Month: June 2015

Five Senses Writing: Touch Another Writing Challenge

In our last Five Senses Writing Challenge, we asked you to imagine walking through an old building (it could be a house) in pitch black darkness. We asked you to describe the sounds you heard. 

For this writing challenge, imagine you are feeling your way through the darkness. (For example, your hand runs along a smooth wall before running into the sharp corner of a fireplace brick.) Describe the textures and shapes you feel as you make your way across a room or through a house.  Do you encounter anything unexpected? Something furry? Something slimy? Something wet? Can you tell what it is?

Once you’ve written your story, check out the stats page and the “Sense Words” pie chart to see how many touch words you have used.

Here’s a summary of this writing challenge:

  1. Use the Alieo Bonus Word list.
  2. Start a new story. Begin with no prompt. Start your description by feeling your way through the front door.
  3. Describe as many things in the building as you can by using descriptions of touch.
  4. When you’ve finished writing your story, check the stats page to see how many “touch” words you have used.

Traps to Avoid When Writing a First Draft How COW can save you from an attack of Writer's Block

COW has been carefully designed to provide an environment which encourages fluency in writing.  Fluency is the ability of a writer to generate ideas, then express them in words on the page.  The opposite of Writing Fluency is Writer’s Block. 

Writer’s Block can arise for a number of reasons.  Here are some of the primary reasons from my personal experience and those of the students I’ve taught:

1.  Obsessing with Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar

Many times, I’ve seen students hunched over the page, head in hands, just plain stuck.  When I asked them how it was going, they’d often reply with, “I don’t know how to spell __________.”  A word they were unable to spell was like a giant boulder that had suddenly landed in the middle of the highway of their writing, providing an insurmountable barrier.  Spelling, punctuation and grammar should live in the domain of editing.  Conversely, a first draft is meant to be a wild outpouring of ideas.  Mistakes can be fixed later.  With spelling, do your best, then move on.  You can come back and fix it later.  COW does not provide a spell checker or grammar checker for a reason.  We want writers to focus upon fluent writing.

2.  Trying to Come Up with a Title

We’ll come back to the student hunched over a page, only this time, it’s completely blank.  “I can’t think of a title,” they say.  When creating a piece of writing, a title is one of the last things you’ll want to think about.  I always wait until I’ve finished a story before I even bother to think of a title.  That’s because often, when I’m writing, stories take bizarre twists and turns, heading off in unexpected directions.  I have to wait until the dust settles to see what story I’ve got, and then begin to think of an appropriate title.  That’s why, with COW, we ask students to give their story a title after they have finished writing.

3.  Perfectionism

Oh, yes.  That dreaded monster called Perfectionism.  Certainly, perfectionism has its place.  Personally, I’m happy that the individual flying the airplane I’m riding in or the person filling a cavity in my tooth is a perfectionist.  However, perfectionism can be a creativity killer.  Overly analyzing each and every sentence as it eeks out of the imagination can only lead to a stifling of the creative flow of ideas and words.  Keep in mind that the first draft is a very messy, absolutely imperfect piece of writing that possesses one thing and one thing only– potential.  Perfectionism enters the picture during the revision process.  COW provides a revision mode, allowing writers to revisit their stories and revise to their heart’s content.

4.  Fear

If you are worried about the validity of your writing, whether your ideas are any good, and if others will like your writing, your primary focus is not upon the process of writing.  Fear can extinguish the creative urge with an overwhelming paralysis of self-consciousness.  When you write a draft, write fearlessly.  It’s kind of like singing in the shower or dancing when you think no one’s watching.

When writing a first draft, it’s very important to keep in mind that whatever you write is not your final product.  It’s merely one version along a very long road of versions of your story.  There’s nothing permanent about what you’re writing, so just fly at it, take chances, and always remember than anything you write can be chopped or drastically altered through the process of revision.

Invasion of the… Another visual prompt



For this visual prompt, let your imagination go for a ramble. Don’t limit your thinking to identify this shape in the sky as a mere bubble. What other amazing things could this thing be? An animal never before seen by human eyes? An alien life form? Something that emerged from a crack in the earth? An escaped cooking experiment?  The possibilities are endless.

Chromebooks versus iPads What's the best tech solution for schools?

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of visiting a number of schools in various jurisdictions around British Columbia and Alberta.  As a former teacher with a strong interest in the use of technology in schools, it’s always enlightening to talk with teachers about their tech set-up.

One particularly interesting trend I’ve seen is the move away from the traditional computer lab towards having mobile trolleys with class sets of Chromebooks. 

