Words with Friends: 8 Awesome Ideas for Spanish Creative Writing Lessons
Are you ready to start exercising the right side of your students’ brains?
The right side is the right side.
We tend to focus our language lessons on the left side of the brain, where the logical faculties reside.
We strive to teach our students the most practical uses of the language, and we appeal to conjugation charts, tables, lists and rubrics to make it happen.
But once in a while, it’s valuable to shift right and focus on the creative uses of Spanish.
It’s important that we find balance between the logical and intuitive faculties and to teach our students that the language is something they can play with, something fun with which they can take risks and test its rules to the limit.
A great way to do that is through creative writing, which at the end of the day is as important as practical writing.
Creative writing forces us to use our imagination, to question our surroundings by activating critical thinking skills, and it allows a better understanding of one’s self and of others by letting us examine all sides of a story. It helps us recognize that there’s more to any situation than meets the eye.
And not only that, it actually has many benefits for the language learning process.
In order to produce a good creative text—whether it’s a story, a poem or a dramatic scene—the language needs to be correct and precise. This level of precision requires a good use of grammar and vocabulary, along with excellent discourse. Assigning creative writing projects allows students to express themselves and their own ideas, which stimulates them to go further with their learning process.
Here, I’ve put together eight awesome ideas to teach your students Spanish via creative writing, so they can play with the language and test their knowledge while having fun.
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8 Adventurous Ideas for Spanish Creative Writing Lessons
—Reading Between the Lines—
Words aren’t always exactly what they seem.
When learning a language and practicing vocabulary, it’s very important for students to know the literal meanings of the words (denotation). However, it’s equally important that they learn the suggestive, emotional, imaginative and indirect meanings implied (connotation). This way, they can use the right choice of words according to the context and actually say what they want to say.
They’ll begin to understand that the language is a live system that changes according to the circumstances in which it’s used, and that the meanings of words vary according to the context, the culture, the historic period and the type of discourse.
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1. Teach Connotation
Understanding connotation not only will make students’ vocabularies richer, but it’ll give them a better understanding of what they read, make their writing more effective and allow them to use their known words properly.
That’s why activities in which students become more aware of the different connotations words have are great for any language lesson you’re teaching, and you can include them whenever you’re teaching new grammar patterns, words or phrases.
a. Writing Texts with Different Connotations
First of all, I suggest that you give them several phrases that contain the same word, without the English translation present, so they can define what each phrase means on their own.
They can work in pairs or in small groups to encourage discussion. Here you have few examples with the word ojo (eye):
Hacerse ojo de hormiga — Literal meaning: To make oneself into an ant’s eye; Actual meaning: To make oneself scarce
Hacer mal de ojo — Literal meaning: To make bad of eye; Actual meaning: To cast the evil eye (a superstition)
Mucho ojo con eso — Literal meaning: A lot of eye with that; Actual meaning: Be careful with that
Ella le está haciendo ojitos — Literal meaning: She’s making little eyes at him/her; Actual meaning: She’s flirting with him/her
After they’ve been introduced to some phrases like this and have discussed them amongst themselves, have them do a quick writing activity to promote retention. For each phrase, every student must write down a three-sentence text that shows how the phrase can be used in action.
b. Writing with Positive, Neutral and Negative Connotations
Another idea is to focus on identifying if the connotation is positive, neutral or negative. Here’s an example:
Eres muy infantil (You are very childish) / Vimos una película infantil (We saw a children’s movie)
In the first sentence the word infantil has a negative connotation, while in the second one it’s neutral.
You can prepare a few sentence pairs like the above in advance and print them out on worksheets. Have students write down if the connotation is positive, neutral or negative. Then you can ask them in pairs to come up with their own examples.
c. Writing Stories with Different Connotations
To continue with the positive, negative and neutral connotations, here’s another activity you can do to point out the power of words and the importance of choosing the right one.
