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Creative Writing as a Teaching Technique

When my wife was the superintendent of the Junior Department in our Sunday School, she asked her Juniors in the 15-minute worshiptime to write a paragraph describing their understanding of what God is like. Here are a few samples of the results:

“Well, I think He is a bearded man with long hair, brown, loving eyes, and raggedy clothing.”

“God is a great man. God is joy and happiness. He is tall and kind. He is a great man-shaped light sitting on a throne in a cloud.”

“God is a nice person who has feelings. I think God looks like the pictures they show. God probably looks somewhat like we do because it says in Genesis that we were created in His image. He must be very beautiful with soft curly hair. He’s real happy up there. He laughs too because it says so in the Bible ‘He that sitteth in heaven laughs’ (or something like that).”

Think of the value of these expressions to both the students and the teachers in that Junior Department! The students are forced to verbalize their ideas about God and thereby get some idea of how developed or undeveloped those concepts might be. The teachers gain insight into the theological needs of their students and what specific misconceptions about God need to be broken down before the inculcation of biblical theology can gain a solid foothold.

Of course, creative writing as a teaching technique covers a great many more activities than just a descriptive paragraph in the Junior Department. It does not have to take place with the pencil in the student’s hand. In the earliest years of the Preschool Departments, children can talk about their experiences and reactions to pictures as a teacher writes down some of the responses and later reads them back to the children.

Older children may work on diaries, record books, stories, rhymes and poems, descriptions of pictures, and writing plays.

Teens and adults can participate in creative writing by developing poems and stories which illustrate certain biblical truths being studied in class.

Values of Creative Writing

Perhaps the most significant value of creative writing is the exploration into self which it provides. When we ‘articulate our feelings or ideas about a certain matter on paper, we tend to discipline our minds into orderly thinking about that subject. That is why college teachers so frequently assign term papers and other writing projects which call for the discipline of organized thought process.

Actually we have already pinpointed three values: insight into self, discipline, and organization of one’s thinking.

Wright Pillow suggests that transposing a Bible story or finishing an open-ended life situation story both help the writer to find in the experience of his subject some solutions which are helpful to him. “The usefulness of this kind of experience becomes even more apparent when we evaluate it in terms of ‘learning at the intersection.’ Visualize two streets coming together at an intersection. One of the streets we can label ‘The Gospel,’ that which is true and unchanging. The other we can label ‘Life Situation,’ that which must change constantly. Where these two intersect, Christian education can take place. When the Gospel is allowed to clarify and redirect the life situation of an individual, a new person is born” (Creative Procedures for Adult Groups, Harold D. Minor, ed., Abingdon, Nashville, Tenn.).

Creative writing is sometimes used as an effective response to some other kind of methodology such as a sermon, lecture, or discussion. Phyllis W. Sapp includes the following example of a poem written by a 13-year-old boy after listening to a sermon on the transfiguration of Christ (“What is Death?” Creative Teaching in the Church School, Broadman, Nashville, Tenn.).

What is Death?

Death. What is Death?
To an atheist but an end,
A trip out of life and to the end.
People cry over this one,
For they think he’s gone forever.

Death. What is Death?
To a non-Christian, a terror.
A trip out of life to hell,
And he knows it,
A desperate call for a minister,
And then slipping off in a terror.

Death. What is Death?
To Christians but a joyful end,
From an earthly trek to see their Lord.
They slip away in happiness,
For they see their Lord coming for them.
There is no sadness in their home.
For by and by they shall meet again.

Problems in Creative Writing

Some teachers do not use creative writing simply because they think it is a waste of time. After all, is not our job as Christian teachers to inculcate the concrete propositions of objective truth? How can we justify allowing students to pour out their own undeveloped ideas when they should be filling their minds with the kind of biblical information which only the teacher can provide?

No doubt creative writing (like any other method) could become a waste of time. The unskilled teacher attempting to preside over an undisciplined class, would almost certainly be guilty of wasting time regardless of what method he chose. We must understand that methodology is merely a vehicle or transportation device by which we want to convey propositional truth to students. The very fact that the student takes into consideration as he is writing what the Bible says about his subject is a good step toward helping him to make application of important truths to his life.

It is not our purpose merely to parrot truth into the air. As teachers we want to see that truth takes root in the lives of our students and, in turn, brings forth fruit in the behavior of those students. Wright Pillow suggests that “creative writing has endless possibilities for making the ‘Gospel learned about’ into the ‘Gospel acted out.’ The writer’s reactions when he sees his thoughts on paper may even create a desired change.”

Like any other method, creative writing should not be overused. It is an excellent supplement to other methods and therefore can render an effective supporting role.

Principles for Effective Use of Creative Writing

Make sure the writing project has a clear-cut learning objective. It is not just time filler nor an attempt to secure physical participation in the classtime. The objective of the paragraph about God was to get students to think honestly about what they understood God to be like (no child signed his paper). Perhaps our goal will be worship or analysis of a given passage by asking for an interpretive paraphrase. Whatever the objective, we should be clear in our minds as teachers so that we can communicate proper direction in giving the writing assignment.

Use variety in creative writing. How about writing a newspaper or developing an entire worship service with songs and themes? Teen-agers could write a radio script or a narrative for a slide presentation. How about writing a choral reading, psalm, folk song, or doctrinal statement? The possibilities are almost endless.

Do not get hung up on style or grammatical excellence. The main purpose of creative writing is content. No doubt there is some virtue in disciplining students to write everything in proper form, but such an inhibition might stifle the kind of creativity we want in an honest reflection of student attitude.

If you begin to use creative writing on a fairly extensive scale, hold on to the masterpieces you get from your students. Perhaps some day you will be able to publish a best-seller, or at least contribute a column on creative writing to a Christian periodical.

Related Topics: Teaching the Bible