Educational Tools

Educational Tools Introduction

Throughout the years, I have found myself involved in numerous academic and team building environments.  Below are a list of creative writing prompts and icebreakers for small and large groups of all different ages and backgrounds.  Working with a new group of individuals is always a different experience, feel free to modify these exercises and activities to the unique personalities which exist inside of your group.  I will continue to add to this list, and feel free to comment on and add activities you have used in the past.  The goal of this page is for educators, leaders, and facilitators to be able to quickly access useful tools to be creative and inspiring.  

This page was inspired by Delaney Hickey

Creative Writing Prompts 

1) Describe a “first” (first apartment, first kiss, first time driving a car, first lie, first big success, first roller coaster ride, first time in this setting). Include as many details as possible, being sure to include an aspect relating to each of the five senses.

2) Describe a memorable event, positive or negative, and how it felt to you, but do not name the feeling. Instead, tell how it felt in your body (damp hands, metallic taste, tight throat, wobbly knees, etc.).

3) Create a story using words of one-syllables only, beginning with a phrase such as:

“The last time I saw her, she...”

“From the back of the truck...”

“On the night of the full moon...”

“The one thing I know for sure…”

4) Describe a significant place, allowing the details to reveal why the place matters. Describe it from a tree or rooftop or from a hawk’s point of view. Describe it from the height of a dog or a turtle.

5) Write the map to where you live. Start as close or as far from your home as you wish.

6) Describe a significant person (teacher, neighbor, mentor, coach, parent, sibling, sweetheart) with as many physical details as possible, but no clichés! (If you’ve heard the expression before, don’t use it.)

7) Write about your first name—why you were given it, what associations or stories are attached to it, what you think or know it means. Do the same for your last name. Given the chance, what name would you give yourself?

8) Describe a presence in your house (childhood home/current place of residence)—a person, a pet, a piece of furniture, an illness, a secret. Use all five senses. Be as detailed as possible.

9) Recall a photograph from your life and describe it in a way that suggests (but doesn’t specifically name) why it matters. (Remember the creative writer’s adage, “Show, don’t tell.”) Describe what happened either just before or just after the photo was taken.

10) Choose a photograph from a published collection of black-and-whites, of humans in uncertain conditions. Write the story of one of the individuals or one of the groupings.

11) Narrate a story about a person or a family member, a story that’s been passed down or ritualized; a story about yourself. Embellish, if so desired, or contrast the story with what you know to be the “true” account.

12) Describe a routine or holiday ritual, using present tense verbs.

13) Describe a routine or holiday ritual, using the 2nd person “you”:

For example, “You stand in the steaming kitchen with people you haven’t seen in almost a year. You wish your shirt didn’t have that tiny stain on the cuff. You wish your aunt’s laugh wasn’t quite so brittle. Feet stomp on the porch and you hurry to let your tall uncle in, forgetting to keep the dog from escaping outside…”

14) Choose a moral dilemma (for example, you see someone pocket several items at a CVS; you’re in a car at night, with people you don’t know well, and the driver hits a dog that ran into the road; you learn that a friend is having unprotected sex, etc) and explain what you would do.  More importantly, explain why you would do it. What do you know about yourself that accounts for such a decision?

15) Create a short story that is 26 sentences long, each sentence beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. (Add other, arbitrary conditions, if desired, such as one sentence should be one-word long; there should be one question mark, one quotation, etc.) Rigid rules often produce fascinating results—such as with well-written sonnets, which have 14 lines and tight rhyme schemes, each line governed by a specific number of syllables and alternating stressed and unstressed syllables.

16) Create a still-life in the room that implies a dramatic moment (e.g. an overturned chair, several balled-up pieces of paper, an open map, a torn envelope, a set of keys, a silk scarf). Describe what happened either just before or just after that moment.

17) Review a section from the Police Beat or Classified Ads of a local newspaper. Choose one and tell the story behind it.

18) Describe the room of one of the following: a high school student about to drop out; a cashier who has just won the lottery; a faded movie star who still thinks she's famous; a paranoid person, etc (see full list of suggestions in What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers). Be as detailed as possible.

19) Create a how-to manual for something you can do well (clean a fish, change a flat tire, restring a guitar, make sushi, shop for groceries). Describe the process so that someone else could complete the task based on your directions. Use present tense verbs.

20) Come up with a list of nouns and a second list of verbs, all of one syllable each. Describe a scene or situation, using a minimum of ten words from each list.

Creative Writing Prompts: Story Starters

•Think back to a time when you say a stranger say or do something that that caught your attention. Write one page from the stranger's point of view about what they are doing and why.

