Posted by Ariana Miller, GD Poetry Co-Section Head for 6.2
Last semester, fall 2018, I was student teaching in a 9th grade English classroom. Teaching responsibilities were immediately and entirely handed over to me. My cooperating teacher, or CT, said that if I taught the curriculum she usually did that time of year, I could do whatever I wanted with it. It just so happened that I would spend four out of the six weeks of my placement teaching George Orwell’s Animal Farm. My CT wanted me to focus on one major theme of the novel—leadership. Naturally, as a Creative Writing major, I decided I would have my students write a poem about a time when they acted as a leader. My project spanned the four weeks we were reading Animal Farm, and was interspersed with my teaching of literary techniques Orwell used in the novel.
The students’ project happened in three phases. First, students were asked to write ten lines about a time they acted as a leader. To give them examples, I suggested students write about their experiences as siblings, teammates, and friends. Most students wrote a series of declarative statements like “I lead my baseball team” and “I’m a leader in choir.” Students now had a topic to write about, they just needed to amp up their descriptive details.
The following week, I delivered the typical go-to lesson for teaching creative writing to teens—the difference between “Showing” and “Telling.” Here is a great article which explains the difference and is totally accessible to high school students. In class we took notes on the differences between each: “Showing” occurs when a writer uses sensory details to paint a picture in their readers’ minds, whereas “Telling” occurs when the writer states facts/information without using sensory details. The students’ declarative statements transformed from, “I’m a leader in choir” to descriptive details like, “My classmates lean to the soft hum of my voice.” This second draft was where I saw the most improvement in their writing.
For their third draft, students were asked to use two different literary devices they learned about while reading Animal Farm. These included symbolism, imagery, allegory, and different types of figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification, etc.). Most students used metaphors and similes to meet their literary device requirement, but using that figurative language certainly deepened the details of their pieces (and their knowledge of the device).
Following this project, several students asked for further opportunities to write creatively. A couple of them sent me other pieces that they were working on, requesting my feedback and support. Through my experience, my 9th graders first saw creative writing as something they HAD to do for English class, but quickly became something they WANTED to do for themselves. I am a firm believer that all high school students should be required to write creatively in English class, or at least be offered the opportunity. Yes, creative writing can be used to help students better understand the material they are learning in class, but it can also offer students a platform to express themselves. I am an English teacher. I am a creative writer. I believe all English students should be creative writers, too.