Making writing more fun-conference notes

5 ways to make writing more fun

The importance of teaching writing

  1. According to a study from Time magazine, college grads (from prestigious institutions) can’t find work because they “can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.” Our college grads aren’t knowledge-lacking. They’re deficient in all the skills you get from . . . writing.
  2. The number one way to improve student writing is to get them writing more.
    1. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” —Stephen King (It, Carrie and dozens of other thriller novels)
    2. “It doesn’t really matter what you write, but you must keep up practice. Writing is like a sport, you only get better if you practice. If you don’t keep at it, the writing muscles atrophy.”—Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson series)
    3. These points are repeated by almost every major author throughout history to the present.

Some problems

  1. Many students would rather brush their teeth with a toilet brush than write
  2. Many teachers and homeschoolers have told me writing is the most “tear-filled” subject they teach
  3. Students have trouble getting ideas for stories
  4. Students think they can’t write
  5. Students write only three sentences and say they’re done (or write only three words per sentence)

We don’t play enough

In Imaginative Writing Janet Burroway describes how she took her college creative writing class to a dance studio for some observational writing. As they watched the dancers play games that developed their interpretive abilities, one of Burroway’s students leaned over to her and whispered, “We don’t play enough.”

It’s true. When did writing become such a chore? No wonder students resist. Kids naturally learn through play (and, by the way, so do adults; we just do it differently).

The key to making writing more fun is finding unique and interesting ways to engage students in the act of writing while ensuring they are learning key skills. In other words, make them write a LOT, but make the writing feel like they’re doing something else—play.

5 ways to make writing more fun

One: Writing Games

  • The Random Story Machine (generate random stories and get unstuck from writer’s block)
  • The What if…? Game (get your students brainstorming like writers—the fun way!)
  • A Volatile Adventure (dice adventure game)
    • Have students write an adventure story and give them a six-sided die. Each time their character does something that has a chance to fail, have them roll the die. If they roll a 4 or higher their character succeeds. They should write about the successes/failures of their characters. This is another favorite among my students—and it takes little to no prep.
  • Dungeon Scribes (online dice adventure game with choose-your-own-adventure style)
  • Six 6-sided dice games for writers (free PDF from conference)
  • Stick figure game (teach students how to show instead of tell using stick figures)
  • Character Battle (a dice dueling writing game)
  • The Jenga writing game (use regular board games to teach writing)

Two: Writing Prompts

Writers come up with stories in a number of ways, but everybody needs inspiration at one point or another. I’ve developed seven kinds of writing prompts that help students get ideas for stories in a fun way.

  1. Story Problems—creative thinking exercises where students write stories where they solve the problem in the prompt they are given
    1. Example: You are stranded on a deserted island with a flighless dragon who’s scared of water. How do you escape?
  2. Story Starters—finish the story
    1. Example: It was the year 3015 . . . again.
  3. Brainstorming—gets more results than the way students typically brainstorm by giving them specific and weird ideas to focus on
    1. Example: List 10 things a monster might have stuck between his teeth.
  4. What-if—how writers reinterpret the world to come up with ideas
    1. Example: What if gravity switched one day, and up was down?
  5. Unfolding Stories—helps student show instead of tell by giving them questions to answer and story starters to complete
    1. Example: You walk into a room and everyone turns to stare at you. Where are you? Why are they staring? What are three things that catch your attention? What is the floor made of? Describe how it feels on your feet. Speaking of the floor, something opens a hatch in the floor and climbs up a ladder. Describe its smell and at least three interesting physical features. Why does it make you want to laugh? What happens next?
  6. Detective—creative thinking exercises where students take an ending to a story and write the beginning
    1. Example: Three old ladies are standing on a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. None of them remember how they got there, but each of them blames the one on her right.
  7. Creative Challenge —limit what students can use as they write their stories
    1. Example: No violence, no present tense, only second person, no adjectives, etc.

Three: Technology

I only focused on one use of technology in the presentation: Twine, an interactive story creator.

  1. Link to Twine’s website.
  2. Stories my students have coded.

Four: Assess later and lighter

To make writing more fun, move your assessment into portfolios at the end of the quarter, semester, or year. Spend lots of time letting students play with writing. Hold them accountable for doing each of the exercises with completion grades, but avoid grading grammar, spelling, punctuation, or even higher order concerns such as organization. Be a coach, not a grader. Save the grading for the final portfolios. You will get better results.

Five: The Writer’s Sketchbook

Writer’s Sketchbooks are journals. I just like to use the term sketchbook because it makes students feel like its a more creative/artistic task. I also encourage my students to use blank, lineless paper, actual artist sketchbooks.

    1. Build a life-long writing habit
    2. Use blank, lineless paper
      1. Free from demanding lines
      2. Combine drawing and writing
      3. More space to mindmap
      4. Fit more words on each page
      5. Some activities are better on line-less paper
        1. Using stick figures to create interesting characters
        2. Drawing comics
        3. Designing maps and floorplans
        4. Sketching characters
        5. Making concrete poems
        6. Drawing dialogue that sounds like a character’s voice
        7. Researching, sketching, and labeling clothing and settings
      6. Feels more creative
      7. Feels like art
    3. Collect these to grade at the end (completion grade)
    4. What to write about
      1. Write about people you observe
      2. Write about places you go
      3. Record a conversation you hear
      4. Brainstorm anything
      5. Write about your feelings
      6. Listen to music and freewrite
      7. Create names for interesting characters
      8. Jot down notes or record quotations from what you’re reading (you are reading, aren’t you?)
      9. List story ideas
      10. Write memories
      11. Record dreams
      12. Invent a conversation
      13. Brainstorm book titles
      14. Tape or paste letters, notes, emails
      15. Cut out (print?) and tape/paste inspiring quotes, pictures, memes
      16. Draw characters, settings, items, etc.
      17. Doodle
      18. Summarize your book ideas
      19. Respond stories/shows/movies you read/watch
      20. Describe fictional settings and characters
      21. Draw story arcs for your books
      22. Mind map parts of your book
      23. Freewrite or write from prompts

Learn more about sketchbooks: