This year, and for the first time, Moss Vale High has a (minor) elective in Creative Writing and Publishing in Stage 5. We have a mix of students from years 9 and 10 who have six timetabled lessons each fortnight. In our first lesson, we introduced ourselves and outlined our reasons for choosing this elective, and broader goals as a writer. Many students expressed an interest in improving their writing and exploring a deeper understanding of the writing process.
We set class rules as suggested by students, with many centred around the need for respect and providing constructive feedback. I praised this inherent sense of group cohesion, reminding the class that people could choose to share their work and that overall grades would be assigned on each student’s ability to participate in set tasks. External writing competitions would be offered throughout the year without any pressure to make submissions, and that I would happily edit and make suggestions on these endeavours.
Our first exercise was taken from Naming the World and other exercises for the creative writer edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. This text has drawn together a variety of different writing strategies and prompts from well known published authors, each individually structured to reflect individual and idiosyncratic writing styles. These styles vary from detailed introductions, to briefly outlined activities. It is a perfect ‘dip-into’ text for different classes and writing situations.
I chose to adapt Norma E Cantu’s ‘Living to Tell, Telling to Live’ from the Getting Started section, specifically Exercise No. 1: My Name.
Students were asked to write their name, and make a list of words that described their personal characteristics. Next, decide if these words reflected a positive or negative attribute. We chose to share a word from our hoard, commenting and thanking each contribution before the real fun began.
Cantu believes that names are important in fiction, are often linked to a character’s identity, and that ‘the more we know about our names, the more we know about ourselves’.
- If your name were a flower, what kind of flower would it be?
Students were challenged to choose a specific flower and list descriptive words, before listing connotations for that flower or emotions the flower suggested to them. There was some discussion on this instruction with some students suggesting that they didn’t know any flowers. I called out common and more exotic blooms until everyone had begun writing.
- if you name were a colour, what colour would it be?
This time, we all contributed different colours and students worked more effectively.
- if your name were an ice-cream flavour, what would it be?
This instruction amused most students and they wrote for several minutes.
Next, we read back through our personal vocabularies and chose the object that most suited our name. Ten minutes of furious free writing followed.
Students then read back through their writing and chose the ‘best’ sentence or phrase which was written on small cards. this card was passed to the person on their left who was instructed to read then guess whether it referred to a flower, colour or ice-cream flavour. Some students were quick to figure out the prompt, while others stumbled over an obtuse reference.
I collected these cards for use in a future lesson.
Warm up exercises are a wonderful way to encourage lateral and creative thinking. Free writing allows students to step outside expectations by individually interpreting instructions.
There are many more ‘if your name were …’ contained in Cantu’s exercise that we will explore when developing characters in future lessons.