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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!  

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!

The Daily Routines of Great Writers How swimming, napping, and running errands contribute to the creative process

Further to the blog post of July 9th, I stumbled over another great article that didn’t carve any rules into stone.  Rather, The Daily Routines of Great Writers culls from a series of interviews the daily habits of a number of legendary writers.  The fascinating aspect, to me, is that these routines don’t just focus on when and where they write, but also illuminates how the rest of the day serves their creative endeavours.

Algoauthors and the Brave New World of Writing How Writing Alogrithms and Other Technological Advances Should Change the Way We Teach

Before reading any further, take this very brief quiz:

Did a Human or a Computer Write This?

If you’re anything like me, you were bamboozled on more than a few of these questions. The capacity for a computer algorithm to generate text is quite astonishing.

This immediately raises a few questions in my mind, including:

  1. What role will humans play in the future of writing?
  2. What implications does this have for writing instruction?

We’ve already seen a revolution in the world of writing with the advent of the word processor and its accompanying tools such as spelling and grammar checkers, autocorrect, and other text analysis tools. As we look back at these writing tools and ahead to what may be available in the future, what adaptations have we, as teachers and curriculum leaders, made in the teaching of writing?

  • Can we shift our emphasis away from the teaching of spelling, grammar, and other conventions when such tools are available?
  • How much time is spend with students maximizing their ability to use these tools to improve their writing?
  • With such tools to help with the conventions of writing, can more emphasis now be placed upon the essence of writing– generating and communicating ideas?

As technology advances, educators must be in a constant state of re-evaluation, questioning their instructional strategies, curriculum content, and fundamental classroom structures. In no curriculum area is this need for questioning more pertinent than in the teaching of writing. It’s this constantly shifting landscape that makes teaching relentlessly fascinating.

Oh, and by the way. This was written by a human.

Pranks Galore! An April Fool's Day Writing Challenge

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

  1. Before doing the Writing Challenge, be sure to go to your Bonus Word List Manager, look in the “Shared” tab for the April Fools! Bonus Word List, then copy it into your own set of Bonus Word Lists. Don’t forget to assign the April Fools! Bonus Word List to your class. (No fooling!)
  2. Also before the writing session, have a brainstorming session with the class for words they think should be added to the April Fools! Bonus Word List. You can add to the April Fools! Bonus Word List by going to your Bonus Word Manager, clicking on April Fools!, then add the words students suggest.
  3. Here are some prompts the writers many want to use to get started:

    When I woke up, realized I had been pranked! I could tell, because…

    The week leading up to April 1st was the worst week of my life! It began on Monday, when…

    Usually, Kelly was the school prankster. This, year, I decided to seek revenge by..

    It was going to be the ultimate prank! I decided to…

    Here are some step-by-step instructions for the best April Fool’s prank ever. First, you have to…

    Sometimes pranks backfire, like the time I…

    Or… start your story without a prompt.

  4. Be sure to have a sharing session after everyone’s had a chance to write their stories. This may be especially useful for teachers, giving them a ‘heads up’ for potential pranks to expect on April 1st!

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks while discovering a variety of learning and teaching styles

Here’s a great article on learning and teaching styles. It’s about a skier of fifty-seven years, Ian Brown, spending a couple of days being taught by two ski instructors with very different teaching styles. He discovers much more than just how to carve the perfect turn.

 On the slopes of Mont Tremblant, Ian Brown discovers how old dogs can learn new tricks

The Luck of the Irish! A St. Patrick's Day Writing Challenge

I’ve never seen a green COW, but that doesn’t mean they don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!  Here’s a writing challenge full of leprechauns, rainbows, pots of gold, and other magical mysteries from the Emerald Isle.

For this writing challenge, copy the St. Patrick’s Day Bonus Word List and assign it to the class.

Have your writers choose one of the following prompts:

1.  The best way to catch a leprechaun is . . .

2.  I finally found the end of the rainbow!  But instead of finding a pot of gold, I found . . .

3.  When I saw the four leaf clover, I picked it, and suddenly . . .

4.  I woke up one morning and noticed that everything in the entire world was green.  I jumped out of bed and  . . .

5.  As a leprechaun, I love to play pranks on humans.  For example, last year, I . . .

6.  The leprechaun granted me three wishes.  My first wish was . . .

7. No prompt.  Just get writing!

A Mystery Visitor This Week's Visual Prompt


Before you write about this week’s visual prompt, think about these questions:

1.  What is this creature called?

2.  Where did it come from?

3.  Why did it suddenly show up in the snow?

4.  What is it made of?

5.  How did you discover it?

6.  What is it going to do next?

7.  Are there more creatures like it?

Now, go ahead and write!



Flying Fairies and the Extinction of the Dinosaurs

Yesterday morning, I read the late Stephen J. Gould’s fascinating essay, “Dinosaur Extinction.”  An hour later, I was reading the instructions in an attempt to assemble a flying toy fairy (batteries not included).

As I pondered the impact of extraterrestrial bodies slamming into the earth and watched as the mechanical fairy stood motionless on the ground, it got me thinking about the creation of these two very different types of documents.  I reached this conclusion:

Whether it’s a novel, a scientific essay, a newspaper story, or an instruction manual, all writing is essentially creative writing.

“Creative Writing” often conjures up a limited notion of the novel, the short story, or the poem.  Yet, no matter how mundane or unimaginative a piece of writing may seem to be, an element of creativity is required to produce effective writing. Creativity is an element in all forms of writing for two (at least) main reasons:

1.  Just as a fiction writer must imagine the world through the minds of their characters, the instruction manual writer must place themselves in the world of the person who will ultimately be assembling the toy fairy or drywalling a room, or making a recipe for waffles.  Leaving your own assumptions behind and actually imagining another person following your instructions is essential for the writing of effective instructions.

2.  A fiction writer must decide which details to provide, how to pace the plot, and other matters of structure to deliver their story most effectively to their reader.  Writers of non-fiction material must do exactly the same thing.  Rather than writing with a lock-step formula, effective writers must explore and create a wide range of alternate ways of presenting their material.  Great expository and persuasive writing is lively, employing imagery to engage the reader and effectively deliver material with the greatest clarity and impact.

So, whether you are writing a step-by-step instruction manual for the assembly of a computer desk with 3,265 pieces, an essayist arguing for the existence of life on other planets, or a blogger writing about writing, you are a creative writer.

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