Writing Lessons and
Activities for Every Grade
* W.R.I.T.E. =
Write, Revise, Inform, Think, and Edit
How do you help your students overcome their fear of the blank page? How can you make writing an exercise in personal expression, not drudgery? One key to better writing is better writing assignments -- and the Internet has them. Let's tour a few of the finest writing activities that the Web has to offer.
Ray Saitz, a teacher/librarian and facilitator of information technology at Clarke High School in Newcastle, Ontario, put his 15 years of English teaching experience to work in creating a haven of resources for educators like himself.
He is becoming a "wired librarian," and his Web site, Outta Ray's Head, is his niche and offering to the educational community at large.
"Essentially, I became frustrated at finding endless ideas on the Internet but no lessons with tips on evaluation and with original handouts for the class," Saitz told Education World. "Most of the sites that I came across were mainly elementary, and I wanted secondary school lessons."
Several terrific tried-and-true Writing Lessons are featured on the site. Saitz explained that two of his favorite and most successful activities are The Biography Assignment and Review of Anything.
In the biography activity, students work in groups of four to create six good interview questions. Each student conducts an interview with a partner and then the two exchange roles. Their grade is determined by their performance in creating interview questions, writing the biography of their partner, and designing a cover for a book or a magazine article based on the interview.
The review writing lesson involves studying and creating a review of any object, person, or thing other than a book or a film. Students combine the characteristics of the informal essay and the review to write and share an oral presentation that has a thesis and incorporates techniques presented during class.
Another activity that hasn't yet made it to the pages of Saitz's site has students writing the end to a short story. "The gist of the lesson is to take a murder/mystery/suspense short story of about two or three pages and copy it," he explained, "but omit the final important last paragraph. You can make up some story about how the story was discovered in an old trunk and the end was rotted off. Read the story with the lights out and make a big deal of acting it up to build suspense. Just when it nearly ends, stop and ask the students to complete the ending using the same style as the writer.
"The students all write pages and pages," added Saitz, "and then a few days later, you can come into the class with the original ending. I say it was found just that day and was in the newspaper. Then they compare their endings to the author's."
Saitz hopes that his site and its lessons provide a resource of ideas that will help teachers extend their repertoire. "I think that I learned the most when I was a student teacher and I saw other teachers teaching," he said. "When we graduate and start teaching, we can stop growing and learning. I hope that the lessons on the site help other teachers realize new possibilities or open new avenues of discovery."
These writing lessons and activities will allow the young authors in your classroom to shine!
Paragraph Writing. Many elementary teachers lose heart as they read short, choppy paragraphs from their students that contain little variation in sentence structure. Successful Paragraphs is a lesson plan with a unique approach to improving student writing. Students list three material things they wish for, three happenings that would make them happy, and three places they would like to visit. They follow a specific pattern to create a paragraph that tells what it would be like for them to enjoy all those things. Using the template helps them see how variation in structure makes for more interesting reading!
Terrific Topics. Often the most difficult part of writing is getting started, and this problem is frequently related to the quest for the perfect topic. A good topic is the well from which ideas flow, so it needs to be plenty deep! If you too are having difficulty coming up with assignments that will bring forth the wonderful stories your students have to tell, visit Writing Topics. This page, from the Write Source, suggests several topics for papers your students will love to write, and all grade levels are addressed. Be sure to bookmark or print this resource from The Write Source, a development house of educational materials.
Story Boxes. Creativity and language flourish in Story Boxes, an activity included on the Pizzaz Web site. You can collect objects for the story boxes, or you can have your students fill the boxes with objects and words written on pieces of paper or sticks. As the students draw objects from the box, a story unfolds. Use the plan as an oral storytelling activity or a written composition. This is not the only excellent lesson in the collection, so visit the homepage for more gems. Best of all, permission to print and copy the handouts is granted for classroom use!
