Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite Corpse can also be played as a drawing game. Photo credit: Hydra Arts

One obstacle that keeps children (and everyone) from writing is their own perfectionism. Frustrations with spelling, Saying Something Important and Getting Things Right can freeze kids up.

I like to approach this problem in two ways. One is to make the work I ask the kids to do be real and beautiful and meaningful — worth being perfectionistic about. (More on this another time.) The other is to make it completely unimportant. In other words, to make it a game. 

Games are a great way to instigate lots of quick writing. Because speed and craziness matter more than perfection, a kind of pressure lifts off and pencils start flying.

One of my favorite games is a classic we call Exquisite Corpse, which is the name the Surrealists had for it. It works like this:

~ Each person gets a piece of paper. They write a title for a story or poem (you can play with either in mind) at the top. For instance, The Worst Day at Frog Hollow.

~ Then everyone passes their titled paper to the person to their left. That person reads the title, and adds the first line. For instance, “Everything started out great, but then we discovered a dragon had eaten our socks.”

~ Then everyone folds over the paper so that only what they wrote is showing and passes it again. The next person can’t see the title, because it’s folded under. They can just see “everything started out great, but then we discovered a dragon had eaten our socks.” They add the next line: “Oh no, I cried, what do I do without socks?”

~Everyone just keeps folding, passing, and writing until all of the papers are full.

~ Then they unfold them and read the crazy stories.

The best stories have just a little bit of continuity to them, so I encourage kids to write at least a full phrase. Being handed a paper that just says “Noooooo!” leaves the next writer without much direction. If there is a kid who does not write fast enough to keep up, I have them sit just before me in the rotation and dictate their line to me.

This game is popular both with my elementary classes and with my teens.

For more of Becca’s thoughts on overcoming writing challenges, come to her free talk on Sparking Reluctant Writers.

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