10 Creative Writing Activities That Help Students Tell Their Stories
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“I don’t have a story. There’s nothing interesting about my life!” Sound familiar? I don’t know a teacher who hasn’t heard students say this. When we ask our students to write about themselves, they get stuck. We know how important it is for them to tell their own stories. It’s how we explore our identities and keep our histories and cultures alive. It can even be dangerous when we don’t tell our stories (check out this Ted Talk given by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and share it with your students for more on that). Storytelling is essential for every subject, not just English Language Arts; students dive deeper and engage when they practice thinking about how their own stories intersect with historical events, civic engagement, and the real-world implications of STEM. These 10 creative writing activities can work in every subject you teach:
Here are 10 of our favorite story telling activities that inspire students:
1. Write an “I am from” poem
Students read the poem “I am From” by George Ella Lyon. Then, they draft a poem about their own identity in the same format Lyon used. Finally, students create a video to publish their poems. We love this one because the mentor text gives a clear structure and example that students can follow. But the end result is truly unique, just like their story.
2. Design a social media post to share an important memory
How can you use your unique perspective to tell a story? We want our students to learn that they are truly unique and have stories that only they can tell that other people want to hear or could relate to or learn from. In this activity, students watch two Pixar-in-a-Box videos on Khan Academy to learn about storytelling and perspective. Then, they identify an interesting or poignant memory and design a social media post.
3. Create an image using a line to chart an emotional journey
How do you show emotion using a single line? In this activity, students watch a Pixar in a Box video on Khan Academy to learn about how lines communicate character, emotion, and tension. Then they experiment with these aspects as they write their story. We love using this for pre-writing and to help students explore their story arc. Also, for students who love to draw or learn visually, this can help them get started telling their story and show them that there are many different ways to tell a story.
4. Tell the story behind your name
Sharing the story behind our name is a way to tell a story about ourselves, our culture, and our family history. And if there isn’t a story behind it, we can talk about how we feel about it and describe what it sounds like. In this activity, students use video to introduce themselves to their classmates by discussing the origin of their name. This project asks students to connect their names (and identities) to their personal and familial histories and to larger historical forces. If you’re looking for a mentor text that pairs well with this one, try “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros.
5. Develop a visual character sketch
Give students the time to create a character sketch of themselves. This will help them see how they fit into their story. In this lesson, students create a visual character sketch. They’ll treat themselves like a character and learn to see themselves objectively.
6. Create a webpage to outline the story of your movie
Building a story spine is a great way to show students how to put the parts of their story in an order that makes sense. It’s an exercise in making choices about structure. We like this activity because it gives students a chance to see different examples of structure in storytelling. Then, they consider the question: how can you use structure to set your story up for success? Finally, they design and illustrate an outline for their story.
7. Respond to a variety of writing prompts
Sometimes our students get stuck because they aren’t inspired or need a different entry point into telling their story. Give them a lot of writing prompts that they can choose from. Pass out paper and pencils. Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Then, write 3-4 writing prompts on the board. Encourage students to free-write and not worry about whether their ideas are good or right. Some of our favorite prompts to encourage students to tell their story are:
- I don’t know why I remember…
- What’s your favorite place and why?
- What objects tell the story of your life?
- What might surprise someone to learn about you?
8. Create a self-portrait exploring identity and self-expression
Part of what makes writing your own story so difficult for students is that they are just building their identity. In this activity, students explore how they and others define their identity. What role does identity play in determining how they are perceived and treated by others? What remains hidden and what is shown publicly?
9. Film a video to share an important story from your life
Encourage students to think about how to tell the story of a day they faced their fears. Students consider the question: How can you use different shot types to tell your story? They watch a video from Pixar in a Box on Khan Academy to learn about different camera shots and their use in storytelling. Then, they use Adobe Spark Post or Photoshop and choose three moments from their story to make into shots. We love using this to help students think about pace and perspective. Sometimes what we leave out of our story is just as important as what we include.
