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Yasaibatake
07-05-2015, 10:49 PM
For those of you who don't know me, I'm a middle school teacher. Next year our course assignments are changing and I will now be in charge of the creative writing course. Yay! Here's my problem: there's nothing set up for this course. No curriculum, no standards/objectives, nothing. I finally got in touch with the lady who taught it for the last few years, but she freely admitted she had no idea what to do with it and the kids "didn't really do anything" in her class. I need some help! How would you set up an ideal creative writing course??

A few points to keep in mind:
- The course is open to 7th and 8th graders only. (12-14 years old)
- It's only one semester long.
- Outside of basic terms from English class, my students have no writing backgrounds/knowledge at all.
- Student motivation at my school is notoriously lacking (fairly poor neighborhood and family expectations are focused on jobs, not education).

Any ideas or suggestions would be a huge help!

JBVam
07-05-2015, 11:00 PM
Hi! Speaking as a aspiring author who loved creative writing assignments in school; why don't you give them assignments that lets them channel their creativity? For instance, give them an assignment where they can write a poem based off a set of topics that they choose. They can write a short story with dialogue and one without dialogue. Or have them write an essay on whatever they choose. Those are just some suggestions. I feel that your class will allow your student an escape from their world. I for one have always used writing as an outlet and love it to this day. Hope that helps, I have never been a teacher so I can only imagine how hard your job is. good luck to you :)

cornflake
07-05-2015, 11:11 PM
For those of you who don't know me, I'm a middle school teacher. Next year our course assignments are changing and I will now be in charge of the creative writing course. Yay! Here's my problem: there's nothing set up for this course. No curriculum, no standards/objectives, nothing. I finally got in touch with the lady who taught it for the last few years, but she freely admitted she had no idea what to do with it and the kids "didn't really do anything" in her class. I need some help! How would you set up an ideal creative writing course??

A few points to keep in mind:
- The course is open to 7th and 8th graders only. (12-14 years old)
- It's only one semester long.
- Outside of basic terms from English class, my students have no writing backgrounds/knowledge at all.
- Student motivation at my school is notoriously lacking (fairly poor neighborhood and family expectations are focused on jobs, not education).

Any ideas or suggestions would be a huge help!

If motivation is a problem, I think I'd first figure out what might motivate them - "publishing" their own literary magazine? Putting on skits or a play they could write? Trying for novels, a la nanowrimo, but all semester? Maybe you could have a few options and break them into groups based on their interest - one group does a play, one group writes novels, one does a magazine, or whatever else?

Then I think I'd start at the beginning, reading things, even snippets of things, to give them a really basic overview of storytelling and writing. Start with a synopsis of Beowulf or something, or fairy tales, and then you could discuss short stories, novels, plays, with examples of each you discuss in class, so you could work in information about structure, theme, basic info like protagonist vs. antagonist, etc., etc.

Then they can work on their big projects with small ones interspersed? You could do a surprise flash fiction day - spring a 500-word story assignment on them when they sit down - or have them all write a short story together. You could try it once with everyone helping to plot and brainstorm and then work on it together and once with them each contributing a sentence, with no planning, and look at the difference?

I dunno, just ideas.

Yasaibatake
07-05-2015, 11:58 PM
Oh, I like the idea of splitting them into groups based on goals! I was considering doing a publication unit at the end of the semester - because what's more motivating than publishing? - but I like your idea better. It's much more individualized to the kids *and* they can work on it all semester long (versus just at the end). Thanks! That's a great start!

frimble3
07-06-2015, 05:07 AM
If student motivation is lacking, and most of your students don't have writing backgrounds/knowledge, I'd keep everything short and simple. (Publication, while motivating for people who like to write/are confident about their abilities, etc, might be threatening for others.)
I like Putputt's
Then I think I'd start at the beginning, reading things, even snippets of things, to give them a really basic overview of storytelling and writing. Start with a synopsis of Beowulf or something, or fairy tales, and then you could discuss short stories, novels, plays, with examples of each you discuss in class, so you could work in information about structure, theme, basic info like protagonist vs. antagonist, etc., etc.
Lots of writing prompts and really short exercises so they can actually try stuff.

