Creative Writing

Course Information

Creative Writing

Karla Shotts

Course Goals:

•    Gain skills in expressing ourselves with originality, creativity, and clarity in stories, poetry, and personal essays.
•    Identify the successful elements of an effective piece of creative writing.
•    Experience being in a writing community and learn to give and receive useful feedback.
•    Experience writing as a tool for intellectual exploration, self-discovery, and creative expression. (I hope that the rewards of this process will encourage you to be writers-for-life, whether or not you choose creative writing as a career.)


•       Keep a writer’s journals for in-class exercises and homework assignments.
***Homework assignments will be turned in via your eBackpack account
•       Share with partners and small groups.
•       Read models from published and student work.
•       Revise.
•       Complete final, polished poems, stories, and essays.

Student Expectations:

•       Come to class, with your journals, every day, on time.
•       Write every day.
•       Be willing to experiment and take risks as a writer.
•       Share your writing and ideas with small and large groups.  Support others who are sharing their work.

Teacher Commitments:

•       Keep it fun.
•       Push each student to a higher level of creativity and skill.
•       Provide honest, supportive, and useful feedback on writing and be available for conferences.
•       Be knowledgeable and well-prepared.


We will read many examples of effective, interesting, and thought-provoking poems, memoirs, short stories, essays, and writing about writing.  


We will write in our journals every day.  They will be our workbooks, our play space, our place to whine, laugh, discover, practice, make mistakes, experiment.

For your journals, you may use:
1.  A spiral notebook
2.  A fancy-dancy journal
3.  A small, three-ringed binder (especially if you want to type some entries).

•       Every day, when we arrive in class, we will warm up with a freewrite–called a BOP (Beginning Of the Period freewrite)–the topic will be on the board each day.
•      Generally, we will do in-class writing exercises, also in our journals.
•       Usually, you will have a journal assignment for homework, which should take no longer than twenty minutes (at lease a page).

Finished Pieces:

Every several weeks, you will turn in polished, final pieces, many culled from your journals. You will have the opportunity to write:
•      Memoir or Personal Essay
•      First Person Narrative
•      Dialogue
•      Poetry
•      An experimental final project

Grading:  (See Grading Rubric)

Each polished piece of writing will be evaluated on the 8 point scale.  Journals can earn a maximum of 4 points.  You will also be evaluated on effort, contribution to class, and self-reflection:  Do you show up to class every day?  Do you come on time?  Do you give your writing time and attention?  Do you begin your drafts early enough that you have time to receive meaningful feedback from others on your work?  Do you rewrite your papers?  Do you participate in class?  How well do you contribute to our classroom community?  Are you willing to meet new people, include others in your group, give meaningful feedback, and support others in taking risks?  Can you explain your writing process, acknowledge your strengths, and identify your areas of growth?  (See separate grading rubric.)

Class Policies:

Tardies:  Being on time to creative writing is important.  We will generally open the class with a reading and a freewrite–and late people disrupt our concentration and creative process.  If you are late, sign in at the door and go to your desk as quietly as possible. Chronically late students will be assigned Saturday School.

Cell Phones:  Texting during class makes your teacher weep.  First, she feels bad about herself because you are sending her the message that she is boring.  But even if she is boring, from boredom is born creativity!  If we are always filling our minds—with texts, phone calls, videos, music–we will never have the opportunity to experience the creativity that bursts after a period of dullness. For this reason also no listening to music unless the teacher specifically invites you.

Food:  Oh no you didn’t!! 

Late work:  No late work. (See late work policy to be signed by you and your family.)

Rewrite policy:  If you would like to rewrite your papers, you may turn them in (or make an appointment for a conference) within a week of the day it was returned.  
Requesting a meeting: Send me an email with all the times you can meet. Include lunches, after school, and prep times. Occasionally your email with end up in my junk mail, so if you don’t hear back from me within a day, talk to me.

