READY, SET, WRITE! (For Teachers)

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”  
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

School is back in! Some are cheering. Some are groaning.  (Mostly the parents are cheering and teachers are groaning!) That’s not really true. For almost all of my many years of teaching I looked forward to September with all it’s hope and promise of an exciting new year. This year, as I reminisce about my days in the classroom, I thought I would post a couple of writing activities to get your year kick-started.

Writing is one of the most difficult subjects to teach. It’s such a complicated process! Often, as teachers we add to the complexity by expecting students to put a whole lot of processes together into something called a “story” before they even understand the building blocks necessary to construct such a beast.

To develop effective writers, students need to feel confident—to view themselves as writers. As a student develops confidence, he will be more willing to take risks—to buy in to the writing process and appreciate the value it holds for him, personally. Following are a couple of activities that may be helpful as you embark on this writing adventure with your students.

Mindless Musings aka Free writing aka Stream-of-consciousness writing

 Spend five minutes every day with this free-writing activity you will be amazed with the results. Trust me, it’s worth it. If you do nothing else the entire year to encourage your student’s to love writing, do this.

Here’s how it works:

  • Tell students you will time them for five minutes.
  • They may write on any topic they like and may jump from topic to topic at any time.
  • They must write in sentences.
  • They may NOT stop writing until the time is up.
  • If at any time they cannot think of what to write, they may write I cannot think of anything to write, after which time they may begin describing the room and what they observe at that moment or tell what they have done so far that day.

I have had kids tell me that this is their very favourite writing activity and that this is the only time a teacher hasn’t told them what they have to write about.

As far as assessment goes, mark the students on their participation. Do not mark the content. This is very important. But it is also important that they actually do write for the five minutes. (For younger students, start with one minute. For high school, work up to ten minutes.)  I insist that they keep all of their Mindless Musings in a notebook where I can see the dated evidence of participation. It is also a valuable source of ideas when it does come time to write a story.

Detail Theft

 What makes a character come alive off the page? What paints a picture in your mind as you read? What gives you the impression the author has done a lot of research? Details. It’s all about the details.

In this activity, students are to find a particularly juicy or interesting detail from the book they are currently reading. The student then takes this detail and uses it in her own story/paragraph.

Here’s an interesting detail from The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. “Trees are always the first to know about storms.”

Or “She stood up and followed its bluesy notes, deeper and deeper into the piney woods.”


Maybe it would be fun to have a “Detail of the Week” and challenge each student in the class to incorporate the detail into a paragraph. Post the results so students can see all the different creations.


Published by Lois Donovan

Author of historical time travels, THE JOURNAL and WINDS OF L'ACADIE, Lois is in demand as a speaker/presenter at literary conferences and young writers' conferences and teachers conventions. Lois grew up primarily in Riverview, New Brunswick, but has called Calgary home for many years. Currently, Lois enjoys life in Calgary with her husband, daughter, son and daughter-in-law.

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