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Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison. I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer and University adjunct professor since 1998. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction techniques. I also focus on critical thinking skills, especially during the pre-writing and revision stages of the writing process. I retired from the classroom in June of 2019, and I will continue to consult with schools, districts, and states who are more interested in developing quality writing plans, not buying from one-size-fits-all writing programs.

Beginning over the summer of 2019, I will be available once again to train teachers your school or district if you would like to hire a qualified and dynamic trainer. You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for a specific date or dates for the 2019-20 school year, please contact me at this e-mail address. My calendar is already fillling up with workshop engagements.

 

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Contact us through this e-mail address with questions/comments about this lesson: Corbett@CorbettHarrison.com

Writing daily writing should be a school To ensure my students see how I value daily writing, we learn and practice a routine called SWT--or Sacred Writing Time. The write-up on this page establishes one of my favorite classroom writing routines: Sacred Writing Time.

An Adaptable Lesson--from the Harrisons to You:
How this free-to-use lesson came to be online: My wife, Dena, and I taught English, reading, and writing for 56 combined years before both retiring at the conclusion of the 2018-19 school year. We've had a lot of years to develop passion about certain teaching topics, but sharing unique ways to teach writing is the focus of this website and the lesson ideas contained on this page. After I earned my Master's Degree in Educational Technology way (way!) back in 1999, Dena and I decided to establish a website and begin freely posting our favorite lessons and resources that we created and successfully used during our time in the classroom.

We write-up these lessons, purposely attaching no specific grade level to any as we prepare to share them. We do this based on our shared experience as teachers. Dena taught fifth through eighth grade, and Corbett taught third grade through college, and it was the lesson ideas that Dena and I had to adapt that truly taught us to become better writing teachers. The lessons that were handed to us ready to go--like scripts--, well, those lessons didn't teach us much at all. "How would I adapt this idea?" is what we expect teachers to ask as they read through these lessons and resources.

We provide these lessons to continue to share our passion for the importance of teaching writing well. Thanks for checking out this month's lesson, and if you have any questions about it, don't hesitate to contact us using this email address: corbett@corbettharrison.com

establishing a routine that develops writing fluency and creativity
SWT -- The First 20 Days

writing the first ten minutes every class allows for purposeful practice

(SWT) Sacred Writing Time (noun) -- a classroom routine where students learn to practice writing fluency and creativity. Each session of writing instruction begins with ten silent minutes where students ALWAYS write quietly in their writer's notebooks or journals. Some teachers assign topics for these ten minutes, but I don't; instead, I teach my students to come to class prepared with a self-selected topic. Over the year, I teach my students a variety of crazy writing formats and ideas use so their notebooks develop their own "personalities."

We call the time sacred because--even if we have a substitute teacher or a guest speaker that day or a day in the computer lab--they still write for ten minutes to warm up for class. It's promised time. I always will happen. I teach them from day one to take it seriously by being prepared for it, and this page shares many of my techniques that I used as I establish this routine.

I found students need to be taught how to maintain a notebook, and they need to be taught how to come to class with self-chosen topics to write about. SWT has three objectives: 1) to practice fluency; 2) to practice or review writing skills taught whole class, 3) to promote creativity.

Quick Overview: This resource page shares TWENTY different techniques to try as you roll out--perhaps for the first time--a Sacred Writing Time routine. Use one idea or all of them, and we will feel good that we created this website either way.

A story from Corbett: I used to teach a summer class in writing methodology at our local university for teachers working on their Master's degrees. I taught that class for seven summers, I believe, and every session of that class began with 20 minutes of "Sacred Writing Time." It was a routine that existed when I inherited the class from the previous professor, and it worked so well when I had taken the course that I kept it in my writing class for adults and teachers. I adapted it, of course.

Our summer course started at 8:00 a.m. Our participants knew the first whole group task of the day would officially start at 8:20 a.m., but they also knew they were expected to be in their seats writing by 8:00 (or to have checked in with us and then gone to find a place under a tree outside or something nearby). From 8:00 - 8:20 a.m. during every session of that class, we all wrote silently about whatever we wanted during the allotted time. It was "sacred" not for any religious reasons but instead it was "sacred" in that we learned to depend upon it. Knowing each class started with it made us come to class prepared in a different way. Writers come to class with something in mind to write about; reluctant writers come to class hoping no writing will be expected. During those summers as I was adapting SWT, we learned to always be thinking about interesting topics we might write about during our next slot of "sacred" writing time.

Did participants try to come to class late, thinking their tardiness would excuse them from their daily writing? They did, and we immediately told them they owed their notebook twenty minutes of writing as soon as extra homework for being late. This was an easy one to put a stop to.

Did participants think they could sit together and chat during the twenty minutes, giving the illusion they were fully attending to their sacred writing time? They did, and their conversations were squelched immediately by one of the instructors. It helped that we instructors were engaged in our own 20 minutes of sacred writing time each day (because modeling it is SO very important!); shushing others who are talking instead of writing is much more effective when it comes from someone who is doing the same task the participants are being asked to do. I actively took Sacred Writing Time seriously EVERY DAY in that class, and that's why it worked. It's not a babysitting routine that'll keep students silent for ten minutes; it's a living and breathing part of our classroom, and a teacher must show enthusiasm, especially at the beginning.

About 2007, I decided to try Sacred Writing Time with my own students. Before 2007, my students had kept "thought notebooks," and in these they had sporadically written to assigned topics from time to time. I thought my students liked what I was assigning them to write in these, but my students just about ALWAYS trashed their notebooks/journals on the last day of class. When I introduced SWT, helping students take control of their own notebooks and their own thinking, our notebooks became treasured places to visit and re-visit (for Writer's Workshop), and I never witnessed a student throwing away a notebook from my class again. Don't believe me? Check out this Pinterest Board I created in 2011, which was one of those years I had almost 100% participation from my students during SWT; my kids found SWT one of the best parts of their day that year. All years following it were pretty good though too.

I will never teach writing without establishing an SWT routine as part of it. With ten regular minutes of silent writing, students learn not to fear the white page, and they always seem to have something they want to write about, or at least they learn to find topics they can stand. They also develop creativity during these ten-minute writing chunks. My students who take their notebooks and SWT the most seriously are without a doubt the students who develop creativity and take more intelligent risks with other class assignments.

