Harri Istán Mäki: Teaching Creative Writing to children

In the first session of mini-lectures programmed for our Pedagogical Conference in Paris (November, 2012), Harri Istan Mäki (Orivesi College of Arts)  brought into view some psychological and practical tools in order to cleverly address writing in children


Teaching Creative Writing to chhildren

Harri Istán Mäki (Finland) 

Children love to use their imagination as they create through fiction writing. Once a teacher prepares students for a writing action, the teacher simply needs allow their creativity to flow. The following examples in my presentation are simple strategies that will allow a teacher to start young students off on the right foot.

Students do not need to worry about grammar while doing free writing. This activity is a great way for them to come up with story ideas, or to get a start on a more involved writing assignment. They can use the free-write as a guide for further work.

Students could also work in groups on a collaborative piece: this is a great aid for writing poetry and skits. To take this movement one step further, a teacher could ask the students to act out a play as a group for their class. Working in groups helps students criticize the work of others, or to write a piece collaboratively.

Teachers may ask students to journal the traditional way, or encourage them to write poetry, story ideas and drama. It is important to make sure that the journals are kept privately so that the students will feel free to write off the record.

In the rough draft the point is to get student fresh ideas down on paper. Re-working and correcting the draft piece into a final copy teaches students how to edit their own work.
It is most helpful for the students to read their writing aloud as this will make it easier to become aware of errors. After all the corrections are made, the final copy can be written. The students should be left feeling proud of their fiction work and ready to share it with others.

Strategies for teaching writing to children

1. Teach Writers

What happens in your classroom during «writing time» has everything to do with you. Your beliefs, attitudes and biases will show up in every lesson or activity you teach. If you can show and inspire passion for writing, your students will handle onto that.

2. Writers Must Connect to Real «Stuff»

  • Children want to write about things that are important to them.
  • We should allow our students to feel our approval for their ideas, thoughts, fantasies and issues.
  • The best writing comes from personal experiences.

3. Teaching writing must be a mixture of ideas and techniques

The teacher must constantly model writing: share your ideas, and expose some of your own thoughts to your students.

  • Lots and lots of literature samples and aloud reading.
  • Loads of practice.
  • Independently initiated journaling experiences.
  • Guided Writing.
  • Students working independently, in pairs, small groups and whole class.

4. Writers must feel safe

Your students need to feel safe to explore their ideas and know that you will treat their writing with integrity and respect. If you want them to write, this is one of the key strategies for teaching writing.

  • Kids must feel valued.
  • Provide loads of stimulation (help them see that their experiences provide endless ideas and thoughts that are worth writing about).
  • Provide plenty of time to write, create and explore words.
  • Always create a possibility to share: this shows the students that you feel that what they wrote is important.

5. Inspire your young writers

Just as you want your students to connect their reading to themselves and the world, their writing must be connected to actual experiences.

  • Make something happen to loosen the words inside their heads.
  • Your students need to be overloaded with material they can use before ever putting pencil to paper.
  • Flood their brains with books, artwork, science, field trips: any experience can lend itself to elementary writing activities

6. Remember that writing is a process

  • It is not a process that has to be followed in the exact order all the time.
  • Process takes time (one lesson on how to rework a piece is ineffective).
  • Never expect every piece to be a finished product.
  • Always be supportive of their attempts at each stage (if you aren’t, they may never try again).
  • Don’t forget that we write to share with others. Allow your students to share often, as their peers’ opinion often matters more than yours to them.


1) Writing traditional stories from a different point of view

Read Three Little Pigs with the children. This tells the Three Little Pigs story from the wolf’s point of view. Ask the children to think of a story that they know well, and to write another version from another point of view.

2) Design a special room for the Chocolate Factory

Based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Remind the children of the story and read a description of the Chocolate Room. Now ask the children to make up a new room for the chocolate factory, making sure that they are as expressive as possible.

3) Start your story with a Bang!
Some of my favorite stories start in the midst of an action scene. Begin with something unusual. Get yourself curious. And have fun!

Examples 1

Aunt Belinda kept fat caterpillars in her bathtub and an owl by her bed.
Now she is sick and needs a help from you…

Examples 2

Pamela raced upstairs to hide George’s gift. He was going to flip when he saw his gift. It was one of only three homegrown dinosaur eggs in the whole world. How was Pamela going to keep George from finding it before his birthday party?

Examples 3

Uh oh! Timoth’s dad looked mad! There were chocolate chip cookies and giant spiders everywhere…