I'm starting a brand new course in Creative Nonfiction Writing in September for 10-12th graders. Does anyone have any advice on how to structure the course or reading suggestsions?

Tags: Creative, Nonfiction

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I have a friend who often uses music to reach his high school audience. He uses a song or lyrics to connect to whatever subject he is attempting to convey to his learners. It appears to be a useful tool. I do not personally instruct high school students, but it makes sense to me. Reading non-fiction could be interesting if tied into social issues, and technology such as Twitter and so forth. There are probably others who will have recommendations for course structure.
Thanks so much for replying. I have used music as a tool in my classroom and it usually works extremely well. The course I'm going to teach is a fairly new genre where students write about themselves, using creative writing tools and strategies. It's similar to memoir writing. The non-fiction that we'll be reading is about real people and their real stories.

I want the course to be collaborative and structured in a way where the students will read and comment on each other's work. I think I'm okay setting that up, but I need advice on how to approach CNF - what types of writing should we explore?
Types of writing to explore: I would suggest memoirs, biographies, having students interview people in their lives and writing about them. Editorials and even blogs these days reveal compelling stories. Through blogs and online journals, ordinary people write creative nonfiction all the time even though they may not view it as "creative."
One of the coolest books I have read lately is called "The New Kings of Nonfiction." These are creative nonfiction essays and many of them would appeal to teenagers. There's one about a 15 year old being investigated by the SEC...basically because he outsmarted them and made almost a million $ on the stock market! Some of the writers have written for magazines like Spin. The essays are almost a cross between reporting and features.

It would be a good assignment to investigate (research) something you are interested in (1000 days of Michael Jackson coverage (!)), but also write it as a personal response to the subject.

Also, you might try Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Tons of statistics, but truly fascinating. See if they can gather statistics and weave it into a narrative. (Why my school orders 1000 pounds of fries a week.) His keynote address at NECC 2009 is available online.

Very helpful! Thanks so much. I have read Outliers and I wasn't a big fan, but you're right about the statistics being a nice way in to using facts with creative writing. I could always just section out a chapter or two for my students to use.

It sounds like you are suggesting a journalistic type of CNF. I wasn't sure if I was going to go there since we have a separate journalism class, but it's definitely something to think about.

Thank you for your help. I'm going to look into that book you suggested.

Take care,
I would encourage you to consider using digital storytelling as a mode for teaching creative nonfiction writing. The students in my multimedia class create both fiction and nonfiction pieces. They spend an incredible amount of time conducting research and honing their writing skills. At the end of each year we host a film festival to celebrate their work. The festival has grown exponentially over the years. This past March almost 1,600 people from around the nation crowded into our theatre to see our students' work. It is impossible to hide "C" work on a 30 foot screen. The screen has become a great accountability tool. I have a waiting list of students who want to get into the class, and have the opportunity to tell their stories.

Along the way, our students use a wide array of different tools to tell their stories. We use everything from high end cameras to cell phones. The important thing to me is the story. The technology is just a means to help the students tell one the best way possible.

Sticks and Stones was created by a student in my class this past year. She wrote her script after watching how students treated one another during a typical school day. She wrote close to 10 drafts of the script before finding one that told the the story the way she wanted. The film is being used by several school districts to teach empathy for others.

Later in the year, the same student wrote a fictional comedic love story. Again, she wrote several drafts of the script before unlocking the story that resided inside her mind's eye.

Digital storytelling is an exceptional way to teach writing. Please let me know if you have any questions.

I think radiolab from wnyc, this american life, and the moth are three great radio programs that would help inspire your students.



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