An occupational therapist by profession, I have been writing for as long as I can remember including for the high school newspaper and possibly even before that. Back then I periodically wrote letters to the editor for the local newspaper; many years later, I am still writing editorials. Professionally, I have written numerous articles that have been published in various therapy journals. Additionally, I have an accounting degree and love the world of business and have taught entrepreneuring classes to both adults and children. More recently, as I gradually reduce my work responsibilities and metamorphose into a retiree, I have shifted the focus of my writing. Though admittedly, my unpublished novella is still sitting in a drawer along with several of my yet-to-be-published short stories, I have truly found my niche writing non-fiction articles in several national magazines, including a my weekly blog.
It seemed fitting that I would teach a Creative Writing Class for Children, a summer program that I designed for motivated children ages eight to thirteen, here in a Big Ten university town. Amazingly, the class is quite effective with the huge age range. And much to my surprise, the oldest kids are not necessarily the best writers; and some of the little ones already have an obvious creative flare.
I have taught this class now for several years and it seems to get better every year. The class meets four afternoons a week, for two consecutive weeks. Each class lasts two hours. That’s approximately sixteen hours of class time. We generally have sixteen to twenty boys and girls in the class which always feels like an appropriate class size. The classroom is equipped with computers and writing desks and has an LCD projector which is handy when I want to demonstrate a lesson for the class.
There’s a specific topic for each of the eight sessions, and I’ve deliberately designed the class content so that perfect attendance is not a requirement. I begin each class with a short interactive discussion; then students engage in a writing activity related to the day’s subject. Some students prefer to work on the same piece during the eight sessions and I encourage that; it’s fun for all of us to watch their story evolve over the two week period. Students have the option of using a classroom computer or handwriting. It still surprises me that many of the children prefer not to use the computer. We take a ten minute break in the middle of class. Since I dislike wasted teaching moments, I bring in Mad Libs or some other short word game or puzzle. The kids enjoy playing the game as they munch on snacks.
Day 1: Getting acquainted
Since most of the students initially don’t know each other because they come from different schools and are in different grades, we introduce ourselves and state our goals for being in the class. I also ask each student to fill out a note card and write anything else they want me to know about them such as “I am shy and don’t like to read aloud”, or “My parents wanted me to take this class, but I didn’t really want to.” We then discuss class rules such as the prohibition of grossness or violence or cuss words in their writing. And, after the first year, I added another rule; students who choose to use the classroom computers be allowed text only, no graphics, no fancy fonts or colors. I stress that a good story doesn’t need to “look pretty”; I am seeking creative and interesting content. We also discuss how to critique writing, and that it involves positive, constructive comments about the writing and not about the writer.
On the first day of class I give the students all the printed materials for the class. These include a class outline; guidelines to critique writing in terms of plot, setting, characters, and so on; and a list of books, magazines, and websites with more resources for aspiring writers.
The exercise we do on Day One has been very successful as an icebreaker. I ask students to write for five minutes; I keep a list of ideas in case the students need a jump start on their writing. When I ring a bell, I ask then to pass their story to another student and add to the story. We continue this rotation until everyone has written on each story. The students are entertained and there’s much laughter as they read aloud their finished stories.
Day 2: Dabbling with description and setting
One the second day of class, I bring some magazine pictures and some photographs and ask the students to select one or more of the pictures. Some students bring in their own pictures from home. I discuss literary devices such as simile, metaphor, personification, and alliteration. We then do the day’s activity; students write a descriptive story their pictures. Near the end of class, students volunteer to read their story.
Day 3: Voicing your point of view
On Day 3, we discuss point of view such as objective, first person, third person, and omniscient. We then do an activity; students write a short story or re-write a familiar story from a different point of view, such as write from the view of your dog or a fly on the wall or a button on your shirt. We discuss the effective use of dialogue and quotations. Students enjoy reading and critiquing each other’s stories.
Day 4: Story-telling with a twist
On the fourth day, we focus on plot. Students create a story around an unusual scenario, problem or character such as a dentist with no teeth or coming to a party in costume when it turns out it is not a costume party. I am always impressed with the clever storylines that even the youngest students create.
Day 5: Experimenting with genres
This session encourages students to get out of their comfort zone and try writing in a different style such as adventure, mystery, humor, suspense, or science fiction. If they are at a loss for ideas, I encourage them to write something from their own life in one of the genres. The session is especially fun for all ages as the students lack the inhibitions of adults and bravely experiment with something new.
Day 6: Exploring creative non-fiction
On Day 6 session we learn about creative non-fiction. Students are asked to writing something about their lives and stretch the truth and fictionalize it to make it more interesting, such as the first day of school, getting lost at the mall, or a family vacation. The wild imaginations of children should not be underrated!
Day 7: Discovering the world of publishing
Publishing seems like such a remote idea, but some of the students will undoubtedly write for publication sometime during their lifetimes, either professionally or as a hobby. Magazines and online publications are always looking for good freelance writers on everything from model railroads to scrapbooking. We discuss query letters, agents, small and large publishers and other topics of interest to aspiring writers. We look at some websites for writers, and specifically for kids who want to publish. We also discuss how to write for contests.
Day 8: Sharing your masterpiece
In our final session we invite parents and guests and we read our works and sum up the past two weeks. I enjoy the feedback I receive from students and the parents, and it is generally positive. That several students have returned to the class the next summer is a testimonial.
To have fun, meet new friends, and experiment with writing are the goals for my summer Creative Writing for Children class. The class has gained an excellent reputation in the community; the class has ample enrollment each summer for aspiring young writers in third through ninth grades. In only eight short sessions the improvement in writing is notable. You, too, can design and teach a class to teach children to write creatively. Get your creative juices flowing and put together a class that meets the needs of children in your own community.
About the author:
Debra L. Karplus is a licensed occupational therapist, accountant, teacher, public speaker, mother and grandmother and freelance writer for several print and online venues. She writes a weekly blog for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners and has been a featured columnist for grandmagazine.com and for Young Money and writes regularly for The Dollar Stretcher. She has been an item writer for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and an essay writer for the ACT. She speaks to high school students who are aspiring writers and has taught magazine writing classes through her local public school adult education program. She is consumed with hobbies including genealogy and do-it-yourself projects at home. She had articles published about all of the above. Learn more about Ms. Karplus at http://debrakarplus.blogspot.com
Also by Debra Karplus:
1. Freelance Magazine Writing, It’s My Business (article)
2. How to Find Paid Writing Opportunities in Unexpected Places (article)
3. Sell Your Non-fiction Article by Writing a Winning Query Letter (article)
4. 7 Effective Ways to Market your Articles (article)
5. Breaking into New Markets with your Freelance Writing
6. Generate More Writing Opportunities with an Online Presence (article)
7. How to Build an Idea Bank to Write Interesting Articles (article)
8. How to Make Your Article SEO-Friendly Before Selling It (article)