Creative writing units are a great way for sixth-graders to use their imaginations to discover their voices as writers. Creative writing also provides an opportunity to learn about the elements of an effective story, particularly when students enter the revision process. A creative writing checklist that includes plot, setting and character development, as well as word choice and grammar, can help students become successful editors and evaluators of their work.
An Intriguing Chain of Events
An effective plot is one where the main character deals with a conflict. Fairy tales are a good example; "Cinderella" is about Cinderella getting to the ball, while "Jack and the Beanstalk" revolves around the complications of Jack's decision to trade his family's cow for magic beans. Likewise, students' stories should be anchored by a dilemma that causes the plot to unfold. They can think about what problems their characters are facing in their current draft, then revise to shape the story around finding a solution.
Assembling the Cast
Characterization is the way authors reveal their characters' attitudes and personality. These methods include descriptions of characters' thoughts, actions, behavior and appearance. Students can look through their drafts for examples of effective characterization as well as spots where they could develop their characters more. One way for students to get a stronger sense of their characters is to have them write a brief biography of the character, including his background, fears, likes and dislikes. For example, the main character might be a powerful superhero, but his fear of flight might keep him from using his abilities.
It's All in the Details
Without descriptions of settings, characters and conflict, stories are just a list of events. Readers need to enter the story's world and experience its sensory details and surroundings. San Diego Unified School District's literacy and history department states that good creative writing both entertains readers and gives them key information about the story. Students can read their story drafts and mark use of sensory descriptions with highlighters, then read them a second time and underline places where they need to show rather than tell. Then, they can rewrite these sentences to include the sensory details of the scene.
Radical Revision, Constant Consistency
If there are unresolved plot issues, underdeveloped characters and a lack of detail, the story may need "radical revision," or revision that goes deeper than simple grammar corrections. Since major changes made at the beginning of the story may affect its later events, the University of Missouri High School's creative writing guide suggests that students make sure that the entire story is consistent. For example, if a character is a blonde at the beginning, but magically becomes a brunette halfway through, the student will need to choose one hair color.
Dot the I's, Cross the T's
As a final project, many teachers have students produce final copies of their stories in book form or in a class anthology. The final draft is a great time to pay special attention to grammar, punctuation and especially word choice. Choosing the precise words to describe a situation or for a line of dialogue can make the difference between readers believing the story or finding it unrealistic. If your story takes place in a haunted house, words like "gloomy" and "decrepit" both describe the setting and create a mood through sound.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.