Writing games

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These activities work well as lesson introductions but can also feed in to group activities and whole lessons. As with activities outlined in previous sections, talk is key. Pupils should be encouraged to work with partners, share and discuss ideas and have their responses valued; there is no ‘right’ answer.

1 The Writing Box

Keep a 'writing box' in the classroom. Each week put in a new object that the children have to write about. They can take any angle that they wish.

2 Favourite Words

  • Make a list of your own favourite words together and read them aloud. Ask the children to compile their own lists and ask other people what their favourite words are and write them down. 
  • Get a dictionary and ask children to look through it and find words they like the sound of. Ask them to write them down and ask themselves why they like them. What is it that attracts them to the word?
  • Make up your own class dictionary by making up five words a day – puddlewonderfull, squongey skwiff and kerfuddle. Make up meanings for the new words.
  • Ask children to think about favourite characters and their names and create lists of names for different types of characters.
  • Create list poems of place names/pop songs/cars.

3 Kennings

A kenning is a compound figurative or phrase that aims to replace the noun.  It consists of two words that describe the noun. Kennings originate from the Anglo Saxon “Norse” spoken by Vikings and slowly integrated within English.  Very simply, it is a way of describing something indirectly, like a metaphor or simile, and making kennings are a great way to introduce children to figurative speech. Ask children to create their own kennings as a list and for others to guess what they are describing.

E.g. What am I? (an orange)

  • Squidgy ball
  • Dotty skin
  • Yellowy red
  • Sticky fingers
  • Sweet lips
  • Jigsaw pieces

Animals are good to describe in kenning form:

  • Quiet prowler
  • Night howler
  • Free mealer
  • Chicken stealer
  • Rusty splasher
  • Hunter dasher

What am I? (a fox)

Ask children to think of any noun – glasses, octopus, tomato. Now ask them to gather together groups of kennings that describe the noun. Now put those kennings in a list and try to use alliteration, rhyme and rhythm to make the list sound poetic. When the children have a list, get them to read them to each other and see if they can guess what the other is describing.

4 Riddles

Riddles are fun and a great way to introduce adults and children to poetry.  They raise awareness of metaphor, personification and writing in the first person.

Present a one-line riddle to the group, such as:

A gold coin in blue - what am I? (the sun)Think about simile – what’s circular and golden like a gold coin? A further clue is the fact that it is surrounded by blue (or grey depending on the weather). You’ve got it - the sun.

Four fingers and a thumb – but flesh and bone, I have none. What am I? (a glove)This thing is like a hand, but not a hand because it doesn’t have any bones or flesh.  It has a type of skin - when worn, it is like a second skin - a glove.

Choose a topic from an envelope or a “Riddle Bag” that you have made in advance (parts of the body/fruits/animals work well). 

As a class or as individuals, try to write a four-line riddle on the chosen topic using the following model:

  • A direct comparison with something unusual
  • Something it is and something it isn’t
  • What it is used for/what people do with it
  • Something descriptive (e.g. its colour, feel, sound, smell, shape)

5 The Simile Game

Look at the list of common similes below and ask the children to explain to their partner the story behind the simile. Try inventing new similes and listing them. Collect the best from scanning poems and novels. Make class lists. Discuss why a simile works - is it just a visual similarity? Create a simile alphabet in pairs or small groups within a few minutes.

  • As brave as a lion
  • As busy as a cat on a hot tin roof
  • As cunning as a fox
  • As deaf as a post
  • As dry as dust
  • As happy as Larry
  • As happy as a rat with a gold tooth
  • As hungry as a bear
  • As hungry as a wolf
  • As innocent as a lamb
  • As mad as a hatter
  • As patient as Job
  • As poor as a church mouse
  • As proud as a peacock
  • As scarce as hen's teeth
  • As silly as a goose
  • As slippery as an eel
  • As slow as a tortoise
  • As sly as a fox
  • As stubborn as a mule
  • As thin as a toothpick
  • As timid as a rabbit
  • As tricky as a box of monkeys
  • As welcome as a skunk at a lawn party
  • As wise as Solomon

6 Dead Metaphors

Dead metaphors are clichés - they are the ones that everyone knows and have been used so many times that they are just a part of everyday language, e.g.

