traci's lists of ten

Traci's 17th List of Ten:
Ten Creative Writing Activities

Posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk, and TEACH on 1/22/99.

During the Fall, a couple teachers asked me to tackle a list of creative writing assignments. It's taken me a while, but here they are.

While they are all phrased for creative writing assignments here, many of them could be revised to work for other kinds of essays. The Show & Tell assignment and the Scavenger Hunt assignment, for example, could easily become descriptive essays. The Childhood Place short story could be revised to be a personal narrative.

  1. [Show & Tell] Children in elementary school look forward to show & tell days eagerly. After all, it's the day that they can openly bring their special treasures to school and share them with everyone. But the point isn't just to bring the objects to school, but to tell others about them, to share details that help others understand why an ordinary teddy bear or a banged up toy dump truck is something special. For your writing assignment, choose something for show & tell, but rather than bringing your object to class, your job is to write a short story or poem that shows us the object and tells us why it's important to you. You'll need to use lots of details to demonstrate the significance of the object -- use your words to create images that *show* readers the object and why it is important to you.

  2. [Jumble Story] Preparation: Have students choose three numbers (from 1 to 10). Each number corresponds to an item on the list below. The first number is the character their stories are to focus on, the second number is the setting for their stories, and so forth.

    Assignment: Write a story with the character, setting, time period, and situation that you've chosen. The character that you've chosen should be the main character in the story, but isn't necessarily the ONLY character in the story. Likewise, most of the story will take place in the setting that you've chosen, but you can include other settings or elaborate on the setting that you have chosen (breaking it into several smaller settings, for example). The situation or challenge that you've chosen may involve the main character or your main character may observe someone else who must deal with the situation or challenge. In other words, you can combine these elements anyway that you desire, so long as all four are included in your story.


    1. a new mother
    2. a photographer
    3. a recent high school graduate
    4. a restaurant owner or manager
    5. an alien from outer space
    6. a homeless child
    7. a 93-year-old woman
    8. an environmentalist
    9. a college student
    10. a jazz musician


    1. near a National Forest
    2. a wedding reception
    3. a celebration party
    4. an expensive restaurant
    5. a shopping mall
    6. a city park
    7. the porch of an old farmhouse
    8. a polluted stream
    9. a college library
    10. a concert hall


    1. during a forest fire
    2. after a fight
    3. the night of high school graduation
    4. after a big meal
    5. sometime in December
    6. late at night
    7. after a big thunderstorm has passed
    8. in early spring
    9. first week of the school year
    10. during a concert


    1. an important decision needs to be made
    2. a secret needs to be confessed to someone else
    3. someone's pride has been injured
    4. a death has occurred
    5. someone has found or lost something
    6. someone has accused someone else of doing something wrong
    7. reminiscing on how things have changed
    8. someone feels like giving up
    9. something embarrassing has just happened
    10. someone has just reached an important goal

  3. [Scavenger Hunt] This assignment has two parts. Part One: For the next week, you're on a scavenger hunt. Usually, when you have a scavenger hunt, you physically gather objects on a list. Instead of gathering the objects on your list, write complete descriptions of the items as you find them. You'll use these descriptions in an assignment next week.

    an angry exchange

    something unpleasant

    an out-of-place object

    something fresh, new, or unused

    a well-loved object

    a lost or forgotten object

    something well-used

    a home-made or hand-made object

    Part Two: Write a short story incorporating at least half of the descriptions that you found in your scavenger hunt. Weave in details, words, and phrases from your descriptions, but be discriminating -- use the details, words, and phrases that fit well and help your story. Rewrite and revise the original description as necessary. Feel free to break them up, rearrange them, or add more information.

  4. [Embellish An Ad - Inspired by an assignment described in the movie Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.] Choose an advertisement from the Classifieds section of a recent newspaper. Use the advertisement as the starting point for a short story that explores the people and situations behind the ad. Who wrote the ad? What was the writer's motivation (beyond buying or selling an item)? What kind of life does the writer have? What is the social setting behind the ad? What kind of family or community is involved? Using the advertisement as your starting point, create the story behind the ad that you've chosen. Here are a couple of example ads in case you have trouble finding one on your own:

    For Sale
    CLOTHING, UT apparel. Worn only a few times by former UT athlete.

    Wanted To Buy
    BICYCLE, free. Working poor. I'm married with 2 small children. Need bike and helmet to work nights. I use Capital Metro for day job-school.

    [NOTE: You could create a similar assignment where students take the facts in a newspaper story and write a fictionalized account of the people and situations referred to in the story.]

