My new educational video about the process of keeping a writer’s notebook.
Children have a lot of writing assignments in school. Often, time for creative writing is squeezed out of the curriculum. If you are a teacher who wants to introduce/encourage more creative writing, here are some ideas. Please email me at email@example.com if you have ideas you’d like to share.
Keep a Writer’s Notebook. See my Tips for Keeping a Writer’s Notebook for more info.
Create a Writer’s Corner. Stock it with pencils, paper, materials for making mini-books, a mirror for looking at facial expressions (in order to be able to describe them), a phone book or baby naming book for character name ideas, and more. Encourage kids to write a poem or story during free time. Encourage kids who are upset about something to write about it.
Try a “collaborative” journal with your class. In my book, Please Write in This Book, the teacher leaves a blank book in her room asking students to please write in it.
Be open to “silly” writing. Students may be inspired to write a story that you think is ridiculous or silly. Remember, creative writing is not about creating something perfect or something necessarily profound. Be open and encourage creativity, and the child will want to keep writing.
Encourage all kinds of writing. Stories, poems, songs, plays, cartoons, comics, etc.
Allow reluctant writers to dictate to you or a volunteer/assistant. Be a scribe, not an editor. Use the child’s exact words.
Embrace and encourage mistakes. The goal is to increase creative fluency and make writing fun. Save the grammar and spelling lessons for later. The truth is that my rough drafts are riddled with mistakes. I’m pushing myself to get something down without trying to edit as I go…children should be allowed to have the same writing process.
Ask questions if the student gets stuck. What is the story or poem about? If it’s a story, who is your main character and what does your main character want?
Talk it through one sentence at a time. If the student has trouble organizing or keeping track of thoughts, ask him/her to tell the story aloud one sentence at a time. Write down one sentence at a time.
Write yourself. Model enthusiasm by writing and sharing your own creative stories and poems– especially your “mistakes” or the ones that didn’t turn out as well as you’d like or the ones that you’re having trouble finishing.
Encourage the child to use his/her own voice. Rather than trying to “be poetic,” or to cram lots of big words into a story, it’s important for a child to learn to capture his/her own voice.
Create venues for sharing writing.
- Have a “literary reading” and invite friends and family
- Create podcasts of work
- Publish work on a website
- Encourage students to submit to writing contests.
- Establish a young author’s club
- Hold a Young Authors celebration, publishing and sharing books
Try “dialogue journals” between students. Link students who enjoy writing by encouraging them to write to each other by passing a designated notebook back and forth.
Give the gift of the written word. Model meaningful writing. Write real, meaningful messages to your class in your own voice on special days or for special events. No hallmark cards. Say what is really in your heart. This will make a big impression.
Create special “Everybody Writes” Sessions. Help kids to get in the mood by playing an unusual piece of music, lighting a candle (if your school allows this), dimming the lights, asking everybody to sit in a different seat, etc.
Shake things Up. Ask your students to get their creative juices moving by first dancing to an awesome piece of music and getting their bodies moving. Then sit down to write…
For encouraging story writing, use my WOW story technique to get started.
What is a WOW story?
WOW is an acronym that I created to help kids remember a simple story structure.
- The story has a main character who Wants something. This is the beginning of the story.
- There is an Obstacle that gets in the way of the main character. This is the middle of the story.
- The main character either Wins or loses. This is the end of the story.
How to make up WOW stories
- Choose a main character. This can be a person, an animal, or even an object: for example, a boy, a grandmother, a soccer star, a sock, or a paintbrush!
- Decide what the main character wants. What might a paintbrush want? Some paint to play with? To belong to a famous artist? Try unexpected ideas. A grandmother might want to ride a motorcycle!
- Decide what will get in the way of the main character’s desire. Brainstorm lots of obstacles and decide which one is the most fun or engaging. Obstacles can be simple. A rabbit wants to eat grass on a hillside, but a tiger lives on that hillside. The tiger is the obstacle. A boy wants a new bike, but his father says no. His father is the obstacle. Obstacles can also be emotions. What if a girl wants to ice skate, but she is afraid that she’ll fall down? Fear is her obstacle.
- Decide how/if the main character will “win or lose.” Does your main character get what he or she wants in the end? How?
Write or perform WOW stories
Write or dictate your story: Write your stories on paper. Or make a book by folding pages and stapling them together. If your child hasn’t learned how to write yet, ask him or her to tell you the story and write it down word for word.
