Blog Post

15. Using collaborative annotation to develop creative writing prompts

I am currently teaching a beginning short story writing course.  After having various students express concerns about how to come up with their own ideas for creative writing projects--especially after the end of the term when I'm not longer assigning them work--I decided to do a computer lab session that included collaborative annotation leading to writing prompt generation.  We do the process as a group, but it could be replicated by an individual student.  Working as a group helps take the pressure off idea generation in a short timeframe as well as revealing some of the benefits of putting multiple heads together (students tend to think that creative writing is a very solitary process). 

NOTE:  This version of beginning short story writing is very focused on gathering writing tools from literature--and the steps described below reflect that priority.  I remind students frequently that this is merely one way of going about the challening process of producing creative work. 

For the 80 minute class, the group of 20 students was split into three groups, each focusing on a different text that we'd already read and discussed.  

We worked with these texts, but you could use almost anything for this lesson:

Virginia Woolf's "Blue & Green"
Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill"
James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (selections)

Here are the instructions I gave students (we did each step as a class, so I didn't actually hand out the instructions below - many were given verbally):

1.    Share Google Document versions of the texts (Woolf, Mansfield, and Joyce).  

2.    Find your assigned text/group.

3.    Individually, from your previous reading analysis assignment or what you remember from class discussion, add 3-4 annotations (comments) to your group’s Google version of the text. If possible, try to annotate techniques that interest you as a writer.

4.    Individually, read through the annotations generated by students assigned the same story as you commented on.

5.    In small groups of students assigned to the same text (2-3 students per group), chose one technique/structure/etc. from the annotations that you'd like to practice as writers.

6.    As a group, create a writing prompt using the template posted in Canvas (the class website).  NOTE:  My template document was based on my own previous assignments (familar to students), and required them to fill in their own instructions and a brief grading rubric.

This prompt should:

·      Emphasize the writing technique you chose in the annotation activity.

·      Include at least one suggestion for content generation (ex: “go to a café and observe how people drink coffee, then put a description of coffee drinking somewhere in your piece” or “read the comments section of a NY Times article and incorporate two sentences from commenters into the dialog you are writing”).

·      Be reasonable to complete in 1-2 double-spaced pages.

7.    One group member should fill in the template and post the prompt on the Canvas online discussion board when it is finished.

8.    As a class, read the assignment prompts aloud and ask questions of the groups that developed them as needed.  

9.    Individually, read through the prompts posted on the discussion board.

·      Choose one of the prompts for to complete for Writing Exercise 3.

·      Get started! (if time)

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