The starkness of a white, blank notebook page can be frightening. Your fingers twitch with the desire for something, anything to just spill out. For the ink to somehow read your thoughts and know exactly where to make the page full.
This constant feeling can be a tough cycle to break for students, especially for those who don’t feel confident in their writing or in expressing what they have to say.
Many times they are asked to write for a grade, to submit only that which they have edited to the best of their ability. The pressure to constantly write and submit their absolute best can build and build, reducing them to stone each time they meet an empty page.
By providing the time and space for creative writing and self-expression with your students, you as their teacher can alleviate some of this pressure by giving them room to roam, unburdened by the notion of a graded assignment.
Re-Attaching Oneself Through Self-Expression and Creativity
In academic writing, it’s sometimes easier to write by detaching the self from the material; you say and include what you need to in order to achieve good marks on that paper for that class. When this happens, writing can become sterile, or selfless.
Regular self-expression through writing gives the words on the page a voice. It allows the paper to breathe, to live.
We as teachers must allow our students to shake themselves from the coil of sterility and embrace self-expression. Let them know that they can allow themselves to be romantic, macabre, ironic or just absolutely ridiculous. Creative writing gives ample field for imagination to bloom.
If you allow them the room to wander, they will eventually find their own ground. They will find the ways to say what they must, and hopefully close that gap a little more each time.
Try some of the activities below to get your students writing!
Activities to Promote Self-Expression and Creativity Among Your Students
Some students may take quickly to the practice of writing creatively, while some may take longer to warm up to the idea. That’s okay! Adjust your creative writing time and space for your students the best that you can. There are many ways to get your students writing in the classroom or at home without cramping their field of expression:
Visual Prompt Exercise
While giving a written prompt is great, offering a selection of visual writing prompts to your students can fold a new element into your students’ responses. There can be written cues with the pictures, or simply the pictures themselves. Allow your students however much time you deem appropriate. This exercise can offer your classroom a fresh perspective on response writing and really give your students’ ideas a new dimension. You can do this however often you are able, and you can encourage your students to work on their writing pieces at home. Give them the option to turn in their responses, even if they do so under a pseudonym!
This exercise is a timeless classic. Freewriting is just as it sounds; your students will need only a pen, paper and the nerve to keep going. Freewriting can be as jarring as it is cathartic, solely because it requires your students to keep writing. This can be even harder for those who usually excel at writing because of the temptation to go back, reread, and edit.
Encourage your students to ride the energy of their initial thoughts, unabashedly. This can lead to some interesting material, but you don’t need them to share. Simply give them the space and opportunity to be themselves. Writing by hand connects the pen to the heart; freewriting is like giving that heart permission to beat.
Collaborative Class Story
This activity is also a classic, but way more interactive. An ongoing class story is a fun way to get your class writing creatively within a silly, light atmosphere (trust me, it’s probably going to get ridiculous!). You can start the story yourself by giving a scenario, suggesting an object, deciding a genre or writing a story starter– “Everything was blue. Everywhere she looked, everything she touched– nothing was safe from the blue hue!”
Challenge your students to keep the story going. It could be helpful to set the limit at one or two sentences so no one takes the story hostage. You can even have groups work on the story together for a certain amount of time before passing it on. When the story has made its round, read it out loud for everyone to hear. Those who wrote in the beginning of the story may be shocked to hear how it has evolved!
Great for both younger and older students, this is a special kind of exercise, as it promotes writing creatively, but within a guided boundary. Haiku writing asks that your students write from the perspective of a single moment or feeling in time. This can seem difficult to some students, but it can help develop the ability to exercise both restraint and flow in writing.
Haikus in America like to follow the 5-7-5 rule of syllables, but this is not necessary; the poem can be any arrangement of 17 syllables. You can suggest a place or feeling to your students, but be sure to allow them to explore their own places and emotions, too.
Whether the nature of your creative writing activities is structured or freeform, the goal here is to break the anxiety associated with the daunting blankness of an expectant page and to help your students realize that they have a voice of their own. The more opportunities your students have to conquer their anxiety and to exercise their voice, the easier it will be to cast off the hardened shell and trust the pen.