10. Try wild writing
Laurie Powers created a process where you read a poem and then select two lines from it. Students start their own writing with one of those lines. Anytime that they get stuck, they repeat their jump-off line again. This is a standalone activity or a daily writing warm-up, and it works with any poem. We love how it lowers the stakes. Can’t think of anything to write? Repeat the jump-off line and start again. Here are some of our favorite jump-off lines:
- The truth is…
- Some people say…
- Here’s what I forgot to tell you…
- Some questions have no answers…
- Here’s what I’m afraid to write about…
Julie Mason is a Senior Editor at WeAreTeachers. She taught middle and high school English, and is a blended and personalized learning instructional coach. She loves reading a book in one sitting, good coffee, and spending time with her husband and sons.
Creative Writing Strategies for Students: Unleash Their Full Potential
Teaching writing is rewarding as it is challenging. A blank page can be promising, but it can also be discouraging to a young writer. Writer’s block stops the most accomplished writers in their tracks, let alone elementary students still learning the basics. As elementary school teachers, we need to provide our students a solid foundation upon which to develop writing skills .
Just as sailors and pirates learn to navigate the seas by analyzing the positions of the sun and the stars, creative writing strategies can help our elementary students navigate the weird, wild world of language and creative writing. Just as a cloudless sky makes it easier to see the stars, the best writing strategies are clear, compelling, easy to learn, remember and, most of all, enjoy!
Of course, even teachers like yourself find themselves at a loss. We’ve rounded up the very best writing strategies to help make your job a little easier. These strategies are tried-and-true methods that most of us are already familiar with, which is why we’ve put some new spins on these old classics to keep things fresh and exciting.
Writing Strategy #1: Ad-Lib with Framed Paragraphs
The simplest solution to the blank page predicament is to avoid it entirely. Instead of an empty sheet of paper, give your students paragraph frameworks featuring a fill-in-the-blank format. Framed paragraphs with pre-written sentences and blank spaces for students to fill in their own words are an excellent opportunity for young students to improve their writing .
- Firm structure increases focus. Frameworks prevent meandering run-on sentences and fragments while keeping students engaged in the task at hand.
- Zoom in on particular parts of speech. Whether you’re working on adverbs or it’s time to talk about nouns, create a framed paragraph that directs your students’ attention to specific elements.
- Adapt to skill levels. Keep sentence structure simple and paragraphs short for beginners. Vary the framework once your students master the basics and make sentences more complex for an added challenge.
- Perfect for word games! We love to remind our students (and fellow teachers!) that just because it’s a lesson doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Invigorating ad-lib word games (think Mad Libs!) might be the key to brightening a lesson and your students’ days.
Framed paragraphs illustrate the importance of logical sentence structure and flow but still leave room for your students’ creativity and personalities to shine.
Divide your students into small groups to brainstorm narrative ideas. Give each group a sheet with framed paragraphs and ask them to complete the first paragraph. Then, have them pass their papers to another group, who will complete the next section. Continue until your students conclude their stories.
Your students will be amazed to see the unexpected turns their stories took! Publish their stories anthology-style in a high-quality, professionally bound classbook to create an endearing keepsake they’ll have for years to come!
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Writing Strategy #2: Cook Up Some Juicy Paragraph Hamburgers
Some say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so incorporate some visual flair into your writing instruction ! One of our favorite writing strategies for elementary students is the “Paragraph Hamburger.” Yum.
A Paragraph Hamburger is a graphic organizer that depicts paragraphs as—you guessed it— hamburgers. Top buns represent topic sentences , and bottom buns represent concluding sentences. Burger patties, fillings and condiments represent examples and supporting details . Paragraph Hamburgers work well for young writers because…
They’re visually engaging. Kids love illustrations. Using a favorite food to represent paragraph structure and enhance sentence writing works well for visually inclined students. Paragraph Hamburgers are interesting to analyze and easier to remember than worksheets (not to mention more fun!).
They illustrate how writing elements relate. Structure helps students understand how basic paragraph framing works. Just as buns hold burgers together, topic sentences and concluding sentences hold content together. Juicy, delicious details make writing (and hamburgers) flavorful and satisfying.
