CIS Forum 2017

Essay writing workshop ideas

Before you start


  1. Consider your goals. Hopefully it is not only to produce an essay, but also help the student better understand themselves. 
  2. How many students will you be working with?
  3. Consider your space. Space can dictate what you can do. 
  4. Consider how much time you have. 



There are two keys: 1) Get your kids reflecting and 2) Get them writing. 

To get the juices flowing, you need to structure the event so you scaffold the kids writing time with self-discovery and sharing. For the most part, intersperse short self-discovery and sharing exercises with 15-20 minute writing sections. 

Resources to get you going

Firstly, Check out Pam’s fantastic Finding Your Voice website. She does 1 hour a week for six weeks. Lots of great things established there. 

Check out the Free resources from the College Essay Guy. His webinar trainings are fantastic.

Here he is talking about how to lead a life changing college essay workshop.

Warm-up exercises

Values Clarification

  • Via Character Strengths assessment–Free. Learn about the 24 character strengths  and how to build them here.

College Essay Resources

I have curated a lot of resources on the college essay and personal statement here

Essay Hell offers a lot of interesting ideas. 


Get writing…for writing’s sake

Below are two free write ideas. Both are excellent. Sometimes you need more direction. Here are 

Julia Cameron popularized the idea of stream of conscious writing first thing to start your day–Morning pages. Her idea is 750 words or 3 pages:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–
they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

Proprioceptive Writing is a method for exploring the mind through writing. A simple method anyone can learn, PW is a powerful tool that can be used to:

        ~ Focus awareness, dissolve inhibitions, and build self-trust
        ~ Unburden your mind and resolve emotional conflicts
        ~ Connect more deeply with your spiritual self
        ~ Write and speak with strength and clarity
        ~ Awaken your senses and emotions
        ~ Liberate your creative energies

How The Method Works

(Source: Room to Write) Many have experienced the benefits of Proprioceptive Writing by attending workshops. However, the authors note that it’s very appropriate to carry it out at home — perhaps similarly to the way that some people keep a journal. Indeed, they advocate for a regular, daily practice of 25 minutes. They say that part of the power of the process is in the safety of the ritual.

• First, you’ll need to establish a block of alone-time (about half an hour) and a quiet place to be. If you live with others, make sure they understand the importance of giving you this space.

• Provide yourself with Baroque music, preferably the slower movements, played quietly. The authors explain that this type of music has been found to have a calming effect on the body. (I also suspect it is significant that the music provides bilateral stimulation, which is known to shift the way the brain processes thoughts and memories.)

• Light a candle and place it on a firm surface in front of you. Metcalf and Simon write that the candle generates “a luminous glow that can quiet your mind, focus your attention, and help you turn inward.”

• Gather a few pieces of unlined paper – this helps you remember to let go of the regular rules about writing.

• Set a timer for twenty-five minutes and begin writing. “Imagine your thoughts as spoken words and write them exactly as if you could hear them, as they occur to you moment by moment,” the authors say.  They go on to explain that you should not be writing for an audience; this is for you alone.

• As you go along, “listen to what you write.” To do this, you use the Proprioceptive Question: “What do I mean by _________?” Into the blank goes whatever word or phrase catches your attention. Then write what you “hear” in response to the question. For example, in my piece quoted above, I wrote, “What do I mean by ‘lost?’” That question led me to describe images that I hadn’t been aware were in my mind. In fact, it was interesting and helpful to me to find that “being lost feels kind of good.”

• When the time is up, finish your thought and then turn off the music. Then, before blowing out the candle, follow the Write by asking yourself (in writing) four concluding questions:


  • What thoughts were heard but not written?
  • How or what do I feel now?
  • What larger story is the Write part of?
  • What ideas came up for future Writes?


The authors explain that this is often when revelations occur. For writers and other artists, these questions can also help spark future work.