Writerly Play: A Window into Creative Thinking

Consider these two writing classrooms.

 

ONE: A teacher says, “Class, today, we will revise our stories. Take a look at what you’ve written and make sure you have juicy words, dialogue, and active verbs.” Then, the teacher shows an example of a well-written paragraph that has all three on the board. The students nod, head back to their desks and begin to work. After about fifteen minutes, some of the students have already turned in their stories, sure they have nailed all three key items with their work.

 TWO: A teacher says, “Class, today, we will be detectives. You will look through your writing and find where you have used juicy words, dialogue and active verbs. We’ll underline our juicy words in red colored pencil, our dialogue in blue, and our active verbs in green.” Then, the teacher shows the students how to find these three items in a paragraph on the board. The students head back to their desks and start underlining. After a few minutes, the teacher gathers them in a circle. They examine their pages and notice which color shows up most frequently. Which shows up less? Then, the teacher challenges the students to add words, phrases and sentences so that their papers are a beautiful blend of all three colors. When the students turn in their work, they know whether they have actually nailed the key items in their work. Why? They can see clear evidence of those items on the page.

At Society of Young Inklings, our Writerly Play approach lines up with this second scenario. In our classes and mentorships, we:

  • Make thinking visible
  • Help writers master complex concepts using practical strategies
  • Use challenges and games to frame the learning and creative thinking process

One of the most important qualities of a successful writer is confidence.

Confidence adds oomph to our word choice and energy to our work sessions. When we are confident, we don’t second guess ourselves or stare at the blank page, afraid that whatever we write will be marked wrong. Confidence also fuels determination. When we know we can master a difficult task, we’re much more willing to lean into the challenging parts. If we feel we have no hope of success, we’re unlikely to try at all.

The Writerly Play approach is designed to build writing confidence.

Through games, activities and strategies, we provide a window into the creative process. When students see how they approach creative thinking, and understand the tools that creativity requires, they see their strengths and the areas in which they can grow. In the same way that the colored pencils help writers see what they’ve included in their writing and what they have not, Writerly Play helps creative thinkers sort thinking skills into categories. a well-designed classroom, Writerly Play offers a series of thinking spaces, each with its own purpose.

In a classroom, you might have a reading corner and a science corner. Each space contains tools and resources perfect to the task at hand.

Writerly Play establishes mental spaces that writers can take with them wherever they go.

  • In the Attic, writers collect ideas, knowledge and experiences from their own life to use in their work.
  • In the Studio, writers play with those ideas and push beyond initial thoughts into new territory.
  • In the Workshop, writers break down complex writing tasks into pieces which can each be tackled with focused attention.
  • In the Library, writers examine works by others, and identify successful strategies to apply to their own work.
  • In the Cafe, writers collaborate with their peers to give and receive feedback.

Once writers establish these five spaces in their minds, they have corners to house all the strategies and tools they collect in every part of their creative lives. Rather than seeing learning as a disconnected series of subjects, they see connections between what they discovered in the Natural History museum over the weekend and the painting they create the next week in art class. They are empowered to see their lives not as a series of to-do items handed to them arbitrarily, but as an adventure to create, experience by experience, thought by thought.

Writing projects are the vehicle, not the destination.

Too often, in writing classrooms we focus on the assignment of the day and neglect the true skills that are being developed.

We aren’t asking the students to write an essay on bees simply to assess their knowledge of bees. We want to see their thinking on the page. We know successful execution of this writing project can serve as a foundation for other writing throughout their lives.

It’s true, successful execution of writing projects DOES serve as a foundation. Unfortunately, if we don’t make the thinking visible for our students, they may not see the bigger picture. They may miss the opportunity to gain powerful confidence from their success. Why? Because we focus on bees rather than on the process.

Making thinking visible isn’t easy.

However, at Society of Young Inklings, we know it’s worth the effort. That’s why we are constantly experimenting, inventing games, and exploring possibilities. How else can we look at this? What other perspective will help us see what’s happening more clearly? Our youth writers help us make discoveries every day. The Writerly Play framework gives us a mutual playground on which to play.


We’d love to learn from you, too! What images and ideas do the Writerly Play rooms create for you? What questions arise? Feel free to comment below! We look forward to a rich discussion.

If you’d like to learn more about the Writerly Play framework, I’ve written a more comprehensive series on the topic here.


This post is brought to you by Naomi Kinsman.

Naomi is the Executive Director and Founder of Society of Young Inklings. Author of the From Sadie’s Sketchbook Series and Spilled Ink, the award winning Inklings Writers’ Notebook, Naomi is passionate about sharing her love of writing and creativity with young writers. Naomi’s background in improvisational and story theatre as well as her arts education work in Chicago, Portland and the Bay Area has convinced her that creative play is a doorway through which learners can find inspiration and transformative learning experiences. 

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