First of all, you’ll write two lists of words on the board, one that contains words with a negative connotation and the other one with positive connotation. For example:
- flaco — delgado (skinny — thin)
- tacaño — ahorrativo (cheap — thrifty)
Then you provide a simple plot for a short story. Ask half of your students to use the positive words and the other half to use the negative ones to draft their own complete versions of the story.
Make sure that, at the end of this writing session, you choose some students from both sides to read their stories so they can compare how different the same story turns out according to the use of words.
2. Mix up metaphors
Understanding and being able to use metaphors is very important in language learning because natives use them all the time in speech and writing.
They’ll be key for your students when writing future essays. Plus, through lessons in metaphors, students are encouraged to analyze the relationship between form and meaning, which makes their learning progress more significant.
As with the above ideas and activities for connotations, you can add these activities during any lesson you’re teaching and you can adapt them to your students’ language levels.
a. Brainstorming Metaphors and Similes
One activity is basically just mixing metaphors and similes and changing them into something different and unusual.
First, ask your students to come up with as many common metaphors or similes as they can think of, like lento como tortuga (slow as a turtle) or dientes blancos como perlas (white teeth like pearls).
You can have several of them prepared in advance if their language level isn’t that advanced yet. Regardless, it’s always good to come prepared with a more extensive list of metaphors, so that you’re armed with something new to teach them—even if they come up with 100 metaphors on their own.
b. Write Your Own Metaphors
Here their task is to create new metaphors, no matter how crazy they may sound. Maybe they’ll come up with something like:
- lento como el tráfico de la ciudad en hora pico (slow as city traffic during rush hour)
- dientes blancos como el techo de la sala de emergencia en un hospital (teeth white like the ceiling in a hospital’s emergency room)
Give them a brief outline for a simple story and have them draft a complete version of the story with a made-up metaphor in every line. Then have them read their stories out loud for some giggle-inducing reinforcement.
c. Play the <Literally> Game
You can also play el juego <literalmente> (the <literally> game), in which your students will become aware of how different (and weird) it would be if we only used words literally.
In this game, they’ll come up with a metaphor which they’ll destroy by taking it literally. This will help them understand it better.
First you’ll do a group warm-up, which you can make more dynamic by adding a ball to it.
So, you can start this warm-up by saying something like, “el dinero es la llave para muchas puertas” (money is the key to many doors) and throwing the ball. The student that catches it has to explain your metaphor literally by saying something like, “estas puertas tienen una cerradura plana que lee electrónicamente los datos del dinero para abrirse” (these doors have a flat keyhole that electronically reads the money data to open up). Then that student says his/her own metaphor and passes the ball so someone else explains it literally.
After doing this for a few rounds, ask them all to come up with metaphors that are different from the ones used in the warm-up and to write them down on pieces of paper. On one side they’ll have the metaphor, and on the other they’ll write what it really (figuratively) means.
Then pair them up, ask them to exchange papers and have them write down a literal definition for their partner’s metaphor. After that, ask them to write a one-page story that uses the literal meanings of both of their metaphors. They’ll have to be very creative for this, and I bet the results will make them all laugh—they always do in my classes!
At the end of the writing activity, ask each pair to read their story and make sure they all understood the real (figurative) meaning of each metaphor.
All in all, this is a productive activity, and becoming more aware of the nuances of the Spanish language will help them use it better.
—Setting the Mood—
Another important aspect of learning a language is being able to express ourselves, to describe how we feel—emotionally and physically—within a specific context. These following activities aim to strengthen that, the oral expression of Spanish. That’s why you can do them with your students at any time.
Just keep in mind that, even though there will be a written production at the end—which of course you’ll later correct—the goal is to unlock the process of the mind that will allow them to think in Spanish.
3. Adopt Another Perspective
In this activity, your students are basically going to create a character and give him/her a voice, which will end in the production of a written monologue.
