Top Tips For Teaching Young Adults Creative Writing
J. K. Rowling once said: "All a writer needs is talent and ink." I agree. But she might have forgotten a crucial factor that made Harry Potter forever etched in our mind ---imagination. It is always said that writing is natural, so a good writer is someone who can write without conscious effort.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Anthony R. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
A real writer, however, will tell you things are just the other way around. There can be no doubt that a good writer endlessly seeks perfection in words. Not until they mirror the thoughts in their brain does the process stop. From a pedagogical perspective, teaching creative writing has been vexing a great majority of English teachers for decades. Things can be even harder for non-native English teachers.
In the following, I will share my point of view as well as my hands-on experience. The summative task is two-fold, starting with a brief discussion on a pivotal factor for an impressive creative writing---imagination, followed by my hands-on experience in teaching creating writing to young adult learners.
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The Power of Imagination
Advanced writers of English are of greatest necessity to be equipped with the ability to manipulate their imagination. It can reflect one’s flow of thinking as well as reasoning, analyzing, and critical thinking. What a writer says in writing shapes the package of the color and size of ideas (Winkler & McCuen, 1974). To achieve this, one doesn’t need to be an artist, a poet, or a genius. The nitty-gritty here is to exercise your imagination. Your imagination will deliver the image you think about. I’ve always employed the following three steps to be a warm-up activity before moving on to ask students to create their writing. In a typical ESA lesson plan, I would include only one or two parts of the activities in the Engage phase.
Imagine you and your family are lying on the grass, looking at the sky at night.
Ask Yourself Questions
- Where are you?
- Who are you with?
- Why is the night so bright?
- What can I see in the sky?
- What happened after that?
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Let Your Imagination Flow
Bring your story further and alive by asking more questions. Say, if you see no stars at night, try reminiscing the old days when you and your friends enjoyed sitting in the dark, waiting for the shooting star to appear out of nowhere, closing your eyes while wishing. Where are the stars, then?
Decide What You Wish to Talk About
Now, the story map is built. If you intend to air your concern over our deteriorating environment, then your first draft would very likely look like this.
“At my family ‘s cabin on a Minnesota lake, I knew woods so dark that my hands disappeared before my eyes. I knew night skies in which meteors left smoky trails across sugary spreads of stars. But now, when 8 out of 10 children born in the United States will never know a sky dark enough for the Milky Way, I worry we are rapidly losing night’s natural darkness before realizing its worth. This winter solstice, as we cheer the days’ gradual movement back toward light, let us alone remember the irreplaceable value of darkness."(Adapted from Paul Bogard, “Let There Be Dark.”)
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My Teaching Experience
As a TOEFL/IELTS teacher, having unexpected students come to me occasionally asking for help with their statement is anything but a rare phenomenon. Many college applicants, if not all, got dinged by their dream schools for no reason, albeit with an impressive GPA record, and some of them are even varsity cheerleaders. Having harked back to these old stories countless times, I’m starting to realize that their statement was the reason. Since 2015, I’ve started to help my students edit their documents.
The very first thing I ask them to do is “Think of your statement as a very short but intriguing story.” It has begun, and end, and a character we care about”. One of the pitfalls my students usually make is that they are always trying to wear off the admission members’ patience by ‘keeping a diary’. The first sentence of your statement is the most important. Through a series of training sessions in an attempt to exercise their imagination, most of them started to pick up the know-how. For example, instead of saying “As I and my dad drove on the freeway, we saw something strange…”, but try making a splash with your story by saying ”Staring at the speedometer without blinking, I was mesmerized by how I felt that night. Things escalated too quickly, with the readings on the panel, after dropping to 0 mph, jumping back around in merely 3 seconds….”.
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Or if you wish to deploy the art of storytelling to answer an essay question titled “Thanks to technological advances, the world is getting smaller and better every day”, then you could further extend your imagination and the end product would probably look like this.
Staring at the speedometer without blinking, I was mesmerized by how I felt that night. Things escalated too quickly, with the readings on the panel, after dropping to 0 mph, jumping back around in merely 3 seconds. To my surprise, as I enjoyed the adrenalin rush down, it soon came as bit of a shock to me that even the slightest trembler could give me a goosebump. Little did I realize I was riding shotgun in my dad’s newly bought sedan car till we finally arrived at my aunt’s house. Technology has never ceased to amaze us. The world where we live is now without boundaries….
Another example is the story of Andy Patriquin, who got into the University of Redlands in 2018. We have discussed this more than dozens of times before having his application sent. With his consent, I showed my students his statement, asking them to create their version to impress the reader.
It was the peak of the day’s heat on July 5, 2017, in the small vacation town of Chatham, Mass. My partner Benjamin and I emerged from the vast backyards of neighboring shoreline homes with big green barrels of garbage held over backs and dumped them into the back of a garbage truck. As I hop on the back step to ride to our next stop, I thought about how despite being sweaty, sore, covered in bug bites, garbage juice, I couldn’t have been happier to have this job. --- by Andy Patriquin
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Teaching writing is not an easy job, a fact that can be seen in the classroom where little time is devoted to this most frequently neglected skill. There are few if any clear criteria that define good creative writing. How to succeed in eventually allowing students to create their own story in the ACTIVATE phase requires endless effort with perseverance. Teaching is a profession. Writing is an art.
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