Professional writers and educators share best practices, exercises, lessons and insights about teaching imaginative writing resources to inspire and help you create your own teaching materials.


Lessons & exercises based on A Poem as Big as New York City
T&W writers' in-class writing prompts and exercises inspired and generated the adapted poem found in A POEM AS BIG AS NEW YORK CITY.  From this imaginative, diverse, massive, and multi-faceted material, an adapted work emerged.  Here's a peek at one of the lessons that served as the raw clay to shape young writers' minds.  All lessons were taught in New York City classrooms, but could be adapted to suit your own community and place.  

(Lessons listed by grade within each category.)


All or Multiple Genres

Personal Geography
Genre: Creative Nonfiction
Grades: 2-12, adult
Susan Buttenwieser offers an innovative approach to writing about personal history that can also be used for nonfiction research and as a tool for understanding the immigrant experience, Holocaust survivors, or refugees, etc.

Describing Places
Genre: fiction or nonfiction writing
Grade: 2,3,4, and 5
Linda Morel asks students to describe a place they know well—appealing to the five senses. What does this place look like, sound like, smell like, and feel like?

Description of a Place as a Story Setting
Genre: fiction or nonfiction writing
Grade: 2,3,4, and 5
Linda Morel takes description of a place to the next level by asking students to set a scene. Students learn how location of a story is integral to its narrative, often driving the narrative.

Image Journals
Genre: nonfiction writing/personal essay writing
Grades: 6-12
Sari Wilson helps students to develop deeper personal essays by asking them to create image journals in which they record images encountered in the course of the day.

Learning to See
Learning to See
By Barbara Danish-Brown
Genre: All
Tags: poetry; sensory detail; love poems; metaphor; simile
Grades 9-12
Two excerpts from a longer unit, students work with a lemon and use sensory language to explore the lemon and also try to create images, comparisons and non-cliché language.
In a second exercise, students work to create a love letter to whomever they like, crafted as a valentine.

Computers in the Classroom
Poet Jordan Davis describes how he has used computer technologies to teach imaginative writing.

First Do No Harm: Helping Students Write About Difficult Topics
Excerpted from her book, Helen Frost talks about her work as a writer-in-residence in schools, juvenile facilities, and violence-prevention programs, with students often present writing that requires special attention. 
Grades: All
Genre: All

Teaching Poetry as a Part of Real Life
by Naomi Shihab Nye 
Grades: All
Genre: All
Childhood, Poetry, Magic, and ‘Magic’
Excerpts from a 2002 talk given by Quincy Troupe at Teachers & Writers Collaborative to a group of teaching artists.

Free Writing 
Writer Jenny Robinson Hartley’s ecstatic account of her introduction to free writing.

Urban Nature Writing 
Genre: journal writing
Grade: middle school 
Matthew Sharpe explores journal writing techniques using urban nature as a starting point. The end product is a book of hist students’ writing that acts as a guide to New York City, told from their perspective.



Breaking the Ice
by Frank Perez
Genre: Drama
Tags: drama; ice-breakers; descriptive language; sensory detail
Grade: 9-12
A lesson plan for the first class of a residency, which, among other steps, encourages students to use concrete and descriptive language in writing about their rooms, then drawing the room based on their description.


Teen Moms
by Susan Straub
Genre: Fiction
Tags: fiction; literacy; sensory detail
Grade: 7-12 Special Population: teenage mothers
Lesson for using wordless picture books to encourage teenage mothers to read to their children.

Character Descriptions
by Jenny Robinson Hartley
Genre: Fiction
Tags: fiction; descriptive language; metaphor; simile; sensory detail;
Grade: 3-5 character; point of view; narrator
Lesson plan for single class in which teacher uses the model of Sandra Cisneros’s “Hair” to lead students through an assignment in which they use descriptive language, including metaphor and simile, to delineate character.

Minimalism’s Grace
by Mark Mills
Genre: Fiction
Tags: fiction; voice; point of view; setting; descriptive language;
Grade: 9-12, college diction; imitation
A multi-class outline for studying the history and practice of the short-short story, which includes close examination of the properties of voice and point of view, and culminates in rewriting Anton Chekhov’s “Lady With the Pet Dog” in under 2,000 words.