Act your story out: For reluctant writers, try acting out the story first. After you have brainstormed the basics for a specific WOW story using the steps above, act out the story. Choose a narrator who will tell the story and provide cues for the actors. This can be the job of the parent or a child. The narrator should be very clear and say “The End” so that everyone knows when the story is over. After acting out stories, the child may be more interested in writing them down.
Copyright © 2011by Mary Amato. Permission granted to copy for educational use.
“Inside Sedaris’s left shirt pocket, he keeps an omnipresent notebook, a little spiral-bound one, in which he writes down everything that happens that might later be of use. If he walks out of the house and realizes he’s forgotten it, he turns around and goes home. “I might see a worm attacking a centipede. I might see a bumper sticker,” he says. “I don’t know how to turn off that part of myself that exploits everyone and everything that I come into contact with.”
I love this juicy bit from Monica Hesse’s article about writer David Sedaris in The Washington Post (October 4, 2010). When I’m doing school visits, I tell kids that if they see me on the street, they should stop me and ask me if I have my writer’s notebook-that’s because I always have it with me. Wouldn’t go to the grocery store without it, which is why I like pocket-sized notebooks. Writers are essentially spies.
Let’s say you’re reading a book, and you come across a sentence that blows you away because of its poetry or cadence or economy or expansiveness. Mark it. Then at some point, come back and don’t just read it again. Write that sentence down in your writer’s notebook, word for word, comma for comma. In doing so, you will get the feeling of that sentence in your muscle memory–the clauses, the pauses, the rhythm. When it’s time for you to write, what you learned will come out to play.
Here’s one that I wrote down recently from Elizabeth Strout’s excellent book, Olive Kitteridge:
Olive, years ago, had taught math at the Crosby Junior High School, and while her emotions at times had attached themselves fiercely to particular students, Andrea Bibber had never seemed to her to be anything more than a small, dull, asseverating mouse.
Perhaps this exercise is akin to the idea of the artist who learns by copying a much-admired painting, brush stroke for brush stroke.
If you want to learn something, one of the best ways to do it is to be conscious of what you are learning. That may sound ridiculously obvious, but life has a way of flooding the mind with too much information and sweeping the newly-learned or almost-learned stuff out to sea.
The best way for me to be conscious of what I’m learning is to literally write what I’m learning down. After every class that I teach (or take) I force myself to sit and write down at least one thing that I learned. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes not. Usually, the act of writing helps realizations to occur.
I put myself through a course in humor writing by watching funny movies with an agenda: each time I watched, I had to write down at least one thing I learned about why it was funny.
If you’re taking a class, create a ritual for yourself (a mini notebook? a set of 3×5 cards? a dedicated blog?) to write down what you are learning.
Teachers, if you can’t access youtube, try teachertube.
Teachers if you can’t access youtube, please see teachertube.
A writer’s notebook is a place where you can write all kinds of things: ideas, questions, thoughts, true stories, invented stories, rough drafts for poems, songs, or stories, bits of dialogue that you overhear, and more. It’s different from a diary, which is a record of your own life experiences.
If you are interested in being a professional writer, keeping a notebook is important for many reasons. Here are four important ones:
- The more you write about what you see and hear, the more observant you’ll become.
- The more you write, the more your writing will improve overall.
- The act of writing down an idea often stimulates more ideas.
- Writing down an idea “cements” the idea—you can’t lose it if it is written down!
There is no right or wrong way to keep a writer’s notebook. Here are some of my suggestions:
- Pick a notebook that you like: a spiral notebook, a binder, a blank book. It doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, sometimes if it’s too fancy, you might be afraid to write in it.
- Write whatever pops into your head that you find interesting: a story that you hear that isn’t true, a story that is true, a memory, a dream, a conversation, a description of something you see, an idea for a poem, a story, a song, character names, etc.
- Dictate: if you find it hard to get your thoughts or ideas down, ask someone else to write for you. Make sure they use your words.
- Use notes: If you get an idea or have a thought and don’t have your notebook with you, jot a note to yourself and tape it into your Writer’s Notebook later.
- Experiment with rough drafts that you can later develop into stories or poems.
- Try to write as concretely and specifically as you can. If you’re writing a description, use details. If you’re writing about something that happened, describe exactly what happened.
- Look for what I call “shivery” moments–those times in your life when you have a big emotion or realization (maybe you witness an argument between your sister and your mother and it makes you realize something about yourself). These moments are important to document because they could become the inspiration to write a story or poem. Write the actual scene, using as much concrete detail as possible.
- Take your writer’s notebook with you EVERYWHERE.
- Date your entries: you might want to know when you came up with an idea later.
Copyright © 2008 by Mary Amato. Permission granted to copy for educational use.