Browse Category by Creative Writing Workshop
Commentary, Creative Writing Workshop, Teaching

Creative Writing Resources for Kids

Last month I taught my summer creative writing workshop, and let me tell you that this group of kids is THE MOST:

Each and every one of them was kind, caring, considerate, happy to listen and take feedback… I didn’t want the session to end.

After these workshops, I’m always asked by parents what resources I recommend for young creative writers. Here are a few I like, but keep in mind that there are only two resources I really, truly recommend. I’ll save those for the end of the post.

  • Lakeshore Learning makes these fantastic blank notebooks for creating books. I have found these to be incredible for young kids– they are the perfect size and durability, and allow for complete creativity. 
  • 826 Valencia is one of my favorite organizations in the country. If you don’t know them, get to know them and find your local version of it (The Mid Continent Oceanographic Institute is the Minnesota version). They have a whole slew of creative writing resources available for purchase on their website, and the one I love for my young writers workshop is 642 Things to Write About.

  • DK’s Write Your Own Book is a great tool for teachers. I really like the format of the book– it’s large, hardcover, full color, and easily laid out for lesson planning.  You can purchase it on Amazon, but I found mine at my local Barnes and Noble.
  • Your local writing organizations and libraries are a great places to take kids to meet authors, ask questions, and make real-world connections to a career in writing. Plan a family outing for when an author comes to speak, read their book together before you go, and make a list of questions you’d like to ask the author during the event. I STILL do this as an adult, and it’s always a learning experience for me.
  • I know there are apps kids can use. Edutopia came out with a list here, though I can’t speak to any of them. Call me old fashioned, but I really can’t stand the idea of having kids use an app for creative writing. They really, truly only need two things:
  1. Paper
  2. Pen or pencil

Young, old , novice or veteran, there is nothing more you need than a pen and paper. Give your child some space and time, let them write, make mistakes, and start again. It’s really the only way to get through any creative project, and the sooner they embrace the process, the sooner they can be ready for the writing journey.

Commentary, Creative Writing Workshop, Teaching

Five Things I Learned Teaching Without Technology

This week I had the privilege of teaching the first session of my Young Writers Workshop at the Edina Community Center. This is my third year and third location for this program, and it gets better every time I teach it. No homework, no grades, just kids writing and expressing themselves creatively. The BEST!

This year I found myself, as I usually am, stressed about technology. Let me state for the record: I LOVE TECHNOLOGY. Especially in the classroom. But when you’re teaching in a new place, a new curriculum and new students, it’s stressful knowing what technology is available to you and wondering whether or not it will work.

So I made a choice a couple months ago when I started planning. I was going to teach technology-free, the old fashioned way. No PowerPoints, no YouTube clips. Just pencils, paper, and our imaginations.

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Here’s what I learned:

1. It was MUCH easier to plan.

Assuming I wouldn’t have access to a computer (or even a white board) made my life so much easier. It’s like when you go to a restaurant with a small menu versus a restaurant with a huge menu.  The huge menu is great if you have time and patience to wade through all the options. But when you have asmall menu, you pick one thing and make it work the best you can.

2. Classroom management was much easier.

Yes, these were very bright, motivated, and eager students. Of course I didn’t have the same challenges as a classroom teacher has day to day. However, what I discovered this week was that because I wasn’t distracted by technology, I was forced to move around the room more and interact with the students more. Hence, managing the classroom– keeping things moving and organized– was much easier.

3. There was no wasted time.

Teaching without technology forced me to reflect on how much time I waste on my computer. There was no downtime while an overhead heated up, no buzzing around mumbling to myself trying to get my audio working. Once time started, we were ready to go and stayed on task the whole class period.

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4. I had my eyes open to more teaching opportunities.

No technology means searching for hands-on activities, and as far as creative writing goes, those opportunities are everywhere. I was scouring the newspaper for articles to use to inspire stories, I looked through magazines for images and quotes. Some of my best activities came from just having my eyesopen to them in my day-to-day life, instead of digging through Pinterest for a Powerpoint.

5. No one missed technology in the least.

Not a single student asked if they could pull out their phone to do research (well, one did– she wanted to draw a wild dog for her book cover, and wasn’t sure what a wild dog looked like). No one asked if I could talk about the Hero’s Journey with a Powerpoint. No one asked if they could do their story on a blog instead of on paper. In teaching, especially in the arts, it can be so tempting to fall into “needing” technology to illustrate your point. That simply isn’t true.

It wasn’t all perfect. We had some cramped hands and some illegible handwriting. I also had to write a long activity on the whiteboard (which I did end up having at my disposal)…Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 1.05.08 PM

which would have been better displayed on an overhead. But those minor things paled in comparison to the freedom I felt every day walking into my classroom and knowing that creativity was going to flow– and I didn’t need technology to make it happen.

Creative Writing Workshop, Teachable Books, The Indie Journey

Why We Ink: Pubslush Campaign

What an honor it was to edit and write the forward for Why We Ink, Poems, Stories, and Essays from the Pens of Young Writers.  I realize I’m completely biased, but this is one awesome anthology.

