The increased focus on literacy has challenged teachers to explore strategies for including more reading and writing in their daily instruction. One of the best ways for developing student literacy is through creative writing exercises. Creative writing allows students to write on their own terms, freeing them from the pressures of accurate content and proper form. Academic writing among the various disciplines abides by formal rules designed to streamline the communication of information.
However, in creative writing, the only rules are those of English grammar, and even those can be subverted in the work of advanced students. The benefit of creative writing in the classroom is that students are able to develop alternate means of communication that serve their personal writing styles. In doing so, students feel a deeper connection with the practice of writing, thus providing the motivation to develop higher-level literacy skills.
Literacy as Personal Identification
As literacy projects are promoted more and more, it is important to understand how the activities of reading and writing are fundamental to the developmental process. The ability to express one’s own thoughts in writing, as well as interpret the ideas of others through reading, are directly related to more fundamental thinking patterns. Reading and writing can thus be understood as records of thought processes, the external physical effect of an internal mental cause. The aim of literacy instruction is to develop the reading and writing skills of students and at the same time develop the underlying mental processes. Therefore, teaching literacy skills is not just about instructing students in how to read and write, but rather, how to think as well.
From this viewpoint, writing is much more than a technical skill such as hammering a nail or digging a hole. Instead, it is a fundamental expression of the writer’s mind. Writing, as a process of recording your thoughts in language, requires personal identification with what is being written. The student is not asked to write for writings sake, but rather, to think so they may write. In academic writing, this sense of personal identification is difficult to establish, and thus students dread writing lab reports and literary analyses, viewing these writing exercises as merely external tasks to be completed. Creative writing reminds students that writing requires a personal connection to the work, and that from this place of identification the act of translating thoughts into language can happen more fluidly.
Creative Writing Exercises
Creative writing exercises, therefore, should be embraced as tools for motivating students to invest in the acquisition of literacy skills. One of the easiest ways to introduce creative writing into the classroom is through free writing. Students are given an allotted amount of time and asked to write freely and openly either on a given topic or on a topic of their choosing. Establishing time limits encourages students to turn off the self-editing part of their minds in order to open up the pathways between thoughts and paper. By opening up these pathways and allowing thoughts to flow freely into the written word, the connection between thoughts and language is strengthened, which inevitably results in a strengthening of literacy skills.
Another useful means of incorporating creative writing into literacy instruction is encouraging students to write free-form poetry. In these exercises students understand grammar rules by breaking them. Such exercises are best suited for students who already have a firm grasp on basic language mechanics. By subverting these rules in order to make meaning, as is the case in poetry, the value of grammar rules are reinforced.
Creative writing is a great tool for teachers to motivate their students to acquire higher-level literacy skills by reinforcing the connection between thought and language, a connection fundamental to all reading and writing.