•Sometimes it's a single image that sparks a story. Have you ever seen something in your mind's eye that captured your imagination? Write about it. Make sure to include a description of all the five senses to really set the tone for your piece. Then try broadening your view of the image. Are there people there? What are they doing? Who are they? See where it takes you.

•A jewel-encrusted box is found in an ancient abandoned temple. Describe the box, what is in the box, and the temple. See where it takes you.

•Take some time out of your day to people watch. This works especially well in a coffee shop, restaurant, or some other public place where interaction is the norm. Jot down observations about the people around you. Describe a loner, a couple, someone how works in this public area. How do they interact? What's their body language say about them at this point in time? How does the employee react to those around him? 

•Write down your first three memories. Are your memories vivid enough to construct a scene from? If not, could you fill in the details? Try, even if there are gaping holes in your memory, keep going.

•Recall a vivid or perhaps reoccurring dream. Write one page, making the dream as believable as possible. Don't mention they are dreams. Allow yourself to let go and create a drifting stream of consciousness account. Leave all your notions of punctuation, proper paragraph structure, and logical jumps behind (which if you're anything like me shouldn't be hard). This gives you practice for writing surreal scenes and images in a story.

•Finish this sentence: "My mother never..."
•Finish this sentence: "My father is..." 
•Finish this sentence: "That's what happens when you follow your heart..."
•Finish this thought: "I didn't go to ____ looking for redemption, but somehow I found it."

•Write about a place where two rivers meet.

•Write about regret.

•Write about fear.

•There is a saying in the martial arts to describe the proper mind frame needed to become a master. Mind like water. This is a state of mind that writers must strive for as well. Write about that feeling. Have you ever experienced it? If so how did it feel? What images does the phrase "Mind like water" bring to...well your mind?

•Write a page about an embarrassing, or painful incident that happened to you. 

•Every family has an anecdote. A short, usually funny story that is told at almost every family gathering. In my family it's the story of the time when I was three and disappeared from my mother's side while she was hanging clothes out on the line. Now, I remember this even though I was only three, but I've heard the story so many times it's hard to tell where my memory ends and the story begins. Is there a story like that in your family? Something that has been told and retold by several members of your family? Can you broaden the idea, make it a real story with details and dialog? You might need to fill in gaps with your imagination, but see what happens.

•Poems, or lyrics to songs are often times great sparks for an idea. Both rely heavily on images conveyed in words that can stir your imagination. They also usually hint at a broader story, or portray an emotional state. Try picking up a book of poems or lyrics and see if anything speaks to you. 

•A stepparent has placed his/her ancient family portrait in the characters house. Describe the portrait.

•Use a family portrait to start a story - how are the characters different than they appear? What do they look like? Do they appear happy when they're not, etc?

Creative Writing Prompts: Character Development

•Your character comes upon a fork in a road and has no idea where to go. How does he feel? Which road does he take and why? What's at the end of the road?

•Your character is being lectured by someone in a position of authority, how do they react?

•What does your character most love to do when he/she has free time? Why? 

•Is there anything that makes your character feel safe? Something comforting? Describe what it is and why it makes them feel safe?

•Describe the following things from your character's point of view. A meadow. A crowded room. An empty room. The room where they spent their childhood. Their current house or living area. A city. A farm.

•Being in touch with the things you are passionate about help you write deeper more meaningful stories. Create a list of five things you love, now pick one thing and have a character like it as well. Write one page on this loved object from your character's point of view, make sure to change it up a little so that the character's view of the object is slightly different from yours.

•Now, write a list of ten things you hate. Have one of your characters like that thing you hate. This will expand your ability to see things from someone else's point of view. Write one page.

•Three characters enter a room; an old embittered woman, angry at life and full of regret, a young idealistic boy, and a mother of a newborn baby. How does each character describe the room?

•Introduce the antagonist in a story, allow his physical description and body language to convey his/her sinister or selfish nature.

•Describe your main characters hands in one paragraph, try to convey as much about his/her personality in the description. 

•Memories are a major force in our lives; we are our memories. Have your character make a journal entry about a particularly vivid memory she/he has. Make it as real and vivid for the reader.

Creative Writing Prompts: Setting

•In a paragraph describe the setting for a haunted house.

• a paragraph describe the setting for a love scene.

•In a paragraph describe the setting for a fight, either verbal or physical. 

•Describe the rooms of the following three characters; an artist, a spoiled child, a military leader. 

•Here is a classic creative writing prompt that can be found in almost every writing workshop. Describe a building from the point of view of a man who just lost his only son in war. Do it without mentioning death, war, his son, or himself. Describe that same building at the same time of day and weather conditions, from the point of view of a man who has just discovered he's going to be a father. The same rules apply however, don't mention birth, or babies. (If you feel more comfortable change it to a woman's point of view.) The point of this is to challenge yourself to see through your characters eyes. What is ugly and brutal to one person, in one frame of mind, may not be to another. 