Free Activities. Each month, Zaner-Bloser: Writing offers new, free activities on-line for use with students in grades 3 and up. The activities may be printed and shared with students to exercise their writing skills. A recent issue of activities addressed descriptive writing. Don't miss this opportunity to glean a few excellent handouts and ideas from these experts in the field.
More Free Activities.Scholastic.com: Writing also provides free activities to download and print. (To access these documents, you will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.) Some activities take a few minutes to load, but they are worth the wait. Sample activities include two types of stationery for student letters and a handout that encourages students to contemplate and write about their plans for the future.
Pop-Up Cards. There is an art to writing a good greeting card and an art to making it pleasing to the eye and unusual. Pop-up cards are definitely unique! Your students will be amazed when they follow the card-making directions at How to Make a Pop-Up from Joan Irvine: the Pop-Up Lady. When the work is complete, your students will have a lovely pop-up animal card that is ready for their own special sentimental touch -- the right verse!
Heroic Efforts. Have you noticed that in all epic tales -- Great Expectations, The Odyssey, Star Wars -- there seems to be a prevailing pattern in the story? This site explores the progression of the hero throughout these tales based on observations contained in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Visitors to The Hero's Journey can examine the steps in a hero's story and read examples from ancient stories or present-day movies that illustrate the concepts. As a final project, students can follow the guidelines of the site to create their own hero stories in this pattern.
Essay Writing. What could be easier than writing a simple essay? Writing one with assistance from the Guide to Writing a Basic Essay! This site takes students through choosing a topic, organizing ideas, composing a thesis, writing the body of the paper, creating an introduction and a conclusion, and adding the finishing touches. With this on-line guide, there is no excuse for a poorly constructed essay.
Writing Worksheets. High-school English teachers have been waiting for a source like this! At OWL Handouts, the Purdue University Online Writing Lab has collected and published handouts for students that address everything from writing research papers to spelling and punctuation. Choose from an extensive group of straightforward guides to complement writing assignments in your classroom. Your students will thank you!
Teach your students to create great friendly letters and give them a reason to learn how! First, introduce the topic of the friendly letter and compare it to the business letter with the examples at Letter Formats. Next, have your students make their own stationery or print one of the cute selections at Friendly Stationery from Jan Brett.
You might have your students write to famous authors, political figures, or even celebrities. You'll find addresses for many well-known actors, actresses, and musical performers online. (Do a Google search for "celebrity addresses." You'll want to supervise student selections if you allow them to use this site.) Add an element of fun by calling the assignment "Dear John Letters" and having the students write to famous people who have John as a part of their names. Don't forget Elton John, Olivia Newton-John, and Pope John Paul II!
Is a business letter more what you had in mind? Then Parts of a Business Letter will help you prepare your students for the business world. Give your students some pointers in writing business communications, and then have them write letters to organizations. They could write to support the efforts of a charity or to complain about a problem with a product or a service. You might even have them write to an address in the book Free Stuff for Kids (published by Meadowbrook Press) and request free materials.
Anyone who writes knows how daunting the empty page can be! Graphic organizers help students overcome the blank sheet and help them put their thoughts in a logical order.
Kathy Baxter and David Leahy of Greenway Elementary School in Beaverton, Oregon, created graphic organizers and placed them on the school Web site for all to see. Setting and Events are designed to be used in writing personal narratives, and Persuasive helps students create persuasive pieces by forcing them to state an opinion, support it with three points, give examples, and summarize their belief in a conclusion.
Writing Plans from The Teacher's Desk
Put one of these great writing activities to good use in your classroom. Choices include a list of assignments for fifth- and sixth-grade students to write a paragraph a week for two years!
A+ Research and Writing for High School and College Students
Designed for upper-level students, this guide helps kids write research papers without going nuts! The site explains how to write a research paper, tells how to locate information on the Internet, and advises students about what material is best found in the library, not on the Web.
