Creative Writing

class info

  • Meets Gold Days, periods 6 and 7
  • Room 775
  • Senior English Writing Elective

Announcement: The portfolio, the final for this class, will be completed during each section’s finals period.

Metaphor. Irony. Plot. Setting. Theme. Imagery. Symbolism.


These and other elements of literature should by now be familiar to you. They exist in all types of writing – from poetry to non-fiction essays, from novels to scripts. You have spent time studying them through the words of other writers. Now you get to try to use these tools for yourself.


This class will be an opportunity for you to express yourself creatively through writing. You will get a chance to try many different genres of writing. You will get to help others improve their writing, and the favor will be returned to you with your own writing. By the end of the class, you will develop a portfolio of your best, most polished work.


Monday, 12/17

Today's abbreviated class was primarily to mop up some odds and ends related to the short story assignment as well as receive feedback regarding the district textbook pilot. If you did not complete a pilot feedback form, please come talk to me. Homework: continue work on revisions for your portfolio. 

Period 6 will have its finals period (work time for the portfolio) in the South Writing Lab from 10:40 a.m. - 12:10 p.m. on Wednesday, 12/19; Period 7 will meet in the North Writing Lab for the same purpose from 7:20-8:50 a.m. on Thursday, 12/20. Final drafts of the portfolio are due at the end of each respective finals period.

Friday, 12/14

Today the rough drafts for the short story project were due; in class, students workshopped each other's stories using this workshop worksheetHomework: begin working on revisions for your portfolio.

Wednesday, 12/12

Today was a work day for the short story project. I also passed out the detailed assignment for the final portfolio. Homework: short story drafts ready for workshop are due on Friday (with a copy for me as well).

Monday, 12/10

Today I checked Phase II of the short story project, gave a couple writing exercises dealing with putting the reader in the story at a key moment of crisis as well as text/subtext. We also discussed the actual assignment for the final portfolio, and then we heard from a Art Institutes guest speaker about the programs they offer. Homework: Phase III, your rough draft, is due Wednesday.

Thursday, 12/6

Today I checked progress on your short stories (Phase 1 was due). We then did a couple exercises playing around with re-arranging plot and narrator. The remainder of the class was work time. Homework: Phase 2 is due next Tuesday; see the handout for details.

Tuesday, 12/4

We started off checking the 55 word stories. Then we discussed the details of the short fiction/drama assignment; pieces are due Thursday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — basically every day we have left this semester. See the handout for all the details. We spent some time in-class doing our last pre-writing of the semester, and then the end of class was for you to begin on Phase 1 of the fiction assignment, due next class.

Friday, 11/30

We started class by checking the homework and discussing story beginnings. Then we read "Souvenir" by Kurt Vonnegut, and talked about how he drops us in the middle of not one, but two stories at the same time. Next, we switched gears and looked at some 55 Word Stories, which despite extreme conversation of words, still convey the basic conventions of plot, setting, and character, just like their beefier brethren of longer fiction. (You can click through the slide show containing the stories below). 

After reading several examples, students wrote one of their own before the end of class. Homework: write a second one.

Wednesday, 11/28

Today we did some quiet reading and writing while I held conferences about creative non-fiction pieces and semester grades. I still have a few students left in both class, which we'll hopefully finish up Friday. While that was going on, everyone else read "Interpreter of Maladies," on p. 100 in Burroway, and then began some pre-writing from our What If? — Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Bernays and Painter (see below for more on this). Afterwards, we discussed "Interpreter" as one more example of really good indirect characterization, and then we discussed Exercise 1 (p. 9) in Bernays/Painter, which was all about opening lines — primarily how opening lines of short stories are so important, and very often dump you right into what is actually the middle of the story (i.e., they make you ask lots of questions, and then help you answer them along the way). We shared and discussed some of our favorites. 

The homework is Exercises 4-6 in Bernays/Painter, and also deals with opening lines. For Exercise 4, begin a story with this line: "Where were you last night?" For Exercise 5, begin a story with the following line, but replacing the ALL CAPS portions with your own details: The first time I (or NAME) heard SPECIFIC SONG TITLE by SPECIFIC ARTIST OR GROUP, I (or NAME) was up/down/over at PLACE and we were doing ACTION. For Exercise 6, begin a story from random elements. First complete this list, then use it to start: two characters, a place, two objects, an adjective, and an abstract word. For all three assignments, try to write at least a couple paragraphs.

Monday, 11/26

Welcome back from break. Today we started class by checking the eavesdropping homework from last week and asking for volunteers to read choice bits from them. Next, we read out loud a short play, “Brother,” from the Burroway text. We used this to talk extensively about indirect characterization through dialogue. I then gave an assignment to do a character sketch from one person that you eavesdropped on in the Thanksgiving assignment. We started these in class while I started brief conferences with you about your grades and creative non-fiction pieces. The character sketch is homework, and due on Wednesday, at which time I hope to finish the rest of these conferences.