  • Stone cold
  • A heart of stone
  • Apple of my eye
  • Boiling mad
  • Steer clear
  • Bear fruit
  • Hatch a plan
  • Difficult to swallow

Of course, the first time these were used, they would have been arresting - something new and apt. Now they have become stale - and have little fresh impact. They are part of our clichéd language - they communicate but not as powerfully as something freshly minted. Collect as many as possible from reading and noticing each other's speech. Make a list. Use these for a writing game by taking them literally, e.g.

  • I felt stone cold -My arms were rockAnd my legs were granite.
  • She was the apple of my eye -But someone took a biteOut of my sight!
  • My teacher was boiling mad -Steam came out of her mouth!
  • I hatched a plan -It is only just able to walkAnd needs bottle-feeding daily.

This sort of language play helps children look anew at language that they may just be using without really thinking about its meaning.

7 Inventing Metaphors

First of all, identify something that you want to create a metaphor around - for instance - the stars. Now think of something that is like the subject or something to do with the subject - they shine, glitter, are like tin-tacks, like diamonds, like jewels, like fiery eyes. Now use an idea to make a metaphor, remembering not to use the word 'like', e.g.

  • The stars are shiny glitter.
  • The stars tin tacked to the night.
  • The diamond stars shine.
  • The jewelled stars.
  • The fiery stars eyed the world

Notice how one simple way is to:

  1. Generate a simile - the stars are like diamonds.
  2. Omit the word 'like' - the stars are diamonds.
  3. Move the noun in front of the image - the diamond stars. Dylan Thomas uses this technique in his writing!

8 Extending the Metaphor

Take a simple simile, e.g. My teacher is like an... eagle.

Turn this into a metaphor by removing the word like. Now think about what eagles do and just extend the sentence further, e.g.

My teacher is an eagle swooping around the room, hovering over his students, diving down on innocent prey and demolishing them with the terrible grip of his talons.

9 Creating Potions

Write magical potions to cure illnesses/bad habits.

10 The Word Waiter

The 'word waiter' can serve up only a certain number of words. This can be used for short burst writing, haiku, letters or news items. The randomness of the selection adds a challenging edge that often forces creativity beyond the predictable. The word waiter might serve up a character, place and dilemma for storytelling. Here are some possible starters - but ask the children and add many more ingredients!

Character Place Dilemma










bus stop


castle kitchen

old bridge

chip shop

wooden tower

gets lost

is chased

steals something

is trapped

sees a fight

finds a cave

loses money

finds an alien

11 Poetry Doors

The writer Stephanie Strickland says that, 'poems are words that take you through three kinds of doors: closed doors, secret doors, and doors you don't know are there'. Make a list of doors that poetry is.... Just be inventive - have some fun. It doesn't have to make sense. Indeed, logic and sense will probably lead to dull writing.

  • Poetry is a closed door.
  • Poetry is a secret door.
  • Poetry is a door that you did not know was there.
  • Poetry is a door of foxes, as a sly as sunlight.
  • Poetry is a door of dreams where thoughts hide.
  • Poetry is a door of disasters, where stories crumble.
  • Poetry is a door of kittens playing.

12 In the City of…

This game is ideal for building descriptions of settings. Think of a place and identify one thing that you can see (e.g. a park bench). Then say, 'in the city of … is a park bench'.

The next person has to repeat what you have said and add in something else, e.g. 'In the city of… is a …. and under the … is a sleeping dog.' A list of prepositions helps.

Pass the line on, with each child adding something else they can see or hear. Try playing the game in groups and pairs until the children can visualise and describe a scene in their own mind.

Instead of 'in the city of …', play the game using the setting in their story, e.g. 'in the haunted house'. Show children how to sketch the scene and annotate, adding in similes. Then practise turning the scenes into mini paragraphs.

13 Disasters

Children - indeed, most humans, - are fascinated by disasters. But what might be a disaster for superman or an ant? Ask children to come up with more ideas.

5 Disasters for Superman.

  • His tights are in the wash.
  • The colour in his boxer shorts washes out and now they're pink.
  • His Mum says to be in by 8.00 and in bed by 9.00.
  • His Dad tells him not to start fights.
  • His Gran gives him Kryptonite pants for Christmas.

14 Invented Insects

Create an encyclopaedia of invented insects/birds/animals/fruits.

15 Dragon's menu

Dragons are always popular with children. Each child could make their own dragon

An alphabet for a dragon's menu might also be fun:

  • A is for an angler's boot.
  • B is for a bull's horns.
  • C is for a car's back seat.
  • D is for dirty dish cloths...

