Free your mind – an end of term writing exercise

Usually at the end of term I like to play short films for my classes, because I foolishly trust that they’ve worked hard and need a break. Good short films are also excellent related texts, and are much easier to work with than 2+-hour megamovies. Unfortunately, no one seems to share my taste in short films – I’ve left at least two lots of students terrified of babysitters after playing them The iMom ( which I thought was hilarious.

So I’ve had to come up with other things for the end of term.

Older students often feel paralysed by all the things they’re ‘supposed’ to show in assessable creative writing. As a published author (toot, toot) I know that the last thing creative writers actually do is suck their pens and wonder how to get an instance of anacoluthon into a line. Creative writing for assessment is different to creative writing for sale, publication, or for personal pleasure; I wonder if that’s why so much of the top band stuff from the HSC is really overwritten and angsty.

Anyway, there has to be room for a pleasant hour where no one checks your stuff, badgers you about levelling up your vocabulary, or exhorts you to chuck in a flashback.

So the aim of this exercise is to free students to write quickly, impressionistically, and without worrying about how well they’re doing it or whether they’re even making much sense. Like the speed sketches that often start a life-drawing class, these images should only be on the screen for a couple of minutes – four to five at most. (It helps if someone has control of the time – you can nominate someone to be the timekeeper or set your phone for a series of five-minute intervals)

Students should react to the pictures in any way they want, and some examples include:

  • adding speech bubbles to characters (or captions even if there are no characters)
  • describing what’s going on in the picture from one of the characters’ perspectives
  • describing the whole picture ekphrastically
  • writing a list of questions which the picture provokes
  • writing the title and blurb of a book for which this picture is the cover
  • writing a sentence of increasing length and complexity about the piece, from a single noun up to a whole periodic sentence
  • summarising the plot of the film of which this image is the last scene
  • writing the character’s last will and testament
  • contributing a comment in an online forum either from that character or about the place in the image
  • listing ten songs which go with the image
  • turning it into a meme
  • suggesting what the person’s ten last Google searches were
  • Writing the headline, deck, and lede of the news article which accompanies this image

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