Do you have teacher’s block when it comes to inspiring your students to write?
After all, you can only write (and read) so many essays about your family, how you got to the U.S., or what you did last summer. If you are looking for a new way to get your students’ pens to the paper, and would like to read some not so ordinary pieces of writing to boot, you might want to try one of these not so typical means of inspiration. Most of them take almost no preparation (you’re busy, after all), and all will have your students thinking in ways they might not have thought before. Try one, and you’ll find they not only make writing fun, but they make reading fun, too.
Inspire Your Students to Write with These Simple but Effective Ideas
Stick It to Them
If you are trying to get your students to think creatively, this out of the bag writing activity is a great way to push them in that direction. It takes almost no preparation on your part, too. Simply grab a brown bag and some stickers, and you have all you need to get those creative juices flowing. Cut the stickers apart, leaving them on their backing. Put the stickers in the bag, shake them up, and you are ready to generate some great stories. Pass the bag to each student, and have them draw between three and six stickers. These stickers represent the characters, events, or settings they must include in their stories. Students place the stickers on their pages wherever they please and start writing. You can make the activity easier for students by keeping your stickers to one theme, such as zoo animals, or you can make it more difficult by including more unrelated stickers (for example, princesses and Mine Craft). Once students have finished their stories, display them on a free bulletin board so your class can read the creative compositions of their classmates and admire their sticky inspirations.
If you haven’t tried them in your classroom, story stones are a great resource that can be used many different ways. Story stones are smooth landscaping rocks that have target words painted on them. You can make your own with any words you want your students to use in class. Simply purchase some rocks (you can find them in the floral department of your local craft store) and use a paint pen or acrylic paint to write your target words on them. To give the stones a longer life, seal them with Mod Podge (a glue used for decoupage) or varnish to keep the words from chipping off. You can even use permanent marker to make your stones, and you don’t need to seal them (though they might be harder to read). Then throw your stones into a bag or basket and they are ready for your students. Have students pull stones from the bag and then use those words somewhere in their story. For an easier challenge, keep the number of stones for each story on the low side, three to five. For more of a challenge, have students choose up to ten stones or more. You can have students copy their words before putting the stones back in the bag and passing it to the next student. As students write their stories, they should either underline or highlight the words as they use them.
One of my great writing class finds was a set of Rory’s Story Cubes. I came across them when I was looking for a way to encourage creativity in my writing students. The story cubes are very simple, six white dice, each with six sides and six random pictures. To use the dice, a player rolls them and then must generate a story which uses the six objects in one way or another. The pictures range from an arrow to a fountain to an insect. I have used these cubes for both oral and written stories with my students, and they always have fun with the challenge of connecting seemingly unconnected pictures. It’s especially fun to see the different ways students interpret the simple line drawings. A set of Rory’s Story Cubes costs around ten dollars, but you could just as easily make your own with blank dice. (You can find these at any game store.) Your students are bound to love the challenge, too, and they might even surprise themselves with how creative they can be.
I Know What You Did Last Summer
You can get double duty out of this story generating idea since students will be writing one nonfiction piece and another fictional one, but keep in mind it works best with intermediate to advanced students. Start by having students think of a story from their childhood. Asking them to start by thinking of an emotion might help bring up the memories faster. When did you feel scared? Happy? Angry? Etc. Students then take a few minutes to write about that experience. (Note, this is a good chance to review different past tenses.) Once students have written their nonfiction piece, have them exchange papers with someone in the class. The second student reads what the first has written, and then uses that experience as inspiration for a fictional piece. If you really want to challenge your students, have them write the fictional piece in the present tense. Either way, the fictional piece should not be just a retelling of the first story, but it should use an idea, person, setting, or some other story element to inspire their original fictional piece. If you like, display each fictional piece with the nonfiction that inspired it. Students will enjoy reading how their classmates found inspiration from their experiences.
Start with a Writer
Another inspiring source for writing is the work of other writers. If you teach reading as well as writing, this is a way to bring the two together. After you have read a fictional piece or while you are reading it, ask students to underline or highlight any phrase, description, or sentence that stands out to them. It can be anything from one interesting word to an entire sentence, something they thought was funny, vivid, or interesting. Students will then use that phrase as inspiration for their own writing. They can either try to incorporate the exact phrase into what they are writing or just use it to give them an idea. For example, one student might like the word onomatopoeia and use that to inspire a story about a dog who sounds like a cat. Another student might like the way a particular character is described and use that person as the main character for his own piece. If it seems like this might be too much of a challenge for your students, make it a little easier on them by collecting phrases and descriptions for them. Then give each person an interesting phrase that you have chosen and see what inspiration comes from it.
Ultimately, inspiration for writing can come from just about anywhere. Give students a prop or a word, take a walk, or start with something someone else has written. No matter where your students get their literary ideas, as long as they are writing they are learning.
Do you have any out of the ordinary ways to inspire writing ideas in your students?
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