Article by Cara Bafile
Copyright © 2010 Education World
Last updated 08/04/2011
Your students, if they’re anything like mine, love to communicate through images—photos on Instagram, GIFs shared in a text, photo stories on Snapchat. And yet, so much of our conversation in school revolves around words. Understanding text is critical to students’ success now and in the future. But do we also help students identify, read and understand images in order to become literate in the visual language that is all around us? The photo essay can be a great middle or high school assignment that will have strong appeal and grow your students’ writing skills.
What Is a Photo Essay?
For those who aren’t familiar with the term “photo essay,” have no fear. A photo essay, in its simplest form, is a series of pictures that evokes an emotion, presents an idea or helps tell a story. You’ve been exposed to photo essays for your entire life—possibly without even knowing it. For example, you may have seen Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother:
An iconic image of the Great Depression, this picture, along with Lange’s other gripping photos, helped Americans better understand the effects of poverty in California as well as across the nation. Migrant Mother is one of countless photographs that helped persuade, influence or engage viewers in ways that text alone could not.
Photo essays can feature text through articles and descriptions, or they can stand alone with simple captions to give context. The versatility of photo essays has helped the medium become a part of our culture for centuries, from the American Civil War to modern environmental disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. This versatility is also what makes the photo essay a great educational asset in classrooms today; teachers can use them in any content area. Math students can use them to show a geometric concept in real life. Science students can document a chemistry process at home. Auto students can photograph the technique—and joys and frustrations—of learning a new procedure.
So, where does a teacher begin? Read further for tips and ideas for making photo essays a part of your teaching toolbox.
Start With Photos
Introducing photo essays as a means of changing lives and changing society can hook student interest in the medium. Begin by simply showing pictures and letting students discuss their reactions. Consider this famous photo of the field at Antietam during the Civil War. Share some of the photos from this collection from CNN of 25 of the Most Iconic Photographs or this list of 50 Influential Photographs That Changed Our World.
Each of these photographs stirs emotion and sends our minds searching for answers. As a warm-up assignment or series of assignments, have students choose (or assign randomly) a photograph to write about. What’s the story? Why did this happen? Who was involved?
Before giving a formal photo essay assignment, give students an opportunity to practice and receive feedback. Consider presenting students with several open-ended, ungraded challenges like “For class tomorrow, take a photo that depicts ‘Struggle.’” Other possible photo topics: chaos, frustration, friendship, school. Have students email you their photo homework and share it as a slideshow. Talk about the images. Do they convey the theme?
You can give examples or suggestions; however, giving too many examples and requirements can narrow students’ creativity. The purpose of this trial run is to generate conversation and introduce students to thinking like photographers, so don’t worry if the photos aren’t what you had in mind; it’s about getting feedback on what the student had in mind.
Even though the goal of a photo essay is to influence and create discussion, there is still benefit in giving students a crash course on simple photography concepts. Don’t feel like you have to teach a master-level course on dark-room development. Even a simple overview on the “Rule of Thirds” and the importance of perspective can be enough to help students create intentional, visually stirring photographs.
You can teach these ideas directly or have students do the work by researching on their own. They have most likely seen hundreds of movies, advertisements and photos, so these lessons are simply labeling what they’ve already experienced. Having some knowledge of composition will not only help students improve their visual literacy, it will also help empower them to take photos of their own.
Choose Your Purpose
Are students telling their own stories of their neighborhoods or their families? Are they addressing a social issue or making an argument through their images and text? A photo essay could be a great assignment in science to document a process or focus on nature.
If you are just getting started, start out small: Have students create a short photo essay (two to five images) to present a topic, process or idea you have been focusing on in class. Here’s a Photo Essay Planning Guide to share with your students.
With pictures becoming a dominant medium in our image-filled world, it’s not a question of if we should give students practice and feedback with visual literacy, it’s a question of how. Photo essays are a simple, engaging way to start. So, what’s your plan?