Essential Questions/Objectives

  • How does daily writing practice compare to daily music practice for a musician or daily practice for an athlete?
  • What is fluency, and why is it important that I become a more fluent writer?
  • How can I develop my own sense of creativity or my own "written voice" as I write in my notebook using my own topics?
  • (Advanced question) How can I teach myself to come to class every day with not only a topic for me to write about but also a topic to suggest to a partner, if needed?
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.1B -- Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.2B -- Develop [an explanatory] topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.3B -- Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
20 Techniques that Establish Sacred Writing Time,
Student Excitement and Teacher Know-how
Number 1: Share from your own notebook. (Or mine, if you must.)
Number 2: Teach them how to analyze a Sacred Writing Time slide for a topic.
Number 3: Bingo Card Topics -- a monthly challenge Host a notebook metaphor contest
Number 4: Jigsaw A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You
Number 5: Begin to encourage sharing through Sacred Writing Partners
Number 6: Topics that aren't too personal (Unjournaling)
Number 7: Compare/Contrast notebook styles (Amelia/Max)
Number 8: Alphabetized list challenges
Number 9: Teacher and student-hosted writing contests
Number 10: Offer International menus for your writers wanting a challenge
Number 11: What's the question game?
Number 12: Bring a family photo to write about
Number 13: Go on a "writer's walk" before SWT one day
Number 14: Choose Your Own Adventure/"Puzzle Room" Stories
Number 15: TBA
Number 16: TBA
Number 17: TBA
Number 18 : TBA
Number 19: TBA
Number 20 : TBA

My classroom resources/texts for this lesson:

Sacred Writing Time Slides (free preview)
by Corbett & Dena Harrison


Any notebooks from the Amelia's Notebook Series by Marissa Moss


Max's Logbook
by Marissa Moss
(out of print -- find an affordable, used copy)


A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher
(Ask your school to order a class set!)


Unjournaling
by Dawn DiPrince and Cheryl Miller Thurston

Idea Number 1: Explain "Journals versus Notebooks" & Share from your Own Journal/Notebook

Let's start by defining the two terms I sometimes use interchangeably: journal and notebook.

I'm often asked (usually by teachers at workshops) what's the difference between a journal and a writer's notebook. Every writing teacher has the freedom to both use and, therefore, make a purpose for these tools in their own way. It's hard to find two teachers who define "journal" the same way. The following are my own classroom's definitions that my students and I created together over the years. I believe in the value of writing everyday for the purpose of practicing fluency, creativity, and new skills. That has always remained the purpose of journals and/or notebooks in my writing and research classroom.

Classroom Journal -- (noun) a notebook where one writes daily, usually about events that happened since the last entry. A journal can have a "diary" feel to it, but it doesn't have to if the diary keeper is feeling more original. Often in a classroom that uses a journal (instead of a writer's notebook), I see more assigned topics by the teacher. Often those assigned topics are used to benefit the larger lesson, but again, this is not a requirement of a journal. There is no manual I recommend for journal keeping or journal assigning. If there is, it would have a simple message: Be dedicated and be yourself while keeping the thing.

A Writer's Notebook -- (noun) a notebook that is visited daily, but with writer's notebooks, a teacher takes more time to teach the students to discover and use self-chosen topics as well as creative approaches/formats rather than daily diary-like entries. While journal writing feels more like "an assignment" to my students, ten minutes to write in a writer's notebook feels more like the writer has spent ten minutes of "recess writing" than "assignment writing." If I introduce the tool well, that'll happen. If I don't introduce writer's notebooks well every year, they begin to flounder. I genuinely believe my writer's notebook routine works because I share from mine regularly, and my students see it as a tool I really use.


I have come to believe with 100% certainty that the classroom pedagogy I practiced, the thing that helped me become a stand-out as a writing teacher, was my use of teacher modeling. Math is (usually) easy to model, but writing is more difficult. Most teachers rarely model during writing instruction, and--now this is admittedly a generalization, but I believe I correct one--I think it's because they don't trust in themselves as writers, so they assign writing but don't participate in the process themselves; writing makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable, and thinking about sharing one's writing almost always sends some of my writers running for the hills. Teachers I ask to write anything, I have found, often sprint the fastest towards the hills in question. A lot teachers simply don't like to write. My goal is always to make teachers write something they like and want to share with their own students.

Me? I don't love to write, but I don't hate writing, and I know I can do it competently if asked, and I don't mind sharing. I've written everything from bad poems to good songs, and I've shared both with my students. When I was earning my Masters Degree, I participated in my own writer's workshops by having the students help me revise and make suggestions for my college papers; the papers were about my classroom and my techniques for teaching writing, so my students enjoyed reading what I said. In the 1998-99 school year, I began keeping a journals alongside my students, and this happened because I had spent the summer beforehand completing an internship that required me to keep my own journal. I came back with a model journal--my own--, which I shared from, and my students suddenly were more interested in journal keeping during class. I posit that it was my own keeping of a journal/notebook that inspired them, and I have twenty years of samples from amazing student notebooks that keep encouraging me to participate in my own SWT routine.

On the first day we do SWT, I explain that SWT is "recess writing." If they're not writing about something that gives them pleasure to write about, then they're doing it wrong. They are in charge of their own topics. I will not grade notebooks for spelling or punctuation--it's a participation grade only. I swear in front of them I will not even read an entry if they write something personal and cover it up with a sticky note that warns me not to read it. I show them a page in my notebook with such a sticky note and I say, "This page was personal. I trust you not to read it. I will give you the same respect."

Since I know from experience a lot of teachers who are reading this haven't even slightly been convinced to keep their own writer's notebooks to share from while working with their students, I'll shake my head and live with that. I'll also provide four pages from my past notebooks I show my students before we try writing our first ten-minute entry in our notebooks. I've purposely chosen four to share that are QUITE different from each other.

Sticker Stories
Respond to a Quotes
Top Ten Lists
Ten-Minute Memories

My "extra effort prize basket" is where I keep my stickers. Here's an example of a sticker story I share about how I courted my wife.

When my students create and decorate an outstanding notebook page, they can nominate it for a prize, and the prizes in my basket (like stickers) become future writing topics. Of course, students bring their own stickers too!

I "people watch" to find writing inspiration. Don't you? In airports, my written observations take the form of 17-syllable haikus.

I have students who'll spend many of their ten-minute sessions making haikus about any topic. I think the simplicity of the format of a haiku is appealing.Many students need a format to hang words on in order to write ideas down.

Another format I love to teach is the "Top Ten" list. Do these kiddos even know David Letterman? In ten minutes, most of my students can create a list of ten reasons for something. The art of a "top ten" is finding the right topic for the list.

Here is my example of the Top Ten List I made about "Top Ten Ways of Making Crossing Guard Duty Fun."

Everybody has "ten minute adventures," which are those events that have happened to you that you could write about in a mere ten minutes and still use details and tricks of good writing.

Here is my notebook page, based on our annual 8th grade trip to San Francisco, where we--the chaperones--all watched an undercover cop at work at Pier 39.

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Idea Number 2: Teach Students how to analyze a Sacred Writing Time slide for a topic.

Over the years, our Sacred Writing Time Slides have become a wonderful thing for us to share with teachers who come to our workshops.

Use our Complimentary Month's Worth of SWT Slides!
Teach analysis of these daily slides...