Gather ‘Round the Table: Writing on Food, Feasting on Words
by Jess DeCourcy Hinds
Genre: Essay
Tags: essay; sensory detail
Grades: 8-12, college
Jess DeCoursey Hinds details an assignment on food writing which he completed with his college students. Students were asked to write 1-2 page essays using sensory detail to describe their favorite food and then present their essays while sharing samples of that dish that conjured memories for them.

Teaching Students to Write about Food
by Jess deCourcy Hinds
Genre: Essay
Tags: essay; descriptive language; metaphor; sensory detail
Grade: 8-12, college
Lesson Plan for single class in which the teacher brings in food the students will then describe in vivid detail.


Finding Your Story
by Karen Ulrich
Genre: Memoir
Tags: memoir; outlining
Grade: 3-8
Ideas to help young writers find a way to begin to write a memoir from their own experience.

Arrival Diaries
by Bushra Rehman
Genre: Memoir
Tags: memoir; point of view; setting; descriptive language; sensory
Grade: 3-12 detail; character; narrative
Lesson plan and results for using an excerpt from Anais Nin’s diary to encourage students to write about their own family’s arrival in the United States using their imagination and interviews with family members.


Stretching Exercises
Gary Lenhart offers strategies for exploring the writing of William Carlos Williams with students.
Genre: poetry
Grade: n/a

Music in Poetry
Kenneth Koch discusses various kinds of repetition and “poetry language” (line division, meter, non-metrical poetry, rhyme, stanzas and poetic forms
Genre: poetry
Grade: n/a

If Dogs Fly, Let Them Fly! Writing a Dream Poem
Poet and translator Bill Zavatsky teaches his high school students to forge a connection o the deeply personal language of their dreams, mining the rich images to be found there for poetic inspiration. 
Genre: Poetry
Grades: All
Population: All

Teaching by Listening
Los Angeles poet, novelist, and visual artist Will Alexander explains how he doesn’t come to a classroom with pre-fabricated writing assignments, but allows the students’ personalities and needs to dictate the assignments he gives.

Poetry with Learning-disabled Students
by Nicole Callihan
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; list poem
Grades: 1-3 Special population: students with learning disabilities
In this lesson, students start with brainstorming about students prior knowledge. The teacher prompts, “Tell me something I don’t know.” Answers will range from facts about termites to multiplication tables to feelings. Students then transition into creating a character who knows something and then writing about that character’s secret power—what they know or can do.

What I See in Children’s Writing 
Writer Jack Collum uses children’s writing created in his residency at a school in Manhattan to explore what is valuable and necessary about the art they have produced.
Grades: 2-5
Genre: Poetry

The Magic Spellbook
by Kristin Prevallet
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; descriptive language; translation
Grade: 3-5 Special Populations: ELL
Prevallet’s exercise incorporates the use of Central and South American folklore and poetry as inspiration to create a magic spellbook poem. This exercise was inspired by two examples in the T&W book Luna, Luna: Creative Writing Ideas from Spanish, Latin American, & Latino Literature.

Writing about the Night
by Tara Tandlich
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; descriptive language; metaphor; simile; sensory detail
Grade: 3-5 Special Population: autistic students; students with learning disabilities
Lesson plan and results for using “Imagine a Night” by Rob Gonsalves to help autistic, dyslexic, mentally and/or emotionally challenged students to write their own “night poems.”

Poetry Inside Out
by John Oliver Simon and Michael Ray
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; interpretation; translation; haiku
Grade: 3-6 Special Population: ELL
Students translate poems by Neruda and their own poetry to understand poetic craft—meaning, music and form.

Bilingual Poetry Workshop
by Kenneth Koch
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; descriptive language
Grade: 3-12 Special Populations: ELL
Koch details how he used Frederico García Lorca’s poem “Arbolé, Arbolé” (“Tree, Tree”) to teach the use of descriptive language in poetry within an ELL classroom with students then attempting multilingual poems using descriptive language.

Teaching the Cinquain
by Cori Feiner
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; cinquain; descriptive language
Grades: 5-8 Special Populations: students with learning disabilities
In this lesson geared towards special needs students, Feiner uses the minimalist form and examples from Adelaide Crapsey, the poet who developed the cinquain, to encourage students to create compressed images.

