Living Words Program

Getting Started:

PLEASE visit our new website at: for information and exercises! 



1.      Choose a writing exercise.

2.      Write “on-the-spot”

3.      Share what you have written!

You will be writing for mental exercise so the end product is not important – the process is. Since the goal is not to become a better writer, there is no critique or feedback to improve your writing. Instead writing in lots of different genres will challenge you to think in new ways each time. Just like if you only exercised one part of your body, only that part would become stronger. Your brain needs to be challenged in a variety of ways too!




            Who will be writing? You, by yourself? A group? If a group, how will you find people to join?


            Where will you write? What location would be good for writing (e.g. is it quiet?; have a table?)?


            When will you be writing? How often? What day? What time?

WHAT (do you need)?

            What supplies do you need to gather? Do you want to write with pen and paper or on a computer? In a composition book (like school) or a special notebook? In multiple files on the computer or in one folder?

HOW (to do it)?

            Which writing activities (link) do you want to try? Are you willing to try different genres of writing?

The Living Words website is designed to give you ideas and suggestions. There is no one best way to implement this program. Living Words is a creative writing program for anyone and can be done in any format. However, we will give information about what has worked and not worked in our experience. We hope you will learn from what we are sharing and design your own program, making changes as you see fit for your own group.

We are here to help you create and implement your own Living Words program. You can email us to ask questions or make suggestions.

Start Your Own Living Words Program!

Living Words is designed to be extremely flexible for any type of individual and designed for whatever works best for each group. There is no doubt that this program has the potential to benefit anyone who is involved.

Go to for writing exercises and information for how to get started!

Who is the Living Words Program for?

The original Living Words program was designed for an early stage support group at the Alzheimer's Association. It was offered to both the individual with Alzheimer's and their caregiver. Since it is a writing program, it does require a certain level of cognitive ability, so individuals in the early to middle stages of dementia (Alzheimer's or any other form) are able to participate. However, it is possible to re-design many of the writing activities for individuals with verbal ability, but not the ability to hold on to ideas long enough to be able to fully form sentences into a written story.

In addition to individuals with dementia, it is also beneficial to their caregivers or others that are close to them. It may be a spouse, child, grandchild or family friend that participates in the Living Words program with the individual with dementia. Both individuals write and share with each other.

Under the "Why do this program" tab (above) you will find information regarding the benefits of the program. There are different benefits to the different types of individuals participating in the program. Read more to find out more.

Typical Format for a Group Workshop

By Lauren Holland & Jeremy L. C. Jones

Here is the typical (or maybe we should say “ideal”) format for a workshop.  It is basically an outline of what worked best for us.  This can be used as a resource for guest writers to provide guidelines for a the structure of a session. Remember, you know your group better than we do!

1. The moderator introduces the writer. We recommend that the moderator and the writer (person leading the workshop) should be different. 

2. The writer introduces him or herself.   Generally, the writer gives an introductory anecdote involving humor.  He or she may begin by saying something to the effect of, “Here is what I write, and here is how I got into writing.”

*It is important that the writer not linger on his or her personal connection with Alzheimer’s disease. From our experience, writers that spent too much time on Alzheimer’s and dementia tended to get very sad, which created a somber mood for the workshop that was hard to shake.  (Jeremy learned this the hard way.)

3. The writer introduces the exercise (and, possibly, how he or she came up with that exercise.) The writer may have to explain the exercise a number of times.  He or she should also warn the group that they will have the opportunity to share their work with the group when they are done.  No one likes surprises when it comes to speaking in front of a group.  Warn them in advance and keep it optional!

4. The rest of the workshop is a balance between private writing time and more expressive work time. Generally, this occurs in about 5 minute intervals.  Therefore the pattern resembles something like this: individuals are given a prompt (or part of a prompt), they write privately, and then they share what they have written.

* The moderator should be aware that when the first three participants have finished, he or she needs to start wrapping up that segment of the exercise. If too many people have finished and their attention is drifting, it is can become disruptive. It is okay to stop the others when they are not yet finished.  We think of this as leaving them a little bit hungry for more!

5. Invite participants to read what they have written or offer to read what a participant has written for them. Different people are comfortable with different things, so asking, “Do you want to read or do you want me to read for you?” works well. If people read, comment on it! Point out what is compelling. Encourage others to comment on what other people have written.

6. Continue with the balance of private writing time and expressive work time. Offer another part of the exercise or give them a small new exercise. Some workshop sessions may be based on one prompt with many parts, while other workshop sessions may consist of smaller independent exercises or increasingly difficult versions of the same prompt. This follows with the balance of talk, write, talk, write. Humor and group interaction are extremely effective as well as variation of activity.