Dena and I began creating the set of SWT slides back in 2010. It was a fun project for us--two writing teachers on a car trip. Each slide was built with four commonalities to point out for students to always look for:

  • A national or international holiday. All of the holidays on the slides are true holidays. The holiday and the trivia question often come with a question that is designed to be a writing prompt, if a student doesn't have one. On the slide at left, the student is asked to consider a question based on the national holiday.
  • A trivial fact of the day. Sometimes they have questions to inspire writing. When they don't, I challenge the students with "So how might you include this fact in something you write for ten minutes today?"
  • An interesting quote of the day. Instead of inspirational, we decided upon interesting as our adjective. I ask the students, "What might you write for ten minutes inspired by this quote by Will Rogers?" Does it inspire an opinion or a narrative writing idea from you.
  • A vocabulary word of the day. Have to admit it, but I had fun when I added the vocabulary words to the slides. I found all of them on various SAT practice lists I've collected over the years. Most words come with questions that ask the students to apply the word to an idea for a ten-minute piece of writing. My students know that--if they write about the SWT Vocabulary Word of the Day--they can later use that vocabulary word during a Vocabulary Workshop.
We freely share August 15-September 15's slides with all teachers. Try them with your students. If they like them, consider ordering the whole set of 366 slides. All proceeds fund this website of ours.

Click here to freely download the August 15-September 15 slides to use with your students at the start of school.

Click here to purchase the entire set of 366 Sacred Writing Time slides, if your students appreciate their presence.


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Number 3: Bingo Card Topics -- a monthly challenge for writers

Even with SWT slides posted daily, some students will still need a more personalized "invitation" to write about topics and much more support in learning to choose and create good topics themselves; ultimately, you want them to come to class with their own topics already chosen, but some students need a lot of support when it comes to thinking in the "voice" of a writing topic. We created our Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards to scaffold our students who think single words make great writing topics; they don't!

Single-word topics = NOT always effective
Those single words found in more interesting topic ideas
  • DOGS
  • FOOD
  • TOYS
  • What do DOGS do while their people go to work/school?
  • What kind of FOOD should they serve us at our school?
  • What TOYS are the most dangerous/safest?

Dena and I recognized that many of our students still needed more quality writing topics in their hands, and they liked having a choice. She and I sat down together over the summer of 2008, and we created our Notebook Bingo Cards to help us accomplish this. The idea of the cards is the students will commit to a five-in-a-row set of topics for the month of writing that's coming up. Each topic they select from the Bingo card must be written about for ten minutes. If students create a Bingo or a "Four Corners" by the end of the month, they can earn prizes from the extra credit bucket (which has stickers in it for sticker stories!), among other dollar store prizes.

  • Bingo Card Tip #1: Consider requiring all students to use the Bingo Card the first month only; that means, they only have to make a five-in-a-row Bingo during the month sometime. During the second month you use the Bingo Cards, then give your students a choice. Usually, by the end of the year, I only have about 10-20% or so students who still like to use the Bingo Cards for topic ideas every once in a while.
  • Bingo Card Tip #2: When passing out the first Bingo Card, give all students five or ten silent minutes to simply put stars next to topics on the card they think might be fun to write about. Ask, "Do you have a lot of stars in the same row, column, or diagonal path? If so, that might be your best bet for making your required Bingo this first month." Have students mark their self-chosen Bingo paths of topics clearly at the end of the first ten minutes with them. Make them commit; otherwise, you'll have a lot of students who simply re-read their Bingo card during Sacred Writing Time over and over instead of doing any writing. By having a pathway already chosen, they can start writing immediately to one of their four or five topics as soon as the bell rings.
  • Bingo Card Tip #3: The center-square lessons that come embedded on the Bingo Cards (September's center-square lesson is awesome!) are all actually really good whole-group notebook lessons; they were designed to teach students to take care with a special notebook page, trying a different style each month. However, I know a lot of teachers who don't use the center-square lesson. If you end up purchasing the entire set of Bingo Cards, you receive an editable version of each card so that you can change the center-square lessons to be interesting writing topics instead.
More Tips for Using our Bingo Cards!
Use our Complimentary August & Sept Bingo Cards!

Categorize the following list as "Things that Worked for Corbett," but feel free to adjust/adapt/ignore.

  • Pass out the Bingo Cards during the last ten minutes of class one day early on in establishing SWT routine.
  • Tell students this is an optional tool for them to use that may help them learn to arrive to class with their own writing topics.
  • For five minutes, have students high-light topics they think they might actually have something to write about.
  • For four minutes, have students see if they have enough topics that interest them to create a possible "Bingo" or "Four Corners" over the next month of SWT.
  • For one minute, have students safely stow their Bingo Cards in their notebooks. During the next ten sessions of SWT, remind them the Bingo Card is there, if they need it. Many will, but many won't.

We freely share August and September's Bingo Cards. at our Teachers Pay Teachers store. Try them with your students. If they like them, consider ordering the whole set. All proceeds fund this website of ours.

Dena and I began creating these Bingo Cards back in 2008. It was a fun project for us--two writing teachers, building a tool could collaborate on. Each Bingo Card contains 24 topics and has a link to a whole-class writer's notebook lesson!

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Number 4: Jigsaw A Writer's Notebook by Ralph Fletcher

If you don't have a copy (or--better yet--a class set!) of Ralph Fletcher's student-friendly handbook: A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, then I invite you to use this article by Ralph Fletcher instead for this mentor text suggestion: The Writer's Notebook: A Place to Dream, Wonder, and Explore. It's not nearly as detailed as Fletcher's book, but it has ideas some that'll get students' pencils moving.

However, let me stress this: Fletcher's book--A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You--is the best class set of books I ever talked my boss into buying for us to use as a classroom of writers. My students interact with every chapter of this short book during the first month of school. The introduction to this handbook is something we read together--aloud--and it's from that introduction that we all create our own ideas for metaphors we envision for our own notebooks. As a class, we discuss and share metaphors students have brainstormed for their own notebooks.

Each chapter of the book contains an easy-to-read idea for a technique that can be tried using a writer's notebook. My students can quietly read any of the chapters in less than 15 minutes, and that make this book a perfect book to jigsaw as a class. I can have one group read and teach the rest of us about the technique of "Fierce Wonderings" (pages 16-22) while another group reads and prepares to explain the technique of "List-making" from the chapter that starts on page 72.

Here is exactly how I break the book into multiple days' worth of text-inspired mini-lessons:

  • Read the book's introduction--"What is a Writer's Notebook Anyway?"-- and brainstorm ideas for more original notebook metaphors than the author's. Some years, we host our own writer's notebook metaphor contest in each class, and the best metaphors are posted to continually inspire us.
  • Jigsaw #1...Divide into six reading groups: 1) Unforgettable Stories; 2) Fierce Wonderings; 3) Writing Small; 4) Seed Ideas; 5) Mind Pictures; 6) Snatches of Talk.

    Each group has twenty-five minutes to 1) read silently; 2) discuss so they can summarize the big ideas in their assigned chapter only; 3) create a writing prompt (that would assist for about ten minutes of writing) based on their chapter's ideas and prepare to challenge others to write to the idea/prompt. After the 25 minutes, the groups completely divide and make new groups of three or four. Each group member shares his/her chapter summary and writing prompt. Everyone writes an idea for a prompt on a blank sticky note that we stick to blank pages near the end of our notebooks. These sticky notes don't have to be used, but any kid without a topic has a page with sticky note prompts in his/her own notebook to make use of.
  • Jigsaw #2....Divide into five Groups: 1) Memories; 2) Writing that Scrapes the Heart; 3) Writing that Inspires; 4) Digging out the Crystals; 5) Writing about Writing.

