I am designing a writing contest for 13 and 14-year old EFL students. The students have very limited experience with creative writing and I will not have any time to give them practice on brainstorming, so I need to define the contest's theme very carefully. I hope each entrant can write an simple fictional story.

I have some ideas for methods of framing the theme, but have limited experience with this, so I am not sure how well they work:

  • Give a key word or phrase, e.g., “Treasure Hunt.”
  • Provide a starting sentence to begin every story.
  • Provide a picture, which should form the basis for the story.

Do any of these, or other methods, work particularly well? If the theme is not narrowly defined, will this increase problems with writers block?

1 Answer 1


You are on the right track. Your topic sounds promising, giving a starting sentence and a picture should help inexperienced (teenage) writers to start writing at least something.

But to avoid writers block, you should give them a little choice (not too much, because that blocking again).

If you give them three different topics, or three different pictures, then they may be blocked, because they cannot decide. So leave it with one topic/one picture, but tell them they do not need to use that, they can make up something for themselves if they want. (If they are free to choose another topic than you have no good base to compare the stories. I do not know if that is important for you.)

If the starting sentence says nothing to them, let them be free to use a different one. If the picture is plain ugly to them, they could find it problematic to come up with a good story. Tell them explicitly, that they can choose something different, because they will take it as an instruction and not an assistance if you do not make it certain that they have a choice.

Some people (especially teenagers) do not want to be exposed, so if reading the story to the other members is part of your contest, it should be voluntarily. Some could decide it's easier to not write something at all instead of being ridiculed for rubbish afterward.

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