Month: November 2015

Crossed Creatures This Week's COW Writing Challenge

In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, students are asked to think of two creatures they would like to cross.

Maybe they’d like to cross a rattlesnake with a kangaroo (a rattleroo?), or an owl and a crocodile (a crocohoot?)

The creatures they choose are left completely up to their imagination.  They may even wish to choose mythical creatures, or creatures that are extinct, such as crossing a dinosaur and a unicorn (a tyranicorn?)

Once they have chosen their crossed creature, they are to write about it, considering the following:

1.  What is its name?

2.  What does it look like?  Describe the characteristics of each crossed creature that the newly created creature possesses.  (For example, a rattleroo hops on two powerful legs, rattles its gigantic tail, and has a deadly venomous bite.)

3.  Where does it live?  Describe its habitat.  How do its unique combination of characteristics suit this particular habitat?

4.  Does it have enemies? What is its prey?

5.  How does it obtain its food?  What other things does it eat?  Where does it fit on the food chain?

6.  What sound does it make?

7.  Does it have any unusual behaviours?

8.  How would it interact with humans?

An extension activity for this writing challenge would be to have the students draw an illustration of their crossed creature in its habitat.

As for crossed creatures, how about crossing a COW with an alien?  What would that strange creature be called?


The Future of Writing is . . . Writing Brad Wilson's Alphabetical Take on the Future of Writing

Our students have an opportunity to write on an incredible range of platforms.  These include emails, texts, blog posts, and other more traditional platforms.  So, how does the plethora of platforms influence the teaching of writing?

Brad Wilson, in a presentation at the Michigan Reading Association’s 2015 conference, discussed the teaching of writing in this new technological milieu in this thought-provoking presentation, The Future of Writing.

The Perilous Pool This Week's COW Writing Challenge

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This week’s COW Writing Challenge is a visual prompt, coupled with the written prompt: “As I stood at the edge of the perilous pool, I saw . . .”

Before tackling this writing challenge, have the students consider the following questions:

Where was this perilous pool discovered?

What is this liquid, anyway?  What causes it to bubble and give off steam?

What could possibly live in a pool like this?

If you fell into this pool, where would you go?  What would happen?

We hope your students have a great time writing about this perilous pool.  Wearing a personal floatation device during this writing activity is highly recommended!

Using COW for Structured Writing Activities

Initially, COW was designed to promote free writing– the unstructured, spontaneous approach to writing which builds stamina and fluency in students.  However, COW need not be limited to this aspect of writing instructions.

COW can also be used in structured writing activities.  Instructing students to use “Chapters” as separate paragraphs, students can create structured longer pieces of writing within COW.  In each chapter, they address a specific aspect of the topic.

Here are a couple of examples:

Invent An Alien

Chapter 1 – Describe what your alien looks like.

Chapter 2 – What does your alien eat?

Chapter 3 – Where does your alien live?

Chapter 4 – What does your alien do for fun?

Chapter 5 – Describe day in the life of your alien.

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Chapter 1 – Who is the chicken? Name, occupation, description?

Chapter 2 – The chicken approaches the road, but something prevents it from crossing – What is the obstacle?

Chapter 3 – Conclusion – How did the chicken get around the obstacle?  Did the chicken make it to the other side?

Within these structures, students still have the opportunity to use their individual creativity while developing the skills of structured writing.

Lucky Penny This Week's COW Writing Challenge

It’s good luck to find a penny on the sidewalk. Even though a penny can’t buy you much, it’s probably worth picking it up, just for the amazing luck it will bring. (If you live in Canada, finding a penny is even luckier, seeing as the penny’s been taken out of circulation.)

This week’s COW Writing Challenge is all about luck– good luck and bad luck. If you did find a lucky penny and picked it up, how would the rest of your day look? What truly incredible things could happen all because of the luck brought on by your penny?

Before taking on this writing challenge, you may want to have your students think about lucky things that have happened to them in the past. Then, brainstorm a list of potentially lucky things that could happen in their lives today from the simple to the outrageous.

Another possible aspect of this writing challenge to consider is the look of the penny. Is there something unique that makes it stand out from all of the other pennies?  Does the penny actually change in appearance over time?

There’s another side to this writing challenge– Rather than good luck, maybe your lucky penny brings bad luck. Have your students write this challenge a second time, only this time, the penny brings bad luck. What attempts do they make to try to get rid of the “unlucky” penny? Does it keep coming back into their lives? Is the bad luck passed on to someone or something else?