    Repeat a similar process to the previous jigsaw, which covered the earlier chapters in the book, while these chapters take the process a little deeper than just finding simple topics to write about.
  • Real Authors' Words that Inspire: In my class, we analyze small passages by published authors all the time. We ask questions like, "How does this person uniquely present himself/herself as a writer? What's the writer's big idea? How might you describe this author's style based just on this passage. I use the three passages from book that are written by Paul Fleischman, Naomi Shihab Nye, Louise Borden, and Lillian Morrison. Some years we read all four separately over four different days, or we may compare and contrast two of the four authors' styles during a guided reading lesson. Sometimes, I simply say, "After reading all four authors' words, whose notebook would you think is the most interesting to look through?"

Ralph Fletcher has served as a one of the best mentor authors for my student writers over the years. His children's books and memoirs inspire them with their own ideas. I own all his books for teachers too. This writer's notebook handbook, and he has many similar handbooks on various other writing topics, is incredibly student-friendly. Ralph Fletcher inspires my students with his writing. Don't neglect to use him to inspire yours. He's worth bringing to your classroom as a mentor author, if you haven't already done so.

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Number 5: Begin to Encourage sharing through Sacred Writing Partners

I'm going to be honest here: whole-class sharing of student writing can be really tough, especially if the sharing is out loud and the teacher doesn't know when/how to gently stop a student who is going on too long. In addition, whole class "publishing" or author's chairs often motivates the same three to five kids doing all the sharing. Sitting through long shares from students who share too often can feel tiresome, so I came up with an idea that would have them all sharing more frequently to better benefit our writing community:: sacred writing time partners. Here's how it works:

  1. Students create a desktop nametag that, when folded, will not only sit on their desks but also fit into their writer's notebooks. One one side of the tent-card nametag goes the students' first names; on the other side, they record four classmates who they've self-chosen over four different days; these are their partners whom they would be willing to share with, if required by the teacher. Collect nametags daily as you establish their four SWT partners; that way, if a student is absent, they can still be assigned a partner by the teacher for future days. Also, in classes with odd numbers of students, I always prepared to be a partner by having my own nametag for that class. The first question my students ask me as they enter class is, "What sacred writing partner are we with today?" Once I tell them, they sit somewhere side-by-side with that partner for the first ten minutes.
  2. Once students have partners establish, they can be challenged to write something exclusively for/about their partner so that sharing piques the listener's ear just that much more. Writing about one another (always positively!) is a way for students to ask each other what they like and are interested in, so they'll begin conversations that Ideas for this can be:
    • Write a story where your SWT Partner is the hero while your SWT Partner writes the same about you.
    • Write a story where your SWT Partner writes a story about you breaking a school rule, and your SWT Partner writes the same about you.
    • Write a story where your SWT Partner wins the big game while your SWT Partner writes the same about you.
    • Write a story where your SWT gains super powers while your SWT Partner writes the same about you.
    • If you--as teacher--have taught a writing mini-lesson recently (like personifying vocabulary, for example), you can encourage SWT Partners to write another personified vocabulary sample during their 10 minutes of Sacred Writing Time so they can compare techniques each partner tried at the end
  3. In my classroom, our daily SWT lasts ten minutes. I've seen teachers make it work with five minutes, eight minutes, fifteen minutes, and twenty minutes. Regardless of the time you give it, if you set aside two minutes (additional or part of the original amount) at the end of SWT for students to share with just their own SWT partners, a community will begin to form. Ideas for writing topics will move throughout the room, spreading from student to student through SWT Partnerships like a virus. And you don't have to sit through possibly painful whole-class sharing.

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Number 6: Learning to Create Topics that aren't too personal

A lot of my most resistant writers, when it comes to Sacred Writing Time, live with a fear of having to write about personal things. Admittedly, we will create a personal narrative at some point in the school year, and we'll write about personal experiences, but with Sacred Writing Time, I never require my students to write about anything personal unless they choose to. The trick is: you have to teach your students to self-discover topics that aren't too personal. They won't find topics like those unless you have models of what those types of prompts sound like.

Luckily, there's a great book for that: unjournaling by Dawn DiPrince and Cheryl Miller Thurston. Here are two example prompts/topics from this collection of writing ideas my students always have liked a lot:

  • Here's what the artist called her painting: Polar Bear Eating Vanilla Ice Cream in a Blizzard. To viewers, it looked like a plain white canvas. How might an artist describe a plain black canvas? Plain blue? Etc. (Corbett says, "I have students who will write creative painting titles for ten minutes with this prompt--because it makes them think but doesn't feel personal.)
  • Write a paragraph that starts with this sentence: Why don't you learn to talk to a rooster? End the story with this sentence: She slugged me. (Corbett says, "Prompts with established beginnings and endings really do work with some of your writers, but you have to teach these students to try and use the whole ten minutes as they fill in the details between the two sentences.)

But if you don't own the book, here's what you do: during the second week of establishing our SWT routine, I ask, "So what do you all write about that isn't personal?" We establish a class list that I can always hang/post for them to see. This class list alone will serve as a way to motivate (and keep motivating) your writers who dislike writing about personal topics in things that look like journals. Our class list usually ends up with three columns: 1) personal topics; 2) Non-personal topics; 3) A bit of both topics.

If you do own a copy of unjournaling, here's what you can do to introduce it as a resource to your students who may want to seek out :

  1. Put the book in a manila envelope that says "Top Secret Ideas" on it. If you notice a writer or a partnership of writers who have been struggling with topics or keeping their pencils moving the whole time during SWT, they might be good candidates for this special "top secret" activity one day. If you have a partnership arrive to class early and who seem raring to go, they make great candidates for this activity too--because it takes them the whole ten minutes just to do the activity after they've read it.
  2. Here is the one-page handout I place in the manila envelope next to the book. I also put a pack of sticky notes in the envelope for the students to mark their potential favorite and least favorite topics on. I have a sticky note on page 59 that reads, "Don't go past this point in the book please" because those are answer keys to some of the book's riddles, not topics.
  3. Instead of writing to a topic during Sacred Writing Time during the allotted ten minutes that day, the partners complete the manila envelope task instead, but they have to share their favorite topic(s) from the book at the end of SWT, trying to encourage others to write to them as well; they have to do this task without revealing the contents of the top secret envelope. You have to keep a "Top Secret" task--no matter how not-so-secret it truly is--top secret for as long as you can to keep their interest piqued.
  4. In the past, I have allowed the students who did this activity with a partner to post their favorite topics on a classroom chart called "Non-Personal Topic Ideas for SWT that we like," and that list can be displayed from time to time as a reminder.

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Number 7: Compare/Contrast Two Notebook Styles

An important idea to stress when establishing your SWT routine is that--even though there are some required parameters--each student should be developing his/her own personal style of writing and notebook No two notebooks should be the same. Your notebook represents you and no one else.