Samsonet
07-06-2015, 05:09 AM
In my creative writing class, our teacher taught us different types of poetry and had us write one of each. At the end we put them all into a folder to make a poetry "collection". It was cool -- but then I already was really passionate about writing when I was twelve, so.

C.bronco
07-06-2015, 06:25 AM
I did a unit on writing poetry once, and probably have more experience from that. Give then stacks of paint samples and have them pick several that appeal to them. Then, give them books of fine art. Have them use the paint color names to describe the story in a painting.


Give them a classic form of poetry (sonnet, haiku, whatever) and have them write a poem about their favorite day off.

Read them The Jabberwocky, and then ask them to write a poem where they can create their own words.

mirandashell
07-06-2015, 02:02 PM
If you're good at reading out loud, the Jabberwocky is a brilliant idea. Great rhythms from nonsense words that sound like they ought to mean something. That should inspire quite a few.

sunandshadow
07-06-2015, 02:46 PM
Hmm, I definitely have some favorite materials to teach to aspiring fiction writers, but I'm not sure how many are appropriate for that age. I guess I will just list them.

Simon O. Lesser wrote a book called Fiction and the Unconscious. This book builds on some of the things in Aristotle's Poetics (which you may know is pretty much the oldest textbook about writing fiction in western culture, and would be a logical choice for the first text of any course in fiction theory). But back to Fiction and the Unconscious. This book talks about the functions fiction serves for us. Aristotle says that consuming fiction is a form of pretend play and pretend play is educational (like wolf pups who develop hunting skills by playing); Lesser builds on this by calling fiction "an ideological dressing room" and says that it is one of the major ways we 'try on' philosophies, attitudes, problem solving approaches, and those mostly-unconscious tools we need to be adult humans. This connects neatly with some theories about myths and why they exist, as well as how storytelling evolved in humans - some of the earliest storytelling, even older than having a full language we could use to create with each other, apparently consisted of prehistoric humans using 'charades' along with the occasional word and sound effect to tell stories, especially about hunting. These acted-out stories helped young hunters learn techniques for hunting different types of animals without getting killed in the process, as well as cautionary tales about hunts that went badly wrong. Stories also were involved in forming cultural behaviors like stockpiling food for winter that helped the cultures that told these stories survive. It's hard to see narration at work in our everyday lives because it does mostly work at an unconscious level, but narration is integral to our inner, personal processes of learning from past experiences and making contingency plans for the future about how we can act to achieve our goals and which goals we should pursue. Narration is also integral to our cultural dialogues about what is right and wrong, fair and unfair, appropriate to praise and encourage or appropriate to criticize and discourage.

Other than the Poetics (unreadable for children but easy for a teacher to put the main points into simpler language) and Fiction and the Unconscious, my favorite fiction-theory-related books are Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing (which has the problem that one of the major plot examples in the book uses a suicide as a major plot point, not really young-teen friendly) and Robert McKee's Story (which is focused on writing screenplays but a nice survey of many of the concepts in modern fiction theory) . Another of my favorites is Cynthia Joyce Clay's Vector Theory and the Plot Structures of Literature and Drama, but I don't think it would make sense to anyone who hasn't had an introductory physics course, which is usually high school level, not middle school.

UnluckyClover77
07-06-2015, 05:13 PM
I don't know about motivation, but I imagine any twelve year-old would just love to create their own characters, either by drawing them or giving them traits or the like...must be really hard for you, though...creating the course from scratch, I mean. :eek:

Good luck!

tiakall
07-06-2015, 05:44 PM
You might find the teacher material over at the Nanowrimo Young Writer's Program helpful - they've developed a lot of curriculum that (I think) is CC-compliant.