Other things to do with dragons:

  • Create a dragon passport
  • Write a ‘wanted’ poster for a missing dragon
  • Create an encyclopaedia of different types of dragons

16 A Nuisance of Nouns

Ask the children to explain the collective nouns in the alphabet below and then create their own alphabet - this might best be done in small teams, dividing the alphabet up between them.

An abandonment of orphansA ballet dance of swansA crush of rhinocerosesA dose of doctorsAn elephant of enormitiesA fidget of school childrenA glacier of fridgesA hover of hawksAn inquisition of judgesA Jonah of shipwrecksA knuckle of robbersA lottery of diceA misery of bulletsA number of mathematiciansAn outrage of starsA prayer of nunsA quake of cowardsA roundabout of argumentsA swelter of duvetsA tangle of trickstersAn upset of horoscopesA vein of goldfinchA wonder of starsAn x-ray of soothsayersA zeal of enthusiasts

17 The Room of Stars

This game follows on from the invention of collective nouns. There are many possibilities. Split the class in two. One half has to rapidly make a list of places, e.g. room, town, city, village, mountain, river, star, sun, kitchen, alleyway, lawn, garden, castle, etc. The other half has to make a list of nouns and abstract nouns, e.g. memories, love, doom, sparklers, curtains, sunsets, wisdom, jealousy, disasters, grass, hedgerows, teapots, certainty, etc. Then put children into pairs and they match the words listed exactly in the order they write them down, e.g.

The room of memories.The town of love.The city of doom.The village of sparklers.The mountain of curtains.The river of sunsets.The star of wisdom.The sun of jealousy.The kitchen of disasters.The alleyway of grass.The lawn of hedgerows.The garden of teapots.The castle of certainty.

As well as places you could try vehicles, or 'the moment of...', or time, e.g. 'the day of...', 'the week of...', 'the month of...', the year of...'. You could leave this just as a list of surprising and interesting combinations. Interestingly, many seem to have a power of their own. Show the children how to take one of the ideas that seems to have promise and extend it. I find this easiest by taking on with an abstract noun. For instance, if you take the 'kitchen of disasters', you could list all sorts of disasters, e.g.

The kitchen of disasters is where - The kettle's spout melted, The teapot shattered into splinters, The fridge shivered all night, The sink sunk!

The city of doom could be a list of things that have happened that are doom-laden. Try a different pattern by using 'in', e.g.

In the city of doomThe streets are awash with dead starfishAnd the windows have wept tears of ice,The shops are empty as silence...

18 Found poem

Get a collection of newspapers, magazines, posters and general text. Ask children to cut out 20 - 25 headlines they like the sound of. Put them all together in a pile and then get children to play with piecing them together as a complete poem.  Newspaper headlines are excellent in this task because they tend to employ poetic techniques such as rhyme, onomatopoeia and alliteration. The children can also add their own conjunctions, words or phrases to add to the effect of the poem. Remember, meaning is not essential – the poem does not have to “make sense”. It can, but it doesn’t have to. It’s also just nice to hear what the juxtapositions of strange bundles of words do next to each other.

19 Haiku

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry consisting of 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively.  They focus on simple everyday things in an attempt to give the reader a new experience and deeper appreciation of those simple everyday things.

Originally called Hokku, which means, “starting verse”, they are divided into two sections. The first section is the first two lines which captures the image for the reader. The second section is the last line that frames the image and sheds further light on it in a figurative way. For instance:

Manchester Haiku

Football fans slumber
Imagining miracles
A curious joy

Haiku is a great way to warm up for further writing.  It is a clear focus of an image or an event and a starting point to focus upon.

Collect a number of photos or images.  Ask children to choose one they like and then ask them to try to capture the image in words. These words should form the first two lines of a haiku. Remember, the final line should relate to the first two lines, but not directly.

To start with, don’t worry too much about the syllable count.  Focus on capturing a clear image. Then focus on the final line which must stand alone but relate to the first two lines.

When the children have a rough sketch of the haiku, try to concentrate on the syllable count by editing and tidying up the poem. Remember, the first line should contain five syllables, the second line seven and the last line five. However, you can be flexible.

If the children find this easy, get them to write a tri-haiku, which is three haiku poems that all relate to each other. Adapted from materials at: http://www.everybodywrites.org.uk/writing-games/