I caught a fleeting glimpse
I am a writer. The craving to write is deeply ingrained in my DNA, and it is something I need to do in order to restore pieces of my soul that I give out daily at school. You know what I mean if you’ve been education for very long at all. Our students are consumed with daily screen time, self regulation deficiencies, and a lot of pressure from various sources in their young lives. So if students do not have the NEED to write, how can we develop an excitement and love for writing while meeting all the demands of our curriculum? We can. Here’s one way of many to bring the magic back to writing in your classroom. If you teach subjects not related to writing, then feel free to modify this as suits the demands of your curriculum and subject matter.
Out of the corner of my eye
Getting students to practice our content area and have fun while doing it is the challenge we face today as educators. The very best way to combat this is to listen to your students. In 2015, a student explained to me an idea he had for a fun writing activity that he wanted us to try in class, and one Friday, we did. Super Happy Fun Circle Time Friday was born. Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve learned that if you put the word FUN into the title of your class period for the day, then FUN you shall have. Students get very excited for SHFCF (I have to abbreviate it, sorry), and through the years since its inception, I’ve tried a lot of variations. Just because one group of students love an activity, doesn’t mean that same activity works with the next group of students. So my advice for creating any activity for students is that it have a exciting and descriptive title. Then take on that attitude, wear the excitement, and above all else, get student input, listen to their voices, and hang on tight.
I turned to look but it was gone
For my SHFCF, I do the following in this order:
- Greet students at the door saying, “Hi! Happy (insert fun name of your awesome activity here)!
- Instruct students to form a circle. I have flexible seating now, so students also grab a textbook from the designated shelves to use as lap desks as needed. This is a great use of those sample and no longer used textbooks/teacher’s manuals that you don’t quite know what to do with and can’t quite bring yourself to throw away.
- As soon as you’re ready to start, ask students to suggest ideas for the following (for content area activities, build in this student voice option for whatever you are doing):
- Conflict (the problem our protagonist must solve)
- I always have students vote on the first three suggestions made for each component of the activity. Since the ideas can take up all of your time, limiting them to three options per component helps keep things moving.
I cannot put my finger on it now
Now let’s dive into the more procedural aspects of this activity.
- Once the components are agreed upon, we then just decide how we are going to pass our papers. While I’ve done tech options here (pass the Chromebook), paper seems to have more magic in the results. After reading a sneak peak of Boredom Busters by Katie Powell, I saw a way to add more magic into how we pass our papers. You see, students collaborate on these stories, and when we just passed to the left or right, the writing would be limited to those sitting on either side of the students, but with our new ideas, we’ve busted that cycle!
- Paper Airplane passing-the idea from Katie Powell’s book-is super fun. When time is up and I say “Pass!” students have to make a paper airplane out of their story and let it fly. If their planes won’t fly far or well, I instruct students to scoot them over to the center of the circle. Students who don’t have a paper to write on then go to the circle and grab one.
- Snowballs-This is easy and uses a common and fun strategy that is more common. Instead of the airplane, students wad their papers up into “snowballs” and let them fly! I also allow students to write on their own if somehow in the frenzy, they end up with theirs.
- Pumpkin Chucking-My students came up with this season theme just yesterday, the last Friday of September. They asked for orange paper and then can proceed just like the snowball method of passing their papers, but this time we can pretend they are pumpkins and be in the fall spirit.
- I remind students to put their names on their papers and include the three components we voted on (for us, that’s protagonist, setting, and conflict). Each time they write on someone’s story, they put their name out to the side of what they wrote.
The child is grown
This might seem like a lot for a writing activity (or whatever activity type fits your content area), but releasing the magic of excitement and engagement is completely worth it. So once the details are established, it’s time to get started.
- Set the timer, a timer, for one minute and say, “Ready, Set, GO!” and start the timer.
- Students write for the entire minute (and it’s okay if some cheat and start before you tell them too, but acting like they’re being sneaky and teasing them is okay too). That is the one hard and fast rule. You must write or work on the activity for the entire minute.
- When the timer goes off, I announce that it is time to wrap up their thoughts or sentence and pass the papers. Be ready for the fun.
The dream is gone
Once students have a new paper, they are to do the following:
- Read/proofread the work of the previous student. Clarify anything that is hard to read or is incorrect and make the corrections so that the next author can read and understand the story quickly. I allow just a minute or two for this, but I don’t time it. I watch the class and as soon as I see most are ready to write, I tell them we’re about to get started.
- Do these steps four or more rounds as time allows.
- When you are ready for the story writing or activity to end, then announce that the paper they are holding needs the ending to be setup. The conclusion prepped. The climax should have been reached. If it hasn’t been, then they need to add it this round because the next person will be ending the story.
- This author round gets to end the story and is the only one who is allowed to “kill” the main character. I teach high school, so our characters don’t always survive, but the humorous ways they meet their end can be highly entertaining. All writing should be kept school appropriate of course.
I have become comfortably numb
If we don’t step out of our comfort zones and create amazing opportunities and experiences for our students, then they do become numb to creativity, learning, curiosity, and dreams. For SHFCF, students are not numb. They smile, laugh, collaborate and create. The final step in this experience is to have volunteers read their stories out loud. We share them. I gain insights and enjoy the thoughts and creations of my students. We absolutely love it. Don’t skip this step. It is like the final line of a magical spell that won’t be effective or work if not uttered. Let one volunteer read for students who don’t want to read their story to the class. Let everyone read their own. Whatever works for your students, do it. Refine my process, taylor it for your students, and get their input. Activate their ideas and voices. You won’t regret it.