Tag: creative agility (page 1 of 2)

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!



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!

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!



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.

Where is My Car? This Week's COW Writing Challenge

parking_monster (1)


This week’s COW Writing Challenge is a visual prompt coupled with the written prompt: “Your family returns  to the parking lot to discover your car has been . . .”

At the centre of this writing challenge is the “monster” pictured at the foot of the parking spot where your car was parked.  This writing challenge offers a great opportunity for your students to explore “the unexpected” in terms of character and plot development.

When examining this picture, the first thought is that this “monster” ate your car.  If it did, consider this:

Maybe it had a good reason.  If so, what would that reason be?

Maybe it actually helped you and your family by swallowing your car.  If so, how could this be?

Maybe the monster didn’t actually eat your car.  Was he a witness to something else that may have happened?

Based on the answers to these questions, how will the story unfold?  Will you get the car back?  Will there be some other surprising outcome? 

Great writers surprise their readers.  Challenge your students to come up with twists and turns for this writing challenge that will be give their readers an unexpected fictional journey.

Peekaboo! This Week's COW Writing Challenge



This week’s COW Writing Challenge is a visual prompt with the sentence prompt, “Was this a plant or a human?  That’s when I noticed it began to grow and . . .”

This writing challenge offers an example of how engaging the students’ imaginations can cross over into concepts studied in other subject areas.  For example, with this writing challenge, if this human-looking figure emerging from the soil was actually a plant, what would it require to grow and remain alive?

If plants require air, water, correct temperature, and carbon dioxide, what specific conditions would this strange human-like plant need for survival?  Further research into the needs of a variety of plants, such as the Venus flytrap, could provide material for the students as they prepare to write.

After writing their story of the human-like plant, a follow-up activity would be to draw an illustration of what this plant looks like fully grown.  Think of what its leaves and flowers may look like.  Also, it’s important to give this new plant a name.

We hope this writing challenge will help your students to grow as writers as they write about the growth of this unusual plant.

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

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.

NaNoCOWMoo: Going Boldly Where Few Classes Have Gone Before Four Tips to Help Your Class Write 50,000 Words in Thirty Days

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So, your class has decided to join the 400,000 other writers on six continents around the globe. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)– where writers strive to write 50,000+ words over thirty days. That’s a lot of writing for any one of your students, however, if you combine the writing power of your entire class, reaching 50,000 words is definitely attainable and COW is here to help!

Here are a few tips to help you and your class conquer what we’re calling the NaNoCOWMoo Challenge.

1.  A Giant Thermometer

We’ve all seen those giant thermometers used by organizations during fundraising campaigns. They’re big, they’re bold, and they’re a constant reminder of a goal. Create a large NaNoCOWMoo thermometer and place it in a prominent place– how about right outside the classroom door? That way, everyone in the school who walks past your classroom can see your class’s progress and maybe even offer words of encouragement!

2.  Plan Out Your Sessions

Yes, 50,000 words sounds like a lot of writing, even for an entire class. That’s why it’s helpful to break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks and plan the writing sessions out. You’ll need 12,500 words a week. If you have two writing sessions per week, that’s 6,250 words a session. For a class of thirty students, that’s 208.333 words per session. (Okay, let’s round it to 210.) Now, that’s manageable! You might want to build in a couple of extra sessions just in case. You never know when an alien invasion or an infestation of flying elephants may get in the way of your class writing time.

3.  Celebrate Milestones

Have short term goals of 10,000 words, and each time the class reaches this benchmark, have some sort of celebration. It doesn’t have to be anything big (although a marching band showing up at your classroom door would be pretty exciting). Short, attainable goals can build into the achievement of reaching the ultimate goal of 50,000 words.

4.  Write Fearlessly with Imaginations Unleashed

To get your students writing up a storm, remind them that they are working on what is essentially a series of first drafts. Their goal in each writing session during the NaNoCOWMoo Challenge is to generate ideas, turn those ideas into words, and get those words onto their screen. This is not the time for revision. That can wait for December. During November, they are to  engage in the drafting stage of the writing process. This means writing fearlessly, with their imaginations unleashed!

Yes, 50,000 words over thirty days is a great challenge. Yet, like most daunting challenges, the rewards are great. At the end of November, you and your students will have a vast reservoir of writing to draw upon to revise and refine. In addition, their proverbial writing fluency muscles will be finely tuned, giving them the confidence to forge ahead and tackle other class writing tasks.

Best of luck on your NaNoCOWMoo Challenge!

The Five Word Writing Challenge

This week’s COW Writing Challenge is called the “Five Word Writing Challenge.” The bonus word list the students will use is only five words long. These words are:  terrified, five, boomerang, turtle, and fuzzy. (If they use up all of the bonus words on this list, don’t worry. They’ll be fed more bonus words from the Alieo Bonus Word List.)

The key to 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 will be able to see the various ways the other writers have used these same five words.

By sharing these stories, it really shows the individuality of each writer’s creative direction. The class will experience many “Ah, ha!” moments when they see how each writer has used the five words in their own unique way.

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