Creative writing in libraries is a no-brainer. I will always have a special fondness for creative writing programs: when I was a kid I would spend hours filling notebooks with my “novels,” and was encouraged to continue after winning a children’s creative writing contest put on by my local library. Now I have the opportunity to encourage kids to write, and to teach them creative writing techniques.
My goals for this program are:
- Kids will develop creative confidence
- Kids will learn skills related to creative writing techniques and process
- Kids will feel inspired to continue writing after the program ends
- Kids will have an enriching and extremely fun experience at the library
I have done 3 variations of this program over the past year:
- The first was a 9 week long program for ages 7 – 14 focused on developing creative writing skills and publishing a zine. Every week we did an icebreaker to get the creativity flowing. Then we had a fun and interactive “lesson” on a certain topic (character building, plot arcs, tone, etc). Then we would work on an exercise related to the topic (many of these activities are available for download below). During the last few weeks we worked on putting together a zine – decorating the cover, submitting stories and comics, formatting the layout.
- The second was a 10 week program that was a little less structured. We always did an icebreaker and had writing time (and had a snack). Once I brought in a local author to lead a dialogue workshop with them. Once we wrote submissions to a local time capsule. The other weeks focused on writing games or exploring a creative writing topic. At the beginning of this program I gave everyone a Writer’s Dream Book, which they contributed to throughout the program.
- The final version was a one time “Write-a-Thon” day in the summer. We did a Mad Lib together, and then split up into 2 groups and did 2 separate workshops, then swapped. Everyone got a cute little colourful moleskin notebook to keep them writing.
There are so many benefits to encouraging a love for writing in a child: confidence, expression, self-identity, creativity, imagination, open-mindedness, communication, and of course literacy. Plus, kids just love this program. Some of the most fun and funny times I’ve had while in a library have been running this program. Below is a week-by-week break down of the first 9 week session I did of Young Writers Club, including lesson documents and creative writing exercises I created.
Week 1 – Description
- Since it was the first week, as kids came in they could choose a notebook and decorate the cover
- Started with icebreaker: Telephone Pictionary
- We talked about the importance of writing interesting + useful description, and why we like description when we read stories.
- Together we described the room
- You could also have everyone individually write a few sentences describing the same item, and then compare the descriptions
- We read the description of November from Anne of Green Gables below and discussed what we liked about it. Then we filled out the Description Worksheet. Everyone chose a different month, and shared at the end if they wanted.
“It was November–the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.”- M. Montgomery,Anne of Green Gables
Week 2 – Character
- Telephone Pictionary to start
- We talked about our favourite characters, and why we liked them.
- We chose a character to discuss further. I drew a small triangle near the top of a whiteboard and asked them to describe what the character looked like. I wrote their suggestions in the empty space all around the top of the triangle. Then I drew the triangle extending all the way to the bottom of the board, and added a horizon line beneath the small triangle. Now it’s an iceberg. We described the character traits of the character, and wrote them under the water. We talked about the importance and the difference of describing appearance and developing character traits.
- We built upon our description skills with this Perception Description Exercise. Everyone choose a pre-printed image of an interesting setting (mountains, haunted house, amusement park, fantasy landscape, volcano, etc), and filled out the first page with a description of the setting from their perspective. Then they chose a character randomly from the envelope (from the Character List), and filled out the second half from their perspective
- Everyone left with a Character Profile Worksheet to work on during the last few minutes and at home.
Week 3 – Story Arcs
- We had a lot to get through so we skipped ice breakers and went straight to a Powerpoint. At the beginning I showed them examples of Zines, and reminded them that in a couple weeks we would start on our own Zine. Then we looked at the Story Arc Chart and discussed examples of each part of the story.
