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The Right Questions in Creative Writing

written by: cjohnson • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 8/23/2012

Asking the right questions can help to stimulate students' imaginations so that they can better draw upon verbal resources in their writing.

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    Whet Their Enthusiasm: Writing Can Be Fun!

    Writing is often a difficult subject to get students excited about. In my experience, it is often because writing is something they view as a chore, a painful way of having to think about spelling, and grammar, and vocabulary. Creative writing can help children feel more excited about the subject because it taps into the vividness of their imagination.

    When students resist writing it is not because they lack verbal capacity or actually dislike the subject. It is usually because they have not made the connection between words and the vibrant ideas and images they naturally have inside of their minds. The connection and understanding of how language is a representation or communication of their thoughts and feelings has not yet been established.

    Questions are a key way of triggering that connection and association. First, the most important step is to provide fresh and creative writing topics. They are the basic stimuli that can activate the student’s imagination. Some interesting writing topics could be:

    Overheard on the Bus - for older students (grades 4-6)

    • Pretend that you are on the bus or train. You see two people talking to one another. You hear one of them say to the other, “I’ll never forgive you for as long as I live.” Write about the situation that led up to that moment.
    • Who are these two people? What do they look like? What is their relationship to one another? Why does one of them say this phrase? What happened that led to the moment on the bus/train? What happens after they get off the bus/train? Does the situation ever get resolved? How?

    Fantasy Land - for younger students (K-3)

    • Imagine you could create your own country. There are no limits to your imagination.
    • What is its name? Where is it located? How large is it? What does the land look like? What are the people like? What kind of animals live there? What kind of government do they have? What kind of language do they speak? Do they have any friends or enemies?

    These topics help to stimulate students’ senses and provide a vivid and realistic scene or imagery. The more strikingly intense a scene is for students, the more sources they will have to draw upon with their vocabulary and in fleshing out their writing.

    If a student gets stuck and says, “But I don’t know what I’m supposed to write,” you can work with them by asking even more specific questions. They have difficulties not because they lack imagination or have no image in their mind. Most often it is because they don’t know how to translate that image or idea into words.

    Using the example of the “Overheard on the Bus” topic, start asking them questions like, “Close your eyes and see the scene in your head. What do the two people look like? Are they a boy or girl? How tall are they? Are they taller than you? What about their hair color, their eye color?” Starting with the physical, move on to ask them questions to narrow down the action and then the emotional states of the characters.

    Once you help them to translate their images into verbal words, you can easily point out the wealth of details and ideas they already have to write about.