Author Marissa Moss has two books I have my students compare and contrast, asking them to analyze the STYLE of the two notebook keepers. The two books are picture books, designed to resemble a student's composition book or his/her notebook. Both Amelia and Max--the fictional notebook keepers in these two book--have a unique style they employ in their mentor text notebooks.

I once met Marissa Moss at an NCTE conference book-signing; she is the author of both mentor texts I am about to mention here in idea number 7. Anyway, I wasn't expecting to see her there, and I was taken rather aback by her presence because her two books--the entire Amelia's Notebook Series and Max's Logbook--had served as mentor texts to both my students and my own niece. I stuttered something somewhat intelligible to her, and she gave me a stack of Amelia-inspired pamphlets to hand out at my workshops, and I left. To this day, I wish I'd had the good sense to ask, "Are Amelia's notebooks based on any notebooks you had kept as a child yourself, or are they the notebooks that you wished you kept as a child?" I would also ask her, "What fool decided to put Max's Logbook on the out of print list?" It is no longer being made, and I've only ever needed one or two copies, but it's usually pretty easy to find a cheap, used copy that is classroom library acceptable.

My boy writers and my girl writers often take different approaches to maintaining their writer's notebooks, and that's never surprised me. For this task, I have two mentor texts from the same author that demonstrate a young lady's approach to maintaining a notebook to a young man's approach to the same task. The gender difference shouldn't be the focus of your comparative discussion about these mentor texts; instead, the focus should be on the WRITING STYLE and UNIQUE APPROACH each notebook keeper uses to keep the notebook flowing forward with ideas.

In the initial Amelia's Notebook (the first in a long and excellent series), the narrator--a notebook keeper named Amelia--is in fourth grade and about to move away from her best friend. Amelia uses her notebook to document an important year in her life during this important move and her new transition. Near the end of the notebook, a random thought that Amelia had earlier in her notebook becomes a whole story about a cloud, and that story helps win her a prize in a writing contest. The author and her publisher have cleverly crafted a book that appears to be a hand-written notebook, being kept in an actual composition book by a young lady named Amelia. Your students will find definite differences when comparing Amelia's style to Max's style. Without Max's Logbook (it's out of print but affordable copies come up for sale often at Amazon), any of the Amelia's Notebook will inspire your students by themselves. My students have really initiated some good original ideas based on Amelia's 7th Grade Survival Guide and her Guide to Gossip.

But if you have access to BOTH mentor texts here, a good comparison/contrast challenge will have them looking deep into these examples, which always seems to help them think a little harder about how they're going to make their own notebooks or journals more personalized. To paraphrase Ralph Fletcher (from idea number 4 above), "A notebook should represent you. Find ways to make it your own."

I copy a few pages from one of the Amelia's notebooks and a few of the pages from Max's Logbook, and I hand a set to each group or partnership. I instruct them to: "Quietly read the example(s) from the two different notebooks. Pass your example to the left when you are done with it. When everyone in the group has read each example, the group or pair is to to discuss: 1) How are the two notebook keepers maintaining their own unique STYLE when writing, and 2) Which notebook STYLE appeals to you more and why?

This learning task takes about 20-30 minutes, and it is another task that helps me set up my Sacred Writing Time and my writer's notebook routines. My goal is to have my students write every day in a notebook, a notebook they enjoy keeping by personalizing it with their own style. This activity makes transparent and promotes my permission for my students to try different styles of writing during sacred writing time.

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Number 8: Alphabetized List Challenges

It's simple. Think of a topic (cartoon characters, for example). Next, create a response in the form of an alphabet list, trying to find at least one answer for every letter of the alphabet. (A = Astro from The Jetsons)

I use alpha-lists to regularly promote brainstorming before writing, for both notebooks and for our bigger projects. I even have this ABC-collecting form always ready to go in my class supply box. The idea behind completing an alpha-list brainstorm during Sacred Writing Time is to put one (or two or three) different words in each box that starts with a different letter of the alphabet. The teacher assigns a topic (for brainstorming narrative, expository, or persuasive/argumentative ideas), or when working in writer's notebooks, students can learn to create their own ten-minute, alphabet challenges.

First of all, let's talk about topics you might use if you use an alpha-brainstorm to do research. Here are topics I've used the form as students prepared to write pieces for writer's workshop:

  • An alphabet list of insect names
  • An alphabet list of recyclable products
  • An alphabet list of inventions that changed the world
  • An alphabet list of the greatest people ever to have lived on this planet

In ten minutes of sacred writing time, my students can usually establish a pretty good alphabet list; once the ten minutes are up, they are allowed to go back and fill in any gaps during future warms-ups and SWT. If you can link these alpha-topics to topics you know your class will be studying, all the better; in my final year of teaching, we used the "A-Z list of the greatest people to have ever lived" before we started our unit on the Renaissance. It worked out well in that context.

Once students understand what an alpha-topic list is, they can create their own for Sacred Writing Time. I have several in my notebook I show them, and I also share some past topics that students created. Here is my teacher ABC-list example for abstract nouns, and here is my teacher example for an original superhero I created as part of this lesson here at Always Write.

What's also fun (I think!) about SWT alphabet lists is that, if you can't come up with a real answer for any of the initial letters, you can invent an example that would appropriately start with the letter you're struggling with. For example, if my topic was "Breakfast cereals from A-Z, and I can't think of a real answer that starts with a 'Q,' I can invent a whole new cereal called 'Quick Start." I do keep several alphabet mentor texts on my classroom bookshelf to show my students how lists can become books in the hands of a skilled author and book designer. Two of my boy writers' favorite alphabet books are currently I Stink by Kate and Jim McMullan, which is an A-Z list of things found in a garbage truck, and Old Black Fly by Jim Ayelsworth, which is an A-Z list of things a fly might land on around your house. Snips, snails, and puppy dog tails, right?

Here are some more ideas I share to pique my students' interest in creating interesting alpha-lists as a writing option during Sacred Writing Time. These lists are made in the students' notebook; any letter they can't represent with a real answer must be supplemented with a creative, fictional example. Understand? Find a topic and try it in your own notebook. It's actually a fun thinking challenge as well as a solid brain warm-up.

  • An A-Z list of places you'd honestly love to visit
  • An A-Z list of places of original character names
  • An A-Z list of places of abstract nouns. (Here's my example from my notebook)
  • An A-Z list of superhero powers (Here's my example from my notebook)

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Number 9: Teacher- and student-hosted writing contests

I love this idea. It came to me as an insomnia-fueled thought during my final year of teaching, and it worked so well I wished I'd always known to do it: sponsor writing "contests" for your competitively-spirited kiddos. Once I establish a contest or two for fun, my students start creating contests for each other.

