Giving your students a short writing assignment at the beginning of the year is a terrific way to not only access your students’ abilities but also to ease summer-weary teens back into the demands of high school. But before you face a roomful of eyerolls by assigning yet another essay on what everyone did over summer break, here are a few unique writing exercises from Write Screenplays That Sell: The Ackerman Way, by Hal Ackerman.
Although the majority of the exercises found in Ackerman’s book are specific to screenwriting, the most interesting ones are quite general. Not only are creative writing exercises a fun way to mix up your students’ assignments but they will also provide you with a unique insight into your students’ imaginations, their likes, their dislikes, and their writing instincts.
1. Verb Replacement
In this exercise, Ackerman tells his readers to take the last scene they wrote (or for the English classroom, the last paragraph or so), find the first ten verbs, and to replace them with more vivid verbs. Students will realize how many adverbs and adjectives they can delete from their writing once they introduce more vivid verbs.
There are two ways to do this assignment. Students can write a scene about any topic and then be asked to replace the first ten verbs. Or, the students can complete the exercise with a pre-written narrative. The latter option will allow students to experience the editing process from a more removed perspective.
Why this helps: Verb replacement is such a great activity for students because it makes students think critically about their word choice. It forces them to use strong verbs instead of relying on too many adverbs. By utilizing this activity in the classroom, students will increase their vocabulary and also become stronger writers.
2. Write a Rant
For this exercise, have students pick a pet peeve of theirs. Maybe they hate country music or reality TV. Have them write a rant about how much this subject gets on their nerves. As Ackerman puts it, “Write a furious diatribe against it.”
Then, for part 2, “with equal commitment, honesty, depth, passion, and insight” have students write a piece advocating for the very thing they just tore apart.
Why this helps: This activity is particularly helpful when it comes time to writing argumentative essays. Students often struggle with writing their counterarguments, especially if it is about a topic about which they are passionate. By including this exercise in your classroom, students begin to see multiple viewpoints, which is critical in argument writing.
3. Two Version of the Same Situation
This exercise has a lot of room for creativity. You can assign the situation or have students come up with their own. Ackerman suggests having the first line of each situation decided ahead of time. Ackerman’s example is a scenario in which a guy comes home from the race track and his partner is unhappy with him. I like Ackerman’s example because the two first-lines differ by the placement of only a single word:
- Scenario 1 “I won almost three thousand dollars.”
- Scenario 2 “I almost won three thousand dollars.”
Why this works: This writing activity helps students open up and think creatively.
4. Tarantino Exercise
This is my absolute favorite exercise. Named after the acclaimed filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, this exercise requires students to open the Yellow Pages and select two businesses at random. Students write a short scene in which two characters move from Business A to Business B. It sounds simple, but it makes for some very interesting scenarios.
Why it works: So many times in their academic lives, students will need to write about preselected topics. While they have creative freedom with this exercise, students need to stick to some ground rules. By keeping those two businesses in mind, students are actively thinking about plot, setting, conflict, and character development.
Some of these exercises may be combined. For instance, have students complete the Tarantino Exercise and then have them use their writing for the Verb Replacement. Mix it up and have fun. If you’re curious about Ackerman’s book, you can find it here. This is an Amazon affiliate link.