Thursday, 11/15

Today we started class with an eavesdropping assignment — students were sent out in the school to unobtrusively listen in on class, conversations, anything they could hear, jotting down any interesting or mundane things that were said. The purpose of this activity was to start to listen to how we speak, and in doing so prepare to write good, compelling, interesting dialogue in fiction that can reveal lots of information about the characters (eavesdropping is also a great way to get ideas to turn into stories). After de-briefing back in my classroom, we talked about the Thanksgiving holiday assignment, to continue to eavesdrop on those around us as well as ourselves (at the Thanksgiving dinner table or the crowded mall on "Black Friday"). I will check this assignment when we get back after the break.

Tuesday, 11/13

Today I read a sample short story, "Beautiful," which was written by a former student in a previous section of Creative Writing. We then used that story, along with Stranger Than Fiction as examples of the three ways Burroway looks at Story in Chapter 5 — Story as a Journey, Story as a Power Struggle, and Story as Connection and Disconnection. Homework: please pick any two individual pre-writing exercises in chapter 5 of Burroway and complete them in your journal for Thursday.

Friday, 11/9

We finished and discussed Stranger Than Fiction today. Next week we will begin our short fiction/drama unit.

Wednesday, 11/7

Today was the due date for the creative non-fiction pieces. If you were absent excused or they are late, please speak to me ASAP. We also started watching Stranger Than Fiction in class today.

Monday, 11/5

Today the Period 5 class worked on specific revisions to the creative non-fiction pieces, and Period 6 typed in the computer lab. Homework: non-fiction pieces are due at the start of class on Wednesday. Also: Bring in your signed permission form to view Stranger Than Fiction.

Thursday, 11/1

Period 6 class was in the library typing today while Period 7 was working on their drafts in class. I forgot to give out permission forms in class for the film Stranger Than Fiction, which we'll be watching next week. More information about the film can be found here and here.

Tuesday, 10/30

Because of the quickly approaching end of the semester, as well as the difficulty scheduling computer time, we're going to accelerate the Creative Non-Fiction unit considerably. Today we read one more professional sample, did a little more pre-writing, and then talked about the final assignment, which is due at the start of class next Wednesday. Period 6 will have computer lab time on Thursday while Period 7 will have a work day next Monday. Please start working on drafts for homework!

Friday, 10/26

Today we continued introducing creative non-fiction as a genre. We talked about human nature, reviewed more about what Burroway has to say about non-fiction, returned poems and progress reports, and did some pre-writing. Homework: Try this 7.7 in Burroway, p. 245. It asks you to interview someone at least a generation older than you are about an event that took place before you were born, and then write the interview a scene.

Wednesday, 10/24

Today we began creative non-fiction, a genre many students don't have much experience with. We used Burroway as our guide for today, spending time with her introduction to memoir and personal essay. We did pre-writing from that text as well — "Warm-up" on p. 237 and Try This 7.1 on p. 238. We talked about creative non-fiction as a genre that uses personal experiences to illustrate "truths" of human nature and the human condition. We discussed the two short essays I assigned for homework on Monday, and then read "The Knife" by Richard Selzer, a really interesting memoir by a surgeon. 

Homework: These are Try This 7.2 and 7.4 from Burroway's chapter on creative non-fiction. First,

Begin with the conventional notion of titling an essay: On _________. Then make a list of at least six titles that represent things you might like to write about, things that interest you, and that you feel confident you know something about. Then make a list of six subjects you do not want to write about, and wouldn't show to anybody if you did. Then make a list of six titles in which the preposition "on" could be a pun: On speed, On the Net, On My Feet. Then make a list of six titles dealing with subjects about which you know "nothing at all," like brain surgery, refrigerator repair, etc.

Monday, 10/22

Today we wrapped up our poetry workshopping and had in-class work time for poetry revisions. Homework: read the two pieces of creative non-fiction I handed out in class for Wednesday, when we’ll begin that genre of writing.

Thursday, 10/18

Today we began small-group workshopping of poems 2 and 3. We will finish these up on Monday and work a little bit on revision before shifting into creative nonfiction.

Tuesday, 10/16

Unfortunately, I was out of the building again today — this time for in-district professional development. Bad timing to be sure, especially considering my absence last Thursday, but it was unavoidable. Your second and third poems for workshopping were due at the end of class today. If you were absent or did not complete this assignment, see me or e-mail me immediately. We will begin workshopping these poems on Thursday.

Thursday, 10/11

I was gone on a field trip today, but the sub should have walked you through several pre-writing and journal-mining activities to prepare for two more poems due for workshop. These poems will be due at the end of class next Tuesday. 

