This is an idea I learned when I first started teaching and still use to this day. The main focus of the activity is on developing writing skills, but it's also good for developing listening and reading skills and also for practising past tenses and descriptive vocabulary.

The activity should work at most levels above elementary, as long as your students have some knowledge of past tenses, but it works best when they also know past continuous / progressive too. All you need to get things started is a sheet of plain paper for each pair of students.

The listening part comes first:

  • Ask the students to draw the face of a person in the top right-hand corner of the page.
  • Once they've done this ask them to give the person a name.
  • Then on the top left of the page ask them to write five adjectives to describe the person's appearance.
  • Next ask them to write five more adjectives to describe the person's character.
  • After they've done this ask the students to write three things that the person likes doing.
  • Then ask them to write who the person lives with.

 

In this way they build up a character profile for the person they are going to write about.

The writing part:

  • Now dictate the following sentence to your students: 'It was a dark and stormy night and'. Stop at this point and ask them to write in the name of the person they have drawn and followed by the word 'was'.
  • Then ask the students to complete the sentence from their imagination and add one more sentence.
  • Once all the students have added a sentence to their stories, get them to stop and pass the paper to the pair on their right (this means that every pair of students now has a new character).
  • The students then read through the information and the beginning of the story and then add one more sentence to it.
  • Once they've done this you ask them once more to pass the paper to the next pair on their right. Continue to do this with each pair of students adding a sentence to each story, gradually building up each story as the papers are passed around the class.
  • Continue with this until you decide that the students are starting to lose interest or have written enough and then tell them to finish the story.

 

Follow up:

  • Once all the stories are complete there are a number of follow-up options you can try.
  • Put the stories up around the class and get the students to read them all and decide which is best.
  • Give each pair of students a story and get them to try to find and correct errors.
  • Get the students to write the stories up on a computer and then ask them to add more description and detail to the stories.

 

This activity is fun and creative and has always worked well for me both with adults and younger students.

Nik Peachey, Teacher, Trainer, Materials writer, British Council

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Comments

Hello Nik
I really like your activity but i can't see the connection between "a dark and stormy night" and a person's appearance and character. The topic we are studying now is exactly the same. And I don't know how my students should use the information they've already written down about their character(I mean the description of a previous classmate). The thing is that I'm working with hard-of-hearing children and I must explain them eveything in details.

Hi Nik and Alexandra,I read your post and reply, and I think that quite possibly Nik was using the "dark and stormy" night reference for three reasons:1) It's the starting point of the story that is used for the person the students have described.2) It's a common cliche in creative writing to think of "Once upon a time..." for fairy tales or "It was a dark and stormy night" for ghost stories.  I don't mean to jump to conclusions, and I apologize to Nik if I missed his point, but this is what seems to be the natural connection to me.3) A dark and stormy night describe the visual aspect of the evening, but not the details of what happened.  This is much the same as judging someone by their appearance.......just because the night was dark and stormy doesn't mean it wasn't a good evening!Nik, I think this is a great idea....especially for younger writers who are interested in creative writing!Stephanie

I've go through the whole teaching method and found a different style of a teacher, who tried to create a method of teaching which really help to students for thinking and learning together. 

actually you can also try pen picture which i do in my class.i ask a trainee to draw the pen picture of his friend in class.as regarding story it is better if we have individual story from each of participants.

This is a nice post in an interesting line of content.Thanks for sharing this article, great way of bring such topic to discussion.

I think the main idea here is to get students to be creative and think outside the box. Thinking of different adjectives to describe a person gets their minds going and most people need some help to begin a story. I'm sure the same exercise would work with a different opening line or other variations. It's also interesting how stories that start with an identical phrase can end so differently.

This lesson plan has strong practical and operational features, which can be applied into our teachers' daily classrooms. It came to the cultivation of students' creative thinking and its correlations with the activities for practicing their writing abilities, under certain carefully set background - 'a third person in students' mind when suffering a dark and stormy night'.
This plan picked up my memory about the theoretical explorations of the creative thinking and its reflections from my daily explorations of piano (musical teaching) when I was studying in Newcastle University. Though the 'landing' subjects from education research are different - one is upon the branch of writing in English (language), and mine is upon the branch of musical expressions, the core root of them are same - motivating students' potentials and gifts in innovative self expressions through organizing languages (you knew, music is a common language known all around the worlds) . Therefore, from the theoretical root to the deductive identification and clarification of what meanings behind can be meta-cognitively reflected-out from certain planned behaviors provided in this plan if our teachers try to apply this plan in their classroom, this settlement for comment is what I feel being good at and looking forward to sharing and self-reflexiving some ideas produced through my 'curious and participant-observing' eyes.

1. Here, it is a reference: 'Tsuda, I. (2015) ‘Chaotic itinerancy and its roles in cognitive neurodynamics’, Neurobiology. [Online] 31, pp. 67-71. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.conb.2014.08.011 (accessed: 9th Jan. 2015)'.
In this article, the biological mechanism of creative thinking has been physiological and experimental discussed. Briefly summarizing all and applying some of our theoretical and practical outcomes, then we would get to this point: Chaotic-itinerancy is the description of our brain's situation when creative thinking will be produced. How could our teachers get this situation? Creating scenes with definitive differentials in multiple-subjects, suddenly dropping students into them for creating new nerve ’spaghetti junction's electricity-links' , and frequently shifting students among these scenes in a short and intensive time for enhancing these nerve links. In this case, if good-qualified practices and operations are made, the requirements of searching&describing a person in mind, and the imagery imaginations of 'A dark and stormy night' can all give students the feelings of 'suddenly, surprising, and out of mind', which can associate them build nerve connections

2. Another operation - passing the stories created by one pair each among different pairs in certain order and making them create further sentence by sentence (if teachers can give some expressive and magic language-descriptions) - can make students travel in different mind - channels, participant-observe others' life and mind-patterns unconsciously, and motivate more creative sparks by themselves. Here, teachers need to give some encouragements to students and let them bravely express themselves with freedom. Therefore, we would know teachers' guides are very important.

3. Then, I would like to mention a little bit about 'searching a person in their mind-seas and accounting his (or her) characters'. This point, in psychoanalysis (if we can develop it a little bit further), comes to the explorations of students' deep unconsciousness worlds. (but I don't like the operation would be totally applied the psychoanalysis that teachers just want to search mental problems or disorders for their well-beings' controls. If done so, their developing sustainability and real creativity will be killed. Oppositely, we need to put some elements from humanity and spirituality into our classrooms to encourage students creatively organize the person's 'face' with more detailed memories and constructive imaginations. ) . Here, if we can put some pieces of music from nature and somehow with the functions of hypnosis, it would be better for students' meta-cognitive self-reflexivity.

4.About the finally part - 'Follow up', I think: let students share their stories in front of blackboard is a positive operation for creativity, which can also cultivate students' skills in public performance and speech. However, I didn't agree that ' other students need to tell the errors from rights and correcting them '. If it is real creative thinking, there is no right or wrong. The encouragements provided to students and the 'to be better' suggestions are what our teachers need give to them, which could make their thinking patterns more reasonable and acceptable by all in their future.

All in all, thanks for this teaching materials contributed for us, which I think can be seen as a good accumulation of our own teaching and learning experience if some theoretical supports can be put to category our thinking aspects.

Thank you for such a detailed explanation on creative writing. These are really creative ways for generating wonderful ideas. All the exercises are really interesting.

I think this kind of cliche regarding creative writing one of the best source to open ended in writing

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