A Review for Creative Writing Curriculum

Andrew and Jennifer Yoder’s curriculum is called Creative Writing: Sparkling Bits of Writing, and comes in two books. The first is recommended for grades 5-6 and the second for grades 7-8.

How the Curriculum Developed

The curriculum grew from Jen’s own creative writing classes at the school where Andrew still teaches. When Jen became a mother to their first child, she didn’t feel able to continue teaching. Andrew wanted to keep on with the creative writing classes but didn’t have time to prepare all the lessons. Jen stepped in to help by compiling her class notes into book form. The books have been under development for six years now, two years under the current student-and-teacher-tested edition.

The Layout of the Curriculum

The curriculum is designed for grades 5-8 and is intended to be a fun approach to creative writing rather than a grammar heavy one. According to Andrew, “Our goal is to stimulate the thinking process in a fun way rather than teach all the mechanics. That makes this a supplement to a grammar course, not a replacement. We feel examples are key to learning; therefore, we have student examples in the lessons.”

Browsing through the books, I found the assignments to be fun and engaging. A few of my favorites, rephrased here for brevity:

  • Use the letters of your name to create an acrostic describing yourself.
  • What happens on a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day?
  • Create a dialogue between two non-living objects, such as a hamburger and hot dog.
  • Answer this question: Would you rather live inside a glass house or a twig house?
  • Paraphrase a parable as if it happened in today’s world.
  • List 25 uses for a shoestring.
  • Tell what happened after the “happily ever after” in a common children’s story.

The assignments are short, most easily doable in 30 minutes. Lessons are flexible, easy to pick up and do whenever it fits into your school schedule, with little forethought needed. Jen and Andrew encourage writing that stimulates enjoyment and imagination, with teachers providing critique rather than a grade.

The books hold three types of lessons:

Mini Writing Lessons: These short writing assignments encompass a nice variety, from writing simple poems to writing a letter to an endangered species. All are imaginative and engaging. Although Jen and Andrew deemphasize grades, every so often, a star appears at the top of a lesson, indicating a “gold piece lesson,” which teachers may choose to grade. Students are encouraged to spend extra time revising and polishing these pieces of writing, and a rubric is provided in the back by which to measure a grade. Lessons with a “friends” icon at the top are intended to be done with a friend, providing another fun piece of variety. Free Writing: Coming every five lessons, free writing lessons require students to respond to a writing prompt by writing non-stop for 8-10 minutes, “brain dumping” whatever comes to their minds. As a teacher, I used this technique on my elementary students, and they loved it. Free writing takes away all the pressure students associate with writing. Because there are no expectations besides writing continuously, students relax and enjoy seeing what comes out. Both teacher and students are almost always pleasantly surprised by the results. In fact, free writing became my most successful method of teaching creative writing, and the CLP team also plans to include it in the curriculum we are developing. I was thrilled to see it included here. Reading Response: Also coming every five lessons, reading response lessons provide a story for students to read, along with several questions to answer about what they’ve read. According to Andrew, reading response lessons are intended to “stimulate thinking and to learn techniques from published examples.” Excerpts come from a variety of classic literature: Oliver Twist, The Secret Garden, Not Regina, Daddy Longlegs.

Each book holds 75 lessons, about the right amount to get you through a school year by completing several a week. Although Jen and Andrew recommend Book I for grades 5-6 and Book II for grades 7-8, I can easily imagine my former teacher self using one book to teach my entire class because at one time, I had five students in grades 1-8. Assignments could be modified slightly for younger or older students. The curriculum is flexible that way.

Strengths of the Curriculum

  • Fun. I see this as really fun curriculum that will capture and engage students’ imagination and enjoyment. As a teacher who loves writing but has struggled to pass that enthusiasm on to my students, I believe this is the most important attribute of any elementary creative writing. If students learn in the early years how much fun it is to express themselves, they will put far more effort and creativity into writing when they reach high school years.
  • Flexible. The curriculum is easy to fit into your schedule in the way that works best for you. Assignments are easy to modify, to pick and choose from, or to teach to several grade levels at once.
  • Includes important writing concepts. Although this is a supplement rather than a complete curriculum, it does teach simple writing tools that provide an important base for young writers. The tools include:
    • Show don’t tell.
    • Active versus passive verbs.
    • Concrete nouns
    • Figurative writing such as simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and onomatopoeia
    • How to structure paragraphs and essays
    • How to vary sentence structure
    • Story setting

Weaknesses of the Curriculum

  • Not a complete curriculum. As mentioned, this is intended as an introduction to writing, rather than a comprehensive curriculum. Though the assignments are given in simple language that most students will be able to follow with ease, don’t expect review and repetition of concepts learned. Occasionally, for students who don’t have a strong base in a grammar curriculum, you may need to provide some extra explanation for certain assignments.
  • Intended for beginning writers. While not necessarily a weakness, note that the curriculum is intended for beginning writers. Christian Light Publications does sell these books as a curriculum supplement and lists them in their catalogue as appropriate for grades 7-12. However, Andrew emphasized that field testing has confirmed the curriculum is appropriate for grades 5-8, not high school grades. As a multi-level teacher in need of ideas, I could easily imagine myself picking and choosing and perhaps modifying assignments for grades younger than 5th or including a high school student in a whole-room lesson. However, the difficulty level of the assignments is most appropriate for 5th through 8th grades.
Adapted and re-posted from Creative Writing: Sparkling Bits of Writing

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