Another trend is the move away from iPads to Chromebooks.  There are a number of significant advantages of using Chromebooks over iPads.  Chris Hoffman’s article, “Why Chromebooks are schooling iPads in education” outlines some very compelling reasons for this development.

Five Senses Writing: Sound

I remember this spy movie where the hero was blindfolded and taken through a city in a car. Later in the movie, he’d escaped, but was trying retrace his trip and find out where the bad guys were hiding out. How did he do this? He tried to recall the distinct sounds he heard during his drive through the city. For example, there was the sound of church bells, the hum of car tires crossing a bridge, water cascading in a fountain, and so on. Each sound represented a landmark along the route of his blindfolded drive.

For this writing challenge, you are to attempt to use sounds words in describing a setting. Imagine that you are walking through an old building in the pitch black darkness. Describe the sounds you hear– the sounds of the different types of floors you walk over, objects you bump into that clang and smash, and maybe the presence of other creatures. Your goal is to create a soundscape that allows your reader to create a picture in their mind of this building from the sounds you provide. Here’s an example:

You push your hand forward and hear the creak of the hinges of a door as it swings open and thumps against the wall. As you step through the door’s opening, you hear the squeak of the wooden floorboards under your feet with each step. The wind howls in a sudden gust, and you hear a BANG as the door slams shut.

You’ll notice this was written in the second person. This serves to pull the reader right into the story as if they were there.

Here’s a summary of this writing challenge:

  1. Use the Alieo Bonus Word list.
  2. Start a new story. Instead of using an existing prompt, begin with the first thing you do as you enter the building. (See the example above.)
  3. Describe as many things in the building as you can by using sound descriptions.
  4. When you’ve finished writing your story, check the stats page to see how many sound words you’ve used.

Banned Words #4 Suddenly!

Along with all of the other banned words on our list so far, I’ve been guilty of using “suddenly,” quite often. As a writer, you feel that using ‘suddenly’ is like lighting a match to gasoline. In a flash, your story takes a dramatic turn. Your hope in using ‘suddenly’ is to tell your reader that your story has taken a dramatic, unexpected turn.

So, what’s wrong with using ‘suddenly’?

If you want to surprise your reader with a dramatic, unexpected turn in your story, by using ‘suddenly,’ you are essentially warning them that something dramatic and unexpected is about to happen. 

Why do you want to warn your reader? Why not just tell them about the next moment in the story, and let them fully experience the ‘suddenness’ of the unexpected and dramatic turn of events.

Here’s the true test of whether you should use ‘suddenly.’ Go through your story and cut every occurrence of ‘suddenly.’ Chances are, you’ll find your story will draw the reader in with surprising twists and turns, rather than warning them something big is about to happen.

Suddenly, the door opened, and there stood my arch enemy.

The door opened, and there stood my arch enemy.

So, in summary, our list of banned words so far includes:

  1. Literally
  2. Very
  3. Really
  4. Suddenly

Suddenly, you’ll realize that you literally don’t need to use these very over-used words that really don’t add anything to your writing.

Gone Fishing…and WHAT A CATCH! Another visual prompt.



We all know that all fishing stories are true, right?

Okay, so fishing stories do have a reputation for being prone to exaggeration. With this visual prompt, here’s your chance to let your imagination run wild, creating the most outrageous fishing story ever heard. Before you start writing, here are a few things to think about to get your imagination going:

  1. What might be lurking under the water?
  2. What kind of special bait are these men using?
  3. What happens when they cast their lines?
  4. What do they hook?
  5. What happened when they fought the fish (or whatever it was) on the end of their line?
  6. What happened when they landed their catch in the boat?

Have fun writing a fishy tale!

Let’s Go Camping! The Great Outdoors Writing Challenge

Camping Gear

Ah, yes. It’s that time of year when civilized people abandon their civilized ways and head out into the Great Outdoors to battle the elements. 

Camping adventures are a great source of material for writing. Think of the potential for disaster– sudden storms, bugs, wild animal encounters, bugs, cooking disasters, bugs, forgotten supplies, bugs and the list goes on.

This writing challenge can be fact or fiction– write a camping story in which everything goes horribly wrong. If you’ve done some camping, draw upon some of your own experiences, then use your imagination to stretch and reshape them. Of course, you may want to find a silver lining in amongst those dark clouds of misfortune.

Your prompt for this writing challenge is:  “I knew this camping trip would be a disaster when…”

For Teachers:

  1. In your Bonus Word List Manager, go to the Shared tab and copy over the “Camping” Bonus Word List. You may want to add some of your own words to the list. Be sure to assign the list to your class. 
  2. As mentioned above, the prompt for this writing challenge is, “I knew this camping trip would be a disaster when…”

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