Month: December 2015

Stormy Weather The Week's COW Writing Challenge

Winter has officially arrived in Northern Hemisphere.  With winter comes big weather– snowstorms, windstorms, rainstorms, ice storms, frog storms . . . Frog storms?

This weeks’ COW Writing Challenge is all about strange storms.  If you’re not familiar with really strange storms, take a look at Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and you’ll know what we’re talking about.

Students are challenged to write about the strangest storm ever.  What fell from the sky?  What were the clouds made of?  Was their weird lightning?  Strange sounding thunder?  What did this once-in-a-lifetime storm do to the place where you live?  How did people in your town or city react to the storm?

Was the storm a bad thing, or did some good come out of it?  How was your city or town changed after the storm?

Time to get down to writing, and create a storm of words writing with COW!

The Best/Worst Holiday Ever This Week's COW Writing Challenge

‘Tis the holiday season!  This weeks COW Writing Challenge has our young writers (and some old ones, too) writing a story about the holiday’s best of times or the worst of times.  They are challenged to write about the very best holiday season imaginable OR the very worst holiday season in history.  The prompt for this writing challenge is, “It was a holiday season I’ll never forget . . .

What would happen to make a holiday season the best one ever?  What amazing events would occur?  What spectacular surprises would be in store?  Think big!  Think epic!  The only limit is the imagination.

Conversely, what would happen to make a holiday season the worst one ever?  What really unfortunate events would occur?  What big disappointments would be in store?  Think terrible!  Think catastrophic!  The only limit is the imagination.

Of course, we hope everyone has a holiday season that falls into the “Best Ever” category!

A Letter to Me From . . . ? This Week's COW Writing Challenge

In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, students are asked to write a letter with a difference.  It’s a letter to themselves from someone else.

The letter can be from a character in a book, movie or game.  Maybe the letter will be from one of their pets.  Or how about their avatar, or even an object?

What would Cinderella write in a letter to them?  Or a penguin?  Or the table in their kitchen?  The sky’s the limit!

After completing the writing challenge, the class can play the “Letter to Me Guessing Game.”  Students can read their “Letter to Me,” then, the rest of the class can try to guess who the letter is from.

Here’s an example of the beginning of a letter.  Can you guess who it is from?

Dear Alieo,

I’m sorry I haven’t been at school lately because I’ve been very busy.  We were out of money, so Mom asked me to sell the cow.  You wouldn’t believe what happened, though.  I met this amazingly weird guy on the road who offered to trade me our cow for some magic beans.  Sounded like a fair deal to me!

Remember that science experiment we did last year when we were trying to grow those bean plants in your basement?  Well, you wouldn’t believe these beans.  We should have used these beans for our science experiment!  About twelve hours after I planted these beans (Actually, I didn’t plant them, but I won’t get into details.  It’s a long story) the bean plant shot up like you wouldn’t believe.

You know how we went to the climbing gym last week?  I put those skills to good use by climbing this giant beanstalk.  Yes, it was THAT big!  I should have brought an oxygen mask . . .


An Original Holiday Adventure This Week's COW Writing Challenge

With the holiday season approaching, this week’s writing challenge is all about writing a Holiday Adventure. 

Students will be given the prompt:  “It was the first day of holidays and . . .”  

Holiday stories often fall into the realm of predictable storylines.  For example, there are numerous stories about Santa dealing with some obstacle to delivering the presents on Christmas Eve due to illness, a broken sleigh, a foggy night.  This writing challenge presents students with a challenge to write a truly original holiday story.  Which twists and turns could an original holiday story take?

Many story plots revolve around a main character facing a problem.  It may be helpful to hold a brainstorming session before the writing challenge, asking students to come up with a list of potential problems around the theme of the holidays.  The problems could centre around preparations for the holidays at home, or maybe about the trials and tribulations faced by characters associated with the holiday season.

Having a list of potential plots before writing will give students the confidence to forge ahead with this writing challenge.  Some may choose to go their own way, and come up with their own original holiday story plot.  At least, we ho-ho-hope so!

Rules We Need to Break in Our Writing Classroom

While reading Pernille Ripp’s thought-provoking article, Some Rules We Need to Break in Our Reading Classroom, it got me thinking of applying this approach to the teaching of writing.

How much of our instructional practice is driven by rules from the past? How much of what we do is an upholding of traditional approaches?  There is a lot of merit in these traditional practices, yet this doesn’t mean these practices shouldn’t be questioned.  As teachers, we should continually question and examine what we’re doing.  We should be asking whether these long-held practices are still relevant, given contemporary insights into how students learn.  Could other approaches be more effective?   With these thoughts in mind, here are my, Rules We Need to Break in Our Writing Classroom:

Rule #1:  Every piece of writing should be marked or graded by the teacher.

I used to feel as if I was neglected my duties if I didn’t mark every single piece of writing my students completed.  Yet, young writers need the space and freedom to write without having the thought constantly in the back of their mind that the teacher will be marking every sentence they write.  Think of the basketball player practicing foul shots out on the playground away from the coach’s scrutiny.  It’s a time to experiment and fail and try again.    That’s how one improves.  So it is with writing.  The more one writes, the more comfortable one gets with using words to express ideas.  Let your students write mountains of words, but don’t feel you have to scrutinize every one.

Rule #2:  Students must create an outline before they write.

Picasso famously said, “to know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.”  Planning one’s writing can be a very valuable skill, particularly in expository writing.  However, there’s an element of spontaneity that a writer can bring to a piece of writing which blows beyond the boundaries of an outline.  Free writing provides a way for students to explore this spontaneous element of their creativity, often leading their writing into fascinating new directions.

Rule #3:  All writers follow the steps of the writing process.

Part of learning to be a writer is discovering what approach works best for you.  The writing process is not a one-size-fits-all approach.  There is great value in having young writers try out a variety of writing strategies, discovering what works best for their own uniqueness.

Rule #4:  Writing is serious business.

Contrary to what reluctant writers may think, writing can be a joyful, exhilarating, playful experience.  It need not be drudgery!  It can be largely pain-free!  In fact, if students are able to experience writing as a positive experience– something they actually like doing– that’s half the battle in transforming your students into writers.

Chris McMahen

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