Teach Creative Writing without Lessons

What Works! 

After reaching the goal of  homeschooling until high school graduation, I wanted to share some of the things that really worked in our homeschool journey:

Narrations ~ the natural method to teach creative writing

I have never used a formal writing program or curriculum in all my homeschooling journey, and yet my children can write amazingly detailed, creative essays, narrations and stories.


Read living books and follow the passage or story with a narration!

Great literature is the food for all creative writing.  It feeds the mind with a rich vocabulary,  and inspires the child with new thoughts and ideas.   A child draws from the quality writing of an accomplished author and learns to use a similar style and tone.  And the act of telling a narration makes this the child’s own.

My earliest epiphany of this remarkable natural development was when my second child, just a cute-as-a-button pre-schooler narrated an Aesop’s Fable “The Lion and the Mouse“. She sat on my lap and told me the story in her “own words” and she described how the mouse “skittered” past the lion.

Skittered” … a completely new and ‘borrowed’ word from the story!

I then KNEW that narrations are an incredibly powerful method to develop successful writing.

If a child has paid close attention, they can narrate amazing details and content of the reading.  From the pre-schooler and junior student narrations develop from oral and illustrated narrations to dictated narrations, and, as they mature, adapt written narrations in different writing formats.

For example I would ask my children to ~

  • write a letter to a friend or family describing the situation as if they were in the story
  • write a formal letter to thank, congratulate, complain or request something
  • write a catchy title and opening sentence
  • write an attention-grabbing introductory paragraph
  • write their own ending for the story
  • write the story as a play with dialogue = an opportunity to use direct speech.
  • list/ explain/ describe all the facts
  • sequence the events in the story
  • find  the main ideas and give a suitable title
  • more complex writing activity would be to write from a point of view; say as a police report or a newspaper report.

Here’s my 6-year-old’s narration where she writes from different points of view:

“If I was a Khoi and I was watching the Dutch sailors, and it was my land and they were taking my food and water I would get very angry! They are stealing my land!  Why don’t they barter with us?

If I was the Dutch I would think that the land isn’t the Khoi’s because they keep moving. I would build my fort right there.  We could barter with the Khoi for cows and sheep.”

Here’s a narration with direct speech that my eldest daughter wrote when she was 12-years old:

“You little brat!”

I heard voices from behind the wall.

“You’re not supposed to talk to the Commander!  Stupid boy, don’t you know that it might put me in danger?  I am in charge of you!”

I couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation because my uncle, Jan van Riebeeck, was calling me.  I stood beside him for the rest of the service wondering who could have said such horrible things, and I kept my eyes on the wall, waiting for the strangers to come out from behind it.”

(We looked at the technical aspects and the grammar rules for direct speech in the story. She then applied this to her writing.)

Simple, effective, and natural.

Even my most reluctant writer recently wrote an essay that blew me away!  Under exam conditions, which are often not conducive to creative writing, my 14-year-old wrote:

“I awoke late in the night from a strange sound.  I slowly lowered my bare feet to the wooden floor, and removed my sleepy body from the security of my bed sheets.

Timidly I turned the cold brass door handle, when the noise came again, a slow, eerie, haunting scream coming from the kitchen.

Doesn’t this just draw you into her story?  I sat stunned!

And here is an extract from a mid-year exam essay my eldest daughter, now nearly 19 years old, wrote:

“It was upon a late Friday afternoon.  I had been vacuuming my somewhat dishevelled tea-stained carpet, when above the piercing hum of the cleaning machine, I heard a jingle as something shifted below my bed.

Filled with incredulous wonder, and rather hoping for a distraction to the mundane task at hand, I ceased the vacuum’s roar and hunkered down to take a peak.  Knees creaking in complaint and hands gripping tentatively at the bed, I tweaked my head around trying to adjust to the gloom of my bed’s darkened cave …”

Again, I thank the Lord for simplicity.

Here are some of my other narration posts:

Charlotte Mason’s approach works … all the way to graduation!

Join me next week for another “What Works!” post.

Please feel free to comment or ask questions in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

16 thoughts on “Teach Creative Writing without Lessons

  1. Hi Nadene – I always find something in your blog! I have just reread through all your narration posts and feel inspired and motivated (again). Here in Australia we are just about to go into our last term of the year and sometimes it can feel like dragging yourself through mud in the lead up to Christmas, or that time is speeding away too fast. Although I am apparently an “experienced” homeschooler (I have five kids from 20 to 8) I still find it useful to read stuff about the “basics” and the “how-to”, to bring my focus back to what it is I am actually wanting to do, without getting distracted by the plethora of choice out there, and I find your blog helps me with that. So thank you! Anna


    • Hi Anna, I am so glad that my narration posts have given you some “basic” ideas and gentle encouragement which is a motivation for your last term of the year. Sometimes, a simple new idea can bring real refreshment. Every time I read Charlotte Mason’s methods, I felt that there was a never-ending upgrade for me and for my children. There was always something more that we could apply in our lessons and learning. Blessings as you finish well!


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  7. OOOOOH! But you MUST finish the stories! What happened at the end? 😉 I need to know! I’m teaching a writing class with my homeschool group (using Institute for Excellence in Writing) and tomorrow we’re talking about good “hook” openers that make the reader want to know more…. if I give you credit, can I share your lovely daughters’ writing with them?


  8. This is a great post and really some great ideas. My children are not fond of writing, but I hope to change that for next year and use some of your ideas. Do you know by any chance where one would be able to find a list of some Afrikaans living books?


    • @Maryna, thanks for your comment. Two of my kids have been reluctant and yet the one has developed amazing writing skills! So keep on! It works! I would suggest you look for good Afrikaans books at your library. Footprints in our Land has some good living books in their book list. Blessings!


  9. I haven’t replied for some time but I just want you to know that I read your posts with much enthusiasm. They fill me with encouragement and I gain a lot of insight into the future years of homeschooling. I also hope to continue right through to the very end. I also don’t follow a set curriculum because wonderful people and blogs like yours, fill me with plenty to teach. All the wonderful ideas and projects that have gone before me in other people’s households. I take all your positive vibes from your homeschooling journey and entwine them into mine. For this, I thank you and wish you and your family all the more future success in whatever the days bring. x Kym


    • @Kym, thank you for your wonderfully sincere comments. I am also so grateful to learn from others in the blogosphere, and I am delighted to be an encouragement to you and others! Blessings to you on your journey!


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