This is a follow-up entry to 28 Creative Writing Exercises and Prompts. I’ve realized, after writing them down, that most of these prompts are geared towards high school writing classes and are very poetry-heavy (can you guess what I’m concentrating on this year?), but they could be adapted for older students easily enough.
1) Mystery Persona Poem: As a class, read “Monologue in the Valley of the Kings” by Anthony Thwaite. (Bonus– you can find videos of him reading this poem on youtube.) This poem is from the perspective of an Ancient Egyptian mummy, speaking to archaeologists who are trying to find the treasure in his tomb. Discuss what a persona poem is, then write persona poems from the perspective of someone or something that knows the secret to a mystery.
2) Bizarre News Story: Go to one of those “weird news” websites and copy down five of the most intriguing headlines. Put them on the board; have students choose one and write the story behind it.
3) Spirit Animal: One dusky evening, you meet your spirit animal in the woods. What is the animal and what happens next?
4) The ___ Line of the ____ Page Poems: Cut strips of paper in two different colors. Write numbers on each strip (usually anywhere from 1-200, not necessarily in any sort of order). At the beginning of the class period, have students poke around the bookshelves and choose one random fiction book (or, if you’re at home, pull a random book off your shelf). Have the students draw two strips of paper, one of each color, with the numbers on them. One number is the page they need to flip to in the book, and the other number is the sentence they need to find on that page. Use that sentence as the first line of a poem.
5) Confessional Poems: Have students read “Confessions” by Lowell Jaeger and “This is just to say” by William Carlos Williams. (You can also listen to confessional songs like “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley and “Criminal” by Fiona Apple as extra examples.) Have the students write their own poems in which they confess something– but don’t have them put their names on it. (And encourage them to keep it school appropriate; otherwise, there’s a good chance this one will get out of hand.) Then, switch the poems, have each person read the poem they got aloud, and as a class, guess who wrote which poem.
6) Human(ity): Peruse the Humans of New York blog. Choose one of the brief interviews and write the story behind it.
7) Hollywood in Detail: I used this one when I was teaching college-level fiction workshops. To practice descriptive writing, I had each student go home, watch a well-known movie (or at least the beginning of one), and describe, in as much excruciating and vivid detail as possible without giving any identifying names, the opening shot (maybe the first 30 seconds – 1 minute). In class, we read them aloud and guessed which movies they were.
8) The Fall I was 14, the Winter I was 17: Read “The Summer I was 16” by Geraldine Connolly. Have the students switch the season out for whatever season you are currently in and 16 for whatever age they are. Have them write a poem that captures the feeling of being ________ years old in the season of _________.
9) Write a story from the perspective of a character you don’t like. For instance, write the story from the perspective of someone who’s bossy, or stuffy, or manipulative. Make them sympathetic.
10) Write a story where a good person does something morally reprehensible. What is their motivation? what is their justification?
11) Where I’m From: Read and discuss “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. Switch out things that the poet lists for things from your own childhood/home.
12) Active Verb Poems: Choose a poem with a lot of good active verbs (a couple of my favorites are “Snow Day” by Billy Collins and “Earthmoving Malediction” by Heather McHugh). Replace all the verbs with blanks and have the students fill them in with their own. It’s amazing poems can take entirely different meanings and directions just by switching out one part of speech; students will start with the same framework and end up with something completely unique.
13) I Am Not A Painter: Read “Why I Am Not A Painter” by Frank O’Hara. Take the first line (“I am not a painter, I am a poet”) and replace “painter” and “poet” with blanks. Have the students fill in the blanks and use the poem as a guide to write their own.