  5. [Historical Fiction] Choose a historical figure whom you know something about. Choose one of the following sentence beginnings below, and complete the sentence for your figure. Compose a short story in first-person, speaking as the historical figure where you explain the figure's wish, dream, or fear.

    The thing that I regret most about my life is _____________________.

    If I could accomplish one more thing, I would ___________________.

    The accomplishment that I am proudest of is ___________________.

    If I could live anywhere in the world, I would choose ______________.

    The saddest moment in life was when ________________________.

    My favorite childhood memory is _____________________________.

    The thing that scares me the most is _________________________.

  6. [Confess a Secret] Create a character who has a secret to confess, but who is afraid to confess it. Write the diary or journal entries that your character would write as she or he considers the secret, explores why it needs to be confessed, thinks about who will be affected if the secret is known, and considers why she or he is afraid. Write a series of diary or journal entries, as if they were written over a period of several days or a week. In the entries, you can incorporate the main character's interactions with others and explore the ways that the day-to-day events that the character experiences influence the way that she or he thinks about the secret and confession. Your character's decision to tell (or not) should be revealed in the final diary or journal entry. All the entries need to work together as a whole -- they should sound like the writings of a single person, and should show consistency from one entry to the next (for example, if the person writes in the diary that she is afraid of water in one journal entry, it would be inconsistent to have her mention that she had been water skiing in the entry written two days later).

  7. [Random Words Epigraph] Step One: Randomly choose 15 entries from your dictionary. Just flip through the pages, close your eyes, and put your finger down on the page. Copy down the word that is closest to your finger. If your finger lands on a word that you don't know, you can choose the word just above or just below it. For the purposes of this assignment, count paired words as a single entry (for instance, "melting pot" is listed as a single entry).

    Step Two: Shape your list of dictionary entries into a poem, using at least ten of the entries (you can, of course, use them all if you want). You can add articles, helping and to be verbs, coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions.

    Step Three: Use your poem as an epigraph for a short story. Compose a story that incorporates the themes and images that are included in your poem. The relationship between the poem and your short story should be clear to your readers, but it should not be stated explicitly in your story. Your job is to use the poem as a jumping off point. You can add more images and themes, but those that are included in your poem should be the major images and themes in your story.

    [NOTE: you could, of course, end with Step Two, having students write poems only.]

  8. [Place Poem] To write a place poem, choose a place that you remember well and want to share with others. This poem relies on your filling in a form. If you're unsure of the parts of speech, check your grammar handbook. Here's the format:

    3 adjectives

    cool, quick, smooth

    an abstract noun


    a participial phrase

    flowing swiftly downward

    2 prepositional phrases

    over the edges of reality

    2 participial phrases

    defying sense
    compelling sighs

    the place name


    You can format your poem anyway that you like. Use more punctuation or less. Change the line breaks. Align the words with the margin. Use capital letters, play with the arrangement of the words on the page, and so forth. Be creative!

    NOTE: I was thinking about BioPoems when I wrote this, but I wanted to do something different, something that focused on connecting grammar terms to writing, and something that gave the writer more control over the content. Info on the BioPoem is available at Educator's Reference Desk.

  9. [Childhood Place] Think of an important place or event from your childhood. Write a fictionalized story about a child who goes to this place or this event as a children's book for someone about the same age that you were when you were in the place or involved in the event. Because you're writing a fictionalized record of the place or event, your details don't have to conform to actual truth. You can weave two or three (or more) memories about the place together in one story. You can make up things about the place that you're not sure of or that you wish had occurred. Your story should show how you thought and felt about the place or event as a child. Your reader has never been to the place you are describing, so you will need to use specific, concrete details which make the place vivid and your perspectives clear.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: Choose a place that you are comfortable talking about and sharing with other people. Don't dredge up memories that you don't want to deal with or aren't ready to deal with. If you're having trouble writing about a childhood place, talk to me and we'll find an alternative with which you do feel comfortable.

  10.  [Found Treasures] Preparation: Gather a collection of odds and ends, and sort them into small paper lunch bags. You might include anything you have lying about -- a marble, a fortune from a fortune cookie, a bird's feather, a photo of a little girl and her dog, a poker chip, and so forth. You might have a bag for every student, a bag for a group of students, or one bag for the entire class.

    Writing Assignment: The bag you've received stores a collection of treasures left behind by someone. Your job is to write a short story that depicts the character who gathered the objects and shows why the objects are important to the character. How do the objects connect to one another -- or do they? Why has the character saved the objects? What do they tell you about him or her? How old is the character, and how old was the character when these objects were collected? Do you think they were all collected at the same point in the character's life? Spin out a tale from these treasures that your character has left behind.