Creative Writing for children: Inspiring Reluctant Writers

Some children seem to naturally gravitate towards a love for writing. Creating stories in their heads, acting them out and writing them on paper is one of the joys of literacy for those children who love to share their literary gifts with their friends, teachers and parents. However, with a growing focus on exciting games, apps and all manner of technology to keep children entertained, it appears that simple pleasures, such as writing or imaginative play are becoming a thing of the past. In my humble opinion, this couldn’t be more true than for that category of young boys who thrive off of games like minecraft, racing car games and fast paced learning styles.

When working as teacher or with my private students as their tutor, the process of putting words onto paper can quickly become a painful experience. I do not want to heap just boys into this category, for fear of gender stereotypes. However, I have come across this issue more often than not with boys who couldn’t care less about your typical fairy tale story line.

In fact, I was once asked as a trainee teacher, when offering help to another teacher’s class, to work with three boys from her class outside the classroom so that they could re-write a rather gory piece of fiction. Each of them had written about conflict, explosions and general action packed storylines. Nothing short of what you could find on Netflix. Obviously, the boys had to re-write the whole story and take out all the gruesome parts as their plot line had somewhat veered off of the learning intention.

Even though the experience of writing has been a painful process, the boys I have taught are far from short of ideas. They have all had broad imaginations and could sometimes map out an exciting plot, but feel the boredom begin to set in when the prospect of writing it all down arises.

Perhaps working with such a prescriptive curriculum where 30 children must write about the same storyline, with slightly different characters or settings isn’t enough to inspire creativity amongst young writers. Creativity comes from a place of limitless possibilities and should empower children to think in all directions. With this in mind, I’ve put together 10 ways to inspire creative thinking and motivate reluctant writers:

  1. Act it out

Playing and acting has such an important role in the learning process. When working in reception, children are often filled with genuine joy at the prospect of playing and exploring their environment. Sadly, this occurs less and less as children move up the school into the upper years. However, acting out stories can still have a huge benefit for reluctant writers in the classroom. Being able to imagine and act out their storylines in this way can help some writers to formulate their plot before putting anything on paper.

  1. Why don’t they like writing?

What is it about writing that reluctant writer X wants to avoid at all costs? When working with children one on one, it’s easier to discover some of the beliefs that children have already formed about themselves in relation to writing. At a glance, reluctant writer X might protest, “It’s boring”, “What’s the point?” “I’m going to be a footballer anyway”. These are some of the reactions I’ve had from boys who have tried to divert, distract, anything other than writing their ideas down. But when spoken to one on one, the reality is that many young writers have already decided that they are no good at writing. Looking over their shoulder at the star writer in the class, they think it’s impossible to write as well as somebody else, so what’s the point? Whether your reluctant writer thinks that they’re not good enough or that it has to be perfect, there is almost always a reason as to why somebody has decided to give up at trying. It’s important to understand these issues better and find ways to support reluctant writers to believe in their own abilities and find a way to enjoy the process.

  1. Use creative prompts

Creative prompts are a great way to open the mind up to possibilities. By carving out some time at home to explore different learning prompts, children can exercise their creative thinking skills. Creative prompts can be used as a game. What if a dragon flew down from the sky and landed on this street? What would you do? What could the dragon look like? Rather than feeling the pressure to instantly start writing, children can use these prompts as a starting point to create stories in their minds and imagine the impossible. Creative writing prompts can be useful at home in spare moments or as an extra challenge at the end of a literacy lesson to stretch their creative thinking skills.

  1. Read more stories

“A book is a magical thing that lets you travel to far-away places without ever leaving your chair” – Katrina Mayer.

Reading stories can widen their imaginations. Listening to stories, reading stories at home with parents or reading independently are all fantastic ways to ignite creativity. Asking questions and furthering children’s understanding of stories is a great way to get children thinking about their own. If the ending didn’t turn out as a hoped, how else could the story have gone? What do you think happens after the story has finished? Could you write the next part? By reading through different stories and seeing which genre appeals to different children, you are setting them up for writing success.

  1. Pass the story along

Playing games as a whole class is great way to take the pressure off one individual answering all the time and prevent passive learners. By playing a creative story game, you are taking the pressure off having a right answer. The reluctant writers in the room are creating stories without experiencing the resistance towards writing. Each child could say one word to contribute towards the story and as a class see where the story goes.

  1. Story in a box

Another idea to ignite creative story telling could be using props. Fill a box with unusual items. The items could relate to each other e.g. a magical theme with wands, hat, cards etc. As you reveal the items, the children can talk about how to relate all of the items together to make the story. Equally, the box could belong to somebody and as a class, everybody could work out who the box belonged to and why it was left behind.

  1. Take the pressure off writing

Perhaps some of the reluctance stems from a sense of competitive spirit. Whether tables are named by colours, shapes, authors etc., children have a way of working out which table is the top table and which table is the bottom table, even if some schools have begun to move away from such strict grouping. Children who are sensitive to where they are placed in the class might have already conceded to the possibility of getting any better. For a change, taking the pressure off of fantastic writers and putting more emphasis on great storytellers can put a spin on the priorities of learning. If a child is a reluctant writer, but can tell a story well, perhaps this merits just as much encouragement and praise.

  1. Forget about SPAG for a day

With the mounting pressure to make sure children can write effectively with accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar, the soul of writing is being drained out of the curriculum. Even though it’s hard to escape within mainstream teaching, perhaps make the creativity of a story, the plot line, interesting characters the focus of a piece of creative writing. When a child has put in their heart and soul into a piece of writing to receive feedback that they haven’t included a complex sentence or enough interesting openers, it’s demoralising and offends the creative spark in their writing. Indeed, it is vital to receive feedback and develop your writing style so that less and less errors are made. However, sometimes it might be beneficial to just put all of that grammar to one side and just focus on the storytelling.

  1. Empower children to decide for themselves

The creative process is different for everyone. Some children enjoy drawing their ideas whilst others prefer to plan their story in minute detail. By offering a one size fits all planning template to every member of the class, children are given limited options for their creative process. This isn’t meant to indulge children to draw for half an hour before any writing takes place, but instead could be a healthy 10 – 15 minutes planning time to jot down ideas in an independent way that suits the individual. Giving more ownership over to the children can help them to feel more empowered to plan and write stories that inspire them.

  1. How creative are you?

The last point to make is about challenging your own creativity. Do you relish opportunities to be creative or feel a sense of dread about your own creative thinking skills? As all teachers and people who work with children are aware, children are quick to pick up on what you find comfortable and uncomfortable to teach. By challenging yourself to think more creatively and allowing yourself to consider the impossible, you are helping your students or children to think more creatively for themselves. The hardest part of becoming more creative is letting go of more prescriptive tendencies and wanting to get things right. The creative process is enjoyable because it is just the opposite of absolute perfection and control. It’s the ability to create something from nothing and can be one of the most enjoyable processes and lessons you can teach.

As a final note, I’ve included a few writing frames and creative thinking questions based on the ‘magical’ theme to get started with writing. Hopefully, these writing sheets can be used in conjunction with creative thinking activities so that those reluctant writers can begin to find enjoyment in creative writing.

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