear up sentences, if you believe that this will help improve the quality of your work.