Each summer, our district runs a week-long writing camp for students entering second through sixth grade. The program is designed especially for students who enjoy writing and students spend a significant portion of the four hours with some sort of writing utensil in their hands (or at their fingertips.) This summer, we went with a narrative theme, encouraging our writers to bring inanimate things to life. The children loved thinking about the thoughts, conversations, and conflicts that their stuffed animals, dolls, toys, and pets could have. Most of our curriculum has students create personal narrative or realistic fiction stories, so there are not many opportunities for them to create talking turtles, or magical fairies, or heroic unicorns or mischievous elephants. All of these creatures, and many more showed up in stories last week.
Each day, the five teachers had the opportunity to share what they had done, and we compiled a list of some of the successful activities. I have tried to categorize it in this post.
Community building activities:
- Compliment Posters: Each child had a piece of chart paper or construction paper, and the teacher allotted time for students to write compliments to that child about his/her writing. I could see this working for individual writing units over the course of the year, as students would definitely run out of space if the poster lasted too long. The students loved reading the specific compliments, comments, and feedback from their writing community!
- Interview each other: Take a few minutes to come up with questions to ask each other, then a few minutes to interview, and a few minutes to share. This was a wonderful exercise for speaking and listening, but it also helped students get to know each other.
- Five Finger Introduction: Each finger represents something that one child will tell another child, or a group of children. (Favorite food, favorite game…) What each finger represents offers a way to differentiate the strategy, tailoring the activity to the ages and cognitive abilities of students.
- One syllable adjective game: “Describe a place using all one-syllable words.” The upper elementary students went on with this game by having it turn into a two-syllable word game, then a three-syllable word game and so on...We had a lot of laughs with this one.
- Five Senses Activity: from Show Don’t Tell- Act out certain adjectives that describe feelings, then write it. ex: sad.
- Salad bowl game: everyone writes as many words within a topic (people, adjectives, places, food…) on strips of paper, folds the strips, and places them into a bowl. Then, each player gets a turn to describe as many words on strips as they can in one minute. All the students at all levels loved this game, and it differentiates itself, as students write down what they know. Teachers could also differentiate by allowing more or less time for individual students.
For promoting more writing-prompts and inspiration:
- We were all inspired by Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic, and used many of the prompts and inspirational ideas found at the end of each chapter. One of the teachers' favorites was at the end of Chapter 6: Using the point of view of a puppy or kitten, pretend you are just able to know what everything is, using all of your senses. Describe what his eyes, nose, ears, tongue, and paws tell him. Does he understand everything, or does he misunderstand some things?
- Autobiographical poem:
- Line 1: Name
- Line 2: Words that describe you
- Line 3: What you like
- Line 4: What you don’t like
- Line 5: Movies or books that you have seen or read
- Line 6: Goals that you have or something that you want to learn to do
- “List with a twist”: Write all of the words that you can think of about a specific place, emotion, etc. Then, without using any of those words, describe that same place, emotion, etc. ex: beach, sad… What incredible writing came out of this exercise. One student returned to her notebook to find the entry that she had written about the beach so that she could create a better sense of her beach setting within her story. I highly recommend this exercise for all levels of writers.
- Group poem: Each person writes one line, then passes the paper to the next person. Note: This activity works especially well with a title or a unifying theme.
- The Scholastic Story Starter is a resource that I stumbled upon when I was looking for electronic prompts. My daughter was in the program, and last night, she went back to the Story Starter and created a prompt for herself. I even heard her tell her friends about it. If you have a chance, I highly recommend checking out this resource; it offers different genres, as well as different grade levels. Our students loved it!
We already have ideas brewing for next year that are based on several of the reflections from this year. If any of you have other favorite writing activities, word games, or sources of inspiration, we always welcome new ideas.
Happy writing, and happy summer!