Grading Rubric

Course Rubric






(no late papers)*

A combination of 7s and 8s on papers. Papers average is 5. Paper average is 2. Your course grade goes down one letter grade for every paper you don’t turn in. *

(no late journals)**

4s on journals. Journal average is 2.5 Journal average is 1. Journal average 0  to .5
Rough Drafts Complete rough drafts with strong effort, ready for peer feedback day. Fairly finished rough drafts, ready for peer feedback day. Barely finished rough drafts, ready for peer feedback day. No rough drafts or turned in late.
Revisions Complete a rewrite for 2 or more papers. Complete a rewrite for 1 paper. Higher than Cs on paper grades: does no rewrites. Poor paper grades:  no rewrites.
Feedback Regularly gives honest, insightful, thorough, sensitive feedback to others in pair share, on rough draft day, on final draft day, and when students read their work to the class. Often gives insightful, thorough, sensitive feedback in pair share, on rough draft day, on final draft day, and when students read their work to the class. Sometimes gives feedback.  Feedback is not thorough. Rarely gives feedback.
Sharing Writing Regularly shares writing with partners, small groups, and the whole class. Often shares writing with partners, small groups, and the whole class. Sometimes shares writing with partners, small groups, and the whole class. Rarely shares writing with partners, small groups, and the whole class.
Sharing Ideas Regularly offers ideas to partner, small groups, and class discussion. Often offers ideas to partner, small groups, and class discussion. Sometimes offers ideas to partner, small groups, and class discussion. Rarely offers ideas to partner, small groups, and class discussion.
Supporting Others Regularly listens to others and encourages them to share; regularly creates positive and safe atmosphere. Often listens to others and encourages them to share; often creates positive and safe atmosphere. Sometimes listens to others or encourages them to share.  Sometimes creates a positive and safe atmosphere. Rarely listens to others or encourages them to share.   Rarely contributes to a positive and safe atmosphere.
Attendance Only 1 or 2 absences, all excused. 2 or 3 absences, all excused. More than 3 – 4 absences. More than 4 absences.  Any unexcused absences.
Tardies Tardy 1-2 times Tardy 3-4 times Tardy 5-6 times Tardy 7-8 times
Publication Submit a piece for possible publication

*You may not turn in late papers for a grade, but you may turn them in for credit and keep your overall grade from falling a letter.  You might not receive written comments. 

 **If you have an excused absence the day journals are due, you will earn a grade, but might not get written comments.

The majority of your grade is determined by your paper and journal grades.  Your grade can move up or down a half a letter grade (or a little more), based on the other elements on the rubric.

Paper Rubric

All papers should be typed, doubled spaced, and include your name and a title.  After five grammar errors (marked with checkmarks in the margin of your paper), your grade will go down no more than one number.  For the skills we have been focusing on for each unit, look at the checklist on your assignment sheet and self-evaluation.

8/A        You have chosen a topic that interests, challenges, or amuses you emotionally and/or intellectually.  Your title captures your reader’s attention and informs the piece.   Your writing has a focus; your structure serves the purpose of the piece; your pacing is effective.  Your writing voice is fresh, distinct, and consistent.  Where they enrich the story, you have used specific detail, sense detail, scenes, and active verbs.  Your opening engages; your ending satisfies.  You have used paragraph breaks intelligently.  Something happens in your piece:  either the character or reader is somehow different at the end of the piece than at the beginning.  The writing flows, and the reader is not distracted from your content by grammatical issues.



5/B        You have done all of the above with a few areas that need strengthening (i.e. developing scenes, deciding which sections of the story to slow down and expand and which to summarize, developing characters with detail and dialogue, weaving in the setting, etc.)



2/C        The writing feels rushed or unfinished.  May summarize plot instead of bringing the story alive with scenes, sense and specific details, and dialogue.  The characters or plots may be stereotypes (from movies, TV shows, video games.)  The piece may lack a clear focus.  Lack of paragraphing/grammatical issues detract from content.