First, know that I keep an extra credit basket of prizes in my classroom, which students can only earn something from if they go the extra mile during SWT, during Vocabulary Workshop, and during Writer's Workshop. I fill this basket with items I can buy at the dollar store: stickers, pencils, plastic rings, etc. I am fortunate to work with students who still get a little excited if you announce a writing contest that could possibly win them a prize--even if it's just a prize from the Dollar Store basket. I select something desirable from the extra credit basket (a cool sheet of stickers, a bundle of pencils, etc.). This is how I determine a prize's contest. Nothing fancier than a pencil or some stickers needed.

Next, I announce my idea for a contest--usually early in the week. "This week," I might say, "I am holding a contest for Sacred Writing Time. At the end of the week, whoever submits the most interesting use of PERSONIFICATION in their writer's notebook can enter their writing in my contest. This contest concludes on Friday and can only be worked on during Sacred Writing Time or at home as homework." No one is required to participate, but you will ALWAYS have participation from those writers who simply hear "prize" and become motivated.

Here are some of the other "contests" I sponsored as I attempted to generate student interest in their own journals/notebooks. Having these "contests" added element of community to my room of writers:

  • I held a contest for the Most Accurate Acronym Poem based on the students' own first and/or last names. This showed them I allow for writing acrostics during Sacred Writing Time.
  • I held a context for the best Mr. Stick cartoon (with caption and dialogue) of Mr. Harrison having a bad day. This showed them I allow for creating storyboards during Sacred Writing Time. Cartoons and storyboards with captions and/or dialogue bubbles are always allowable during sacred writing time. Just drawing is not allowed; writing must be the main focus.
  • In October, I held a contest for the best "Start with What Isn't There" description, which is based on this lesson here at the Always Write website.
  • In March, we held a "Pi-inspired Poem" contest, which is based on this lesson here at the Always Write website.

I established the idea of a SWT contest of the week for several weeks, and as I anticipated it might with the group I had my final year, I had students approach me to see if they could host a contest for the other students in class. I was able to offer them a prize to offer their own participants if they could explain to me their contest, its rules, and its deadline with detailed accuracy.

It started slowly. One of my young lady writers suggested a "Funniest Thing that Happened to you in Elementary School" contest, I approved it, and she ended up with only four or five entries...and the entries were mostly from her friends. But the "contest gauntlet" had been tossed into the ring. Students came up with great ideas for writing contests for their peers; I only had to nix a few ideas because I was fearful they might inspire mean writing, not community writing.

The person who created the contest served as its judge, or they would ask someone I approved of to serve as the judge. The winning entry is shared whole class on one of our designated sharing days. It was truly a student-led, writing community kind of event.

A successful Sacred Writing Time routine requires that students participate in a community of thinkers, readers, revisers, editors, and writers. When your students begin planning and coordinating writing contests for their fellow students, you know you have the elements of a community in place.

To help the ball rolling, here are a few simple ideas for SWT contests students can sponsor in your classroom:

  • The best haiku about a flower
  • The best use of a simile in a piece of writing
  • The best review of a movie many have seen
  • The best original fable

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Number 10: Offer International Menus to Your Writers Seeking a Challenge

I took an inservice class in Spring of 2012 where they had us all do something mathematical as we thought about our own lesson planning and teaching. We were asked to generally divide our usual planning time, coming up with a percentage for how much time we spend planning and creating support materials for our lower-achievers, our middle-of-the-curve achievers, and our highest-achievers. The class really opened my eyes to the fact that I almost never planned anything for my higher achievers, which I always have, but--perhaps like you--I assumed they could will take care of themselves.

Later that same summer, I worked with two of my favorite colleagues--Dena Harrison and Jenny Hoy--and we designed eight special menus for advanced writers who deserve to be challenged. The idea behind this set of eight restaurant-themed writing menus is that they're to be offered to students monthly. Using the menus are optional. They contain different types of writing challenges, and if a student chooses one writing task in each section of the menu, he or she will have over a week's worth of SWT ideas that can be used anytime in the month. Any student who completes one task in each section earns a prize from the extra credit basket; that's all I needed to offer.

Even though we designed and first presented these menus to our advanced writers, the other students in the class saw them and asked if they could use them too. Of course we said yes and, surprisingly in doing so, I discovered I had a few additional writers who wanted to be challenged even though they knew they weren't the world's best writers yet. You have potentially great writers hiding in your classroom; do whatever you can to locate and support these students too. SWT is a great opportunity to discover who these potentially great writers might be.

At our Teachers Pay Teachers store, you can download the Italian Menu from the collection of writing menus for free. Use it with your students, especially those who may be more advanced writers. You might be surprised to find they appreciate they have a special resource for them.

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Number 11: What's the Question Game?

I have always preferred "The Question Game" to any other game students suggest when we had to have inside recess or lunch. I learned it watching "Whose Line is it Anyway?" which was an improvisation game on TV back in the 90's. In one game, you had a partner, and you could only speak to the other in questions? The improv actors were good at making a funny story out of the questions they invented when it was their turn to add a question, but the students don't usually have that kind of talent, so we work on different question-asking styles when we play this game; telling a story isn't necessary, but it sometimes happens.

Before I introduce it as a writing game, we play it as a partner game, and we play it out loud. After SWT one day or during the last ten minutes of class, I explain the rules:

  • You can only ask questions as you respond with your answers. If you make a statement, your partner earns a point and the game starts over.
  • Asking a yes/no question is an automatic loss of a point to your partner. Teaching them not to ask yes/no questions really helps my students' interactive notebook activities, and it enables my students to use questioning well in my learner-centered classroom. That's why this is an important rule to me that my kids don't like as a rule. (My pictured/written example at right uses yes/no questions, but when I play the game out loud, none of my questions are yes/no questions.
  • Asking a one-word question is an automatic loss of a point to your partner.
  • Repeating a question in the same round is an automatic loss of a point to your partner.
  • Want to be mean or challenge those advanced thinkers? Another rule could be added: Repeating any question in the same game can cost you the round, but that's teacher's choice. I find the kids learn to start asking the same questions in each round; I hear, "Who told you that?" a lot, so I say, let them ask that question one time and only one time.
  • The point-earner in each round is the person who asks the final question, provided the question follows all of the rules above.
  • I let the students play for five minutes the first time they play, and they keep score, tabulating a point each time they win the round.

At first, play the "game" out loud. My students try the "game" out loud with each other at their desks after SWT one day since they already are there with their SWT partner. Start slow, and let them think about their questions before asking them. I found it works better if their first question contains an interesting school appropriate noun/topic. (As in "What color was your pet elephant?" or "When did you develop an allergy to pens/markers?"

At the conclusion of the first "game," I show my students this page from my notebook, which shows me playing the question game against myself for ten minutes in my writer's notebook one day. I say, "If you want to try this writing strategy out during any of our Sacred Writing Time, you may. It could teach you strategies for asking questions that require more than a one word answer."

For the next few days, I remind them of this writing "game" they can play in their notebooks during SWT. Eventually, students will ask me if they can play "The Question Game" with their partner (as a writing game) during SWT, and I say yes. When my students play the "game" in their notebooks with a partner, I require them each to start a new game so their notebooks can be simultaneously passed back and forth among the two; if only one notebook is moving between the partnership during the game, the partner not writing can become a distraction to other writers in the room.