Maggie Maxwell
07-06-2015, 06:45 PM
In a high school CW class, my teacher would start each day with a short, five to ten minute writing prompt. It'd be on the board when we came in, and we had a notebook that every prompt went into. It helped get everyone loosened up for the day and also was a quick glimpse into everyone's writing style and type of creativity for the teacher.

Jamesaritchie
07-06-2015, 07:31 PM
Why not just teach from a book? Books have been the primary teaching tool in every creative writing course I've ever take.

This one has been used successfully on many occasions: http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Short-Story-Hands-On-Program/dp/0898798809

cornflake
07-06-2015, 07:43 PM
Why not just teach from a book? Books have been the primary teaching tool in every creative writing course I've ever take.

This one has been used successfully on many occasions: http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Short-Story-Hands-On-Program/dp/0898798809

Sounds like you had some sad teachers. Anyone can buy, read, and follow the prompts in a book.

Brightdreamer
07-06-2015, 09:29 PM
Sounds like you had some sad teachers. Anyone can buy, read, and follow the prompts in a book.

True, but such books might help the OP come up with a lesson plan.

Personally, I've always liked Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic (http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Magic-Creating-Stories-that/dp/0060519606/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436203561&sr=8-1&keywords=writing+magic+levine) - it's written for a MG/YA audience, and doesn't talk down to them. Excerpts from that, or having it available in the classroom, might prove inspirational, especially if they plan on visiting different genres.

(And I'll second/whatever whoever said publication, even a simple in-school publication, might be seen as intimidating to some students, especially those uncomfortable with the idea of sharing their ideas with others. Maybe get a read off the class before deciding on that as an end-goal.)

Jamesaritchie
07-07-2015, 07:49 PM
Sounds like you had some sad teachers. Anyone can buy, read, and follow the prompts in a book.

Yes, that's why the best and brightest always use books. That's why there is no such thing as a top college course that doesn't use books. That's why the is no class from first grade through college that doesn't use books.

The trouble, of course, is that while anyone can buy, read, and follow the prompts in a book, learning to do so well enough to write a publishable story is extremely difficult. But if you can learn without books, more power to you. But I find the entire prospect very, very strange, and completely unrealistic.

shakeysix
07-07-2015, 08:27 PM
I once taught a remedial writing course for high school kids. I gave the kids each a throw away camera--school bought several for each student-- for each assignment. Each assignment was a topic--something general like friends or family. The first part of the assignment was to shoot pictures. Then when the developed film came back we sorted through the pictures, identified the shots, the subjects, flaws and weaknesses in the actual picture. This was in the days of film about 12 years ago, but think of the advantages of digital photos and photo shopping.

The first assessment was a short paragraph about each picture; the circs of the shot, where, when it was taken, mood, what went wrong, what was right. The teacher takes this opportunity to correct grammar and spelling, etc and the kids are receptive because they don't want to make mistakes for their friends to see. The next assessment was a short story, poem, dialog, etc. about one of the snapshots--again the piece is an opportunity for peer editing, or, you as the teacher make the corrections. One topic should take about six school days but, remember, this was when we had to wait for film to be developed.

The final assessment is a two or three page short story about a snapshot that has been taken or one to be taken. (I had a great idea--have the kids take a photo of a local "haunted" house" and write a story about that BUT it was a small town and my dimwitted high schoolers actually went into a house they thought was deserted and had to back out in total darkness when they discovered someone sleeping in there! Fortunately the sleeper did not awaken and start firing at the trespassers! Yeah. How could I, a learned and responsible educator, have thought up such a dumbass idea!)