0          No credit.  Not finished, rushed, sloppy, incomplete.

Unit One: Tool Box (January 2018)

Gain tools for our writer’s tool-box!
 We will experience writing as play and begin to build our foundational skills.  We will brainstorm, free write, list free write, focus free write, and cluster.  We will play with strategies for accessing memories and practice using sense and specific details.  We will begin to write in scenes and practice shaping a story.  We will become comfortable sharing work with one another and practice giving meaningful feedback.
“Let yourself go.  Pull out from the depths those thoughts you do not understand and spread them in the sunlight and know the meaning of them.”  E.M. Forester
• Write an email to your future self and received it on the date you choose:  Future Me.
• Watch a focused free write-like video on forks, One Word: Contemporary Writers on the Words They Love or Loathe.
• Watch slam poet Sarah Kaye perform her piece on hands.
• Read a model of a Random Autobiography.
• Find a name for a character with a Random Name Generator.
• Find an international or historical name for a character with Behind the Name random name generator. (Thanks, Margaret!)
• Find names for pets with this Pet Name Database and Generator.
• Find out how many people in the United States have your name at
• Read a name poem by Billy Collins:  Cemetery Ride.
• Read a name prose poem by Sandra Cisneros:  My Name.
• Read the first few pages of a book in which the characters are defined by their nicknames:  We Were the Mulvaneys.
• Challenge yourself to write a story with given elements with the random story generator. (Thanks, Margaret!)
• Let The Story Starter randomly generate the first line of your story.
• Try this Random Plot Generator. (Thanks, Yuki!)
Relive childhood memories with these videos:
• Read an article on how sense and specific detail effect the brain:  Why Description Matters to the Brain.
 **this writing is tough! With descriptive words, turn this sentence into something positive: “Sticks and stones may break my bones”. Use each work in a “positive” way. Here is an example: “I love the way sticks break under my hiking boots during a hike in the woods”.
• Watch the TED talk: The Power of Introverts.
If you are an introvert, tell us about how you interact with the world around you when you want to be alone.
If you are an extrovert, tell us how you deal with those who are quiet and introspective.
• Find out which famous author your work most resembles:  I Write Like.

• After you are done with your creative writing piece, paste it in Wordle or in Wordclouds and upload it to eBackpack!

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  Assignment – Toolbox Paper
Selection File type icon File name Description Size Revision Time User
  Paper Format.docx
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  Rewrite Instructions.docx
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  Tool Box Paper Assignment Sheet Spring 2012-13.doc
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  Bonus Materials
Selection File name Description Size Revision Time User
  Comedy Powerpoint.ppt
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  Courage and Fear.pptx
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 Unit Two: Poetry (February 2018)

(Spring-Semester only)At the end of this unit, we will participate in a “Poetry Out Loud” competition. Our school-wide competition is (TBD). State finals are TBD. National finals are TBD at George Washington University. We have got a lot more info to share… STAY TUNED!

UNIT GOALS:  In this brief introduction to poetry, we will read many marvelous models which we will use as prompts.  We will also practice playing with sound, writing with structure, using images and metaphor, and incorporating the creative writing skills we have already mastered such as using sense and specific details, incorporating scenes, experimenting with fictional voices, and weaving in dialogue.
A rhyme-finding site:  Write Rhymes
An anagram-finding site:  Wordsmith
Read great poems for teenagers at
Check out books of poetry from the Gunn library.
Read a new contemporary poem every day at Poetry Daily.
Read, hear, or watch video of your favorite poets at Poetry Foundation.
Read or hear audio recordings of thousands of well-known poets, and sign up to receive a daily poem at
For those particularly passionate about poetry, read the poetry blogs at the Poetry Society of America.
Watch Animated poems by Billy Collins.
Watch and post your own poetry videos:  Moving Poems.
Visit the YouTube channel Button Poetry


Write a poem in the form of a text message:  Cellpoems.
Read examples of found poems: The Found Poetry Review.
Submit poems that are no more than 20 words and 4 lines at Four and Twenty.
Listen to poet Kim Addonizio read her poem “What Do Women Want?”
Listen to poet Gwendolyn Brooks read “We Real Cool.”
Listen to Sharon Olds Read “I Go Back to May 1937.”
Read Billy Collin’s partially found poem “Victoria’s Secret.”
Read a poem with innovative forms:  e.e. cumming’s “In Just Spring” and “the little horse is newlY.”
Join a Bay Area haiku society:  Yuki Teikie Haiku Society
  Examples of Poems
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Unit Three: Memoir and Personal Essay (March 2018)