This has awesome benefits for language learning because they’ll have to imagine themselves in specific situations and contexts, think in Spanish and use language befitting their characters, which will give them more fluency and the confidence to eventually express themselves.
To create their characters, ask them in class to think of a person—real or imaginary—and write down:
- his/her name
- who he/she lives with
- 5 adjectives to describe that person’s appearance
- 5 adjectives to describe their character
- 3 things that person likes to do, and why
- 3 things that they don’t like to do, and why
They should write all of the above in full sentences.
Another option is to ask them to do this as homework in a previous class, basing their character on a random person they observe in the street.
Once they’ve got basic profiles of their characters, you’re going to create a situation for them to place that character in. The beauty is that this situation can be based on whatever you’re teaching at the moment. You can tell them something like “Ha sido un día agotador…” (It has been an exhausting day…) if you want to have students practice noodling with the past tenses or daily routine vocabulary they’ve just learned.
No matter what you choose, this quick statement should be imagined to be true of the character. So, in the above example’s case, it has been an exhausting day for the character.
The rest will be up to your students to write out. Ask them to answer some questions like:
- ¿Por qué era un día agotador? (Why was it an exhausting day?)
- ¿Qué pasó? (What happened?)
- ¿Cómo se sentía tu personaje? (How did your character feel?)
- ¿Qué va a hacer al respecto? (What is he/she going to do about it?)
- ¿Cómo era el clima? (What was the weather like?)
Ask each question slowly, providing ample time (about five minutes) to write out something in response to each before moving on to the next question.
If you’re teaching a specific verb tense you can change the initial statement into:
- Mañana será un día agotador… (Tomorrow will be an exhausting day…)
- Mañana iba a ser un día agotador… (Tomorrow was going to be an exhausting day…)
- Mañana hubiera sido un día agotador, pero… (Tomorrow would have been an exhausting day, but…)
If you’re teaching some specific vocabulary, add a question related to that vocabulary. For instance, instead of asking about the weather, ask them about the food they ate or the clothes they were wearing at the time.
Now that they’ve created a profile, a situation and their character’s reaction to the situation, tell them they have to imagine how their character would sound while thinking about the situation. Are they very angry? Optimistic? Sad? Energetic and solving problems quickly?
This is the hard part because they have to enter their character’s mind and give them a voice to express what they’re thinking. Remind them that it has to be written in first person and expressing a very specific point of view based on their character’s features.
Even if at the end they won’t read it aloud or present it to the class, the process of thinking like someone else who’s thinking in Spanish will definitely benefit their speaking abilities.
It all starts in the mind!
4. Sensory Overload
Through this idea, your students are going to become aware of their senses and learn how to describe them.
a. Imagining a Situation
This is a very helpful activity for learning how to write in a foreign language because it can teach them how to make a narration richer and more complex. Plus, it also helps their speaking skills as it gives them the means to describe the subtleties of the world that surrounds them.
They’ll have to focus on small details that they probably never stopped to analyze, and attention to detail is a very important aspect of mastering any language.
Here I propose that you focus on two aspects: el tránsito y la quietud (transit and stillness).
Ask them to think of a situation in which they’re in transit and one in which they’re still. Or if you prefer, you can give them the exact situation yourself. Basically, they’ll have to describe all the sensations they get with each of their senses with as much detail as possible.
So, for example, in transit they can be:
- caminando (walking)
- corriendo (running)
- andando en bicicleta (riding a bike)
- volando (flying)
- bailando (dancing)
Are they inside a place or are they outside? How does the sun feel in their face, in their hair? What sounds do they hear and how do they make them feel? What smells do they perceive and how do the smells feel in their nose? Give them a chance to write down their Spanish responses to all of your prompts regarding the scenario and the things they’re sensing around them in this imaginary place and time.
