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The Importance of Stimuli for Creative Writing

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

I believe that every child has an imagination. I’ve seen children turn a simple piece of plain paper into the coolest, most detailed fighter jet ever with just a few folds. They have the ability to immerse themselves into a beautiful new world with magical fairies and superhero horses, if they want to. We see it all the time on the playground! Children creating stories and fantasies inspired by simple conversation and sharing ideas with their friends. But why does that imagination seem to dwindle into panic when we ask them to put these ideas onto paper, and write a story?

There have been many times throughout my career where I have asked a very imaginative child to write a piece of creative writing about anything they want! Surprisingly, minds often go blank at this point, with most children stating, “I just don’t know what to write”.

It’s not that they lack that imagination, it’s not that they’re poor writers, it’s just that unfortunately, many do not know where to start. Some children have so much that they desperately want to talk about, that their stories lack detail and coherence, writing as much as they can while attempting to build some kind of storyline! Whereas others just stop and stare into the blank page while the clock ticks past, overwhelmed by the nothingness in front of them.

This is why, whenever I ask a child to write anything, big or small, a stimulus is needed to get them started, and focus their imaginations onto something a bit more stable. We need to take all of those feelings, the hundreds of ideas and imaginative madness, and just slowly steer it into something more manageable.

A stimulus can be anything that evokes a reaction. Anything that gets the brain whirring with ideas. Therefore, pretty much anything can be a stimulus! A picture, a video or even a song can be a stimulus. Afterall, Stephenie Meyer wrote the Twilight series after taking inspiration from a dream … If only success could be that easy!

The Literacy Shed is my “go to” for collecting a stimulus for a lesson. They have hundreds of incredible pictures and story titles that can be used for a piece of writing. Here are some of my favourites… can you feel the creative juices flowing?

Let’s have a little look at a stimulus in action. Here, I asked one of my primary children to create a piece of descriptive writing, inspired by this picture:

And after a few minutes of thinking, this is what she wrote:

“I watched as my eyes met with this magnificent creature. Its emerald green eyes locked onto mine as it trudged through the dense forest, and I heard a strange wooden knocking sound from its legs. I saw the golden butterflies swarm in its cage-like stomach, and it walked slowly, trying not to break the delicate spindles of spiderwebs on its antlers. I noticed baby blue eggs on its back, huddled together in their nest. Who did they belong to?”

Impressive, right?

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