We will practice strategies for accessing memories and generating ideas, explore a variety of story structures, practice the use of specific and sense detail, and further develop our abilities to write in scenes.  We will introduce the concept of voice.  We will refine our skills in giving and receiving meaningful feedback.
• To inspire your “Here I . . . ” poem to go with your place map, read this poem by Galway Kinnell, The Road Between Here and There.
• From This American Life, a moving story about a Chinese-American boy, who doesn’t speak Chinese, finally connecting with his Chinese father, who doesn’t speak English, from Show 567.
• Listen to an interview with famous memoir writing Mary Carr, about her writing and new book The Art of Memoir.
• On The Moth, listen to a child soldier from Sierra Leone tell stories about trying to adjust to his new life as a teenager in New York City – powerful story!
Fishcheeks by Amy Tan
• A Litany by Gregory Orr
Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff.  Or listen to the author read it:  click on Act 6.
• Read fabulous short non-fiction at Brevity.
• Read samples of memoirs or submit your own to Hippocampus.
• Listen to true stories, shared, live at the Moth.
• Lists.  Read an example of a memoir in the form of a list: The Things I’ve Lost.
• Six Words.  Write and submit six-word memoirs:  Six Words.
• Digital Essays.  For examples of digital essays, visit the Center for Digital Storytelling and watch some student videos.  And here is a model of a digital essay by your teacher.
• Inspiration and ideas for writing your memoir by writer Abigail Thomas:  How to Write Your Memoir.
• Advice for memoir writing by writer and professor Susan Shapiro:  Make me Worry You are Not Okay.
• Watch the documentary Stories We Tell (streaming on Netflix), an example of innovative structure with reflection on the difficulty of finding truth, as the filmmaker tries to solve mysteries about her mother.
PUBLICATION (See more under our “Publications Opportunities” link):
• Publish your memoir and essays in the new high school non-fiction literary magazine sponsored by the well-known journal Riverteeth:  Tributary.
• Submit to Real Simple magazine’s “Your Words” column.
• Submit to Real Simple magazine’s yearly “Life Lessons” contest.

• Write an essay for the radio show This I Believe.

• Submit a short non-fiction piece about an experience on an airplane:  Airplane Reading.
• Write and submit six-word memoirs:  Six Words.
• Submit memoir to Hippocampus.
• Submit your non-fiction, on themes, to The Sun’s Reader’s Write column.
  Bonus Materials
Comedy Powerpoint.ppt
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Comedian Nathan Habib shares his comedy writing tips 89k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
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Hints for writing effectively in a child’s voice 123k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
Memoir Prompts.docx
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More ideas for memoirs than you could ever use! 94k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
Write from a Photo.docx
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Use photos to inspire memory writing. 128k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
  Examples of Student Memoirs
Courage by Mel Myer.docx
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An example of “power shifting” 99k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
My Brother, My Twin by Ayala Berger.doc
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A poetic memoir written in the form of a letter. 38k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
Roses by Emily Levine.docx
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A beautiful story about childhood love and loss. Published in an anthology! 12k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
The Big Dipper by Eve Kelly.doc
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An example of a story about a relationship written in a series of scenes. 56k v. 2 Tarn Wilson

Unit Four: First Person Narrative (April 2018)

We will focus on developing first-person fictional narrative.  We will play with strategies for generating original and memorable characters, explore how to find our characters’ stories, learn how to focus our story by creating an imaginary audience, and practice writing in a variety of voices.  We will apply our new skill sets to giving even more meaningful feedback to one another.
FIND AN IDEA: (Also visit our Inspiring Resources link!)

• Read the literary magazine The Good Ear for examples of monologues.