Life is full of simple acts with big consequences. No simple act can have more significance than bending down to pick up a penny off the sidewalk. Once the penny’s in a writer’s pocket, their imagination can lead them on amazing adventures full of good and bad luck. Good luck with this writing challenge!

Unorthodox Ways to Motivate Writers Week #2 of NaNoCOWMoo

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So, you are into week #2 of NaNoCOWMoo.  Possibly, the initial rush of motivation has begun to flag as the days and weeks wear on.  What began as a novel project (pun intended) has turned into an overwhelming routine.  Through the endurance test known as NaNoCOWMoo, how can you keep your class motivated?  Here are a few unorthodox methods you might want to keep in mind:

1.  Studies have shown that student performance improves if they receive good news just before they begin an activity.  For example, just before the writing session, you can announce, “Last night, I booked our class field trip to Paris!” Okay, maybe it’s just ten minutes of extra recess time, but you get the idea.

2.  Chew gum!  I know, I know . . . gum is banned in many schools for good reasons.  There is some evidence, however, that chewing gum can actually improve concentration.  To put it in plain English, “a fronto-parietal network for mastication exists and may contribute to higher cognitive information processing.

3.  Get outside!  We’re not suggesting you haul the computer lab outside (although, the more I think of it, the more interesting the idea sounds).  Just before a writing session, and possibly part way through, take the kids outside for a run around the playground.  Get those large muscles moving.  Improve that circulation to the brain.

Maintaining motivation over the long haul is possibly one of the most challenging aspects of writing 50,000+ words over 30 days.  If you have any tricks for keeping your students motivated, we’d love to hear from you.  Just leave a comment.

What a Report Card! This Week's COW Writing Challenge

In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, students are given an opportunity to use their creativity in writing a report card.

Every few months, students read a report written about them by their teachers.  Here’s a chance for students to step into the shoes of a teacher, and write their own report cards.   While they write, report card terms will pop up as bonus words.

There are a number of options for completing this writing challenge:

1.  The student can write about themselves in a realistic way, self-evaluating their performance in class.

2.  They can write their “dream” report card, imagining the greatest report card comments in history.

3.  Conversely, they can write their “nightmare” report card– the worst report card ever received.

4.  They can choose to write the report card about a fictional character.  Maybe they can choose a character from a book, movie or video game, and write a report card for them.

5.  How about writing a report card for a figure from history?  This may require some research, but writing a report card would be an interesting way of integrating historical facts into a piece of writing.

If you have used this writing challenge with your class, we’d love to hear about it.  Please leave a comment below.


It’s Never Too Late to Start! Week #1 of NaNoCOWmoo

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Did you miss the starting gun for NaNoCOWMoo?  It’s already a few days into November, and maybe you haven’t started your class on theNaNoCOWMoo writing challenge.

No problem!

It’s never too late to start.  Here are some ways you can still participate in NaNoCOWMoo:

1.  Recalibrate your weekly writing goals.  Instead of shooting for 12,500 words a week, just bump up your class’s goal to 17,000.  I know this sounds like a lot, but kids love challenges!  So do teachers!

2.  Encourage your students to do extra writing at home in the evenings or on the weekend.  Let parents know about your class NaNoCOWMoo goal, and encourage them to give their kids a little extra time to write each night.

3.  Check the NaNoCOWMoo leader board on the main page.  See how many words your class needs to write to appear on the NaNoCOWMoo leader board.  Sure, they may have gotten off to a late start, but don’t let that stop them.

Your class can be just like the hare in the Aesop Fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare, except . . .

. . .the hare shows up late for the race, and the tortoise already has a head start,

. . . the hare doesn’t stop to take a nap.

. . . the hare wins!

The new moral of the story is:  It’s never too late to start!


It’s Not a Bubble! This week's COW writing challenge

giantbubbleThis week’s COW Writing Challenge is a visual prompt  with a difference.  Writers are asked to imagine that what they see in this photograph is not a bubble.  So, if it’s not a bubble, then what is it?

A pre-writing brainstorming activity with the whole class asking the question, “If it’s not a bubble, then what is it?” should give the students plenty of ideas for their writing.

Another great way to get their imaginations going is to have a session of bubble blowing.  (Or, should that be, giant not-bubble blowing!)  As each bubble floats into the air, imagine what this strange thing could be (if it wasn’t a bubble!)

If you want to blow GIANT bubbles, here’s a great recipe for an amazing bubble blowing solution.  Have fun!

If you do make some of your own GIANT bubbles, please send us some photos!


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