Creative writing is a wonderful chance for students to write with freedom and enjoyment. However, they can find these tasks daunting. Where to begin? What to write? The open nature of the task can be off-putting to reluctant writers.
Using a stimulus to launch your lesson is a way of sparking interest and excitement whilst removing the fear of getting it wrong. Your students can collaboratively generate ideas before having to put their pen to paper.
Why Use a Stimulus?
It is easy to fall into a familiar pattern of teaching. Students soon get bored if every writing task starts in the same way. They start to wonder why they must do creative writing at all.
Starting with a stimulus is an opportunity for developing speaking and listening skills. Discussion and debate helps students to see different perspectives and it gives you the chance to introduce any specific tier three vocabulary you want to teach. A writing prompt offers excitement into your classroom and opens students' imaginations to something new.
Ideas for Creative Writing Prompts
Look for something that is more than a prompt towards an obvious outcome. Instead, find an idea which will promote rich discussion and offer many possibilities.
Strike a balance between constraining your learners with a narrow and predictable writing outcome and overwhelming them with too many possibilities to choose from. You can use a thematic prompt or allow your students complete freedom with an abstract choice. You might use one item or a series of resources with a link between them.
Successful stimuli include:
- Pictures and paintings
- Movie clips and animations
- Stories and extracts from books
- Scripts and plays
- Letters and diaries
- Questions to discuss
- Newspaper articles
- Controversial statements
- Scenario cards
- Start or end paragraphs from a story
To make creative writing a regular part of your English lessons, plan a series of stimuli that will lead to very different outcomes. There are lots of resources online to help you with ideas.
If you are interested in sharing your writing with a wider audience, look into the 100 word challenge. It provides a weekly stimulus and allows students around the world to comment on each other’s blogs. This is a great way to give a purpose to your creative writing lessons.
It is easy to fall into a familiar pattern that always starts with looking at a picture or video clip. Vary the item you use. This will prevent the writing becoming boring or predictable.
Choose a resource that offers different possibilities and moves beyond the familiar experiences of your class. For example, a picture of a historical pirate ship would lead your students to write traditional adventure stories full of gold, peg-legs, and walking the plank. Adding in an account of modern piracy would transform their writing. They could explore ideas around theft and morality. The responses will be varied and more interesting, allowing for greater creativity.
How to Use Your Creative Writing Stimulus
Sharing a writing prompt with your class gives you the chance to be creative. Find the perfect resource to inspire them and add a dash of drama and excitement to the moment.
Think about changing how the class are seated by moving them into a discussion circle. Take your students outside to get in touch with nature or darken the room and play music to add a sense of mystery.
When you show your students the stimulus:
- Plan time for discussion and debate
- Record key points made by students
- Write up any questions they have
- Make sure they can all see the resource clearly
- Use different senses to describe it
- Let them touch objects
Encourage your learners to ask and answer questions about the writing prompt and use questioning to help them think deeply. Avoid using leading questions that will push your class towards seeing the stimulus in the same way as you. Let them surprise you.
Moving from Stimulus to Writing
After exploring and discussing, support your learners as they start the writing task. Some students will brim with suggestions and struggle to decide which direction to take. Others won’t know what to write.
Before launching into writing, give the class time to discuss and share their ideas. Use a strategy like think, pair, share to help them work collaboratively. Ask the learners to suggest different types and styles of writing they could use and encourage them to borrow ideas from each other.
Record promising ideas for children to refer to when they are planning and writing. Display any key vocabulary they will need and provide them with a checklist of features to include.
Allow your students to move away from the stimulus once it has sparked their imaginations. Their final writing may differ from your expectations.
Supporting Struggling Students
Don’t make assumptions about who will find free writing difficult. Students who have limited technical abilities can be full of creative ideas. Provide support to any who need it.
You could offer them:
- A planning frame or template to work from
- The opportunity to plan their writing as a series of pictures
- Key questions to consider
- A word mat containing technical vocabulary and definitions
- Sentence starters
- Paired writing with a peer
- Group writing with an adult
- A limited choice of tasks to select from
- An opening paragraph they continue
Too often, creative writing is dismissed as unimportant and a waste of time. In fact, prioritizing regular imaginative writing empowers your students and engages them in the writing process.
It is tempting to select the style and content you want to see in a writing task, but this can limit the enjoyment and creativity of your class. Using a writing stimulus offers students the freedom of choice that is often lost in an overcrowded curriculum.
Allowing time to develop initial thoughts and ideas will lead to a far richer piece of writing and better student outcomes. By inspiring and engaging them, the class will write more and take ownership of their work.