Tuesday, 10/9

Today was our last full day of full-class workshopping. Poems for workshop rounds 2 and 3 will tentatively be due a week from Thursday. Homework: read and complete the “poems as stories” models and exercise from the Burroway text (copies provided in class — see me if you were absent or somehow didn’t get one).

I will be out of the building this coming Thursday for a field trip to the state journalism conference with my newspaper editors. You will have in-class work to help you prepare for poems 2 and 3, which we'll workshop in small groups. I will also be out of the building the following Tuesday, which is also a Gold day (Monday is a day off). Likewise, you will have in-class work to help you pull from your journal and begin to polish two workshoppable poems. Please use all of this time wisely.

Friday, 10/5

Today we did more workshopping in class. Homework is to write a poem from the “Poetry Rides the Bus” model I handed out in class (it’s photocopied, not scanned, so I couldn’t provide it here for download).

Wednesday, 10/3

Today was a late-start day, so we did an abbreviated day 2 of workshopping your poems. 

Homework: In order to keep a good stock of pre-writing, please complete the following assignments in your journals (and log them!), which I will check on Friday.

1.) Write down a bumper sticker you like. In class, we handed these sheets to someone else (the idea is to have a bumper sticker you haven’t actually seen yourself). Describe the car (van, truck, SUV) this bumper sticker is stuck on — make, model, year, color, condition. Open the door. Describe the smells and textures. Name three objects you find. Name a fourth object you’re surprised to find there. Look up. Here comes the owner. Who, walking how, wearing what, carrying what, with what facial expression? The owner says something. What is said?
2.) Write a paragraph about a thrilling or anguishing incident from your childhood or adolescence. Evoke the emotion you felt in images of all five senses how the scene (perhaps including your own body) looked to you, sounded, felt, smelled, tasted. Allow yourself whatever personification, metaphor, or simile occurs to you, no matter how extreme.

Monday, 10/1

Today we began writers’ workshop for the first round of poems. We will be doing this for the next several days in class. If for some reason I don’t have your poem, you need to come see me ASAP. No homework for Wednesday.

Thursday, 9/27

First poems for workshop were due from every student today (1 each). If you were absent, you need to get me your poem ASAP. If I don't have them by tomorrow, you may be responsible for your own copies. Workshopping will begin on Monday.

Tuesday, 9/25

Today students completed a couple of comparison-related pre-writing activities (i.e., simile, metaphor), returned to the water poems of Thursday, 9/13, debriefed the exercises on cinquains (per. 6 only), introduced or debriefed pantoums (per. 6 and per. 7 respectively), and began mining through journals for poetry fodder. The first poem for workshop — which the first major grade of the semester — is due at the end of class on Thursday. It must be typed, 12 pt. Times or Times New Roman, a minimum of 10 lines, and fit on one page. Homework: is to begin this poem so as to be able to finish it in class Thursday.

Friday, 9/21

Today we finished up the music project, and the 7th period class started talking about pantoums. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, 9/19

We spent the first half of class listening to the songs students had chosen to bring in. We will continue this on Friday; any of you who still haven’t e-mailed me your lyrics, please do so ASAP (better late than never). The second half of class was spent introducing and practicing the poetic form of cinquains. Your homework is to write two cinquains for class on Friday. The handout/worksheet from class will help.

Monday, 9/17

Unfortunately, I was out ill today. The first half of class was dedicated to pre-writing of your choice from the Everyday Creative Writing texts. The second half of class was for typing up the lyrics of the song you chose for the music project. On a good note, thank you for the positive reports I received from Linda and Myra in the library on your behavior during that portion of class. On a bad note, I have not received lyrics from everyone. Hopefully that will change before class on Wednesday.

homework: submit lyrics via e-mail if you haven't already

Thursday, 9/13

Today, Dr. Linda Beeler of the counseling department spoke to the class about planning out your senior year (and not slacking off). Good stuff. Then we did two warm-ups — for one, I had you list then draft a poem about water, paying particular attention to the connotation of the water words you listed, and for the other I had you reflect on your family’s “values.” After that, we listened to four songs and examined the lyrics for rhythms, rhymes, and repetition. Homework: Pick a song or two as candidates for you to present to the class next week. We will take time on Monday to research and type the lyrics. See the handout for more info.

Tuesday, 9/11

We had a presentation from DeVry University today during the first half of class. During the second half, we continued our discussion of rhythm and rhyme and looked for these sounds in our your own writing.

