Superheroes get students excited about creative writing

Cary Ashby • Mar 19, 2019 at 2:00 AM

WILLARD — The creative writing component for the superhero unit sparked the interest of at least three of Kevin Garrett’s eighth-grade English students.

“He wanted to get the kids excited from the get-go this school year. … He just thought this would be a way to motivate them to read more, to write more,” said Kim Rice, Title I reading teacher for sixth through eighth grades at Willard Middle School. “It was just an eighth-grade assignment, but we knew that everybody needed to get excited about reading and writing.”

The students in Garrett’s classes had to create their own superheroes. In doing so, they decided on their character’s powers, described their personality and established where they live.

“I was excited because I love creative writing and I’ve always been interested in it my whole life,” said Addie Stephens, who enjoys writing “adventure stories” on her own.

Her character, Azure Ocean, studies marine biology in college and was raised on the beach in Charleston, S.C.

“I really like ocean science and things like that,” said Stephens, the daughter of Eric and Michelle, who might consider studying that subject when she is older.

Bryce Dials created the superhero Dark Shadow, whose secret identity is “a simple engineer,” John Summers. As Dark Shadow, the father of an adopted daughter, according to the story, “can roam around secret enemy bases with his carbon-fiber suit that can turn him invisible.”

“I like science a lot, so I thought it would be cool to make a suit,” said Dials, the son of Brad and Jenny. “I usually do like writing. Most people don’t like it, but you get to put things on the paper and create things.”

The boy said he chose to set his Dark Shadow story in Los Angeles because he enjoys big cities. While his character is somewhat similar to Batman, Dials’ favorite superhero is Ant-Man.

“I love the movie and I think his power is unique,” Dials said, referring to the ability to control and communicate with ants.

Another component of the superhero unit was artwork. The students also read stories about several Marvel Comics characters, including the Hulk, Spider-Man and the X-Men.

“I liked how he wanted them to come up with a world problem that they could solve. There was some critical thinking, problem-solving skills. … It ran the gamut,” Rice said. 

For the reading teacher, a challenge in the Willard English department curriculum is it’s more geared toward non-fiction writing. Rice said students don’t have the opportunity to do much creative writing and she believes the superhero unit was “a healthy outlet for any and all children.”

“They need to find the writer’s voice, express themselves in whatever format — you know, poetry, stories. It was nice because it also combined” art with writing, Rice said, referring to Garrett’s assignments.

Naomi Schag created the “courageous superhero,” Portal, whose home is in Madison, Wisc.

“For some reason, whenever we do a state, Wisconsin is the first state that comes to mind,” Schag said with a slight chuckle.

Portal (AKA Peyton Carter, 17, who works at Chipotle) was inspired by Schag’s friend.

“I came up with her personality traits from my friend Taylor,” the student said. “The assignment was to do something about a world problem, so I chose pollution.”

The superhero uses a “circular opening to scoop up the scum and garbage from our oceans, cities and streets.” Also according to Schag’s story, Portal “isn’t always a popular heroine.”

When asked about her finished product, Schag said she “thought it was pretty good,” but there was room for improvement, such as using synonyms to replace some words.

“I’ve always been interested in publishing books. It was interesting to know the processes,” added the daughter of Joe and Keely, who eventually wants to publish her own novel.

Schag was asked what she thought when she first heard about the superhero unit. 

“I was really excited because I’m excited about all writing projects,” said the student, who prefers writing realistic fiction. “It was a really good opportunity to be creative and do whatever you want with it.”

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