This fun writing task encourages creativity and develops confidence. The exercise helps find exciting new ideas and imagery through random juxtaposition. It uses play to generate structure.
Exercise A: Four Boxes
Ask students to fold an A4 piece of paper in half, then in half again, then unfold it and spread it out, so they now have four equal boxes. This free writing exercises takes 12 minutes in total.
In box one: write down as many things as you can think of that make people laugh: a memory, a sound, a smell, an image, anything at all. (3 mins.)
Next in box two: write down as many things as you can think of that scare people — again remaining open to absolutely anything. (3 mins.)
Then in box three: describe a place you know well. It can be anywhere, but zoom in on the details: textures, sounds, colours, anything. (3 mins.)
Finally in box four: picture yourself in the place described in box three. Once you’re there, note down any thoughts that occur, however random. (3 mins.)
Feedback: allow time for reflection on what has been written so far, what the students like, what stands out, etc.
Variation: some students find it hard to let go of the desire to give a piece one consistent issue or narrative. If this is a barrier, run the same exercise, but have each person complete only one box and then pass the paper on to the person next to them. This tends to remove an extra layer of pressure for it to ‘make sense’ and instead celebrates the subjectivity of writing.
Exercise B: Choosing Lines
Have each student choose 12 lines from their writing that they particularly like. There should be at least one from each quarter of the page, but they can choose more from one particular box, if they wish.
Ask students to create a poem by ordering these 12 lines of text. Advise them to play around with the order and to trust their instincts. Encourage them not to worry about ‘sense’. Which line feels good next to another?
When they are all done, students can read aloud, share and discuss. Did anything grab the group? Discuss how the seemingly random juxtaposition of unrelated things e.g, memories and physical details, can conjure new and interesting ideas and imagery.
Additional exercise: editing
Allow some time for students to tweak lines and improve on their new pieces. Could there be a way to make descriptions more vivid? Could sentences be shorter, or ideas more condensed? Celebrate the sense of discovery in this exercise, as opposed to the planned excavation of writing from scratch.