Ask similar questions for a situation in which they’re still, like parados en una fila que no se mueve (standing in a line that doesn’t move), descansando en su cama (resting in their bed), meditando (meditating), etc.
b. The Great Outdoors
If you want to take this activity to a different level, take them outside (if you have the chance) and get them to close their eyes while they become aware of every sensation in their bodies. What do they smell, feel, taste and hear in this outdoor space?
At the end, they’ll have to write the experience down in as much detail as possible. This will help them to identify gaps in their descriptive vocabulary that you can help them fill in, and in turn will help them increase their vocabulary. I’m sure a lot of sensations will be hard to describe because they probably never thought about them!
5. Creating Emotions
This activity is very similar to the previous one, except that instead of describing sensations, they’re going to focus on feelings and emotions.
The benefits are the same, improving writing and speaking skills, as well as increasing vocabulary. But here’s the real challenge: They have to avoid stereotypical descriptions of an emotion and find a more creative way to express it.
First, you can randomly give an emotion to each of your students. You can always write the emotions down on little papers and get them to pick them randomly from a hat.
Now, how should they work on those descriptions? For example, if they get tristeza (sadness), instead of describing the tears falling from their eyes, they have to find another way to describe the sadness. Maybe they’ll write about the position of their body, the rhythm of their breathing, the heaviness in their shoulders or maybe they won’t focus on any physical response but in the streaming of their thoughts.
There’s only one rule: The original words for the emotions can’t be mentioned at all in their texts.
An alternative can be to use the character they created in the third activity above and describe how he/she would feel and express that emotion. At the end of the class, you can have everyone exchange texts and see if the other students can guess which was the emotion their partner described. Here are some emotions you can give them:
- tristeza (sadness)
- miedo (fear)
- angustia (angst)
- alegría (joy)
- nervios (nerves)
- ansiedad (anxiety)
- emoción (excitement)
- coraje/enojo (anger)
- rencor (resentment)
- desilusión (disappointment)
—Shape the Settings—
In the previous section you gave your students the chance to communicate with detail. They practiced describing sensations and feelings, although you’ve probably been training them to describe since they were beginners. Description is the next item on the menu for our activities.
Description is obviously very closely related to narration and practicing both aspects of communication together will give a deeper dimension to that given context.
In a way, a description is like creating a painting using words and a narration is the possibility of bringing that painting to life. The description focuses on creating an image while the narration focuses on the actions that occur in that image.
Practicing both of them will definitely help them develop their communicative skills. And this is something you can practice at any time, because you can always choose an aspect of the language you want to focus your lesson on and start from there.
6. Get Descriptive
Descriptive writing requires acute attention to detail, as much as it needs creativity and imagination.
From the time language learners are beginners, they learn how to describe things. This is because description is such a useful tool to practice grammar, from noun and adjective agreement, adverbs, compared structures and links to verb tenses (mostly present and imperfect). It all depends on what you want to practice with them.
a. Describing Without Their Eyes
They’ve probably done many descriptive exercises that required observation, but this time we’re changing a small detail: They can’t use their eyes to observe and describe things.
Their task will be to describe a common place, which can be their classroom—no matter if they’ve done it before—or another area in your school. If you have the chance to take them outside, do it—there will be so many stimuli out there that can make this activity richer. Don’t forget to take some paper to write down their descriptions.
Once in place, ask them to close their eyes and give them time to feel their environment—at least five minutes. How does the place smell? What sounds can they hear? Is there a taste in the air? If they want to move and touch around, encourage them, although they should do at least this with their eyes open so they don’t bump into each other or fall.
After the time passes, they’re ready to write down their descriptions. Remind them that there shouldn’t be any visual component to it.
Once they’re finished, ask them to read their descriptions out loud. Even though they’re describing the same place, their descriptions will be very different because they’ll show their unique perspectives of what each of them felt.
b. Describing with Their Imagination
Now that you showed them how unique they can be with an objective description of the same place, how about getting them to describe something born in their minds? After all, this is all about creative writing, so you can also get creative with your task. Their language learning will still benefit from this activity but it can be even more fun.
