Friday, February 5, 2010

Hallmark Card Creative Writing Classroom Exercise

This is one of the classroom creative writing exercises I’ve used since I first started teaching. (I hope this is my self-created exercise, and I'm not taking credit for someone else's accomplishment.):

1.) I buy two Hallmark cards with fairly lengthy messages on in the inside. I prefer the Just Between You and Me brand—the ones that focus on expressing sentimental love. I type them up on my computer. I don’t want my students to know that they are from the cards.

2.) I type up a poem from a famous poet—say, Pablo Neruda—regardless of what you choose, it needs to fit the theme of the other two cards.

3.) Without telling the class two of the three “poems” come from Hallmark cards, I pass out Xeroxes of the poems to the class.

4.) I say this: “Pretend that you are the editor of a literary magazine. We’re going to read these poems, and you will want to rank them in order of artistic success.” Of course, I tell them that they’re going to have define the term “artistic success” in their own words. I also always like them to rank things; it forces them to take a position—students love to dodge such behaviors otherwise. Perhaps the most important behavior you can teach a student these days: to have an opinion.

5.) I tally up the results on the board.

Almost inevitably, the poem by the published author ranks last. Of course, I don’t tell them this has happened until we’ve hashed out all the reasons for their rankings. But once it's time, this is where the trick come in: to make sure you don’t shame them into offering inauthentic epiphanies. At the same time, you want them to begin to reconsider their aesthetic preferences.


  1. I love this: "Begin to reconsider their aesthetic preferences." I once did something similar with Hallmark, Clapton lyrics and maybe even a Neruda poem. And you're right, Hallmark won. Perhaps Hallmark is hiring.

  2. If I lived in Kansas City, that may not be such a bad job to have. Greeting Card Writer.

  3. Way back when I was an undergrad and wanted to work on the college's lit mag, our faculty mentor put together a packet like this, although I'm not sure she used Hallmark cards, maybe just student work compared to people like Frost and Rich and James Wright. It definitely did the trick in teaching me to reconsider my aesthetics. Thanks for reminding me of it! I'll take this into class for sure.

  4. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  5. I do writing but not good enough because I am a dangling when it comes to correct grammar. :)