Author: Chris McMahen (page 1 of 14)

Let’s Go Camping! This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Camping Gear (1)

This week’s COW Writing Challenge is based upon this visual prompt and the written prompt, “I knew this camping trip would be a disaster when…”

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– students can write a camping story in which everything goes horribly wrong. If they’ve done some camping, draw upon some of their own experiences, then use their imaginations to stretch and reshape them. Of course, they may want to find a silver lining in amongst those dark clouds of misfortune!

Pet Day Chaos! This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Nothing holds more promise for classroom chaos than Bring Your Pet to School Day, or Pet Day.  In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, students are to imagine the most chaotic Pet Day ever in the history of Pet Days.

Have them consider some of the following questions that would make an already chaotic day even more wild:

1.  What strange pets could be brought that day?  A camel?  A penguin?  A snake?  Did someone borrow an animal from the zoo or a circus for the day?

2.  What interactions between the pets lead to further mayhem?  Do dogs meet cats?

3.  How does the ‘Pet Day’ in this class spill over to the rest of the school?  Or is Pet Day a school wide phenomenon?  Do some pets escape?  Do some of them find their way into the duct work of the school’s air conditioning and heating system?  Do some hide in lockers?  Do some of them interrupt other classes?  Do some of them find their way onto school buses?

4.  What heroic deed or brilliant idea could bring all of this catastrophic confusion to an end?

We hope some brilliant writing comes out of this challenge, and will raise some concerns about having a real-life pet day in your class!

Make Up Your Own Holiday This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Are there enough holidays during the year?  In British Columbia, the government decided to create a new holiday in February to give residents a long weekend in the middle of the winter.  They decided upon Family Day.

There are dozens of special days during the year, although most of them are not official holidays.  For example,

June 13th is Sewing Machine Day

June 17th is Eat Your Vegetables Day

June 18th is Go Fishing Day

In this COW Writing Challenge, students are to invent their own unofficial holiday.  A number of things they should consider include:

1.  The date of the holiday.

2.  The official name of the holiday.

3.  Traditions associated with the holiday.  What special things do people do to celebrate this day?  (For example, people wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, hide chocolate eggs on Easter, etc.)

4.  History of the holiday.  (What is the history behind why this day is special.  For example, Valentine’s Day has a long history dating back to the Romans.)

We hope you enjoy this writing challenge and celebrate,  Have Fun Writing Week!



What a Catch! This Week's COW Writing Challenge

gone_fishing (1)

All fishing stories are true, right?

Okay, so fishing stories do have a reputation for being prone to exaggeration. With this visual prompt, here is your students’ chance to let their imaginations run wild, creating the most outrageous fishing story ever told. Before they start writing, here are a few things they can think about to get their imaginations 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!

Me in Twenty Years This Week's COW Writing Challenge

In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, we are asking students to look ahead into their future.  What will your life be like in twenty years?

One way of approaching this is to have a question-answer format in which the student of today is asking questions of themselves in twenty years.

For example:

Me Today:  Do you have a car?

Me in Twenty years:  Yes.  I have a solar-powered self-flying car.

Me Today:  Where do you live?

Me in Twenty years:  I live on a space station on Mars.  I’ve lived there for three years, but in six months, I get beamed back down to Earth for a holiday.

Me Today:  What job do you do?

Me in Twenty Years:  I am an Alien Ambassador, making sure Earthlings and alien life forms get along with each other.

Before you do this writing challenge with your students, have a brainstorming session in which students come up with a list of questions they’d like to ask themselves in the future.  What details of their lives would they like to know?

This is a good opportunity to explore the different kinds of questions they can ask– Close Ended questions (answered with a ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ or one word answer.) versus Open Ended questions (in which the person gives more of a lengthy, thoughtful answer).



Clean Out Your Locker This Week's COW Writing Challenge

As the end of the school year approaches, one of the most unenviable tasks is the annual locker clean-out.  Cleaning out a locker can lead to all kinds of surprises.  Throughout the course of the year, all manner of things can grow, rot, multiply, and mutate.

In this writing challenge, students are to imagine the worst locker of all time.  It is their job to clean it out.  Unfortunately, the locker clean-out leads to all kinds of surprises.  Before the writing session, you may want to have a brainstorming session of the kinds of strange, exotic, and downright bizarre life-forms that may be found in this locker.

