Teens and writing

There have already been a couple discussions on teens and writing workshops on the Facebook group and there are a variety of ways to run a writing group with teens. I have done two different ways, both with their own successes.

My first writing workshop was going to be a two session event, run much like a college writing class might. The first week was a discussion on the sorts of things that they needed help with and a variety of writing exercises. The second week, we went over the issues (which I had researched, such as pacing, realistic dialogue and other common issues), and then critiqued what they had written in the intervening week. After the second week, the teens turned to me and asked what time next week, so it extended eight weeks before I left for another job.

These kids were serious writers who spent quite a bit of their free time jotting things down and coming up with consistently new ideas. I could see any one of them getting serious about it down the road, or at least heavily involving writing in their future careers. All of them were in their later teens, except one fourteen-year-old.

Almost a year later, I returned to the same library to run another session, but what happened turned out very different from the initial program, but in a lot of ways, just as good or better.

We scheduled this set of sessions for the hour before the weekly teen group, which routinely got 15-30 teens from a variety of schools and backgrounds. Although some of my serious writers from the first time did come back, I also got a group of kids who swore up and down they Did. Not. Write. That school was more than enough for them. I also got kids with fairly severe learning disabilities. The first week, most of these kids just watched, because they were present and they could tell how much fun we were having. Each week, another one of them would join in. I adjusted my planning accordingly, because these kids were not the kinds to bring in outside work, or be comfortable with critiquing, even gently.They came back week after week and eventually became willing to at least read their work aloud to the others.

I had a repertoire of about 5 activities that I could pull out depending on the group:

1) Rory’s Story Cubes in a verbal storytelling exercise. I have a set of the regular, Action and Adventure cubes. I’d portion out an equal amount (mix of the three) to each person. Then we would pick a genre and a base plot. Each time it came to you, you had to use at least one cube in your portion, and then you’d get to reroll that cube. Because of the fact each cube only has six options, the stories always got silly, but it also got the teens over their fear of, first, being silly, and second, oral storytelling.

2) Exquisite Corpses: Others might know it by another name. You each take a lined sheet of paper and write the first few lines of a story. Then you fold the paper so that only the last line is showing (my rule was that it had to be more than one word or else one really good word that gave an idea of the started plot) and then you pass it to the next person, who has to add to the story using only the last line. With more serious writers, the stories might not turn out totally ridiculous, but my claimed non-writers preferred them as silly as possible. Once the page was about used up, everyone would open the one they put an end to (which may or may not be their original), and then read that one out loud. This allowed them to read work out loud without fear, because no one really knew which parts were which and no one judged their specific writing.

3) Progressively shorter short stories: If you’re using computers, you can do 100 words, 50, 25, 12 and 6. We do it long hand, so I do approximately 10 lines, approximately 5 lines, 12 and 6. And usually the kids want to do 2 and 1 as well. Generally if I do this after some of the others, everyone is happy to share their work aloud as well. Very often they want to pick themes for the longest 2-3 or a word that you have to use within the story.

4) One Word Storytelling. While this one is not my personal favorite and needs some fairly strict guidelines, the teens loved it. Again, it’s verbal storytelling, but everyone gets only one word (or one contraction) at a time, going around in a circle. I found that this, of all of them, has a tendency to aim either personal or inappropriate for out loud communication. It is good teamwork. I usually try and write down the story as they tell it so there is both written proof and I can rein them in and try and keep them at least little on track (silly is good, but I try and challenge them to still make a cohesive story).

5) Depending on the exact group, I would sometimes throw in something more ‘serious’ and it always worked well. Each personget four small strips of paper. On one, they each write a noun, then a physical place or time, then a proper name and then a conflict of some sort. These are thrown in four small pots and everyone picks one strip from each category. It doesn’t matter if they get their own. Then, using those four prompts, they have ten minutes to write based on those prompts. Sharing these was encouraged but not required. Generally, once the more confident writers did, the less confident writers would too. Sometimes, they would be okay with someone else reading their work and that was always fine too.

It was really amazing when a teen who had barely ever managed to finish class assignments, and had a lot of learning disabilities, read something out loud that he had written for fun.

Feel free to share what’s worked for you either in the comments or on the Facebook

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