They promote freedom without sacrificing structure. Paragraph Hamburgers allow students the freedom to form unique ideas while providing the guidance they need to begin and finalize their paragraphs effectively.
They encourage creativity. While you can download a Paragraph Hamburger template from the internet, encourage your students’ imaginations to run wild and design their own hamburgers! Most online templates feature standard toppings like tomatoes, lettuce and cheese, but everyone has different taste buds.
We can only begin to tell you the crazy burger fillings we’ve seen: mac and cheese, potato chips, french fries, peanut butter and jelly. You name it! You students will appreciate the opportunity to personalize their Paragraph Hamburgers.
Paragraph Hamburgers are a fantastic writing strategy for students who need help understanding how writing elements work together to create a satisfying whole. Now, if we could only bring a grill to class…
Turn an everyday assignment into a delectable treat by having your students draw and color their own Paragraph Hamburgers. They can use their hamburgers to develop a paragraph describing the perfect burger, including specific ingredients. Then, collect and organize your students’ brilliant ideas in a beautiful class-recipe-book !
Writing Strategy #3: Build a RAFT
For elementary students who are already proficient in the basics of sentence and paragraph construction, it’s time to think about the bigger picture. This is when the RAFT writing strategy comes into play. RAFT stands for…
- Role of the Writer
Rather than focusing on writing structure, RAFT helps students determine the best way to write about a particular topic and why. RAFT is an effective writing strategy because…
- It’s comprehensive. RAFT enables your students to think critically and creatively about writing as a whole, not as disparate sentences and paragraphs.
- It’s easy to remember. RAFT is a simple acronym that produces a vivid narrative. Constructing a physical raft is an effective visual representation of how this strategy helps students prevent their writing from sinking!
- It helps students explore alternate viewpoints. RAFT helps students determine who they are writing as (themselves or someone else?) and who they are writing for. The answers to these questions impact the way people write.
- It’s flexible across all subjects and formats. RAFT is handy no matter what your students are writing about, whether it’s an essay, a letter or a poem. The sky’s the limit!
RAFT is ideal for young writers familiar with the nuts and bolts and ready to begin using those elements to build something more complex and involved.
Introduce dramatic intrigue to your lesson plan by having your students assume a character’s identity from a book they’re reading in class. They can use RAFT to write a letter from that character’s perspective directed at one of the other characters in the book. Combine and publish their letters in a classbook! Celebrate your class’s accomplishment by allowing your students to dress up in costumes and read their letters to the room!
Writing is a journey into the unknown. You never know where you’re going to end up! It’s exciting, but it’s also overwhelming for newly minted writers who aren’t sure what direction to go in or how they should start. You can prevent your students from losing their way (or losing interest) by using the aforementioned writing strategies .
Motivating Your Students to Write
Some students take to writing like fish to water, but others need extra motivation. Here are some actionable steps you can take to motivate your students to write .
- Use writing from multiple genres
- Present writing in different formats
- Model writing in the real world
- Publish and share their writing
Use Writing from Multiple Genres
Every student has different interests. Showing multiple writing examples that speak to their unique interests is a fantastic motivator.
You must know what your students find fascinating. You may have two or three students who love fantasy games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, and a few others who love math and science. You don’t have to provide examples that cater to each student individually. Select examples that will resonate with multiple students at once.
Present Writing in Different Formats
One fantastic aspect of writing (particularly creative writing) is that it is everywhere. You can present TV commercials, advertisements, movies, websites and other media formats as creative writing examples.
Do you know those YouTubers our students love? Many of them use scripts or, at the very least, outlines when they make videos.
You can also discuss popular movies and explain how writers meticulously craft every single word said on screen. Use Moana’s script as an example. It’s easy to find movie scripts online.
Model Writing in the Real World
We’ve all heard at least one student ask the question, “when will we use this in real life?” or they’ll state that they don’t need to know how to write for one reason or another. Our favorite line is, “I don’t need to know how to write because I am going to be a [insert a career that isn’t centered around writing] .”
We have found that providing real-world writing examples shows students that writing is a skill that they will use for the rest of their lives, no matter what profession they end up pursuing. Explain to your students the importance of writing emails, presenting ideas and drafting resumes.
