Month: August 2015

My Amazing Summer–Fact or Fiction? Using this week's Writing Challenge in the classroom

This week’s Alieo Writing Challenge  is “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” with a twist.  We’re asking writers to get creative and imagine the most incredible summer vacation ever.  Here’s the twist– only one part of their story must be true.  The rest can come from their imagination.  Can they make it really difficult for their readers to tell which part of their story is true? 

After your students have written this week’s Alieo Writing Challenge, here’s a classroom extension activity to further engage the class as writers share their work.

As each student reads their piece of writing, have the rest of the class listen carefully.  Their job as listeners is to attempt to determine the facts from the fiction.  After each student has read their piece of writing, have the students guess which part of the story was fact and which was fiction.

An alternative approach is to have the students read each story on the Class Bookshelf.  They then write down one part of each story which they think is factual.  The culmination of this activity is to have each writer reveal to the rest of the class which part of their writing was fact.

It never hurts to have some fun while turning your students into motivated writers!

The Challenges of Editing Taking Student Writing to the Next Level

Thomas Edison said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. This rule certainly holds true when it comes to writing. The reality is that most professional writers spend the vast majority of their time editing an initial draft, bringing it to a final, polished product.

When it comes to writing instruction, it would be difficult to find an area more challenging than teaching students the fine art of editing. Often, students will dash off a very inspired first draft and declare their work “Perfect!.” The thrill of creating the initial first draft may be gone, but much work is still needed to refine the work. Convincing students of the need for editing can be a tremendous challenge.

Certainly, the ability to generate ideas and express them in words (writing fluency) is a fundamental part of the writing process. However, enabling students to hone their skills to take their writing to the next level of refinement through editing is of vital importance.

To many students, editing means correcting spelling, capitalization, grammar and other technical aspects of the conventions of writing.

Editing is much more than this.

Editing involves cutting, moving, adding, and rearranging text to make the writing more effective in conveying the intentions of the author whatever the genre of writing may be. The ability to critically analyze one’s own work takes specific skills which are incredibly challenging to teach. Throw in the logistical challenges of helping thirty or more students in a class with editing a wide range of idiosyncratic writing styles, and logistical complications increase greatly.

In developing COW, we’ve recognized the importance of editing in the writing process. With this in mind, we have created the “Edit Mode” within COW, giving students and teachers a valuable tool for refining their writing.

Stay tuned for a future post in which we’ll show you how to make the most of COW’s “Edit Mode” in teaching those elusive skills of editing, while keeping your students motivated to improve their writing.

The Mad Scientist’s Workshop Another Visual Prompt


Imagine this is the workshop of a mad scientist by the name of Dr. __________________.

Look carefully at the workshop, and try to imagine what wonderfully strange inventions Dr. __________________________ creates.  Once you’ve told us about some of the inventions, create a story telling us what happens when Dr. __________________ unleashes these inventions upon an unsuspecting world.

Developing the Habits of Outstanding Writers How COW enables students to develop effective sentence construction

There is no singular set of rules for becoming an outstanding writer.  There are, however, a number of habits writers acquire which become second nature in the creation of effective writing.  These include an awareness of sentence construction. 

Two critical aspects of sentence construction for outstanding writing include:

1.  A variety of sentence length.

2.  A variety of sentence openings.

Among the feedback students receive after each writing session with COW is a graph of sentence lengths.

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By examining this graph, students receive a comprehensive view of the variety of sentence length in their composition.  The length of their longest sentence is also indicated, giving an immediate “heads up!” to the dreaded run-on sentence.

Another graph that reveals an important aspect of student writing is “Sentence Starters.” 

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This graphs shows students how many times they have used specific words to start sentences in their composition.  Overusing certain words to start sentences, such as “The” or “I” becomes immediately apparent with a quick glance of the “Sentence Starters” graph. 

By giving students feedback on these important aspects of sentence construction on a continual basis, they can become much more mindful of these important compositional aspects during the writing process. 

In the end, they’ll be better writers.

Fractured Fairy Tales A writing challenge to put a new twist on an old classic

A Fractured Fairy Tale is where you put a new spin on an old Classic Fairy Tales.  Think– “Little Green Riding Hood” where grandma eats the wolf.  Or, “Jennifer and the Beanstalk” where an ostrich lays golden eggs.