Creative Writing Prompts: Point of View

•Mark is a thief, but after his third burglary, he is caught by police. Write his story in first person (from Mark's point of view), omniscient point of view (the all knowing, all seeing "God-like" voice), from limited third person, switching between Mark and one of the police officers who arrest him.

Creative Writing Prompts: Plot Development

•Can you plot out a murder mystery? Give it a try. Write out a rough plot for a mystery, making sure to include false leads, and the real clues, as well as suspects for the crime. (If you've never read or seen a mystery, try another genre your familiar with, romance, sci-fi, horror). Are there any plot points common to this genre? For example, usually in mystery the antagonist's (bad guy) identity is hidden. In romance, the basic plot goes something like this; independent girl meets attractive man, she either dislikes him right off the bat or they fall madly in love, eventually they get together, something happens that makes it look as if they won't live happily ever after, the problem is solved, and they ride off into the sunset together. While I've watered this down a lot, you see the point. What plot elements are common in the genre you write in? How can you work with that, or change it up a little while still giving the reader what they expect?

•In order to fully understand plot, it's a good idea to study the books of writers you admire. Try plotting out two novels you've recently read and enjoyed. Make sure to include all the major plot points, and twists. Now do it with two short stories. This allows you to see how much tighter a short story is in comparison with a novel. Now that you've plotted it out, are there any weak spots? Places you might have gone a different direction? What works for the plot? (Note: if this seems like a lot of work, try plotting out a couple of movies and then sitcoms, or hour long drama series. Notice the difference between TV and movies; it's similar to the difference between novels and short stories.) 

•In the above example you made a plot outline for a longer piece of work, now try summarizing the entire plot of the novel or movie you choose, and condense it into one sentence. Write that sentence. Can you do the same with a story of yours? If not why? It's helpful as a writer to be able to condense a plot like this. It helps us find our themes to a story, our main ideas. Something that can get lost in a longer, more complex piece of work.

Small and Large Group Icebreakers

Toilet Paper Icebreaker 
For this icebreaker game, all you will need is a full roll of toilet paper.  The leader of the meeting takes the roll of toilet paper and pulls off several squares before handing the toilet paper to another person and asking them to do the same.  Once everyone in the room has taken some toilet paper, everyone counts the number of squares that they have and then tells everyone in the room that many things about themselves. For example, if someone has three squares, they share three things about themselves.  The key to this activity is for the group members not to know if taking too much toliet paper is a good thing, or a bad thing.

Shoe Talk
Often at the start of a youth camp or youth group year there are many people who don't know each other. Even the leaders often don't know many of kids. What's needed is a good ice breaker game which doesn't put too much pressure on everyone.

I played this group game at a camp recently and it was a fantastic icebreaker idea.

1. Split the group into 2 halves.

2. Get each half of the group to line up against opposite sides of the room or hall.

3. Get each person to take of 1 shoe and make a pile of their team's shoes.

4. Get each person from one team to come a select a random shoe from the other team's pile and then find the person that shoe belongs to.

5. Once they have found their match, have a question ready so each person in the pair can ask each other a get to know each other a little bit better. Make sure you don't leave this time too long, but don't make it too short either, give both people a chance to answer.

Scavenger Hunt Activity
·         Have fun and build relationships
·         Explore different neighborhoods and locate important landmarks and features
·         Build awareness of the different elements of a neighborhood and the effect each has on the community
·         Conduct an icebreaker which involves individuals getting to know each other’s names
·         Discuss group norms and behavioral expectations
·         Choose neighborhoods depending on staff and time, and plan your route on the bus/subway
Decide as a group what some of elements of the neighborhoods you might focus on such as:
·         Architecture
·         Food
·         Art
·         Ethnicity
·         History
·         Local Stores/Businesses
·         Other
·         Socioeconomic status
Make a plan to collect evidence and assign roles and decide who will be responsible for:
·         Navigating
·         Record keeping
·         Photos/videos as evidence
·         Other (interviewing shop owners /residents/etc.
Leave an attendance list with school staff of everyone who is attending
After the scavenger hunt, feel free to create a slideshow which includes videos and pictures captured from the day, reflections, and any additional statements. 
Examples of Boson Neighborhoods to try this out in are:
·         Dudley Square
·         Copley Square
·         Kendall Square
·         Harvard Square
·         Aquarium/Seaport Area
·         Government Center
Also, create a #hashtag on your photos so other group members can see them
throughout the day.
Example: #somervillehighhuntingtrip2014

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