Creative Writing: the most damaging phrase ever?

Creative writing is a linguistic villian that has lots to answer for. Why? It widens the learning gaps of struggling students; it’s a unit of work that is much more difficult to manage; it’s notoriously difficult to accuratelty assess, and the word creative is a nebulous expression.


For much of my teaching career, creative writing units have traditionally been the time I taught the least. I assumed that really it was up to the students to come up with a good idea and run with it. Yes, I would offer prompts, images of interest, and even the reading of other short stories, but what invariably happened was that those with lots of reading in their background and those who were already quite capable writers usually excelled and revelled in the time, whilst those without the cultural context would labour and wallow in self-doubt. If you ever wanted to see the Matthew effect in action, creative writing assessments were a goldmine of data.

Because creativity has been seen as requiring imagination above all else, little attention is paid to helping students write!

Because creativity requires lots and lots of background knowledge that is manipulated to develop novel ideas, those without it are further disadvantaged when no direct writing instruction is offered!

Because of this lack of direct instruction in writing, the gap between struggling students and those who have had access to lots of stories and background knowledge widens significantly!

Because of the repeated lack of success over time with creative writing, struggling students become savagely demotivated and the gap ironically further reduces the chances of future success!

The reality is that most students need lots and lots of guidance in writing, in constructing sentences and especially in structuring a story to suit the allotted time they inevitably build towards – the GCSE exam.


‘I’m not creative so I don’t have to write’ – In hindsight, this is something I’ve heard hundreds of times, and again in hindsight, and much to my utter chagrin that I allowed it go on for so long, became justification for students in my class not engaging in doing any work. The reason was that if I was attending to a student to assist in their story, it would take some time, offering original ideas and prompts. In the meantime, a student who believed they couldn’t come up with an idea would take advantage of the fact and not bother, blissfully aware that they had a fool proof excuse.

The reality is that most students need guidance in writing, in constructing sentences and especially in structuring a story to suit the allotted time they inevitably build towards – the GCSE exam.


The impossibility in validity regarding creative writing assessment has been handled extensively, but most notably by Daisy Christodoulou here. The term also engenders concerns with what creativity even means, and traps young players with the fallacy of believing it can be taught. Perhaps most nocuous of all is the ostensible limbo the educational community seem to have fallen into, unsure whether to promote it in schools, and if they do so, of being at risk of perpetuating something that may be pedagogically invalid: it’s become a case of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater, an issue I offer a solution to here.

All in all, it’s easy to see why the phrase CREATIVE WRITING is a damaging one. It’s a trap! In the next post I’ll offer a solution to how to teach this aspect of writing.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resourtces and general educational conversations.

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