Author: Chris McMahen (page 2 of 14)

Forest Mystery This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Cloaked Figure


Here is the visual prompt for this week’s COW Writing Challenge, along with the written prompt:  “I took a shortcut through the woods on my way home, and there I saw . . .”

Great writers surprise their readers.  With some writers, you expect the unexpected.  Assumptions are never a safe bet!

For this visual prompt, challenge your students to come up with wildly original ideas for what this red thing is in the woods.  Before the writing session, do some brainstorming and generate as many possibilities for this red thing as the class can muster.  Once they have a long list of possibilities, students can either take an idea from the list, or spin out their own original idea.

Look! Up in the Sky! This Week's COW Writing Challenge



April 14th, 2016 is Look Up in the Sky Day.  We thought everyone should join in the celebration!

This week’s COW Writing Challenge is all about imagining what incredible things could emerge out of the clouds and appear in the sky.  The possibilities are, of course, endless.

1.  Could it be something extraterrestrial?

2.  Could it be something that doesn’t normally get airborne?

3.  Could it be something dangerous?  Something good?  A dream come true?

4.  Maybe, as you look up in the sky, you see a whole series of things, one after the other?

The sky’s the limit for possibilities with this writing challenge!

Don’t Sit There! This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Statue (1)


This week’s COW Writing Challenge features this visual prompt, plus the written prompt, “As soon as I sat down on the bench, I knew I’d made a mistake.  The statue . . .”

You may want to leave the identity of the statue in this visual prompt up to the students’ imaginations.  However, you could also let them know that this statue is of Glenn Gould, the famous pianist.

Before the writing challenge, you may want to give your students some background on Glenn Gould.  Explore his amazing talent, as well as his widely publicized eccentricities.  You may even wish to play one of his most famous recordings, Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” while the students write.  Challenge your students to incorporate as many facts about Glenn Gould as they can into their story.

By learning about Glenn Gould and combining facts with a good dose of creativity, your students can make this statue come alive in more ways than one!

Pranks Galore! The Week's COW April Fools' Day Writing Challenge

Everyone loves April Fools’ Day! (Don’t they?) Well, writers certainly do, as there’s nothing funnier than writing about a wild prank. (Isn’t there?) In honour of April Fools’ Day, here’s a COW Writing Challenge to get those creative ideas flowing.

Instead of writing from the point of view of the prankster, students are challenged to write from the point of view of the person who got pranked. (Prankster versus Prankee?)

The written prompt for this writing challenge is:  The week leading up to April 1st was the worst week of my life! It began on Monday, when…

Students are then challenged to write about a series of pranks in which they were the victim.  Of course, the story could take a twist.  Does the prankee turn into the prankster?

To make things even more interesting, along with this prompt, students will be continually inspired by an April Fools’ bonus word list.

We hope our writers will fool their audience with some prankish twists and turns in their writing!

What’s Behind the Door? This Week's COW Writing Challenge

One day, you hear a knock at your door.  Before opening the door, you look through the peep hole in the door.  This is what you see . . .

Pig at Door


For this week’s COW Writing Challenge, the students are asked to tell us what will happen next.  There are all kinds of possibilities.  Before writing, students can explore the possibilities by thinking over the following questions:

1.  What happens if you open the door?

2.  If you decide not to open the door, you know this pig will not go away easily.  (A role reversal of the Three Little Pigs?)

3.  Is it you that is answering the door, or is it another creature or character?  Maybe a wolf?

4.  Does the creature you see through the peep hole turn out to be something unexpected?  Could it actually be a door-knocking puppeteer?

Challenge the students to write a story which has all sorts of unexpected twists and turns in the plot.  Even looking through the peep hole in a front door, things are never what they appear at first glance!

Lucky Leprechaun Wishes This Week's COW Writing Challenge

I’ve never seen a green COW, but that doesn’t mean COWs don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!  This week’s COW Writing Challenge is full of leprechauns, rainbows, pots of gold, and other magical mysteries from the Emerald Isle.

The prompt for this writing challenge is:  A leprechaun granted me three wishes.  My first wish was . . .

