Entries from September 2011 ↓

Writing activity centers: Part 1

Baskets of Books

Writing activity centers are a great way to reinforce the formal composition skills you’re teaching in your curriculum. They’ll give your kids more practice writing in a fun, relaxed setting. Whether you create a basket of materials by the sofa or a stand alone writing desk in the family room, try these different learning center ideas.

Picture Book Mail

Place a collection of favorite picture books in a basket. Ask your child to read one or more of the books and then write a letter to one of the characters. What could she say in the letter? When finished, have your child place her letter in a decorated envelope, with a sticker for a stamp. Later, you can respond to the letter as the character your child wrote to!

“And Now, a Word From Our Sponsors”

Gather a variety of household items and place them in a box or basket. Ask each child to write out advertising copy and create a poster for a product. Why would folks want to buy this item? Remember to keep colored markers and construction paper close at hand, and encourage your kids to do rough drafts and sketches before they begin.

Character Diaries

At this center, have your children create the imaginary diaries of favorite characters from books or novels they’re reading. Design your own diaries or buy inexpensive ones from the store.

Round Robin Stories

Make available a timer and plenty of paper and pencils. Have each child begin to write a story based upon the same pre-selected prompt. (Visit Creative Writing Prompts for ideas, or use WriteShop StoryBuilders.) Set the timer for three minutes.

When finished, have the children exchange stories. Set the timer again for three minutes, and have each child begin adding to the story he or she just received. Write until the timer ends, and exchange papers again. Continue in this manner for several rounds of exchanging papers and adding content to everyone’s stories.

Let the original owner of each story read the resulting tale aloud, and enjoy the hilarity!

Silly Sentences

Ask each child to write a set number of sentences, some factual and some outright ridiculous.

  • A factual sentence might be: Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals.
  • A silly sentence might be: Cheetahs drive sports cars.

Remind kids to use correct capitalization and punctuation. When finished, have kids share their sentences with each other. Which are true? Which are false?

Self Portraits in Words

Using mirrors as guides, have your children draw pictures of themselves. Then ask your children how they would define themselves in words. What describing words would they use? Write those words on the paper, surrounding the self-portrait.

Family Portraits

Draw or paint portraits of each family member, including all the pets! Bind the pages together with a hole punch and yarn. Under the portrait, write a short one-paragraph description about each family member. Include information about characteristics, talents and interests, favorite activities, and more.

Related Post: Writing Activity Centers: Part 2

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Janet Wagner is a regular contributor to In Our Write Minds. For over two decades, Janet was an elementary and middle school teacher in two Christian academies, a public district school, and a public charter school. She also had the honor of helping to homeschool her two nieces. Janet and her husband Dean live on the family farm in the Piedmont region of north central North Carolina. Currently, she enjoys a flexible life of homemaking, volunteering, reading, writing, tutoring students and training dogs, and learning how to build websites. You can view her web work-in-progress at www.creative-writing-ideas-and-activities.com.

Modeling the brainstorming process

Working together during writing trains children in good brainstorming habits and teaches them to THINK before they WRITE.

You may think of writing as a hands-off subject: just give a child a piece of paper and a writing prompt and let him at it, right?

Well, not always.

You see, writing is a subject that must be taught in order for most children to learn and improve. A schoolteacher stands at the chalkboard, demonstrates writing methods, and explains new concepts. As homeschoolers, we may not actually stand in front of the “class” to teach a lesson, but our kids still need us to model for them at each point along the way—including the brainstorming process.

MODELING

When you teach a child to make his bed or do his own laundry, first you show him, and then you do it together, before you expect him to complete the task on his own.

Working together like this during writing also trains children in good brainstorming habits. If you just hand them the worksheet and skip the part where you model various techniques on a larger writing surface, you’re missing a golden opportunity to teach them how to think before they write. Eventually, you can let the reins out a bit as they demonstrate their ability to follow instructions and brainstorm properly, but for now, make sure you’re working together.

THE PURPOSE OF BRAINSTORMING

Most children are simply not used to brainstorming. Unless they’ve been trained in the art of story planning, they’re much more likely to do one of two things when it’s time to write:

  • Freeze at the sight of the blank page and barely scrawl out a couple of weak sentences. The end result is little more than a mess of smudges and teardrops.
  • Try to move a massive swirl of ideas from head to paper but wind up losing their focus. They’re left with a rambling, disjointed story that has too many characters, irrelevant bits of storyline, and lots of rabbit trails.

(Yes? You have one of these children? I see you nodding your head!)

The goal of a brainstorming worksheet is simply to help jumpstart the writing. Graphic organizers aren’t meant for writing full sentences, but for writing lists of words and short phrases. As you discuss story ideas together and jot details on your larger example, your student can copy the ones he likes onto his own worksheet.

Later, when he refers to the worksheet during writing time, the list of concrete words and other details will jog his memory and keep his writing from taking tangents. Brainstorming keeps him on track.

HOW TO BRAINSTORM TOGETHER

Draw a large 9-grid on a whiteboard or other writing surface. Discuss ideas for the beginning of the story. On your large example, write down three details that could happen, one in each box. Talk about:

  • What could happen first to introduce the story;
  • What happens second; and
  • What happens next.

Have your child draw a quick stick-figure sketch in each box on his own worksheet that represents each of these details. He does not need to add words at this time, but if he does, he should just copy the simple details (again, not complete sentences) you’ve written on your chart.

Do the same for the middle of the story, jotting down very simple words/phrases that could happen first, second and third in the middle of the story.

For the ending, jot down what could happen first, next, and last to bring the story to a satisfying end.

If your student prefers not to draw pictures, that’s okay; he can write words. Just encourage him to write LISTS of words rather than complete sentences. (Brevity is key during brainstorming.) Then, he can flesh out his ideas when it’s time to write his story.

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WriteShop Junior is a partnership between parent/teacher and student, because that’s how writing is best taught. Book D is the first in the series. You’ll love all the hands-on activities and tools, including a brainstorming worksheet and detailed instructions for each and every writing lesson.

Speak it, describe it, write it!

We’ve all experienced it. The blank page seems more foe than friend, whether we’re the ones facing that expanse of white or whether we’re encouraging our children to blast through writer’s block.

Sometimes oral descriptions can pave the way to written descriptions, gently opening kids to their own creativity. Try the following thinking game the next time your young ones protest, “But I don’t know what to say!”

See how many answers each child can think of for each item below. Keep an informal score for a friendly competition.

1.) Describe one thing you might see in a…

  • refrigerator
  • living room
  • closet
  • car

book shelf

2.) Describe two things you might find…

  • at the library
  • in a craft-supply store
  • on the playground
  • at an amusement park

park bench in autumn glow

3.) Describe something you see…

  • in the autumn
  • in the winter
  • at the beach
  • in a restaurant

Future - what will you bring me?

4.) Describe something you might wear…

  • in a rainstorm
  • to a costume party
  • on a snowy day
  • to play a sport

Now, have your children choose one of their oral responses and elaborate upon it in written words.

“Writer’s block? What writer’s block?” you’ll be mumbling to yourself, as the kids scribble away!

. . . . .

Janet Wagner is a regular contributor to In Our Write Minds. For over two decades, Janet was an elementary and middle school teacher in two Christian academies, a public district school, and a public charter school. She also had the honor of helping to homeschool her two nieces. Janet and her husband Dean live on the family farm in the Piedmont region of north central North Carolina. Currently, she enjoys a flexible life of homemaking, volunteering, reading, writing, tutoring students and training dogs, and learning how to build websites. You can view her web work-in-progress at www.creative-writing-ideas-and-activities.com.

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