- For the group storytelling exercise:
- Take two slips of paper
- On the first slip, write a word that could describe a character. Try to describe a deep characteristic rather than their appearance (Examples: brave, evil, valiant, hopeful, sneaky)
- On the second slip, write a type of character (Examples: princess, bear, dragon, grade 5 student, wizard)
- I mixed them all up and everyone chose one characteristic and one character. Some combinations were: brave unicorn, young ghost, scary princess
- Following the slides, we explored the elements of a story in more detail (introduction, inciting incident, rising action, climax, denouement / conclusion)
- After learning about introductions, everyone wrote an introduction about the character they have.
- Then we learned about Inciting Incident
- Everyone passed the paper to the right, and wrote the inciting incident of their neighbour’s story
- We continued learning, passing to the write, and adding onto a new story until we had a completed story.
- These were some of the best stories and most effective learning that we did all session!
- Everyone left with a Story Arc Worksheet to take home and work on.
Week 4 – Tone
- Telephone Pictionary or Mad Libs
- We discussed tone – what it is, how it is conveyed (through description, word choice, and sentence structure), and how it affects the reading experience.
- We did the Tone Exercise sheet. First read the story snippet in the paragraph and reflect on the tone. Then choose a Tone Slips from an envelope, and rewrite the story in a new tone.
- Again, this was a very effective learning experience. Kids were able to create a strong new tone, and explain how they used description, word choice, and sentence structure (eg: short choppy sentences for a jolting, alarming tone) to develop the tone.
Week 5 – Naming
- We discussed the importance of giving your characters good names
- They shared about their favourite characters, what they thought of their names, why the author may have chosen those names
- I introduced them to the Bouba/Kiki Effect by drawing two shapes (one jagged, one blobby) and having them vote on which was named Kiki and which was named Bouba. They overwhelmingly voted the jagged one as Kiki and the blobby one as Bouba, and we discussed why that might be.
- We filled out this fun Naming Worksheet. Kids loved thinking up names and sharing them with everyone.
- We played Telephone Pictionary (back by popular demand!) and they had time to work on and share their stories.
Week 6 – Purpose
- We discussed the power of writing, and how authors sometimes have messages that they’d like their readers to take away
- We brainstormed our favourite stories, and what the “messages” or “moral of the stories” were
- They were asked to think about one thing they’d like everyone to know. Or the one thing they’d like to change about the world. Everyone wrote that down on a page.
- We brainstormed how they could write a story about those topics (including using a fantasy world to mimick our world)
- For the last 20 minutes we had free time to make zine pages
- Most kids wrote and drew something based on their “message”
- We came up with a title together, and I told them I’d have the zine of our creations ready next week.
- This is a zine “draft.” I just wanted to give them an example of a zine they created, so we can create a more polished version in the next 2 weeks.
Week 7 + 8 Zine Creation
- We played Telephone Pictionary
- Free writing time
- Setting photos and character slips were available for inspiration
- They were encouraged to write their stories on precut pieces of paper that would fit easily into a zine
Week 9 Party time!
- We had a hot chocolate bar (hot chocolate, whipped cream, sprinkles, marshmallows), popcorn, and candies
- Worked on finishing up our stories, decorating the zine cover page, and designing About the Authors pages.
- We used the button maker to make buttons and magnets
- Everyone left with a couple finished copies of the Zine to share with family and friends.
Other Downloadable Resources
My Writer Dream Book: The second time I ran this program, I had everyone take a Writer Dream Book on the first day, decorate the cover, and fill in the first page. In the middle of the program block we filled in the middle, and on the last day we filled in the last page. This was a great way for them to track their progress, and reflect on their writer identity. I’ve uploaded the Word version so you can edit to suit your needs.
There are numerous creative writing exercises in the outline above 🙂
There’s something so natural about hosting a creative writing program in a library. You are surrounded by stories, and you have a chance to inspire a life long love of storytelling. Plus, the program basically requires no special, expensive materials to run (unless you count a pack of 100 gel pens and a few stacks of paper).
As usual: please let me know if you use my resources, and credit me for my work. What are your favourite creative writing program structures? Are there any must try writing icebreakers I missed?