Tag: creative online writing (page 1 of 8)

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!

How COW supports the Writer’s Workshop

An effective approach taken by many teachers in teaching the complex skills of writing is that of the Writer’s Workshop.  This approach can take many forms, as each teacher will adapt the Writer’s Workshop to the particular needs of their students and their own teaching style.  Generally speaking, the Writer’s Workshop includes some or all of the following elements:


During writer’s workshop time, students work independently on their own writing projects.  The organization of the class is generally flexible, with students working on various stages of the writing process.  A student’s writing project generally carries over from one writing period to the next.


Teachers will give students short lessons which focus upon one particular writing skill.  The skills taught in such lessons may be a response by the teacher to a perceived need in the class.


Students are presented with texts which model the types of writing they are undertaking themselves.


Students have the ability to choose the genres or topics they write about.


Students will share their writing and confer with a wide variety of readers, including other students, their teacher, or guest editors.

Whole Group Sharing

Students share their writing with the entire class.  In this way, they are writing for an authentic audience of peers.

How COW Supports the Writer’s Workshop

COW has been designed to be a flexible, adaptable, relevant tool for classes engaged in learning the complexities of writing.


Students can access COW at any time and from any location.  Their writing does not need to be limited to the classroom during Writer’s Workshop time, but can continue at home or at other times during the school day.  Keep in mind that each session of writing in COW has a minimum word goal (the default set at 100 words).  Be sure to allow enough writing time for students to achieve this minimum word goal.  COW allows students to return to their writing later to add chapters or to edit.


Teachers can use the text analysis statistics generated for each piece of writing in COW to focus the students’ attention on particular aspects of writing.  (For example, variety of sentence length, use of adjectives and adverbs, or consistency of tense.)


Teachers can create their own models of exemplary writing using COW, themselves.  A live writing demonstration on a SMART board or projector is a very effective means of modelling how a writer thinks as they write.


Teachers can create a variety of writing challenges, giving students choices. In addition, COW has a weekly writing challenge, as well as offering a free write option with a huge bank of prompts and thousands of bonus words.


Using COW’s edit mode, students can pair up for peer-to-peer editing.  Also, teachers can leave comments on each piece of writing, guiding students as they launch into editing their writing.

Whole-Group Sharing

By sharing their writing to the class bookshelf, an entire class can read an individual student’s work, thus providing an on-going forum for whole group sharing with an authentic audience.

COW provides teachers with the flexibility they need to facilitate the Writer’s Workshop, and provide their students with an engaging platform for writing and sharing.

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!

Two Heads are Better Than One Writing an Original Fable

This week’s COW Writing Challenge will have students creating their own original fable. Their fable will end with the moral, “Two heads are better than one.”

Before presenting this writing challenge, it would be helpful to read a number of Aesop’s Fables to the class. The students can then become familiar with the style of this genre of story. Have them discuss the similar characteristics of the fables, including:

  1. They are generally short stories.
  2. They usually have animals as their main characters.
  3. They each have a moral or teach a lesson.

As you read the fables to your students, discuss the choice of animal for each character. How does the choice of animal suit the role of the character in the story?

Following the writing, be sure to have a sharing session in which the class can see the various way each fable arrived at the moral of “Two heads are better than one.”

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.

Can a Writing Assignment Change Lives?

Never underestimate the importance of a teacher in the lives of children.  Although it may feel like you’re swimming upstream against a strong headwind, your efforts have a profound and lasting impact upon the lives of your students.

This applies even to what may seem like a small part of what a teacher does:  the writing assignment.

Here is a an amazing article about the profound impact felt in the lives of those students fortunate enough to receive one particular writing assignment.  It shows how writing can have a powerful effect upon the way we move forward in our lives and radically alter the way we see ourselves.

The Mysterious Doorway


This week’s COW Writing Challenge revolves around this image.  Door #17 was part of an art installation in Nova Scotia.  As soon as I saw it, I was intrigued by the possibilities. 

1.  If you go through this door, where do you end up?

2.  If you knocked on this door, who would answer?

3.  Why is there a ’17’ on the door?

4.  Who put this door here, and why?

5.  If the door was locked, how could you open it?

Doorways offer all sorts of possibilities. They symbolize hope, possibilities, moving on into something new, and, of course, intrigue.  What really is on the other side of that door? 

Doors have played a significant role a number of classic stories.  In The Secret Garden, a door leads children into a magical garden.  Alice had to pass through a tiny door to enter into Wonderland.

So, what wonderful, magical realm exists on the other side of door #17? 

How to Become a Better Writer There's one simple rule.

In learning every craft, there’s always the dilemma of quality versus quantity.  Do you ply your craft deliberately and carefully, producing less, or do you plunge into a creative frenzy of producing more with less deliberation?

Joe Bunting is the author of the Amazon bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story, as well as the co-founder of Story Cartel.  He offers some interesting insights into how a writer can best see improvement in their craft.

If you don’t have time to read his article, here’s a quick summary. “To be a writer, you have to write. Every day.”  

COW provides an easy platform for students to do daily writing practice.  Students are further motivated to write more often with COW’s Monthly Writing Goal.  If they write twelve times in a single month – which is only three times a week – they will receive a free special item from the avatar store.

Once Upon a Time The Classic Fairy Tale

For this week’s COW Writing Challenge, students will be writing a classic fairy tale.  Their prompt will be (what else?) “Once upon a time . . .”  The bonus words for this writing challenge are familiar fairy tale elements, including dragons, step-mothers, castles and giants.

Most children grow up hearing, watching, and reading fairy tales from a very early age.  Given their familiarity, fairy tales are a great platform for examining literary conventions.  Before setting students off on this week’s COW Writing Challenge, it’s worthwhile taking the time to reread some of these classic tales, then examine some of the common elements.

Some Common Elements of Fairy Tales

  1. Fairy tales do not need to include fairies.
  2. They are set in the distant past.
  3. They include supernatural, make-believe or fantasy elements like magic.
  4. There are clearly defined good characters and bad characters.
  5. Things usually happen in threes.
  6. The plot involves a problem or conflict that needs to be solved.
  7. The ending solves the conflict and is usually happy.
  8. The tale teaches some sort of lesson or demonstrates something important.

When students complete this writing challenge, have them keep these key elements in mind as they compose their own classic fairy tale.

The Writer’s Mumble The benefits of hearing your own words

In a blog post last week, the benefits of having students read their writing to an audience was discussed.  There are other great spin-off benefits of reading a story aloud, adding further value to this activity.

So often, when a writer reads their story aloud, they pick up grammatical errors, awkward phrasing, and other aspects of their writing which are not apparent when the writing is read silently.

The Writer’s Mumble is an editing technique in which students read over their own writing in a low, mumbling voice.  Simply by reading their writing aloud, many errors or weaknesses can be picked up.  The whole point of the mumble is that an entire class can read at the same time to themselves without the noise level reaching ear-splitting levels.  Students can use the Writer’s Mumble when reviewing their writing in COW’s Edit Mode.

So, next writing class, tell your students to mumble away!

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