• Write from point of view of a character from one of these photographs.
• Write a story inspired by an urban legend.
• Write a story in which a character has an unusual fear.  See the Phobia List.
• Model of a first-person narrative from the point of view of an inanimate object:  Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
• Trailer for a movie with an inanimate object as a main character:  Rubber
• Silent video from the point of view of a falling meteor: Fallen  (Thanks, Daniel!)
• Read the first couple of pages of  Roomby Emma Donoghue, narrated by a five-year-old boy.
• Read the first couple of pages of  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon, narrated by an autistic boy.
• Read the first chapter of Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo, narrated by a ten-year old girl.
• Watch a video or read an excerpt from the first chapter of The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.
• Read the short story “After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drown,” by Dave Eggers.
• Read the first pages of A Dog’s Life, by Peter Mayle.
• Read I Love Girl, by Simon Rich, a love story in the voice of a teenage caveman.
• An employee in an office gives an orientation to a new employee in the short story “Orientation.”  Listen to it on the radio show This American Life (Act 4).
• A bitter woman writes her Christmas letter in “Season Greetings to our Friends and Family!!” by David Sedaris.  Listen to This American Life.  (Warning–offensive point of view!)
• An obsessed man writes a series of letters to his ex-girlfriend in the humor piece, “Dear Amanda,” by Steve Martin.  Or listen to Steve Martin read it.
• Read The Custodian by Brian Hinshaw (posted below under Bonus materials).
• Visit our Publications Opportunity link.
  Bonus Materials
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A nonfiction letter from the point of view of a deluded narrator. 147k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
Generating Story Ideas.docx
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A series of scenarios to help you generate plot for your stories! 120k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
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Questions to help you know your character more deeply. 125k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
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Hints for sounding like a real child. 123k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
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The Custodian.doc
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An example of first person narrative which is short, but still has a sense of movement. 21k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
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Practice writing in different voices. 84k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
  Examples of Student First-Person Narratives
Dear Edna by Eve Kelly.pdf
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A nerdy boy professes his love for the popular girl. 45k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
Green Hair, Brown Eyes by Laura Tung.doc
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A surprising ghost story. 43k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
I Want Grandpa to Read to Me by Michael Underwood.doc
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Michael writes from the point of view of his developmentally disabled brother. 25k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
Smoking Skywalker by Jena Levy.doc
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An intelligent, but emotionally stunted, teenage boy talks to his therapist. 38k v. 2 Tarn Wilson

Unit Five: Dialogue (May 2018)

We will clarify what should be included in a scene with dialogue and what should be summarized.  We will learn to make our dialogue more interesting and effective by giving character’s distinct voices, providing them conflicting or hidden agendas, trapping them emotionally or physically, and using subtext.   We will continue to work on effective pacing of stories and refine how we begin and end our stories.
For hints on using speaker tags effectively, visit this great blog Eight Tips for Using Dialogue Tags.
• Read an example of a dialogue between two unlikely characters:  Julie and the Warlord.
• Watch funny examples of dialogue between terrible therapist and her clients:  WebTherapy.
• Watch funny interaction between teacher and student: “I’m Worried About My Grade.”
• Read dialogue between MacBeth and MacDuff, by a former Gunn student.
• For a great model of using mannerisms and gestures to reveal feelings, read Tobias Wolff’s “Say Yes.”
• For a beautiful example of power shifting, read Langston Hugh’s Thank You Ma’am. (Also, see Mel’s story below.)
• Visit our Publications Opportunity link.
  Bonus Material
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  Examples of Student Dialogues
Courage by Mel Meyer.docx
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In this memoir, Mel faces down a childhood bully. Look for power shifting! 99k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
One Child by Sarah Huang.doc
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In China, a family struggles as they reunite with a child they gave up because of China’s one-child rule. 35k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
Prim & Ave’s Weight Loss Program by Laura Tung.doc
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The Argument by Rachel Bent.doc
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A couple’s relationship falls apart in the aftermath of an accidental death. 43k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
The Bear and the Bluebird Daniel Wolfert.docx
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In this charming dialogue, a bear and a bluebird argue over whose life is better. 19k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
The New Cinderella by Amy Creasey.doc
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Hear the real story from Cinderella’s stepsister! 39k v. 2 Tarn Wilson
The Waiting Room by Elijah Guo.doc
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In this one act, two conflicting personalities clash in a doctor’s office waiting room. Watch for power shifting! 40k v. 2 Tarn Wilson

Final Project and Experimental Writing (May 2018 )(final week)

As part of your final, show us what you got! Choose one piece from your journal to expand on and polish. This is part 1 of your final. For part 2, yep, you gotta keep reading!

In the optional final project, students have the opportunity to do a significant revision of a previous piece or create new work of their choice.  Students are encouraged to experiment with innovative, genre-bending forms.
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