Try These 7 Writing Exercises to Boost Students’ Creative Writing Skills

by | Feb 21, 2017

Using regular writing exercises with your students will help improve their creative and analytical writing skills immensely. The key to improving the craft of writing is with daily practice, of course. We know that there’s not always time for it in the class schedule, but not to worry. The 7 terrific writing exercises featured below are ones that students can use both in and out of class.

Students will enjoy these challenges, and you’ll exercise their thinking skills at the same time you work to improve their love for writing.

1. Rewriting the Past

Writing exercises that have students building stories from visual stimuli can be fun and engaging. Old photographs and postcards can provide a powerful visual reference for the imagination. They contain stories we’ve never heard but which were once very real to someone.

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In the article 5 Fun Storytelling Exercises to Try, writer Marian Schembari recommends looking at old photographs or postcards and creating new stories inspired by the images. Students can easily search for such photos online, or perhaps they have some old postcards or pictures of their own they can write about. They can create any kinds of stories their brains can dream up.

“The story,” Miriam instructs, “should only exist inside your head. Turn off all distractions and stare at the image or letter. What immediately comes to mind?”

Here are some guiding questions to use as writing prompts:

  • Who are the people in this image, and where did they come from?
  • What is their relationship with each other?
  • Where was the photograph taken?
  • Why do they have the expressions they do? What are they thinking?
  • What were the events that led up to the photo being taken?
  • How did events transpire after the photo was taken?
  • What sort of internal/external dialogue could you write for this photo?
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2. Words of Power

This exercise is inspired by an exercise written about by Sarah Todd in this article on Quartz. Essentially students write a story about an instance where they showed courage and stood up for something or someone, or spoke out against something in a meaningful way. It could also be about the actions of someone who inspired them.

Sarah describes how they instructed students to proceed with the exercise in a writing workshop:

“We explained that the story could be about standing up for yourself, or for someone else, or for a cause; it could be about what you once said, or what you wish you’d said, or totally fictional.”

3. “Morning Pages”

Poet and screenwriter Julia Cameron featured a terrific writing exercise in her book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. It’s called “morning pages,” and it’s something the most successful writer in the world practice daily. (Students can do this in the morning at home or you can set some time aside at the beginning of class for them.)

Here’s how it works:

  • Write early: Write early as possible, preferably right after you wake-up. You can do it over your morning coffee or tea, as it should be a meditative and relaxing exercise.  
  • Just write: It doesn’t matter what you write about, as long as you write. Whatever pops into mind, try to fill at least a page or two with it.
  • Don’t write to publish: Write for yourself, and without your inner editor—what Cameron calls your inner “Censor.”
  • Keep them as yours: Keep your morning pages private, and refrain from reading them yourself for a few weeks. Cameron says the morning pages are intended to, “clear the psychic debris standing between us and the day ahead.”
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4. Explain Something in 100 Words

This exercise comes from the Hubspot article How to Train Your Brain to Write More Concisely: 6 Creative Exercises to Try by Eddie Shleyner. This is one of those writing exercises that tests understanding and boost critical thinking.

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The premise is simple in theory but challenging in practice. The student picks a concept or subject they don’t know about and tries to explain it in writing using 100 words or less. Shleyner explains its effectiveness this way:

“That means you have to be concise without being vague. In other words, you should strive to break down the ‘what,’ ‘why,’ and ‘how’ of the concept or subject.”

5. Headline Practice

Marshall Adler talks about the importance of writing effective headlines in his article Discover 11 Copyreading Headline Writing Exercises That Keep Your Visitors Engaged And Motivated To Take Action. In essence, headlines are what get pieces of writing read, clicked on, shared, Tweeted, and whatever else puts them in circulation. Good headlines grab our attention and make us want to read what’s below them.

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Writing exercises like crafting headlines boost creative thinking skills by considering how we can make a concept appear irresistible in only a few words. Adler offers a list of headline templates in his article that students can apply and customize to whatever topics or ideas they wish. 

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6. Messing With Perspective

This is an exercise that frees students to think creatively in different ways. Here are a few examples of how you can mess with perspective:

  • Take a scene from Shakespeare that is non-comedic and challenge students to rewrite it as comedic.
  • Give students a classic poem and have them write it as a news report.
  • Get chunks of dialogue from a popular story and then rewrite them in a way that would lead to a different outcome in the story.
  • Students can take a poem and write it as a prose piece, altering structure and rhythm to determine how each style uses both.

7. Movie Reviews, Recipes, and More

Try these writing exercises with students for even more creative mojo. They can use them in a fictional context or write them to be read or published.




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