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.

Steps for writing an essay

When you travel to a city you don’t know, it is recommendable to have a good map or plan of the city. Otherwise, you risk to get lost easily. The same occurs when it comes to writing an essay. Sitting down in front of the computer and starting to write without knowing where you’re going is the surest way of losing the course and obtaining a mediocre work. In the following, we present the three main steps that you have to follow, in order to write a good essay.

  1. Planning

This is probably the most important stage. Here, you formulate the thesis and design the general structure of the essay.

  • Choosing a topic

Remember that you cannot cover everything in a single essay. You need to start from a general topic and reduce it rapidly. What aspect of the chosen topic do you find most interesting or intriguing? What aspect is disturbing for you? Which one would you like to find out more about? In this stage, it is best to try different approaches to analyze the chosen subject.

  • Formulating a thesis

A topic is not a thesis, albeit the former is shorter than the latter. The thesis is something that you (and you alone) want to say about this particular topic. It is your idea and point of view that you are bringing argument for and proving throughout the essay. Basically, your thesis has to provoke a reaction a debate. To achieve this, it is best to formulate as a problem – like an issue that needs to be clarified or like something that requires a solution.

  • Identifying the arguments or reasons

Once you formulate the thesis, you need a list of arguments to confirm it. Make sure you present two or three arguments – one in each paragraph – which clearly demonstrate that you are right. Moreover, you need to support your arguments with at least two proofs or examples.

  • Developing the rhetorical structure

Armed with a thesis, with the arguments that prove it and the examples and evidence that confirm each of your examples, you can start developing the rhetorical structure of your essay. The rhetorical structure is the map or the frame of your piece of writing: thanks to it, you can compose a solid, convincing text without risking to get lost on the way.