That’s what Fractured Fairy Tales are all about– a new twist on an old familiar tale. In this writing challenge, we are asking you to choose a familiar Classic Fairy Tale then throw in a twist or two or more. The result will be an oddly familiar, yet strangely original story.

Before you begin your Fractured Fairy Tale, let’s look back at the common elements of Classic Fairy Tales.

  1. Fairy tales do not need to include fairies.
  2. They are set in the distant past.
  3. They include supernatural, make-believe or fantasy elements like magic.
  4. There are clearly defined good characters and bad characters.
  5. Things usually happen in threes.
  6. The plot involves a problem or conflict that needs to be solved.
  7. The ending solves the conflict and is usually happy.
  8. The tale teaches some sort of lesson or demonstrates an important point.

Remember, this is a Fractured Fairy Tale, so some of the rules above don’t need to apply– particularly rules #2 and #4.  (And . . . yes. unlike the Classic Fairy Tale, your fractured fairy tale can include a ninja.)

Finally, for your opening prompt, don’t be afraid to use, “Once upon a time . . .”  This will lull your reader into thinking they are about to read a Classic Fairy Tale until you surprise them with a twist. 

No End to New Features in COW 2.0 At least, that what it seems like . . .

Over the past three blog posts, a number of new features of COW 2.0 have been highlighted.  But there’s more!  Many, many more!

  We’ve streamlined the method of setting up student accounts.

•  Passwords are auto-generated for increased security.

•  Teachers have the option to pre-approve student writing posted to the class bookshelf.

•  Teachers can now make a comment on a student’s story.  In turn, the student can reply to the comment.

•  The Editing Mode has been greatly improved by providing statistical feedback to students upon completion of revised writing.

•  We’ve improved the calculation and display of writing statistics to provide more meaningful feedback to students and teachers.


Every new feature in COW 2.0 is intended to achieve our fundamental goals of:

1.  increasing motivation for students to write more words more frequently.

2.  giving teachers additional tools to enhance instruction in writing.

Yes, we really do feel that COW 2.0 has jumped over the moon.

Excavation Surprise! Another Visual Prompt



A water line needed repair in the front yard of a house.  A large excavator was brought in to dig up the line.  As the large bucket scooped up some soil, everyone was in for a surprise when  . . .

What did they dig up?  Was it something terrifically good or atrociously bad?

What happened after the surprise was dug up?  Was it something terrifically good or atrociously bad?

OR . . .

Imagine the person driving the excavator is having the worst day of his life.  What happens to him on this terrifically atrocious day?

Still More New Features in COW 2.0 Writing Goals

The Monthly Writing Goal

One of the goals of COW is to motivate students to write more frequently. With this in mind, we’ve created an all new Monthly Writing Goal. Students are challenged to write at least twelve sessions a month. They can chart their progress as they write their way through the perils of Alieo’s Universe toward a final reward– a special free item from the avatar store!

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The Class Writing Goal

There’s nothing like a common goal to build teamwork and keep a class writing throughout the year. In COW 2.0, we’ve taken the Class Writing Goal into the stratosphere and beyond! Entire classes can strive to write their way towards a bronze asteroid, a silver moon, a golden planet, and finally to arrive at a platinum star. At each new stop along their journey, they’ll be rewarded with the ability to buy a special avatar item.

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More Fabulous Fables A writing challenge to make Aesop proud

In our last writing challenge, “Fabulous Fables,” we asked you to write a fable.  To review, fables have three main characteristics:

1.  They are short stories.

2.  The main characters are usually animals acting like people.

3.  They teach a moral which is stated at the end of the story.

Aesop’s Fables are the best known, including such familiar tales as “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” and “The Lion and the Mouse.”

For this writing challenge, we’d like you to create an original fable which concludes with this moral:

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Here are the steps for completing this writing challenge:

  1. Use the Alieo Bonus Word List.
  2. Do not use a prompt to start your fable (unless you want to make it extra challenging).
  3. Write your fable, and conclude it with the moral, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

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