My Workers’ Educational Association creative writing courses begin again next week. I’m teaching five different courses and lessons need to suit new students as well as those who’ve attended before. So, I’m always looking for new topics to cover, as well as different ways to approach familiar subjects.
I keep a list of potential ideas on Google Keep – noting student requests (I end each course by asking what people would like to look at next term) and other ideas/links that could be developed into a lesson. I also have an ever-growing card index of writing exercises to draw on. These often come from magazines like Writers’ Forum, Writing Magazine and Mslexia (I find the Barbara Dynes column in Writers’ Forum particularly useful). Or they might be from a book – the ones I use most often are Teaching Creative Writing by Helen Stockton and The Creative Writing Coursebook edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs.
Ideas sometimes stem from attending workshops and events myself. I would never repeat someone else’s workshop, but I’m often influenced by the tutor’s teaching style or how they organise their session – for example, how they structure feedback. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a creative writing workshop to be inspiring. Last year, I went to a session on how comics can communicate factual information (led by the brilliant Lydia Wysocki). This led to session on telling stories through comic strips. No-one decided to become a comic book artist as a result, but using a different format offered a fresh insight into narrative.
If a lesson works well with one group, I’ll adapt it to suit another group. The most popular lessons tend to involve a challenge: writing Villanelle’s last term was tricky but rewarding (one student kept working after the class to come up with a perfect example about a murder in Ikea) and I’ll be trying it with other groups in future. I also repeat certain lessons each term with the same group: for example, the more experienced writers in my Improvers group like to devote one session to critique pieces they’re currently working on.
Once I’ve chosen a topic for a lesson, I set learning objectives (what I’d like students to know/be able to do by the end of the session) and devise exercises and prompts to help students achieve these. Lessons always include plenty of time for writing and feedback, but they can also involve paired or group activities (e.g. discussing writing extracts or writing a communal poem) and pre-writing/planning activities (e.g. spider diagrams, drawings, or lists). I also provide information to help students progress afterwards (this is usually a hand-out… I love hand-outs).
All of this gets written up into a WEA lesson plan. This sets out timings for activities and describes how I’ll assess learning and make sure all students will learn despite their differences. I also explain how the activities will incorporate the WEA approach, including how I’ll embed and promote equalities and diversity and help students improve functional skills in maths, English and ICT.
Of course, I write these plans in advance of each course, so don’t stick to them precisely once I’ve met and got to know each group. I see them as a framework that can be adapted to respond to what’s happening on the day – for example, I might change a prompt to make it more topical or amend content/timings to suit those students who are present. Last term, at a poetry lesson at South Shields Museum, there weren’t enough people to do what I’d planned. So, instead, we toured the museum to find prompts and inspiration. This led to some fantastic poems – one included an image of WW2 schoolchildren reciting poetry in a bomb shelter that I’m still thinking about.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve planned lessons on topics including: beginnings; antagonists; found poetry; dialogue; time and transitions in stories; writing for children; sea themed writing; writing inspired by music; getting published; blogging about writing; monologues; known and unknown settings; revising and refreshing writing; memory and memoir; word games; flash fiction; writing short stories for women’s magazines; editing; and endings. Hopefully, there’ll be something for everyone to enjoy, whatever stage they’re at with their writing. If you’d like to find out more or enrol on one of my courses then click on the links below or contact me directly.
Enjoy Creative Writing at South Shields Museum – 10.30am-12.30pm on Tuesdays, starting 10 September for 10 weeks. Fee: £70*.
Creative Writing at Women’s Health in South Tyneside (WHiST) – 1.00pm-3.00pm on Wednesday, starting 10 September for 10 weeks. This course is for women who attend WHiST only.
Creative Writing at Brunswick Methodist Church, Newcastle upon Tyne – 10.30am-12.30pm on Wednesdays, starting 11 September for 11 weeks. Fee: £77*.
Improvers Creative Writing at Brunswick Methodist Church, Newcastle upon Tyne – 1.00pm-3.00pm on Wednesdays, starting 11 September for 11 weeks. Fee: £77*.
Creative Writing at Morpeth Methodist Church – 10.00am-12.00pm on Fridays, starting 13 September for 11 weeks. Fee: £77*.
*WEA courses are free to attend for students on income related benefits – check whether you’re eligible here.