Don’t stay on the subject for too long; provide them enough information to get the point across. Although this isn’t directly related to creativity, it puts writing’s importance on center stage.
Publish and Share Their Writing
Sharing your students’ writing is one of the best ways to motivate them to produce their best work; becoming a published author is an endlessly exciting prospect!
Classbooks incentivize your students to write content that they are proud to show off to friends and family. Some students discover that they enjoy writing more than they initially thought. Turning your students into published authors is an excellent way to build their confidence as writers and gives them a tangible representation of their hard work and creativity.
Unleash Your Students’ Creativity Through Publishing
Young authors never fail to inspire us. We’re amazed over and over again at the wonderfully unique classbook projects we get to publish. Countless teachers have told us that they feel the same way—their students are their number one source of inspiration.
Helping students reach their full potential is the most crucial piece of the educational puzzle, but how exactly do you do it? Our experiences show that creative writing projects, like classbook publishing projects , are among the best ways to inspire your students and let their imaginations soar. Here are a few ways you can unleash your students’ creative potential through the power of writing and publishing.
Brainstorming is a crucial aspect of the creative writing process where your students have the opportunity to conjure original ideas and think outside of the box. If you want to unleash your students’ full creative potential, you must think outside of the box as well!
- Breaking your routine can be exciting and encourage new ways to accomplish goals. Switch things around by altering your brainstorming session format. Use graphic organizers and worksheets each time your students prepare to write something new.
- Color outside of the lines. Instead of using pencils and worksheets, incorporate visual tools, like colorful sticky notes, or have your students create “mashup” topic ideas by combining random words written on scraps of paper.
- Develop new ideas by drawing inspiration from old ones. Maybe another class published a classbook that your students found particularly compelling, or perhaps browsing topic ideas online will help your students obtain a clear idea of what they’d like to write.
Initial drafts can be tricky and even intimidating for young and inexperienced writers. Remind them that making mistakes is important and encourage them to experiment. Experimentation builds self-confidence and motivates students to keep writing .
- Whether conducting research for a nonfiction project or collecting ideas before writing a paper, your students need to engage their curiosity. Provide them with (or encourage them to seek out) a variety of writing resources besides textbooks. Newspaper articles, reputable blogs, podcasts and TED talks are fantastic resources. Fictionalized accounts of real people and events, like Newsies or Anastasia, can be perfect jumping-off points for further thought and research.
- Urge your students to collaborate. Kids love to work on assignments and projects with their friends. Allowing your students to finish each other’s sentences or stories is a surefire way to end up with genuinely creative plot twists.
- Quick freewriting sessions are good creative warm-up exercises that get your students’ pencils and brains moving. These sessions allow them time to experiment and make messes without worrying about impressing you or their classmates.
Your students’ favorite part of the publishing process probably isn’t the revisions phase, but with your help, this step is a chance for your students to get creative and have a little fun at the same time!
- Encourage colorful thinking with color-coded notes. Highlighters and colored pencils make revisions pop and turn editing into a work of art. Just be sure to use colors that are easy to read.
- Make sure to look for positive angles when you’re reviewing your students’ work. Criticism alone, even the constructive kind, can be demotivating. You must emphasize the creative potential of their ideas and encourage your students to develop those ideas, even if it is clear a student didn’t put 100% of their effort into an assignment.
- One of the simplest ways to make editing and revising more inspiring is to provide your students something they can relate to. Share humorous examples of grammar gone wrong or discuss pop culture anecdotes that excite their curiosity. Frozen , for example, was originally an animated Hans Christian Andersen biopic. It didn’t become the movie we love today until after many years and many revisions!
Publishing is mostly about inspiration. Your students need creativity and grit to bring a book from the brainstorming phase to the final published copy.
However, publishing is also about unleashing potential, and not just your students’ potential, either! By publishing your students’ great ideas , you will motivate other students and teachers to come up with and publish their own classbooks. What’s more inspiring than that?
Be sure to check out our online Teacher’s Lounge for more inspirational and creative classroom resources and sign up for your FREE publishing kit !