Creative Writing

Creative writing may initially sound like an easy, fun elective course to teach, but a number of challenges quickly emerge. First of all, a textbook for high school creative writing, to my knowledge, does not exist, and college textbooks are usually too advanced or filled with mentor texts that would likely get you in hot water in Oklahoma. The internet is your best friend at this point, and you’ll have to build up a collection of mentor texts from a variety of genres. Social media like Twitter, tumblr, and Facebook will sometimes surprise you with some ideas for lessons. As a creative writing teacher, you’ll be on the lookout for mentor texts all the time.

The course can also become populated with a wide variety of students—those genuinely interested in becoming better writers, those who write secretly but never intend to share, those who wanted to make a varsity sports team but did not and had to take CW instead, those who were dumped into the class by a school counselor. The list goes on. Attempting to create a community of writers will take some hard work on your part as the teacher, but do not get discouraged. It’s doable.

And then there’s the matter of grading. Do you intend to take home angsty poems written by fifteen-year-old girls and mark them up in the evenings or on weekends? Unless you want to spiral into depression, avoid this strategy.

To be practical, divide the course, whether it is yearlong or just a semester, into units based on broad genres: short fiction, memoir, poetry, scriptwriting, and maybe a personal favorite like humor or romance. Give students lots of mentor texts to examine and discuss within that unit’s genre and give them time to write lots of drafts in class. Give grades to students for making good attempts at the different drafts in their notebook. Secure a computer lab for students to type up their favorite piece or pieces, and then give them time to revise in groups. Finally, provide time for students to share their work aloud with the entire class, which will give you class time to offer feedback as well. Have the student print two copies—one for him or her and one for you. You can grade harder on this more polished draft. Then start the process over again for the next unit. Six weeks is about right for a unit: four weeks to study and write drafts, a couple days to type and work in groups, and then a week to share aloud, depending on the size of the class.

One final piece of advice: write alongside your students and share your process with them. As the teacher, you can share your terrible rough drafts with your students as well as your brilliant polished pieces. Students will respond in time by sharing their writing aloud, which gets the ball rolling in the right (write?) direction. 

--Jason Stephenson
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