Friday, November 22, 2013

A "Retro" Writing Activity that'll have Students Enthusiastically Writing - TeachersPayTeachers Freebie!

 Here is a fantastic, low tech, throw-it-together-in-your-spare-time sort of assignment that FEELS like magic when you do it in class. It has love and care, because it does in fact come from YOU. The students will know that. It really pushes the level of creativity, inspires new ways of thinking and has the element of surprise - more than once!!  This is a multi-tiered assignment, and it can take two class periods or AS LONG as you need it to, if you take your time, enjoy yourself, and let the students do the same. The ultimate goal is an actual well-written, full-length short story(this can take up to a month of part-time work). If you want them to have fun, follow the directions and go through the assignment, this can be done in as little as two days.


25-30 brown paper lunch bags and 25-30 items.

"What?" You must be saying. What KIND of items? The items are

§  small, interesting, intriguing,

§  with different types of sides

§  weights,

§  textures,

§  temperatures to the skin, 

§  In short, items that would interesting EVEN IF you could only TOUCH them.

§  Lastly, they will come from your life.

§  The odder the better.

Just some of the items I have in my bags are: One porcupine quill gotten while hiking (cut into a size that will fit); One very antique, cloth embroidered woman's compact, with a feather puff inside; A faux jade stamping device called a "chop" that they sell in Asian markets; an old knot, from a tree, that had fallen out during a routine carpentry work; an old black plastic film canister from the 1980s with a gray lid. I put a foreign coin in it for extra intrigue; miniature hand-carved wooden push puppet, where you depress the base the body goes limp; sea glass made into the centerpiece for a necklace; a small leather-bound journal detailing my vacation (there wasn't anything personal in it); dull crochet needle; 3-d glasses; Japanese fan; locket; other items.   


When the Students come into class....and mind you, the students can be age 12 or 13. But don't think for a moment that a 58 year-old wouldn't get a kick out this either, tell them....

***Don't sit down! Look at all these mystery bags that are placed on the desks. Walk around each bag and place your hand in each one, FEELING the item in each bag, but don't LOOK. TRY not to talk! When you have felt enough of them, choose the one you think you'd like to write about and sit down, but remember, do NOT look inside!

*Of course, this should be pretty exciting and fun. There should be some giggling, or whispering, like "I know what this is" and a bit of eye winking. When the students have all chosen, they will take their places. Any left over bags can be collected. Please note that I give time ranges for each section, but don't be surprised if your class varies and needs more time. These are only outlines. In my experience, it is better to give the class a guideline to work within.


1. Part One Writing Directions 7-10 minutes. Keeping your hand in the bag, Use every sense you have except vision. Even if you know what the object is, do not write it. Explain the object by: size, shape, dimension, temperature, texture, sound, weight, and smell. You can weigh the object in your hand, gently tap it on your table to see if it is hollow or solid or makes a sound. Most of these items will be odorless, or may have an organic woodsy smell, a plastic or powdery smell. Be a detective.

2. PART TWO 5-7 minutes : Take the mystery object out of its bag! Say what it is, then describe it visually, now that you can see how it looks.

3. Part THREE 7 minutes: Go beyond simple description. Explain this object with metaphor and simile.  You will exhaust the expected comparisons; naturally your tropes will become more experimental and artistic. THIS IS GOOD.

4. Part Four: The BEST PART. The object you see before you is not really the ordinary object that you think it is! It is one of these:  A. a KEY to unlock something of great potential or power B. an object with a secret history that is held by someone who is able to tell its story to one person on his or her deathbed C. a superspy device that actually can do multiple things in order to help your hero save the day D. an object that will bring peace to a planet  E. the source of amazing power for an entire people F. a weapon G. provides incredible knowledge H. is a porthole to another universe I. is a treasure that people are willing to kill for, or die for! J. is essential for some civilization's utter survival; other. TELL A STORY that FEATURES THIS OBJECT.

Note: If you want to collect these when they are finished, this is a two day activity. Let them read their stories. They will, I assure you. love this assignment. If you want them to turn these into real, full-length stories, this will take a workshop, a rewrite, and so be prepared for this to take up to a month, part-time of revisiting before it is complete. But students LOVE this assignment. Years later, students have approached me in grocery stores and THIS is what they remember about my class. I have even done this at the University level, and they enjoyed it too. Sometimes, a little love and generosity comes back to you, and it comes back to the students too. They remember to have fun. They forget they hate writing, or that they are supposed to hate it. They just go back to being small kids with pencils, coming up with adventures. This is a great "trick" assignment. Please try it, free, on me, today. I will also make a free version and a pay version on teacherspayteachers. If you want the free version, just download it. In the end, it's gotta be about making students want to learn, and enjoy the process. Otherwise, what is the point, right? Please note I have not yet posted this freebie on teacherspayteachers. There will be a free and a paid version soon. In the meantime, please just use this blog!! The goal we have as teachers, regardless of whether we are new, veterans, or retired, is that we delight in helping others, and in seeing others learn. I promise, this is a really good one!

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