Creative writing is the art of constructing original ideas by synthesizing literary elements and techniques to communicate an overarching theme about life. Oftentimes in our English classes, we spend more time on the deconstruction process, analyzing works of art by taking them apart. Standardized testing has brought some of this on as well as the struggle to prepare students for college-level writing. But one of the most important things we can do as English teachers is allow our students the time and the room to be creative, and in turn, this freedom of expression will inspire students to contribute in a meaningful way to the writing community within the classroom.
Our students need to exercise their construction skills as well as their deconstruction skills. It is only through the creative process that anyone can truly be able to fully understand how to take art apart and analyze it. Going both directions gives students the full spectrum of how art functions.
Here is a list of creative writing assignments that you can give students at the beginning of the school year to spark their imaginations.
1. Life Store
The Assignment: Create the store of your life. What does this mean? Consider this! If your life and your personality could be represented by a store, what would it look like? What would you sell in your store? Who would be your customers? Where would your store be located, and what would it be called? What would the inside and outside of your store look like? What would you do in your store? Use the "store" as a metaphor for your character and personality.
2. Ransom Poetry
The Assignment: Have you ever seen a ransom note in a movie or TV show? A stereotypical ransom note is a message made up of cutout letters, words, and pictures that is supposed to disguise the handwriting of the criminal. Create a poem using this ransom note style (that means cutting out letters, words, & images from magazines and newspapers) that describes who you are. Share your "ransom" poem with the class or a small group to get to know your classmates.
3. Rambling Autobiography
The Assignment: Do you know what it means to RAMBLE? Has a teacher ever asked you to STOP rambling in your writing? What does that mean? Rambling means that the writer jumps around from one idea to the next while also including random, seemingly disconnected ideas. Write a brief autobiography of your life that begins with "I was born in..." and then allow your mind to flow with ideas as they come. Let your subconscious mind take control and write about whatever memories "pop" into your mind. Don't edit, critique, or revise your writing. Let it ramble. Share your Rambling Autobiography with the class or a small group.
The Assignment: A Mandala is a spiritual symbol found in world religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. It is a symbol of the universe and is used as a means of meditation to focus thoughts. Monks sometimes create elaborate mandalas out of sand that later blow away with the wind. Research mandalas online and then create your own mandala that represents your identity. On the back of your mandala, explain what it shows about you. Put these on display in the classroom to celebrate individual identity.
5. Alternate Ending
The Assignment: Select a well-known piece of literature that you have studied in English class, and rewrite the ending! Try to make the ending ironic or humorous, and share your new story ending with the class! You can also leave out character names and see if the class can guess the title of the story you altered!
6. Community Poem
The Assignment: Working with a small group, create a "community" poem. To do this, everyone in the group takes out a piece of paper and writes one line and then passes the paper to the person on the right. The next person reads the first line, adds a line to it, and then passes the paper again. Keep doing this until each "community poem" has a total of ten lines. Then, take turns reading these silly "community poems" to your group!
7. Happy List
The Assignment: Make a list of activities that you make you happy. These should be things you enjoy doing. Is there a particular song or album that lifts your spirit? Is there a special place you like to go for a walk? Is there a family recipe that you love? Add these items to your "happy list." Keep this list handy for times when you are feeling really stressed, anxious, and/or overwhelmed with school or life. Come back to this list for ideas of things you can do to renew your spirit throughout the school year when you need a break.
8. The "What if" Game
The Assignment: Make a list of impossible and fantastical "what if" scenarios such as: "What if I had a clockwork TV and had to wind it up before I could use it?" This fun writing game comes from the book Out of the Box by Rob Eastaway. After you make a list of "what if" questions, select one and write a list of at least three consequences or effects of this scenario. Use your imagination!
Other fantastical "what if" questions include:
"What if you could eat a computer?"
"What if you had to train as an entertainer before you were allowed to have children?"
"What if plastic bags cost as much as a movie ticket?"
"What if restaurants paid you to eat there?"
9. Invent a New Word
The Assignment: Do you know why new words are added to the dictionary every single year? New words come from our culture and from life events-- and people LIKE YOU! Just last year, the Oxford English Dictionary added the word "clickbait," which is a word that comes from Internet advertising. They also added the word "Yoda-like" from Star Wars fandom. For this creative assignment, invent a brand new word, and write the definition for your word. Share your new vocabulary with the class, and see if you can start a new word trend!
10. The Simile Challenge
The Assignment: A simile is a type of comparison that uses "like" or "as" to connect two things i order to illustrate a point. Write a brief story in which you use as many similes as you possibly can. Consider the following example:
"It was the first day of school, and school was like a heater set on 100 degrees, burning our arms like a fire pit as hot as the surface of the sun. The air conditioner had broken like my sister's doll when I stepped on it, crumbling into tiny bits like a peach cobbler in a pan. I didn't know how I would make it through the day-- just like I didn't how I would pass Algebra, a class as difficult as scraping molasses out of a jar."
What other creative writing assignments would you add to this list? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.
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Meredith is the founder and creator of TeachWriting.org and Bespoke ELA. She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas. Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.