The product of the class was an album of photos and stories, the stories had to be corrected. It would be so much easier these days because the photos could be edited and enhanced. Anyway that is how I did it--s6

Brightdreamer
07-07-2015, 08:48 PM
The product of the class was an album of photos and stories, the stories had to be corrected. It would be so much easier these days because the photos could be edited and enhanced. Anyway that is how I did it--s6

Speaking as Someone Who Knows, fiddling with photo-editing software can be every bit as time-consuming and addictive as writing; personally, I'd avoid adding the temptation of photo manipulation/enhancement, when the focus of the class should be storytelling and writing. Maybe the OP could gather a stockpile of photos from the Internet or magazines for the kids to choose from?

Liosse de Velishaf
07-07-2015, 08:57 PM
Designing a curriculum from scratch is tough. If you only had to make lesson plans from a given curriculum, that would be much easier. (The following is one style for teaching creative writing. There are many other approaches you could take.)

The first thing you want to focus on is deciding what forms of creative writing you wish to teach. Just prose? Prose plus poetry? Creative non-fiction? Most general creative writing classes do poetry and short fiction, with maybe some short-form creative non-fiction. Once you decide what forms you want to address you need to decide how much of the class is going to be devoted to those forms.

(You might also want to consider whether you will be approaching this by using specific writing forms as the starting point, or whether you might want to include some general instruction of stuff like similes and metaphors, or character arcs, or poetic devices.)



Once you have your general curriculum together, you should consider what form each class period will take. How much time do you have? Do you want to do a writing-prompt type thing as a warm-up? That's a pretty popular tactic in intro to creative writing classes from middle school on through undergrad. Some people use prompt books for it, of which there must be at least a million or so, I imagine.

If you think the kids are relatively decent writers already, you may not even need very much supplementary lecture on anything and can just let them do assignments, perhaps with a focus on a given writing technique. If not, some writing exercises focused on various techniques could be useful.


You'll probably be doing both teacher critique and peer-critiquing. Group critiquing among students is pretty popular. You might want a rubric for a high school class to give them some idea of what can be useful. You might want to limit peer critique to a few large assignments, and in between have smaller assignments which you give feedback on as the teacher.



Going by your description of the students, I would suggest teaching the basics of creative writing and having only two major assignments. Probably a poetry one and a prose fiction one. You could substitute creative non-fiction for either of those if you feel the students would like that more. Writing a narrative about/inspire by something that's happened in a student's life is often a fairly popular assignment and gives them some emotional investment in the course. You'll probably want four to six minor composition assignments, depending on the exact number of class periods.

I'd definitely suggest 5-15 minutes of free-writing at the beginning of each class, depending on how much class-time there is. You can use a prompt book, give your own prompts, or just let them write whatever. It should be a writing journal as mentioned by a poster above. It would give you some idea of how the students are improving as individuals and what spots they may be most lacking in. It's also very low-pressure, consistent writing practice, which is good for students, especially at these ages and with these experience levels.


If you've taught more standard English classes before, you could use one of those curriculum plans as a base-line skeleton, possibly.

Liosse de Velishaf
07-07-2015, 08:58 PM
Speaking as Someone Who Knows, fiddling with photo-editing software can be every bit as time-consuming and addictive as writing; personally, I'd avoid adding the temptation of photo manipulation/enhancement, when the focus of the class should be storytelling and writing. Maybe the OP could gather a stockpile of photos from the Internet or magazines for the kids to choose from?


Using preselected photo or postcard or random item collections as prompts is fairly popular in my experience.

cornflake
07-08-2015, 06:51 AM
Yes, that's why the best and brightest always use books. That's why there is no such thing as a top college course that doesn't use books. That's why the is no class from first grade through college that doesn't use books.

The trouble, of course, is that while anyone can buy, read, and follow the prompts in a book, learning to do so well enough to write a publishable story is extremely difficult. But if you can learn without books, more power to you. But I find the entire prospect very, very strange, and completely unrealistic.

All those classes have something in common - teachers. If you just need a book, then you don't need teachers (or classmates). I've absolutely had classes without books, mostly in grad school, but other classes as well.

In my view, teachers are the primary tool in classes, not books.