The "Question Game" usually has a short life span as a "fad" in our writer's notebooks. This happens a lot if you have a student-centered writing classroom -- student-generated ideas for topics will spread like wildfire among the class, then they'll disappear slowly when a new idea pushes the older one off the pedestal.

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Number 12: Bring a funny family photo to write about

This one is too easy. It also will connect you to your students if you play along too. When you start sharing family memories and photos, you become a part of the thinkers' and writers' community you are hopefully determined to build this year.

Step one: find a funny (or memorable) family photo and bring it to school; make a copy at home, if you don't want to take the original.
Step two: tape/paste the picture into the corner of a blank page in your notebook.
Step three: write a memory about the photo, being mindful to use good writer's details; some of my students write the true story about their photos while others fabricate funny stories about their own photos. Both approaches work and easily can become ten minutes of Sacred Writing for SWT.

Most everyone has one they know about--that terrible family photo that always makes people laugh. It might even be on your phone. Some of us--like me--have dozens of candidates to choose from when it comes to silly family photos, but most students can find one. If not, anyone can Google Awkward family pictures with cats to find dozens of wonderful images to write about during Sacred Writing Time.

The writing is funnier and more real, I find, when the students know the people in the pictures, so I encourage them to bring in a copy (or an original, if they dare) of a family photo they can tape into their notebook, then write about during a future ten minutes of Sacred Writing Time.

I usually announce this one early on in the week. I say, "Later this week (or early next week), I have a special request for SWT--please bring a funny family photo, either a copy or an original. On the same day, I want as many of us as possible to write about a funny photo from our own collection of photos, so please bring them in before [set date]. If you choose not to bring a photo, that's fine because you can still do regular SWT while the rest of us are writing about photos that day. Anyone bringing a photo as requested will earn a special notebook sticker!"

On the days leading up to the day we write about our photos, I keep showing them examples from my own notebook. Below are two.

I found this photo of my older brother and my cousins when they came to visit us back in 1980 or 1981. My older brother, Andy, is the oldest one in this photo, and I couldn't stop making fun of his hair while I wrote. This family photo came out of a photo calendar my oldest brother made us all one year. This is my nephew at his own birthday party, so I created a fictional tale inspired by the photo about a baby who flew.

Students will bring in photos earlier than your deadline; if they do, they are to simply tape or paste the photo in one of the corners of a blank page in their writer's notebooks. That way, it'll be waiting safely for them on the designated day you have set.

On the day you have designated as your "Write about a funny family photo day," make sure you include time for extra sharing. When my students share truth/fiction based on an image they have a connection to, they have fun writing. And they like to share. SWT is one of the best builders of community in a writing classroom because one of the first barriers to over-come: fear of sharing. I don't have students who don't enjoy hearing or sharing stories/writing inspired by family photos.

And that's idea #12. You're welcome to share my teacher examples, but your writers will open up so much more to you if you've opened up to them. Sharing your own writing about your own family photos begins to make you an essential part of your writing community.

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Number 13: Go on a Writer's Walk for ten minutes before SWT one day

As Ralph Fletcher says, writers are people who observe the world with a different purpose, with a different set of eyes; everything a writer sees, hears, or experiences can go through the writer's personal "Is something I'm interested in writing about at a later date?" filter. That's what a writer's notebook is for--it's the place to explore potential ideas.

When I was Director of the Northern Nevada Writing Project back in the 00's, I attended several "Writing Marathons" when I visited big cities for conferences with fellow National Writing Project teachers. The NWP builds "teachers who teach writing" into "writers who teach writing," and I loved that philosophy. I like to write, and I discovered what I learned as a writer about the teaching of writing was ten times more valuable than any methodology book on teaching writing I've ever read. The National Writing Projects always shared great teaching strategies that they'd thought of as writers first, teachers second. One of those strategies was the "Writing Marathon."

Here's how a writing marathon worked. A group would meet in the lobby of our hotel with our notebooks at some designated time. Our goal was to walk to a landmark. While walking, we talked and got to know each other, but mostly we observed our surroundings. The leaders of the walk/marathon had already scouted out the route, and they had designated several spots where we could all stop and write for five or ten minutes about something we had observed or thought while we walked. We did this several times until we arrived at our designated landmark. There, we would write once more and share, if we felt like sharing.

Those "Writing Marathons" taught me to observe the world like a writer. Knowing up ahead was a place where I'd be expected to write for five or ten minutes inspired me to watch the world differently as I walked through it with my group of colleagues. If you arrive at a destination with nothing to write about, you haven't learned to observe the world like a writer yet.

One day early on in the school year, a week or so after launching the SWT routine, we go on a ten-minute "Writer's Walk" that takes us in a circle around the school. For my writer's walks, the students must walk silently so they can give their full attention to their observation skills. At the end of the walk, they have three things they must have found while on the writer's walk:

  • find something that they'd like to investigate the true story behind (expository idea)
  • find something that makes them think of a fictional story they'd like to invent (narrative idea)
  • find something that reminds them of a rule at school they'd argue about (argumentative idea)

Upon returning to the classroom, the students spend their ten minutes of SWT that day writing about one, two, or all three of the things they observed.

At the end of SWT, remind them: "Writers observe the world with writer's eyes. If you forget you have to write in my class's every day, you'll forgot to observe the world like we did when we walked through the school today. The world is full of interesting things to observe, then ponder or critique in your notebook."

For the next few days, before SWT, ask students, "Anyone remember to observe the world with a writer's eyes since yesterday? Anyone come across a good writing topic that way?"

a 2014 research article for your administrator, if he/she asks what you're doing when you go on a walk:
Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking

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Number 14: Create your own Adventures/"Puzzle Room" stories during SWT

This is a new idea. I know because last year's sixth graders came up with tit, and about 20% of them tried it in its initial year as a notebook possibility. I believe when 20% try a brand new idea, it shows promise and is worth developing as an idea. My kids loved sharing their "Puzzle Room" stories; they could share them with a partner, and then share again, and the partner would have a new story. They found it fun. I lassoed their writers' energy and taught them well because the energy was there. These were good additions to our writing community.

I guess I'm old. I suspect my sixth graders last year don't have a clue about the classic Choose Your Own Adventure stories that I read in middle school. I loved those things. My favorite one was about the Abominable Snowman, and I actually wrote this free-to-use Adventure-writing lesson inspired by it, and its posted at our sister site--WritingFix.

Anyway, because they didn't seem to know what CYOA books were, they called this style of notebook writing they invented "Puzzle Room Writing." It works like this, and be warned, students will use a lot more paper in their notebooks if they write more than one of these:

  • Students write a story beginning, and at the end of the first paragraph/page, the reader must make a choice on behalf of the character. For example, the bottom of the first paragraph/page might say, "If you think he should press the button, go to page 4 and continue reading. If you think he should run instead, go to page 5."
  • Each new entry should give the reader a choice, so they can participate in the outcome of the story.
  • I think my students called them "Puzzle Room" stories because their characters often found themselves in a situation where they were asked to solve a puzzle or a riddle to move on. Solving the puzzle wrong would lead them down the wrong path.
  • I asked my students to limit their CYOA/Puzzle Room story to needing--at most--three different choices, but I had students last year go so far beyond that.
  • If students create one of these stories, require them to share them with their sacred writing partners...a lot. These became very contagious last year; one student writing a story in this manner inspired other students to do the same. It spread throughout 20% of my SWT-writing sixth graders, so that to me, means this idea can be developed further.

