4 Creative Reading Activities to Spark Engagement

Creative Reading:
it's what happens when the reader takes the reins.

Hey, y'all! It's Danielle from Nouvelle ELA here. We spend a LOT of time reading books and watching TV and movies in our household, and one game we love to play is “what if”. What if the ending had been different? The characters had had a stronger motivation? The main conflict had been more believable? This is what I call creative reading.

In fact, in pretty much every episode of the YA CafĂ© Podcast, we ask ourselves and our listeners how the story would have turned out differently if the characters or plot points would have been tweaked just a little bit. What if Leah hadn’t been turned into a love interest in the movie Love, Simon? What if Bri had had more people in her corner in On the Come Up? What if the main character has been transgender in Death Prefers Blondes?

Strong readers do this all the time. Readers and viewers who do this have two experiences: the experience of seeing the story as the creator intended it, and then the joy that comes after, the joy of molding the story to be your own. If you’ve ever written fanfiction, then you know about that: the freedom you have to explore more of the world and more from the characters you already love.

Our students deserve creative reading, too. We can share opportunities and guidance in imagining alternatives for each page of a novel. Reading is about absorbing someone else’s choices for a set of characters and events; creative reading is about reshaping a story to imagine possibilities. Creative Reading is about transformation.

Practicing creative reading means taking ownership of material. When you imagine alternatives, you're writing your own story. It builds student confidence, endurance, and a love for reading, while still providing space to play.

Here are some ways to give your students space to read creatively:

1. Share a songfic or filk.

One of the most commercial types of creative reading and fanfiction in general is songfic. This is any time that someone takes a work of fiction and shapes a song around it. Generally, they aren’t just telling the story we all know and love, but pushing it to the next level somehow. Maybe they’re telling a story about what comes after or sharing the story we already know from a new perspective.

Here’s an example of a songfic from Katniss’ perspective in The Hunger Games. This is a parody video, but it also shows some creative reading. The song is parodying Katniss’ indecision between Gale and Peeta, but also ridiculing the fact that she thinks about that at all in a time of war. The creator then speculates about the sort of advice Katniss would receive from Rue.

I also consider Ed Sheeran’s song “I See Fire” a songfic of Tolkien’s characters and situations. Yes, that song was used in The Hobbit movie, but you can definitely see evidence of creative reading – Sheeran is imagining a character’s thoughts from first-person, whereas the original text was in third. Sharing songs with students is such an easy way to show them that creative reading is everywhere!

Some books leave us free and some books make us free. 
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

2. Have students write songs.

Still in the musical vein, you can have students write songs about a book they’ve read or one of your class novels. You can even narrow down the topic. I’ve had students write songs about the symbolism they found during our reading of The Pearl. Generally, students find it much easier to rewrite the words of an existing song than coming up with a tune on their own.

This is a great form of creative reading because it also uses multiple intelligences. Students are not only processing their understanding of a novel; they are sharing insight via a new medium.

When we read, our mind begins unraveling new ideas. 
– Terry Heick

3. Use Creative Reading Task Cards

I developed Creative Reading Task Cards to give students some structure as they practice this skill. Each card asks one focus question about plot, character, conflict, theme, and setting.

You can use this concept as part of independent reading, literature circles, or with a whole-class novel. Students can sit in quiet reflection and think about different options for the story, or they can use the prompts to guide a discussion. Strong readers know what it’s like to get so engaged in a “what if” conversation with a friend that just builds and builds until we have a brand new, big and beautiful story. We can offer students the same opportunity.

Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere. 
– Mary Schmich

4. Let your students write fanfiction.

When it comes to fanfiction, the sky’s the limit. You could take anything you’ve read in class – any story, poem, or novel – and ask students to keep writing. Ask them to write a deleted scene or even completely reimagine an existing scene. Ask them to map the existing text on a new setting. What if Wonder had taken place fifty years into the future? What if Harry Potter took place at an American high school?

Imagine the Possibilities

Some students need permission to imagine. They don’t know the “secret”—that strong readers already do this. You can model one a task as a think-aloud to show students how to begin. Assure them there’s no right answer and encourage them to experiment with different ideas.

Creative reading also strengthens the foundation for analysis. This means it's beneficial to a student’s long-term achievement. Once they can imagine different possibilities for how the story could have been written, students can analyze the author’s purpose in making the choices they did.

If you have questions about creative reading or want to share how you use this concept in your classroom, let me know in comments or reach out on Instagram @nouvelle_ela. Happy teaching!

Other resources you will love!

Creative Activities for ANY Novel by Tracee Orman
Writing Prompts for Independent Reading by Room 213
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