Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Incorporating Creative Writing

The three overarching University Studies writing goals for students are:

  1. Demonstrate understanding of the writing of the writing process (generative strategies, prewriting, drafting, revision).
  2. Produce various types of academic essays.
  3. Explore creative writing avenues such as poetry and short stories.

In the portfolio review last year it seemed that many students weren’t given creative writing assignments in their freshman inquiry classes or weren’t choosing those assignments as illustrative the UNST goals for their portfolios.

It makes sense to me that creative writing (CW) may get to different corners of the writer's brain than traditional academic writing assignments. In my experience CW sometimes allows students a greater sense of experimentation – an important ingredient to progress and growth for learning writers. Students see the evaluation of CW as being more subjective and therefore, expect the instructions and process to be less formulaic than traditional essays. In addition, these activities and assignments allow those students with a penchant for CW to shine.

Certainly, all instructors of freshman inquiry are academic writers. But if instructors aren’t creative writers themselves, they may not feel confident using these different genres.It is also possible that some faculty aren’t sure how to incorporate creative writing in their assignment sequences without making it feel “tacked on.”

Following are some suggestions of creative writing assignments/activities that are meant to help students understand academic writing principles. I hope they might give you some ideas for your own classes and inspire you to share your own applications of CW.

Use CW as a process. In a previous entry, I talked about using dialogue to help students get at the idea of academic discourse, as a way for students to move from summary to integration and innovation -- elements necessary to making more “academic” moves. This type of writing can work both as a formal assignment and a generative activity in preparation for something more traditionally academic such as a research, argument, or synthesis essay.

Asking students to rewrite a piece in a new form or genre can also be useful as a process of revision because it forces global changes. I’ve had students rewrite argument papers as short stories and asked them to notice how warrants and support change, and how concrete examples, imagery, and figurative language can influence their ability to convince an audience.

Particular forms in creative writing can be used as templates of analogies for the elements of academic forms. To get at the idea of thesis or claims an instructor I know had students write fables in order practice distilling ideas. I’ve used a poetic form called the haibun, a combination of prose and haiku in a similar way.

The Shakespearean sonnet is a poetic form that lends itself particularly well to practicing argumentation. I’ve had students write sonnets as a way to help them identify the elements of their argument. For example, the first four-line stanza is support or evidence, the second four-line stanza is the counterargument, the third is rebuttal, and the end couplet is the claim.

In my conversations with faculty, I’ve heard tell of Ann Marie F. asking students to rewrite and enact a scene from Antigone in her “On Democracy” classes and Scott P. saying he’d used scene writing in his classes. Some day when I have more time to tap my creative juices, I’m going to figure out how to translate text messaging into a creative writing cum academic writing process. Until then, I look to my colleagues for their innovative ideas. Please send your own suggestions and/or questions either as a response to this entry or in an email to


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Anonymous said...

I'm a new FYC teacher, so I feel really silly voicing my outlooks and methods like they have the authority of the gospels. But, I totally agree with you. Where I teach, all of the writing teachers have been curious about how bravery in the freshman writer effects their product. We encourage long sentences with complex clause syntax precisely because that bravery is one of the foundations of academic writing. Students can't be timid when it's time to state that claim and guide readers down their proofs.

In my classroom, we do the classic narrative essay wherein I require the use of sense imagery, metaphor, dialogue, and descriptions. If nothing else, it puts an idea in the heads of my students (from what I can tell) that every kind of essay is a symphony of voices. Learning to juggle dialogue and dramatic and descriptive voices sets a precedent in their minds that becomes so fruitful for them later.

vadi said...

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