WRITING WORKSHOP: Imaginative Prompts
Getting students writing imaginatively is most often a challenge of getting them started. Use the following prompts.
SOME TIPS BEFORE YOU LAUNCH
Get students into the mind-frame of experimenting. These are exercises. Remind them why we exercise. To strengthen. To find out our areas of natural ability and where we are a little weak.
Build an atmosphere of play. Not everything needs to be completed. They may well find a use for fragments at a later stage.
Never give students more than 2 or 3 choices. Too many choices wastes your best ideas and can become as intimidating to students as a blank page or the old “write about anything” terror.
Many of these prompts are best given to a whole class, one prompt at a time, with a time limit. Leave time afterwards to read a couple out and share. Those who love what they’ve written will happily go away and continue it as a larger piece. Others can simply treat it as a learning or experimental exercise.
It can be great fun and energising for a class to attempt 4 or 5 of these in 8 minute bursts (say) with 2-4 minutes sharing after each one. By the end of your lesson, each student has a bunch of writing and ca be set the task of choosing one (or combining several) to craft a complete piece. What’s more, you have your evidence of the students starting the work on their own and can rule out unwanted assistance and plagiarism while showing them they are perfectly capable of enjoying the creative process.
PRESENTING THE PROMPTS
As teacher, read out the prompt, let it hang in the air. Read it again. Add it visually to the board if you wish. The ask them to start writing. There are no rules. Simply see where the prompt takes them. Keep time. Many teachers enjoy having a go themselves while the class is immersed. It is a valuable exercise, and instructive.
See how engaged they are. 5 - 8 minutes is ideal. You want to stop them when most are still writing. If some are disappointed to be stopped, all the better. They can return to them later. Announce, "Two more minutes...one minute...okay, pens down."
Let them sigh, chatter a little. Invite one or two students to read a little of what they wrote. You might ask a particular student to read their first few lines. Keep it casual.
PROMPTS 1. An unexpected arrival. A letter, an email, or a package arrives. 2. A character is in a tricky situation. Maybe her car has broken down in the middle of nowhere. Or she is lost and late for an important meeting. Or her cat has vomited on her sister's wedding dress. 3. The box. You find an old wooden box while cleaning out junk. you prise it open and ...
4. After the disaster. Fire, flood, thunderstorm... it's the next morning... 5. The waters of this river will make anybody who drinks it ……. 6. When a nerdy girl/boy transfers to a new school, she/he completely changes her/his image. 7. A shy teenager forms a unique connection with an animal. 8. Write a scene about a character who shares qualities with one of these animals…without actually naming the animal. For instance, if you were to choose a sheep, you might write about a gentle kid who follows others and copies them.
rat scorpion wolf bee snake chicken owl dolphin shark tiger ant snail horse mouse flamingo giraffe elephant kangaroo spider moth swan camel
9. Writing can get boring if characters aren’t active enough. If characters are having a long conversation, it will be more interesting if they are doing something else while they are talking. For example, instead of this, for instance:
“I’m not going,” Jamie said.
You could write this:
Jamie slammed the drawer shut. “I’m not going.”
Notice in the second example, we can picture Jamie and infer his tone of voice. You also avoid having to write “said,” which is good, because when you’re writing dialogue, all those “saids” can become repetitious.
For each of these prompts, write a paragraph or a scene in which a character is doing the given action. One character might be doing, while the other talks. Or they might both talk. You might even take us inside the thoughts of one character.
Breaking into a building.
Digging a hole.
Washing blood out of a garment.
Planting seeds or a strange plant.
Brushing or braiding hair—someone else’s or the character’s own.
Carefully gluing something back together.
10. Dialogue starters. Build a conversation. Include light dabs of description so we can maintain a picture of the scene.
“Excuse me, is this your dog?”
“Hey...what’s wrong with your face?”
“The queen is missing.”
“Ah yes, come in. Close the door behind you.”
“Dude. It’s three in the morning.”
“Um, sorry. That one’s not for sale.”
“You’ve got ten seconds to explain to me what you’re doing here.”
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you who your real father was?”
“I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
“Do you trust me?”
“Who put this in my coat pocket?”
“You have got to see this.”
“Where are your clothes?”