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As with many independent books, Pubslush is making this and subsequent books a possibility.  If you’re able, please purchase an advanced copy!

Commentary, Contest!, Creative Writing Workshop, Teaching, The Indie Journey


I have been dying to tell the good news about this project for some time now, and am SO happy the time is now!  Wise Ink, my publishers and all-around wonderful people, are starting a yearly anthology contest for young people.

And guess who is their #1 sponsor?!

If you know of any aspiring writers, please encourage them to submit!


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Creative Writing Workshop

My Writers!

Here’s what I’ve been up to all summer…

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And what a joy it has been for me!  Here is a picture of my summer writers, minus one:

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This Friday they’ll be sharing their fabulous stories at Magers and Quinn in Uptown Minneapolis at 6:00pm.  All are welcome!  So proud of these girls!

Creative Writing Workshop, Teaching

Creative Writing Workshop Week 5/6: Peer Reviews

English teachers ’round the world almost always incorporate some kind of peer review in their curriculum when they assign a major assignment. In theory, peer review is an easy, effective way for students to get a lot of feedback on their work and make changes before writing their final draft.

The drawback to peer reviews, however, is that they can be fairly useless if done inefficiently.  My first year teaching I had students pass rough drafts to the person next to them, take out a colored writing utensil, and go to town.  In my mind, this would result in a paper covered in colorful corrections and suggestions.  In reality, most kids read the work and wrote something like, “It’s good” at the end.  Hardly useful.

My wonderful teaching mentor would use the “Two Stars and a Wish” strategy, and over the years I have adopted the same idea.  Each assignment was different, but I would usually have students focus on “one” thing (mechanics, sentence structure, etc.) for their review, and write two things the author did well and one thing they need to work on.

For my creative writers, peer review gets the same treatment.  The nice thing, though, is that these young kids are so focused and mature, and each of them fell right into the “workshop” aspect of our group.  Each student got a page full of great comments and suggestions!

two stars and a wish

Creative Writing Workshop, Teaching

Creative Writing Workshop Week 4: Voice

Our topic for our creative writing workshop this week was the ever-elusive idea of “voice”.  How to find it, how to make it real, how to differentiate a voice for each character.  This, like so many concepts, is best described through examples, so I created this game for us to play:


I cut out each section had the kids pick a “situation”– a person and an event.  Then they had four minutes to write in that voice.  It was so much fun, and we honestly could have spent the whole hour playing this game and sharing our stories.

Next we shared the first few paragraphs of the stories we’ve been working on, and did our first “workshop” session.  Only one month until the girls read their stories in front of an audience!

Creative Writing Workshop, Teaching

Creative Writing Workshop Week 2: Characterization

We had a blast this morning in our second creative writing workshop.  The theme was “characterization”, and we focused on getting to know our main characters as intimately as possible.  I started off by asking the kids who their most favorite character in a book was, and why.  Not surprising, but there were lots of references to The Fault in Our Stars (can’t blame them), but of course I brought up my all-time favorite character– Atticus Finch.  We talked about what makes a character “unforgettable”, and how important it is to make a character realistic.  Such a cool group of kids!

It is so tempting to just jump in and start writing once you have an idea, but any writer can tell you that is dangerous.  Creating a character is is important that some writers don’t bother mapping out their story– they just spend that time getting to know their narrator and let the story go from there.  No matter what your preference, working on a main character is crucial.  I created this graphic to help the kids “get to know” their main characters:


Then we talked about some key terms:  protagonist and antagonist.  This group was smart enough to figure out that the protagonist can sometimes be his or her own antagonist at times.  They also keyed into stories where the antagonist wasn’t a person, but a thing or entity.

As the kids worked on their character charts I went their their story arcs and gave them some feedback.  I cannot wait to see where these stories go!

Creative Writing Workshop, Teaching, YA/MG Book Club

Creative Writing Workshop Week 1: What If?

Today I taught my first creative writing workshop class for the summer, focused on story mapping.  There were six of us in total today, and it was SO much fun to spend an hour talking about reading and writing.  I learned that I am just going to have to bite the bullet and read the Divergent series (that’s not really my genre, but the kids seemed to love it), and I definitely need to download Fangirl to my Nook right away.

This is such a cool group because all of them are wanting to work on something “new” for the workshop.  That means a lot of idea brainstorming.  My advice to them, and to every budding writer looking for a great idea… think “What if?

What if…. the Kardashians were really space aliens?

What if… my school turned out to be a secret hideout for the mafia?

What if… a person could only communicate by singing?

What if… I woke up one morning and my family had vanished?

We could have gone back and forth on these ideas all day, but the point of the brainstorm was to help kids figure out a good idea from a not-so-good one.  And the only way to do that is by story mapping.  Here is my story arc, which we began filling in together:

Story Arc CW WorkshopThen, once we figure out the beginning, middle, and end, I had them start thinking about the details for each of those sections, to get their plots charted and (hopefully) paced.  I encouraged the kids to use the boxes however it made sense to them– pictures, diagrams, words..

Chapter Map

I created both of these with Canva, my newest web-obsession. Graphic design made super easy!

Can’t wait to see what the writers come back with in two weeks!