2 Great Exercises to Help Kids Love Creative Writing

University students studying in cafe
University students studying in cafe

For some of my students, writing is their passion. For others? Not so much. Since tutoring sessions are usually set amounts of time, there are occasionally opportunities where the mandatory work is done and a bit of fun can be had. Creative writing exercises are always a go-to choice. These exercises also work great for parents who want to implement some writing enrichment over summer breaks or school vacations.

In order to foster an appreciation for creative writing, I often revert to the following exercises:

1. Word association exercise. Inspired by Paolo Freire's generative word exercise, I often use this to get students warmed up and ready for free writing. First, have students take out a new sheet of paper. Tell them that you are going to verbalize a series of words. Then, tell them to write down the word you say; next to that word, they are to write down the first word that they think of. Before you begin, inform students that they aren't to overthink this, but should be paying attention to what visuals are created in their minds. They should take the first word that pops into their head and write it out. After all, there is no wrong answer!

Once this part is done, there should be a list with two words on each line. Have students circle one or two groups of words that created the strongest visuals for them. The end product is a potential topic or two that provides students with a starting place for free-writing.

Tips: Vary between concrete nouns, adjectives, and abstract concepts. For example, be sure to add in a few objects, such as "desk," "pizza," or "globe." But, be sure to also add words like, "pushy," "happy," and "devastated." Round off the list with words such as "justice," "sorrow," and "truth." The best part is, you can adapt the words to match the grade level; this exercise is pretty one size fits all.

2. Partnered story writing. Used to both practice and measure a students' abilities to think on their feet, paired story writing can be an exhilarating experience for both the students and the adult facilitator. On a clean sheet of paper, write a detailed first line that you might see as the first line in a chapter book. Once you write the first line, pass the notebook to the student. Have the student write the next line and pass it back to you. Repeat the process as long as needed! In my experience, students can't help but employ their imaginations while creating the story.

Tip: Make sure the first line has detail with a sense of mystery, so the student is able to take it in many possible directions. For example, "It was 7:05PM in London, England, when the woman hurried into the Green Snake Tavern, peering through the crowd to try and find her brother." As you can see, the line invites imagination; the students have many choices as far as where they will go next. The best part about this exercise is that it can also be done between two students (or even two siblings!).

Note: I am not claiming to have invented these particular exercises.