I’ve been hearing from a lot of teachers lately about getting thrown into teaching creative writing electives they weren’t expecting. Been there. I was excited if a bit overwhelmed the year I took over my friend’s “Creative Literature” course after she took a job in Northern California.
A creative writing course seems to flow out before you to the infinite horizon, am I right? There are so many different things you could do, and it’s not easy to figure out a logical flow and pin down the assignments.
That’s why in this post I’m pulling together a list of some of the best creative writing units I’ve done, dreamed of, or participated in as a student. If I was writing a brand new course right now, I would use every one of these units.
The Multigenre Autobiography (for the beginning of the year)
I once assigned my American literature juniors an identity project. After reading a variety of pieces by American authors about their lives and experiences, my students produced a portfolio of works in different genres that shed light on their own identity. The results amazed me.
If I was crafting this same project for a creative writing course, I would ask students to create a narrative of their lives using three or four genres linked together. Perhaps they would begin with memoir about their early childhood, move into a video of their own performance poetry about early childhood, transition into a travel piece representative of their teenage years and finish with a fictional story about their future. I would detail a big list of options for the different genres, examine a range of autobiographical pieces that reflected at least some of those genres, and hit the ground running.
Enter a Contest (for the early fall)
Writing contests are everywhere. I recently rounded up dozens for a post over at We Are Teachers. Choose one you think your students will enjoy, whether it’s the 10 Minute Play Contest, Engineer Girl, The Ocean Awareness Contest, The Bennington Young Writer’s Awards or one of the other wonderful options.
Better yet, share the whole list with your class and let everyone choose the contest they feel more drawn towards. By introducing the project and completing the work early in the year, you give them more options because the deadlines won’t yet have passed.
Maker Unit (for the winter)
Angela Stockman’s recent book, Make Writing, shows a classroom world in which students are inspired by what they make to take their writing in totally fresh, creative directions. I LOVE this idea.
Spend some of the drearier months making your classroom into a maker space with your students, gathering materials and creating areas where they can design characters in paint before ink, settings out of cardboard and wire before words, conflicts in cartoons across chalkboards before spinning them out across pages. Design a maker unit, in which students create elements of their fiction before they write, and see what magic unfolds. Learn more about making writing in this podcast episode I did with Angela.
One Act Play Festival (for the early spring)
As the weather begins to warm, get students going on writing one act plays in groups. If you want to pair the project with a mentor text, choose a play to read first and then have students brainstorm a list of themes from that play that they can incorporate into their own.
Give them time to write and rehearse together (head outside if you can!). Then decide as a class when and where to hold your own one act play festival and invite guests. Consider letting students vote for several award-winning plays and hold your own awards ceremony when the performances conclude.
Blogging (for the end of the year)
As the year comes to a close, keep students’ attention by inviting them to experiment with the genre of creative nonfiction through blogging. Give them a chance to choose a topic they’re truly interested in and begin experimenting with how to write for a real audience. You can assign profile posts, list posts, multimedia posts, opinion posts, top 10s, and more to guide them in writing the kinds of creative nonfiction they see constantly online. Read all about how to get going and discover the best free blogging platforms in this post, A Beginner’s Guide to Student Blogging.
Of course there are dozens more wonderful possibilities for creative writing units. You could write screenplays, memoirs, graphic novels, children’s books, nursery rhymes, fairy tales. You could explore writing scifi, fantasy, mystery, YA, and more. You could dive into poetry with spoken word, slam, and blackout poetry. The world is your oyster when it comes to a creative writing course, but these are just five fun possibilities to get you started.
Want to share your favorite creative writing units and get inspired by those of other fabulous teachers? Hop on over into my free Facebook group, Creative High School English and join the conversation.