Expect this idea to be further developed and presented as a Lesson of the Month by itself in the future.

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Number 15: Coming Friday, August 23

 

Number 16: Coming Monday, August 26

 

Number 17: Coming Tuesday, August 27

 

Number 18: Coming Wednesday, August 28

 

Number 19: Coming Thursday, August 29

 

Number 20: Coming Friday, August 30

______________________________________________________________

Student Samples to Inspire Your Writers: When you use student samples in a lesson, you make sure your writers understand their job is not to copy the other students' ideas; instead, their job is to find something skillful the student author has done and attempt to do something similar when they work on their own drafts. I like using student samples as a learning tool before and during writing instruction, but it's important for your students to understand they are never to copy too much of an idea from a fellow student's paper.

 

Here's another of our free-to-use writing lessons:
Make an Alphabet-inspired List of Topics for Writing

Alpha Genres, Tones, and Topics
inspired by Susan Allen and Jane Lindeman's
Written Anything Good Lately?

Tired of boring book reports?
We were too!

Dena created these twenty-five reflective tasks for her students who were responding to chapters in novels. Each week, her students completed one new activity, and after four or five weeks into a novel unit , the students each had a small portfolio of writing about their book. They received bonus points if they made a "bingo" out of their activity choices.

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When you visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store-page for this product, select PREVIEW to download full, complimentary access to three of the twenty-five instead-of-book-reports writing response formats we created for this for-sale product. All proceeds from sales like this keep our Always Write website online and free-to-use.

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Smarter-Sounding
Socratic Seminars!

I created these "formula poems" with two purposes: 1) to build small group cooperation; and 2) to add a strong new word to our socratic seminars. The day or week before our next seminar, students group together to write one of these poems as a team.

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When you visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store-page for this product, select PREVIEW to download full, complimentary access to two of the eighteen Socratic Seminar poetry formats we created for this for-sale product. All proceeds from sales like this keep our Always Write website online and free-to-use.

Even if you don't purchase the entire set of poems from us, please use the two poems we share freely as a group-writing task in class one day.

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Here's another of our free-to-use writing lessons:
Begin this one on school picture day, or somewhere thereabouts...


Worst School Picture Day Ever Lesson
inspired by Margie Palatini's Bedhead

Here's another of our free-to-use writing lessons:
Airplanes have First Class seats.
Shouldn't school buses?

First-Class School Bus Seats
inspired partly by Mo Willems'
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Here's another of our free-to-use writing lessons:
Creating Acrostic-Styled Lists of
Examples and Non-Examples

Vocabulary Acrostic Riddles
inspired by Bob Raczka's Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word

Here's another of our free-to-use writing lessons:
A witty mentor text that sets up a delightful writing assignment:

"Normal or Nuts?"
inspired by Reader's Digest's annual column
Are You Normal or Nuts?

Color inspires student poetry:
One of the best mentor texts for teaching poems about colors

Color/Crayon Poems
inspired by Mary O'Neill's
Hailstones and Halibut Bones

Loved by both my gentlemen and lady writers
I got my money's worth from this mentor text! Tons of writing ideas!

Original Superheroes
inspired by Bob McLeod's
Superhero ABC

Music inspires ideas about concepts:
Sara Bareilles' "Brave" Video
Can be a Motivating Writing Lesson!

Show what your "Brave" Looks Like
inspired by the great Sara Bareilles'
Brave video

A Poetic Task / A Metaphorical Task
I got my money's worth from this mentor text! Tons of writing ideas!

Four Metaphor Poems
inspired by Mem Fox's
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

Music inspires ideas about concepts:
Sara Bareilles' "Brave" Video
Can be a Motivating Writing Lesson!

Superlative Stories/Essays
inspired by Brian Cleary's
Breezier, Cheesier, Newest and Bluest

Enrich your Students' Vocabulary!
Will your Students will Take a Shine to "Word Art"?

Word Art
inspired by Jim Tobin's
The Very Inappropriate Word

Writer's Notebooks allow Word Exploration:
Teach your Students to
Make Original Oxymorons!

Develop an Ear for Oxymoron
inspired by Jon Agee's
Who Ordered the Jumbo Shrimp?

Mentor Texts Provide Imitate-able Structures
A Formatted Poem with Creative Possibilities

Have I Told You That I...Poems
inspired by Barack Obama's
Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters

A Grammar in Context Lesson:
Re-Working one of the Most Famous Introductions Ever Written

Fixing Mr. Dickens' Comma Splices
inspired by Charles Dickens'
A Tale of Two Cities

Show Students How Language is Fun!
A Plethora of Fantabulous
Words Await your Students in
Ruth Heller's Books...

Collective Noun Riddles for Writer's Notebooks
inspired by Ruth Heller's
A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns

Writing & Research Across the Curriculum:
Re-Working one of the Most Famous Introductions Ever Written

Strange Time/Place for a News Reporter
inspired by Margie Palatini's tub-boo-boo

Researching historical places?
A book by one of my favorite math teachers and one of my favorite history teachers:

Historical Tour Guide Scripts
inspired by Holly Young and Cathy Morgan's
Help Wanted at Mount Vernon

Challenges for your advanced writers:
All 26 letters in a single sentence?

Notebook Pangram Challenge
inspired by Margaret Wild's Fox

Five Hidden Gems for Journal & Writer's Notebook Keepers:
Can you explain what thunder is?
But could you do it as though it were a written recipe?

Life is a Cookbook
inspired by Patricia Polacco's Thunder Cake

I have students who love...
...Inventing Character Names for Stories

Serendipitous Character Names & Aptronyms
inspired by Bertrand Brinley's
The Mad Scientists' Club

Breaking Down the Parts of a Whole...
Designing a Character
with arrows and labels

Character & Vocabulary "Anatomies"
inspired by Dr. Seuss'
The Sneetches and Other Stories


Music makes a great mentor text for writing lessons
An Original Poetry Lesson

Quest Item Poems
inspired by Jim Croce's song
I've Gotta Name

An inspired STRUCTURE mentor text
Impersonating A Test's "Voice"
in a Math-Crazy World? Fun!

My Own Darn Math Curse
inspired by Jon Scieszka's
Math Curse


A grammar-in-context notebook challenge
Lists of Interesting Noun Phrases

Job Descriptions as Noun Phrases
inspired by Harriet Zieffert's
31 Uses for a Mom

Some of the best haikus I share all year long...
If you don't show the pictures, the haikus serve as riddles!

Vocabulary Haikus
inspired by Jack Prelutsky's
If Not for the Cat


 

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