Rather than having this writing challenge turn into a list of items found in the locker, students should use the discoveries as a lead-in to a story relating to those items.  Does something escape into the school?  Does something pull you into the locker?  The other possibility is to have the locker as a portal . . . a portal to where?

After completing this writing challenge, hopefully, your students will never look at their locker in the same way!  That’s how writing transforms writers.

Disaster in the Kitchen This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Messy Kitchen


Here is this week’s COW Writing Challenge visual prompt.

Before the writing session, have your students think about these questions:

1.  Who made this mess?  Was it you, someone you know, or a fictional character?  Did the mess go beyond the kitchen sink area?

2.  What wild recipe was being made?  What were the ingredients?  Were there any strange techniques used to make this recipe?

3.  How did the recipe turn out?  How did it taste?  Was it for a special occasion?  Were there any strange results when people ate it?

4.  What happened in the next few minutes after this picture was taken?

If the students want to share their literary culinary creations, we wouldn’t recommend doing it just before lunch!

A New World Record This Week's COW Writing Challenge

The Guinness Book of World Records is one of the most popular books in school libraries.  There are a variety of reasons for its wide appeal among young readers.  One of them is the dream of someday setting a world record of their own and ending up in the pages of the one of the world’s best-selling books.

This week’s COW Writing Challenge will have the students imagining themselves setting a new world record.  Would it be breaking an existing record, or would they set a new record that has never previously been set?

Before completing this writing challenge, hold a brainstorming session in which students generate a long list of possible world records.  Have them leaf through the pages of the Guinness Book of World Records  to give themselves ideas.  Can they come up with a world record attempt that is not found in the Guinness Book of World Records?

Have fun with this writing challenge, and we hope your students set a new record for the number of words written!

Advice to Your Avatar This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Writer Robert Kroetsch, an Officer of the Order of Canada, was known for using unreliable narrators in his novels.  Just when you thought you could put your confidence in the third person narrator, he’d throw in a comment, an opinion, or a contradiction to let you know the reliability of the narrator should be brought into question.

As kids, we received advice all the time from adults and older kids.  Of course, we’ve learned that, just like the narrator in a Robert Kroetsch novel, not everything we hear is terribly reliable.  This is especially  true when an older kid gives advice to a younger one about a new school, a teacher, or a new grade.

In this COW Writing Challenge, students have an opportunity to use their imaginations and give outrageously unreliable advice to their avatar.  The writing prompt is: “The most important thing you have to know about . . .”  Students can give advice on:

–what school is like.

–what their grade is like.

–the best way to do household chores.

–how to earn extra spending money.

–or any other advice they can think of!

The bonus words that pop up periodically should spark the writers’ imaginations in creating outrageously unreliable advice for their avatar and general audience.

Here’s an example of really bad advice:

The most important thing you have to know about . . . getting household chores done quickly is to find stray animals.  For example, if you have dishes to wash, find a stray dog that’s really hungry and take him into the kitchen.  Lay the dirty plates out on the floor and let the dog lick the plates clean.  Just put them in the cupboards, and you’re done the dishes before you know it!  

As for laundry, if you can find a goat, your job is pretty much taken care of.  All you have to do is turn the goat loose in the laundry room and the dirty laundry will be gone in no time!  Just be sure to check back and make sure the goat doesn’t start eating the rest of the laundry room!

When it comes to mowing the lawn . . .

Take our advice . . . This will be a really fun writing challenge for your students!  Honestly!


The Six Word Writing Challenge This Week's COW Writing Challenge

This week’s COW Writing Challenge is a variation on one of more popular writing challenges.  

In October, hundreds of students wrote the “Five Word Writing Challenge.”  This writing challenge is even better.  It’s called the “Six Word Writing Challenge.” 

The bonus word list the students will use is only six words long. These words are:  throw, castle, slide, glove, glass, and question. (If they use up all of the bonus words on this list, they’ll be fed more bonus words from the COW Bonus Word List.)

An important aspect of this writing challenge is the sharing of stories after the writing session. When the students share their stories either orally or on the class bookshelf, the other students in the class can see the various ways these same five words have been used.  The individuality of each writer’s creative direction is brought to light. 

Tell your students to have fun making these six words a part of an amazing story!  

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