Friday, 9/7

Today we did a couple different pre-writing activities. The first was “The Note read,‘There are More Where These Came From’” from p. 60 of Everyday Creative Writing — the exercise asks you to write several short notes you might leave for someone and then to assemble one or more into a poem (or other piece). I drew the connection between the notes of the exercise and text messages, instant messaging online, etc. Next, we did the Try This 9.7 from p. 323 of the Burroway text, which was to make a quick list of terms that relate to any subject of your choosing. We used this list to springboard to our objective for today — studying/reviewing the idea of stressed and unstressed syllables. This lead to a discussion of form vs. free verse poetry, a reading and study of a Shakespearean sonnet, and writing of your own sonnets. For homework, I want you to listen to some music this weekend, paying particular attention to the lyrics and any patterns you can hear of stressed/unstressed syllables. There’s no formal assignment, but this will lead into an activity we’ll do next week.

Wednesday, 9/5

Today we had a shortened period because of our Late Start schedule. We wrapped up our discussion of imagery today talking about connotation and denotation (basically, what words mean in and out of context, respectively). We did a short activity related to this idea. Then we switched gears and read a few imagery-rich poems from the Burroway text, keeping track of every time a particular sense was invoked and trying to examine how the poets accomplished this. Homework: This comes directly from Burroway, p. 14, Try This 1.4. “Write this poem: The first line consists of an abstraction, plus a verb, plus a place. The second line describes attire. The third line summarizes an action. let if flow: don't worry too much about making sense.” Do this exercise in your journal, and make sure you log it!

Friday, 8/31

Today we started off with a fair amount of pre-writing — three different exercises from the Everyday Creative Writing text. Next, we continued our discussion of imagery with help from Burroway. Then we used the passages you brought to class for her Try This 1.3 exercise, spoiling vivid imagery by replacing specific details with generalizations and judgments, then trading with a partner and re-inserting details of our own choosing to replace those same generalizations and judgments.

Homework: Since we won’t meet again for five days, I'm giving you a couple different assignments, both due next Wednesday. 

First, do the “Quilting” exercise from p. 63 in Everyday Creative Writing. 1. Root through your closet and drawers and locate clothing that was significant to you during different times in your life. Create a list of the clothes that have special meaning for you. 2. Label the event(s) that each item on your list of clothing causes you to recall, as well as the feelings it evoked.

Second, take any of the pre-writing exercises we did in class today and try to start a poem with it. Remember the suggestions from the other day on when to turn an exercise into a poem — sounds engage you as much as meaning, sentences develop into distinctive rhythms and repetition, strong images, and a specific time or place is not absolutely vital. 

Wednesday, 8/29

A curse for me, but perhaps a blessing for you, my voice was almost totally gone. I couldn’t drone on and on like I often do, but it did mean a fair amount of in-class reading. I introduced the Janet Burroway text, Imaginative Writing, today. I'm not yet very familiar with this text, though I used a couple Burroway texts in my college writing classes and I like what she has to say on the subject. In her introduction, she talks about how writers have to be critical readers and how they can’t help but draw upon real-life experiences. She reiterates some of the ideas from the other text in regards to journalling (freewriting, brainstorming, etc.), but also mentions how important it is to observe the world around you and record those observations. She also talks about how important it is to write every day, and I think those every-day observations can be a big part of that. We did a couple different writing exercises (Try This 0.2 on p. xxvi and Warm Up on p. 2), and then used the first few pages of her chapter on imagery to talk about the difference between the abstract and concrete when it comes to writing. Homework: Bring in a vivid piece of published writing (not your own) to class on Friday; a poem, fiction, creative non-fiction, journalistic writing, whatever. We will do an exercise with these.

Monday, 8/27

Today I checked the homework from Thursday, we did the “What is Poetry?” activity, and we discussed and took notes from Everyday Creative Writing — “Resistance as a Tool” and “What Form Should You Choose?” p. 17-23. No homework tonight.

Thursday, 8/23

Today we reviewed the paraphrases of the Frost, Williams, and Hughes poems that were for homework. We also spent time comparing the three poems, particularly what made them unique. We then began preparing for daily pre-writing by reading and discussing the first chapter of Everyday Creative Writing — we focused specifically on suggestions for organizing and recording your pre-writing as well as some different techniques we will use in class. 

Homework: spend at least 20 minutes practicing one or more of the pre-writing techniques before class on Monday. In doing so, try to reflect on the first week of school and/or the end of summer.

Addendum: My sense of history and dates is horrible, so in response to some confusion in per. 7 class, we looked up Langston Hughes on Wikipedia. I thought it best to include a link here. Also, the typed notes from both sections are available for download (just a Word file; if you can't view it, let me know).

First day

Today we kicked off the course with a writing reflection so I could see what kinds of writers you are. We then reviewed the Class Norms and Expectations. Lastly we began to practice paraphrasing; we paraphrased and discussed “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins in class, and students are to paraphrase and briefly respond to three other poems for homework, due Thursday, Aug 23.

Addendum: Taylor from 7th period found Mr. Collins very inspiring. (8/23/07 11:45 a.m. MDT)

BEAT IT WITH A HOSE YOU HEAR? by ~frozenfoxfire on deviantART

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