In this activity there’s no rule, which means they can describe things visually if they like. No matter if they won’t actually see the places or objects they’re describing, they can add some visual components to their descriptions.
The idea is for you to come up with something crazy and unreal to describe so they truly activate their imaginations. Here are some wild ideas of descriptions they can make:
“El mundo de una mujer azul” (The world of a blue woman)
“La casa de una muñeca en el espacio” (An doll’s house in space)
“El funeral de la abeja reina” (The funeral of the queen bee)
“El primer día de clases del animal más tímido del mundo” (The first day of class of the shyest animal in the world)
Even though they won’t be physically observing what they’re describing, their attention to detail will still be developing and their level of language will still be improving, but in a very fun way.
Narration is a great tool for learning a language because it helps develop structure and make meaning while representing and communicating it.
The moment your students start using the past tense, they automatically start narrating. Among the skills improved with narration are prioritizing the relevant details, linking elements by causation and consequence, viewing an event from different angles and characterization of a narrated “picture.”
It also requires a lot of grammar, especially related to verb tenses so the story has a coherent sequence of events, no matter if it’s lineal and progressive or not.
Let’s make narration fun and add a touch of creativity and imagination to it, like we did with the creative description exercises.
One activity can be to ask your students to narrate the story of their life—real or imagined—to their future selves or to their past selves. It all depends which tense you want to emphasize on your lesson.
You can also give them an opening line and let their creativity flow to build any story their imagination allows. Here are few examples you can use:
“Todo empezó cuando alguien dejó la ventana abierta” (It all began when someone left the window open)
“Pasó un mes y volvió a ocurrir…” (A month passed and it happened again…)
“Su corazón latía tan fuerte que sentía que se le iba a salir del cuerpo. Había visto la perilla de la puerta moverse” (Her heart was beating so hard she felt it was coming out of her body. She saw the door knob moving)
“Así que es verdad, realmente es verdad” (So it’s true, it’s really true)
“Sintió su presencia incluso antes de darse vuelta” (She felt his presence even before turning around)
In a way or another, every activity I have suggested for you has a lot of benefits for language learning.
In this one, they’ll learn a lot—whether it’s through awareness of the language, developing structure, increasing vocabulary and grammar skills, perfecting attention to details or strengthening communicative competencies and writing abilities.
Well, this last activity is like a closing one. It aims to work all of the skills practiced so far. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t intended as a sequence of exercises, but you can consider adapting them to your needs and using this last one as the one that sums it all up.
8. Give a letter its story
You’re basically going to ask your students to write a story, one in which they’ll use connotation and metaphors. This will be a story that contains a monologue and in which there’s a full description of feelings, emotions and sensations of the main character, plus a narration of whatever imaginative situation your students can think of.
But here’s the catch: Your main character will be a letter, any letter of the Spanish alphabet that your students want. This will require a lot of creativity and imagination.
Before actually writing the story, tell them to read a short essay of Salvador Novo, “Sobre la letra H” (About the letter H) which you can find following this link. That will be their base for inspiration. In Novo’s case this is an essay, which proves that creative writing can also enter the land of essays, but for your students the task will be to tell a story.
Their imagination has been trained with all the activities above and this will be a great close-up. After you correct their stories, you can even build an alphabet book which you can give them as a present at the end of the semester. Trust me, they’ll love it!
Most of these activities require that your students have at least a lower-intermediate level, especially if you plan to do them all during the semester, although you can always adapt some of them to the beginner level.
There’s no time or limit to get their creativity flowing, especially in language learning, because there’s always something to be gained from having more time to think, brainstorm and create.
Let’s go further than the practical approach of the language—let’s give our students a chance to express themselves first and learn on the way.
Let’s teach them that language can be fun and that they can play with it.
Let’s get their right side of their brain working.
You’ll be amazed by the results!
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