6 Winning Creative Writing Exercises for Secondary School Students

You can make a strong practical case that creative writing is more important to young people than ever before. Social media invites them to share their thoughts, the internet connects them to people from across the globe, and the rise of personal branding in a competitive employment market drives them to set themselves apart. But it’s more than that. It’s a vital component of reaching maturity — of knowing yourself, how you think, what you want, and what matters to you. It nurtures imagination and optimism.

Of course, with so many adolescent distractions swirling around, it can be difficult to get secondary school students interested in creative writing. That’s why it’s vital to set out compelling exercises to hook them while you have their attention. Here are 6 that are particularly worth trying:

1) Collaborating on a story

If you’ve ever played a simple game of taking it in turns to contribute a word, ultimately resulting in a comical sentence, then you’ll know how easily you can be swept up in something that requires only sporadic effort. Students love to socialise, naturally, so why not take advantage of that eagerness to team up by assigning a collaborative exercise?

Instead of contributing a word, each person can contribute a sentence at a time, and the beauty of it is that it can work even if the participants don’t entirely get along. After all, each fresh sentence can radically change the direction of the story, supporting or sabotaging its predecessor. This flexibility is great for creativity.

2) Taking a different perspective

It’s natural to write as yourself — it’s the only perspective you truly know, after all — but it can be creatively limiting. When we think of alternatives, though, we often baulk. We don’t really feel comfortable taking other perspectives, because we assume, we’ll get them wrong, and it’s quite strange to try writing as someone else.

Consequently, it’s ideal for taking someone out of their comfort zone and forcing them to adapt as they go. Many of the assumed perspectives (if not all of them) will be wildly inaccurate, inevitably, but that doesn’t matter. The objective isn’t to reflect the real world — in fact, it’s less useful if it does. The goal is to get people thinking. If you think it will help, you can even mandate that only fictional characters are used.

3) Fleshing out a prompt

Writing prompts are hugely useful for aspiring writers everywhere, because they force you into a corner and task you with writing your way out. Given that students can easily get distracted by the sheer range of potential directions for their writing, this type of focus saves a lot of time and more rapidly yields meaningful results.

While you can certainly create some from scratch, it’s really easy to find suitable prompts online. There are plenty of huge lists just a Google search away. Let the students know that they can go in whatever direction they prefer or give them a goal to strive towards. Either approach is viable.

4) Writing without structure

Sometimes the best way to get creative with writing is simply to start writing and keep going with no particular aim in mind. You can take the “stream of consciousness” approach, or just make a completely relaxed effort at telling a particular story (forgetting about the need to be succinct, or even intelligible). The point is to completely be yourself (everyone else is taken, anyway).

This is a great exercise because it can concern little more than small chunks of language. Phrases the students like, or particular constructions they want to experiment with. When you’re locked into a given brief, you can’t fully embrace your lexical preferences — and you might find that, given the chance to toy with them, many students will develop great affection for words.

5) Outlining a novel

Writing a novel can easily sound like an impossibly-arduous task, particularly to a young student with a nascent notion of hard work and dedication. That slog of working through hundreds of pages can dampen the creative appeal of designing an entire fictional continuity, but you don’t need to write a novel to introduce that appeal: you can simply plan one.

This is because there’s a clear story outline template that appears again and again in books. You can deviate from the structure, of course, just as you can deviate from grammatical norms — but only when it’s justified. Jericho Writers provides a comprehensive plot outline template, complete with example subplots and actional tips: you can use it as a building block.

6) Targeting a specific emotion

Creative writing is typically about evoking emotion. Horror seeks to scare you, to set you on edge and fill your mind with nightmarish scenarios. Comedy attempts to lift your spirits, leaving you chuckling and filled with renewed optimism. Romance pulls on your heartstrings and because of this, there’s a lot of value in tasking students with targeting specific emotions.

How does this work? It’s simple: you ask a student to write something sad, happy, wistful, regretful, or angry. It could be a poem, a fictional story, an account of a real event. It could even be a character description. The only requirement is that they take aim (full-force) at the emotion they’ve been assigned. No half-measures.

Creative writing is a fantastic addition to anyone’s set of skills, but it’s also an excellent way to deal with the stresses of everyday life and making it a worthwhile pastime for secondary school students. 

Laura Slingo is a writer and editor that regularly pens career, marketing and lifestyle advice for leading publications across the globe.

Looking for inspiration for your next creative writing project? Perhaps learning more about William Shakespeare and his legacy of work will give you the creative drive you need!

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