Tag Archives: Creative writing

How did kids from a low-scoring school end up published authors reading their stories to an audience of 600 people?

8 Jul

ImageCheck out this great article about what happens when teachers and communities expect great things from every kid:




School’s out for the summer, but rising seventh-grader Imani Blackshear is not on a break from reading or writing. Not her or a lot of the other DEEP Kids from East Broad Street Elementary.

She was at the school last week when I visited language arts teacher Salacthia Coast. She won the Education Partner of the Year award at the “DEEP Speaks” show June 3 at the Savannah Theater.

That night, 42 middle school students from across the county took the stage and read their original works of fact, fiction, poetry and prose — hot off the presses and hot out of their notebooks from spring semester — but cool under the spotlight.

Coast took the stage, too, with a lot of help. In pain with a serious knee injury, the principal and another teacher helped her climb the steps to the stage and then safely return to the audience. I wanted to meet this trooper who toughed it out that night and who embraced the program so enthusiastically.

Coast said this past year was the first for East Broad to participate in DEEP. It is a voluntary, after-school creative writing program with limited spaces. She said her students didn’t want to miss any sessions. Word of how much fun it was spread after the fall semester.

“It’s like the art of writing, that has been lost, is now being found,” Coast said.

Blackshear was happy to tell me how the sessions went. Two DEEP volunteers/writing fellows would lead a discussion about a topic or theme. The kids would then hand-write a poem or story or essay. They would read them to the group and get feedback and suggestions about their ideas. Then they might re-write or revise.

“We got help from each other on how to express our ideas and help on writing better. You learned to really think it through,” Blackshear said.

And write they did.

At the DEEP Speaks event, the imagination and sincerity of the students made me proud, and I’m not a parent to any of them.

DEEP published five books, grouped by schools, with the best works of the 150 young authors who participated in the spring program. The artwork and photographs of the kids are excellent.

The students themselves chose what to read the evening of DEEP Speaks, but the books have lots of their other work.

Coast sang the praises of the East Broad girls in the program.

I remember how confidently Blackshear read her work on self-esteem, “She is Everything.” And how tenderly soft-voiced and well-mannered D’erea Johnson told the story of her grandmother. Another of her stories in the book, “The Moldy Wig,” shows great sensitivity.

I can tell that Zahra Pleasant Murphy is an avid reader. And her quiet and thought-provoking “Awake” resonated with the night owls in the audience. And bubbly Sha’keriah Wilson made you do mental double-takes with her lighthearted “I Am a Squirrel.”

Petrice Crawford sounds like another precocious reader. Her story of the eccentric lady who steals the queen’s identity with some sour punch cracked me up. Lakeasha Quarterman sounded like she blossomed with her writing, and her “I Like to Be a Lion” would make any lioness proud.

Blackshear said writing fellows Sarah Wagner, Kolby Harrell, Austin Christmon and Dustin Michael helped them find their voices better every week.

She’s keeping a journal with ideas she’s thinking about for next fall’s DEEP. A story of self-discovery called “Lost and Then Found” sounds like it will really sing.

Since I live on Tybee, a story she’s thinking about called “Lonnie, the Lonely Lawn Chair” caught my attention. It’s about an old folding chaise lounge with tattered webbing that gets uncovered by a storm on the beach.

The wind exposes a little more of it every day. How did it get buried? Who sat in it before? Blackshear says there will be a surprise at what they find under it.

Coming from a long line of beachcombers, all I can say is, “I can’t wait.”



The Biggest Mistake New Writing Teachers Make

10 Oct


When someone is new to teaching creative writing, you’ll often hear them say things like this:

“I want my students to be free in their writing.”

“I don’t want to limit them.”

“I want them to express themselves creatively, without rules or constraints.”

These are all admirable goals from great new teachers–and I said all of these things myself not very long ago–but I still cringe when I hear them. New writing teachers often misunderstand how freedom and creativity are best encouraged, and our desire to let our students be “free” is usually more of a hindrance than a help.

Most people assume–understandably so–that broad, open-ended prompts are the best way to give kids freedom. By asking kids to “write about a memory” or “express something that is important to you” they believe that they are giving kids room to flex their creative muscles.

In reality, though, open-ended prompts encourage kids to rely on clichés and “safe” answers, rather than pushing them to dig deeper for unique, creative ideas.

Imagine watching an improv comedy show. In one scene, the actors are told, “Okay, make up a scene.”

In another scene, they are told, “You are in a doctor’s office. One of you is holding a pineapple. The other one has to say ‘My monkey is missing!’ at some point. Neither one of you is allowed to use the word ‘the.'”

Which scene do you think will end up being more creative? More artistically free and interesting? More rewarding to the actors when they pull it off?

The same goes for writing–if you want your kids to be free and creative, try giving them a bunch of interesting rules to follow. This will push them to abandon the “safe” answers and explore what makes their brains really unique. Here are some examples of rules that have worked well for my kids:

– Include at least one smell, two sounds, and a description of a texture

– Include at least one simile, one metaphor, and a symbolic object

– At some point, one of your characters has to say. “That’s a terrible idea.”

What rules would you give your kids to help them be creative? I’d love to hear them!