Poetry Comics
by Dave Morice
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; interpretation
Grade: All
Adapted from his book How To Make Poetry Comics Dave Morice describes the benefits of creating poetry cartoons in the classroom

The Haiku Connection
by Adele Kenny
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; haiku; sensory detail; setting
Grades 1-6
In this lesson, students read translations of Japanese haiku and write their own haiku in an exercise on compression and use of sensory detail. The Haiku Anthology is used as a reference text.

by Jenny Browne
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; metaphor; simile; descriptive language
Grade: 1-9
Lesson plan and results for single class in which teacher helps students move from poems about abstract emotions to vividly imagined metaphors for emotions.

Haiku: The Discipline of Language
by Anne Whitehouse
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; haiku; descriptive language; diction; setting
Grades: 3-6
Excerpt of lesson using haiku to teach economy of language and careful editing in poetry.

What Matters and 100 Words: Two Poetry Writing Ideas
by Judyth Collins
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; descriptive language; diction; sensory detail
Grade: 3-12
Describes preparation and results for two in-class poetry assignments—“What Matters” and “100 Words,” the first concentrating on getting the students to use concrete images, the second emphasizing unique or unusual word juxtapositions.

Sandra Cisneros
by Ashley Simpson
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; metaphor; simile; descriptive language; sensory detail
Grade: 3-12
Lesson and plan and results for a single class that uses “My Name,” by Sandra Cisneros to lead students through an assignment that helps them understand and use metaphor, simile, and sensory detail.

Hidden Beauty: Using a Poem by Jayne Cortez
by Mark Statman
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; descriptive language
Grades: 3-12
Jayne Cortez’s poem, “Under the Edge of February” is used as an example to encourage students to write about beauty that they see in familiar places.

The Right to Inquire
by Laura Gamache
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; sensory detail; descriptive language; personification
Grade: 4- 6
In this multiple-session sequence of lessons, students create “I Am From” poems using Langston Hughes’ “Let American Be America Again” as inspiration. Students also write personification poems, bringing to life qualities of key figures in the Civil Rights Movement like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Classical Music and Poetry
by David Hollander
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; descriptive language; sensory detail
Grade: 4-8
Using classical music as inspiration, students invent their own imaginary instrument which plays anything but sound and write a poem about it.

Writing with Family Album Photos
by Harry Greenberg
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; descriptive language; sensory detail
Grade: 5-12
Lesson plan and results for single class in which teacher uses the model of Jon Anderson’s “Photograph of Myself” to lead students through a poetry-writing exercise inspired by photos of their younger selves.

Shelley & Science
by Julie Carr
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; science; descriptive language; sensory detail
Grade: 6
Lesson plan and results for single class in which teacher uses Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” to help students write a poem about one or more of the five elements.

by Eleni Sikelianos
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; imitation; character
Grade: 6
Students study the poetry of Sappho to create their own persona poems focusing on great feeling.

by Aaron Belz
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; insult poem; hip-hop
Grade: 6-12
Lesson plan and results for single class in which teacher shows the history of the “brag poem” from Finnish Epic poetry to hip-hop, then leads the students in creating their own.

Lawrence Stazer: The Use and Pleasure of the Hoax
by Bob Hershon
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; point of view; character; imitation; parody
Grades: 8-10
In this lesson, students invent a poet and create a biography for him or her—in Hershon’s example, the class named the poet Lawrence Stazer. From there, students wrote poems representing that poet’s body of work, using group poems, game poems, parodies and imitations.

Personal Dictionaries
by Lee Ann Brown
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; diction
Grades: 9-12
Students read from a variety of published dictionaries and then slang and regional dictionaries to discover meanings of different words before creating their own dictionaries. Poems are then written using dictionaries as inspiration and source material.

I Remember Poems from Poetry Everywhere
by Jack Collum and Sheryl Noethe
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; descriptive language; sensory detail; simile; metaphor
Grades: 9-12
Using Joe Brainard’s I Remember (Granary Books, 2001) as inspiration, students write their own “I Remember” poems, focusing on using descriptive language.

Metaphor Poems from Poetry Everywhere
by Jack Collum and Sheryl Noethe
Genre: Poetry
Tags: poetry; metaphor
Grades: 9-12
Students discuss the usefulness of creating comparisons in writing and create original similes and metaphors which are shared with the class.