But the celebration of everything Irish doesn’t stop there.  As students write, they will encounter bonus words that will make them green with . . . well, not envy.  More like green with delight!


Archenemies! This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Point of View


This week’s COW Writing Challenge is a this visual prompt, plus the written prompt, “There it is!  My archenemy, the . . .”

We are asking students to imagine they are the cat . . . or are they the toy?  They are to tell what happens from one of these points of view.  Possibly, they could write two stories– one from each point of view.

This writing challenge provides students with an opportunity to explore an important element of writing in the first person.  Choosing to have one of their characters narrate the story leads to the following questions regarding Point of View:

Which character is best able to tell the story?

How would the story be different if it was told by a different character?

How reliable is the narrator of your story?  Does she or he see things objectively, or do they see things subjectively, with their strong opinions influencing the telling of the story?

A great activity is to have students write the same story twice– each told from a different character’s point of view.  This can be particularly powerful when the two characters are archenemies.  Great examples of literature that use point of view effectively include:

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Origami Yoda Series by Tom Angleberger

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers

From my point of view, this can be a really interesting writing activity!



What’s in Those Dog Biscuits? This Week's COW Writing Challenge

We missed it again!  That’s because we’re humans.  In the canine world, Feb. 23rd, never goes by unnoticed.

Why?  It’s International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day, of course!

This week’s COW Writing Challenge is our attempt to bring human attention to this big day in the canine world.

Students are asked to imagine a dog eating a magical dog biscuit.  They then are asked to write about what happens next.  Think about the following questions before writing:

1.  What does the magical dog biscuit enable the dog to do?

2.  Where did this magical dog biscuit come from?  Who made it?

3.  How did it get fed to the dog?

4.  What was the secret magical ingredient?

5.  What are the consequences of this dog’s new ability?  How does life change for those around the dog?

6.  Is there an antidote to this magical dog biscuit?

Students may choose to complete this writing challenge in a narrative, story-telling form, or maybe they’ll write it up as a newspaper article.

Whichever way they choose to complete this writing challenge, just make sure you keep the doors locked in case any talking dogs wander into the class and disrupt your students’ chain of thoughts!

How Did It Get Here? This Week's COW Writing Challenge



For this week’s COW Writing Challenge, students are presented with this image, plus the prompt, “There’s a long story behind how this car ended up in the middle of a forest.  It all began . . .”

For this writing challenge, students are asked to imagine the events leading up to an ending.  This forces the writer to think very differently about their story as they write toward a fixed ending.  Aspects of the final outcome are woven into the plot of the story.  In preparation for this writing challenge, have students think about the following aspects of the final outcome to this story:

How did the car end up in the middle of a forest?  Was this the result of a car chase?  A failed invention?  A horribly wrong turn?

Why is it upside down?

How long has it been here?

Who was the owner of the car?  Was this person also the driver?

Is there a secret behind this car that you can reveal to your reader?

A follow-up activity is to have students share their versions of “How Did It Get Here?”  Everyone will be amazed at the many different stories behind this mysterious car.

Invent an Alien World This Week's COW Writing Challenge

In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, we are asking students to stretch their imaginations, and invent an alien.  It sounds simple enough.

But wait!  There’s more to inventing an alien than taking a humanoid shape and adding a couple of antennae here or an extra eye there.  It requires a great number of considerations.  These considerations include:

•  Creatures are adapted to live in specific types of environments.  

•  Each characteristic of a creature (or alien) should be an adaptation to some aspect of its environment.

•  So, when inventing an alien, students must also be inventing a planet upon which their alien can live.

Before inventing their alien, they may want to think about the planet where their alien lives.  They should think about a number of aspects, including:

a.  the atmosphere

b.  the temperature

c.  the terrain

d.  any other life forms

Inventing an alien is really about inventing an planet, then creating an alien that can survive upon that planet.  One alternate activity to this is to have students choose a planet from our solar system, do some research on the conditions of that planet, then invent an alien that can survive those conditions.

We hope the writing your students do with this challenge will be out of this world!

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