147: 6 Fresh Ideas for your Writing Program

February has a tendency to squeeze the energy out of people. My in-laws like to throw a “Phooey on February” party, and I love that about them. It’s a good time to lean on other people for a boost.

So as winter slooooooowly turns into spring, I’ve invited five wonderful guests onto the podcast to share their favorite writing project or idea. I hope one of these concepts will provide you with just the boost you’ve been looking for to help add what you need to your writing program now.

In today’s episode, you’re going to learn about unique writing prompts from John Spencer of The Creative Classroom, writing alternative endings to fiction from Amanda Cardenas of Mud and Ink Teaching, using collaborative writing projects from Ashley Bible of Building Book Love, spiraling writing instruction to make it stick from Caitlin Mitchell of E.B. Academics, building an argument unit around a mock trial from Samantha Green of Secondary Urban Legends, and writing children’s books with your students (that one’s from me).

You can listen in on the podcast player below, or on any of these lovely platforms. Or, read on for highlights and links!

Get Creative with Visual Writing Prompts, with John Spencer from The Creative Classroom

John Spencer from The Creative Classroom Podcast has so many creative ways for you to help your students launch into writing. For example, have you seen his writing prompt videos? He has an extensive playlist of them on his Youtube channel – take a look at two fun ones below.

John’s tip today shares three ways to use images in unique ways as prompts.

#1 Show a Visual and invite New Perspectives: To use this type of prompt, find an intriguing photo and then give students a new way of looking at it. For example, you might ask them to write from the perspective of an alien who has never seen our planet before, or of someone who jumps in a time machine from the 17th century and arrives to see what’s in the photo.

#2 The Open-Ended Visual: For this prompt, share a visual of a location with students (for example, an old abandoned mall), and ask them to “tell this story” or redesign the space for a new purpose.

#3 The Grammar Brainstorm: This prompt is helpful for language learners. Invite students to look at a picture and generate a list of all the nouns, verbs, and adjectives they can that relate to what they see. Then give them a tense formula to use and ask them to tell a story about the picture using the grammar that they’ve already listed, using that formula. This way they can practice the construction they are trying to learn in a creative, open-ended way.

Loving these ideas? Learn more about John’s work by visiting his website here.

Host a Classroom Trial to Practice Argument Skills, with Samantha Green from Secondary Urban Legends

Writing an effective argument is one of those skills everyone wants to help their students gain, but it’s helpful to have a lot of ways to approach it so that students don’t get turned off by essay after essay.

Samantha, from Secondary Urban Legends, suggests guiding students to develop their argument skills by running a mock trial in class. When putting a character on trial, students have a chance to practice building evidence for an argument, staying on topic in their writing, opening and closing an argument effectively, and more as they prepare their prosecution or defense.

“To read more about mock courtroom trials to practice writing skills,” says Samantha, “check out this blog post for details on how my students did this project based learning activity to wrap up the novella, The Metamorphosis.”

Want to connect with Samantha? Follow her on IG @secondaryurbanlegends.

Choose Your Own Adventure Writing, with Amanda from Mud and Ink Teaching

“For a writing unit focused on narrative,” says Amanda, “take a recently finished novel and ask student to practice their skills by changing the ending!  Using Google Slides, this writing project uses hyperlinks from slide to slide and the reader can actually make decisions about the story by clicking those links!  I love how this project overlaps technology skills and narrative writing — a winning combo.  Check out this free teacher sample that I made for Of Mice and Men.”

Follow Amanda on Instagram for more creative ideas like this one! She’s @mudandinkteaching. Want to use this project right away? Grab the full curriculum from Amanda’s TPT right here.

Group Essays, with Ashley Bible from Building Book Love

“We all know,” says Ashley, “that the best way to develop better writing skills is to incorporate more practice. However, we also know that more practice equals more grading which sometimes just isn’t physically possible. But what if I told you that you can fit in more writing practice or the fun prompts you’ve always wanted to incorporate with LESS grading than ever before? Well friends, the secret is group essays and you can read all the details here: Group Essays: Slash your grading stack with this collaborative essay hack!

Follow Ashley’s colorful and creative IG @buildingbooklove here.

Spiral Review, with Caitlin Mitchell from EB Academics

“We so strongly believe in the power of revisiting, or spiraling, the standards in an ELA classroom!” says Caitlin. “This means that students are going to need multiple opportunities throughout the year to practice every genre of writing. Writing should be an integral part of your curriculum, but the writing process doesn’t need to take weeks and weeks each time you assign a new prompt. 

With just a little bit of planning, these ideas can easily be woven into any curriculum, and the results in your students’ writing will definitely be worth it!”

Check out Caitlin and Jessica’s podcast, Teaching Middle School ELA. Or find them on IG @ebacademics.

Experiment with a Children’s Book Project, with Betsy from Spark Creativity

There are so many ways to incorporate a children’s book project into your curriculum.

You could use it for an SEL unit, having students do research into growth mindset, grit, or developing character strengths and sharing picture book mentor texts on these same themes to help prepare students to write their own.

You could study narrative writing through picture books, choosing to look at character development, settings, dialogue, or unusual narrative arcs (or all of the above) and then letting students write and illustrate stories of their own.

You could have students create a children’s book version of a whole class novel as a final project, retaining the essentials while simplifying the structure dramatically.

You could even experiment with multi-genre digital picture books, creating stories with multimedia clickable elements so you can work on weaving together story, visuals, videos, and sound.

I’ll be sharing more about this subject on the podcast in two weeks, when I interview Pernille Ripp about how she uses children’s books in her classroom!

And hey, you can follow along with me on IG @nowsparkcreativity.

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I'm Betsy

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