In-class Exercises

Feel free to wander over to exercise-pages from past course blogs if you’re interested in playing around on your own (it’s possible that I’ll bring some of these into class, but I usually like to come up with new variations for every course…we’ll see…)

From EL 170 2006

From EL170 2005

Exercises from Our Course (I’ll post them once we’ve done them)

1/ 3

  • Introduce yourself by writing about a place important to you. Incorporate the word handed to you. 5 mins. Read aloud.
  • Group-exercise: Deep learning moment
  • Afternoon with Remy & Piya: Take one of the exercises from the morning and spin it into a picnik, Voicethread, or Slideflickr story. What happens when you introduce non-text media into your process and outcome? What changes? What is challenging?


  • “On Water” Exercise:

List memories about water, facts about water, images having to do with water, your feelings about water, and a metaphor about water. Write a creative nonfiction short (cfs) using one item from each list and title it “On Water.” 10 mins.


  • “Boxes” Multi-step Exercise

Story #1

  1. Put your “inconsequential” object on the floor with everyone else’s; study them together; go get one (not your Own).
  2. Do the same with your “treasured object.”
  3. Do the same with your found writing.
  4. Take the magazine given to you and open it randomly, point to a line and write it down.

5 Minutes:

List details about Object #1; list things about Object #2 that make it yours; list things you can tell about the person who left the found writing.

Write a creative nonfiction short entitled “Boxes,” in which you are very very close (by the scruff-of-the-neck close) to your reader. Choose one element from each of the lists to include plus the snippet from the magazine.
Story #2

Same rules, but you choose different details from the lists. Same story title but this time you choose a distance that is quite far away: temporally, spatially, emotionally or psychologically. Still has to be creative nonfiction.

Story #3

New rules–take what you need from the first two stories, the lists, anywhere; use the colored pens & crayons, and use the box given to you as the canvas on which you write your creative nonfiction short.


  • Narrative Distance Exercise

For this exercise, choose a draft already written.

1. List 10 identities you possess (i.e. student, friend, pizza hater…)

2. Decide which identity(ies) you had within the frame of the draft (the you as character). Decide which identities you had as writer of the draft. Write these down.

3. What is the apparent subject & the deeper meaning of the piece? What four other deeper meanings could the piece have now that you’re thinking about the identities? Write them down.
4. Find a dominant image in the piece and write it down.

5. If you had to inset a character from myth or tale, who would it be? Yes, write it down.

Write a new version of the piece, trying to get as close as possible to the you inside the piece, using the items collected in 1-5.

  • John-Gardner Inspired Emotion Exercise

Find a place to do this exercise where you can look at the side of a building.

1. Describe the building from the perspective of a man who lost a son in war. You cannot mention the son, war or loss. You are trying to use the description itself to create a sense of loss.

2. Same building. Describe it from the perspective of someone who has just fallen in love. Same rules.

3. Same building. This time you’re bored.

4. Same building. This time you’re frightened.


  • Braided/Lyric/Collage Essay

1. Take the first photo given to you and write down what you observe, what it stirs in you; then take 5 minutes to write a nonfiction short sparked by the brainstorming.

2. Do the same for the second photo.

3. Jot down memories involving teeth, strangers, trees. Choose one of these and write a 5-minute narrative of that specific memory with a mind to the fact that you will be bringing this story into a piece with the 2 photo pieces.

4. Take a look at some braided/lyric essays to see how they do their magic (Rodriguez and D’Agata in In Short).

5. Take 20 minutes (and stickies of different colors if they are of any help) to write a braided (or mosaic/collage if that makes more sense) essay through which you weave the three strands from #1-3.


1.  Stirring the pot:   Make a list of memories revolving around mealtime; a list about memories involving kids playing; things you’d like to take back.

2.  Choose one of the memories, and write about a first-person, present tense creative nonfiction narrative, moving from the outside to the inside of the meaning and the story itself, by writing it in three parts:

A.  A definition, setting the scene, a few strokes of context, much as Jo Ann Beard opens “In the Current” (see the link above and scroll down to the end of the article to read the opening paragraph).

B.  The  memory itself, drawing closer, telling the story of the moment, letting the way you write the sentences, the details you include, the dialogue, the people flow out of your pen.  Choose images, verbs, details with care.

C.  Your choice–an image?  Inside your head?  It should be quite close in narrative distance.

3.  Rewrite the piece, this time opening with Part C.  What happens?  What opportunities are opened to you by making this change? What avenues are closed off to you?


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