* Try to encourage a break from the normal pattern of the caregiver doing everything for the individual with dementia. Also, try to gently encourage people beyond their initial embarrassment or hesitation to write. (Nudge people out of their comfort zones; never shove them.) Be prepared for it to take some individuals a few workshop sessions before they feel comfortable writing or sharing!

Now it’s your turn!  Above we have outlined what has worked for us.  Let us know what works for you and for your group.

Here is a 1-page PDF version of the typical format, so that you may print it off for your writer.  Download it here: General Format of a Living Words Workshop.pdf

First workshop meeting format

 Below you will find an outline for our first Living Words workshop on June 25th, 2009. During the first meeting it is necessary to set some ground-rules and provide basic information.

Introduction (1min):  Provide plan for the workshop (how long, order of activities, etc.). Hand out journals (or whatever they will write on) and pens. If the group does not know each other, it is recommended that everyone wear a name tag. You can also use name tents (fold a piece of paper length-wise, write name on one side, and place open side down on the table so that everyone can see it).

Explain purpose of workshop (1-2min): It is important to stress why you want to offer and why you think others should participate in the Living Words program. Explain your interest and why you care to put in the time and effort to organize it. Discuss benefits (see "Why do this program" tag at top of page), such as cognitive stimulation and releasing stress by having fun with others.

Rules (1-2min): It is important to make the environment as comfortable as possible for everyone. Therefore, we recommend telling participants to do whatever they feel comfortable doing. This may only be observing the first week, but eventually sharing the story they wrote with the group during later workshops. Attendees should not feel any undo stress or pressure to do anything they do not want to do during the program - but you have to tell them that!

Give other information (1-2min):  You always need to tell attendees where they can find the closest bathroom and that they can get up and leave at any time. Any other information about the setting should be given at that time. We also suggest that you tell attendees that you will hold on to their journals (or whatever they will write in) during the course of the workshops and why (so they do not have to remember to bring it with them each time). If individuals want to ensure that no one else is reading their writing then you can ask them to write "private" on the front of the journal with their name on it.

Ice Breaker (15-20min): The purpose of an ice breaker is to get attendees comfortable and talking with each other. The type and extent of the ice breaker may change depending on how well the group knows one another. The ice breaker we have used on our first workshop is based on Rhea Zackich's "Ungame" in which the participant chooses a question from a stack of cards (e.g. "Would you ever go skydiving and why?") and answers it outloud for the group. It is a great way to get everyone thinking and putting those thoughts into words. The next step is to write it down! The ice breaker may take a little longer during that first workshop, but that is ok, allow everyone to get comfortable.

Writing Activity (30min): See the tab above "Writing Activities" for lots of ideas or learn how to invite a writer to lead a workshop in "Getting Started" tab.

Wrap-up (5min):  Summarize what you did during the first workshop and discuss the plan for the next workshop. Allow attendees to discuss what they liked and disliked about the workshop. Make sure to write down that feedback!

 Download a 1-page guide for the typical format for the first workshop here: General Format for the First Living Words Workshop.pdf

Finding an appropriate space to do the workshops

The workshop space is an important component to creating an atmosphere that encourages creative energy as well as a since of group interaction and community. In our own workshops, we have found that some specifics of the room set-up has made a big difference in the way the participants are able to interact as well as its impact on the overall feel of the workshop.

The Room- Ideally, the room is large enough to accommodate your group, but small enough so that the group takes up the majority of the room's space. Windows, paintings or other art decor on the walls are all components of the room that promote a creative workshop feel.

The Tables- We have found that setting the tables up either in a circle or a U-shape works very well. Participants are able to look at each-other throughout icebreakers as well as during the sharing of their writing.  

The Board- Ideally, there is somewhere in the room to hang a poster board (or write on a dry-erase or chalk board) the prompt, so that participants may refer to it throughout their writing. 

 A few specifics- During out workshops, we have set name tents up in front of each participant, so that other participants may easily read his or her name as well as stick-on name tags. We also have provided the participants with light snacks (coffee and bagels).  

Creating an Advertisement for Your Own Living Words Workshop

Creating a postcard is an easy way to advertise for your own Living Words workshop. You can post it as a flyer, mail it, or send it through email. Here is an example of the advertisement we used: 


Please use the following attachment as a template  to create your own flier for a Living Words Workshop:

 Living Words Ad Template