Posts Tagged Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector

Running a Creative Writing Workshop

A few years ago I did the PTLLS qualification (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) and this week I finally got around to putting it into practice by running my first creative writing workshop. It was organised by FOLIO Sutton Coldfield, held at my local library and free to participants. Planning a creative writing workshop

On the agenda was creating haiku and writing letters to magazines. I chose these two topics to give a mix of writing for pleasure and for profit plus the pieces were short enough to complete in the two and a half hours allocated to the class. And I already had a basic lesson plan for the haiku section from the ‘micro teach’ I did as part of PTLLS.

The participants were a lovely group of people. The workshop had been billed as ‘An Introduction to Creative Writing’ and most had done either none or very little writing before but they were all enthusiastic. Because we only had a couple of hours together, I chose to do a very quick, basic ice-breaker to start the session. I produced my large, bright orange (imaginary) energy ball and we each said our name as we pretended to pass it around the room and take a burst of energy from from it.

During the workshop I deliberately set most of the writing exercises to be done in pairs so that no one felt put on the spot or awkward if they were struggling to get going. We worked up to writing a haiku by looking at examples, having a pictorial prompt and jotting down ad hoc words and phrases before trying to craft them into the syllable count of a haiku. Similarly, we looked at how to analyse a magazine letters’ page including things like word count, subject matter and tone of the letters printed, before trying to craft a letter ourselves.

There were a few learning points that I took away from the workshop:

  1. Running a creative writing workshop is like an iceberg – i.e. 9/10 of the work is the invisible preparation done beforehand in creating the exercises, handouts etc.
  2. It’s very hard to construct a lesson plan with accurate timings about how long each part will take. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a cue from the class – are they still busy writing or are they staring bored into space? During the coffee break the class started asking questions about how I tackle my own writing, this meant the break ran over slightly but I decided that was OK because we were talking about the different ways authors tackle novel writing, which had some benefit to the class participants.
  3. It’s worth asking participants to complete a feedback form at the end of the session in order to find out how it went (phew! all positive comments!) and what subjects might be popular in future workshops.

After running only one workshop, I don’t profess to be an expert on teaching creative writing – however, I know someone who is! If you’re looking for further information or advice on running creative writing classes, I suggest you take a look at Start a Creative Writing Class: How to Set Up, Run and Teach a Successful Class by my writing buddy Helen Yendall.

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Can Creative Writing be Taught?

I was telling a writing friend of mine about my PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) course, she made various encouraging noises and supportive comments but then she asked that awkward question, “But do you think creative writing can be taught or is it a natural talent?”

That made me think. There’s no doubt that some people have a natural flair for grabbing ideas out of nowhere and turning them into wonderful finished pieces. Others put in hours at the PC but have very little success. But that’s true of many creative skills, such as playing a musical instrument, painting or drama.

Lots of us do believe that at least certain aspects of creative writing can be taught – just think of all the courses advertised in the writing magazines and the many, many more advertised only in their own locality.

Personally, I believe that it is possible to teach someone how to structure a story, how to edit their work and write ‘tighter’, how to pitch an article to an editor, how to give that article an arresting opening, the mechanics of writing a haiku or a limerick and much more. I believe this because these are all skills that I’ve learned over the years.

Maybe it’s not possible to teach someone to see the poetic value of a sunset or imagine themselves into a character’s head. Or maybe it is, if you give them enough practice and constructive feedback.

Perhaps I’m biased because one day in the future I hope to teach Creative Writing. What do the rest of you think?

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I Passed My PTLLS Micro-Teach!

Today I did my micro-teach session on the PTLLS course (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) and I’m pleased to say that I passed!

I had a thirty minute session to fill, which at first sounded daunting but in reality, it is a very short time to teach anyone anything, especially when faced with a class of non-writers (i.e. my PTLLS classmates, none of whom are ‘into’ creative writing). I chose Haiku as my topic because it’s a simple, short form of poetry which can be ‘learned’ quite quickly.

Working in three small groups, my learners brainstormed a list of words from pictorial prompts which I provided and then they fitted the words together to create a 17 syllable, 3 line (5, 7, 5) Haiku. We heard them all read out and they were very good.

I’ve now got to write-up the experience for my PTLLS portfolio and am going through the peer review forms I received after the session. One lady (for whom English is not her first language) wrote, “I am now thinking of joining a Creative Writing class” and another, “It made me realise I actually could write a Haiku, which I didn’t believe at all when you first introduced the subject.”
So I’m chuffed to think that I may have inspired two non-writers to have confidence in their creative ability!

Finally I pointed the class in the direction of the PoemPigeon website, where anyone can post poetry and/or leave comments. The site also runs occasional competitions.

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