As I have time, the content from the blog will be moving here.
In the first list of writing ideas, I focused mostly on a variety of genres for kids to explore. This one has more traditional writing prompts, but I think it still offers plenty of room for independent thinking and creativity. I believe in giving kids a lot of freedom to write what they like, but sometimes they might need a little encouragement to try something new or some inspiration to spark an idea.
- Design a new ride for an amusement park (draw picture, label details, describe the ride)
- Favorite Things list
- Design a new airplane or car. Give as many details as you can.
- Write about your favorite meal. Make a shopping list for everything you need to make it.
- If you had $100 and to do something nice for someone in need, what would you do?
- Design a new car and create an advertisement to sell your car
- Make a map that tells the story of a camping adventure
- Talk about what happened when you landed on the moon. Describe what you see.
- Create an itinerary for your perfect vacation.
- Draw and label a diagram for something you know a lot about.
- Design and describe your perfect house.
- Describe your life as a snowflake
- What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn how to be a good kid?
- Find a really great picture, pretend you are the photographer or artist, and talk about why you created the image.
- Describe the diet of a dinosaur. Draw pictures of them eating the food you described.
- Draw a picture and describe something heavy.
- Describe your favorite fruit or vegetable using similes. Show what is feels, smell, tastes, sounds, and looks like. Be as descriptive as possible.
- The roller coaster zips around the corner, to the top of the highest hill, then stops. What happens next?
- Explain why giraffes have spots. You can learn the real reason or make up a silly story.
- Write about a time you made a mistake and had to fix it.
- Think of as many words as you can to describe a Spring day
- Make a list of all of the different things you can do. List just the verbs
- Create a new recipe. Try it out if you are brave.
- You make the most delicious cookies in the world. Convince me why I should buy some from you.
- Design and describe a flag for a country of rabbits.
- Write about the day you discovered you had superpowers.
- Describe your superpowers
- Draw a picture and describe what it feels like to fly.
- Draw four different people named Flossie, Alva, Jasper, and Roxie. Write a short biography of each one.
- Write a letter to a friend on the computer. Use at least 6 different fonts.
- Draw a picture of a tree you see every day. Try to describe that tree to a blind person.
- Write a great title and first sentence for a story about the adventures of a very funny duck. Write a terrible title and first sentence for the same story.
- Draw a picture of the saddest elephant and tell his or her story.
- Draw a summer landscape and write a poem about the joys of summer.
- Write a happy ending for a story about a kid who finally learned to ride a bike. Now, write a sad ending for the same story.
- Pretend you are a spider and draw a picture of yourself in your web. Next, make a list of each of the steps you had to go through to make your web.
- Write about a time you were scared to do something but you did it anyway.
- Make two teams for tug-of-war. Describe the members of each team and write about what happens during the game
- Write advice to someone telling them about different ways to cool off on a hot day.
- Teach someone how to take a bath.
- Create a character. Tell us everything you can about him or her.
- Imagine you are a monkey at the zoo. Describe what happens during each hour of daylight.
- Use pictures and words to teach someone how to brush his or her teeth.
- The stairs leading to the second floor are broken. Explain how you are going to get up there.
- Try to convince your parents that you should be allowed to have dessert first.
- You can get anything you want at the grocery story. No limits. Write about everything you put in the cart.
- TickatickatickaPoof TickatickatickaPoof! Describe the source of those noises.
- You are seven feet tall and weigh 500 pounds! Explain what happened.
- Write the first and last sentences of a story about a caterpillar named Silas.
- Astonishing, riveting, mysterious, shocking! What is it?
- Where are you going dressed like that? Describe what you are wearing and where you are going.
- There are only crumbs left in the cookie jar. What happened to all the cookies?
- Tell everything you can about your favorite time of day.
- Look out your window. Make a list of everything you see.
- Draw a picture of your last birthday cake. Use words to describe it so the reader feels very sad that he/she didn’t get any.
- Tell a toddler how to make a sandwich.
- Explain to a grown up how to make a sandwich.
- The train arrived at the station and the crowd waited eagerly for the passengers to get off. What happens next?
- Draw a picture of a spaghetti dinner. Pretend you are the spaghetti. What are you thinking? Now, pretend you are the fork. What are you thinking? Now, you are the hungry kid. What are you thinking?
- Doing so very quickly, write about the toy you love best.
- Make a diagram of your favorite special treat.
- Persuade your parents to let you stay up an extra hour tonight.
- Draw a picture and use words to describe the most beautiful thing you have ever seen.
- List five facts about summer. List five opinions about summer.
- Design some fancy clothes for a cat. Write about where and why the cat is going to wear them.
- Make a poster that teaches little kids to eat healthy foods.
- The little girl grabs the strings of all 200 helium balloons and up she goes. What happens next?
- Draw and describe how people will get from place to place in the far future.
- I pushed the button and the time machine took off. What happens next?
- Design the perfect playground and write about what makes it so great.
- Describe the cause and effect of the loudest noise you can imagine.
- Make it sound wonderful to be caught in the rain. Use lots of details. Next, make it sound miserable to be caught in the rain.
- Try to imagine what your house thinks about you and your family. What does it enjoy? What does it dislike? What is its favorite time of the day?
- Summarize your day in 20 words or less.
- You happen upon the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Describe your experience.
Click on the image below to download the three panel story paper as a .pdf file. It includes both a horizontal and a vertical orientation of the page.
After you print a few copies, here are 15 fun things for kids to try:
- Sketch out the beginning, middle, and end of a story
- Think of three characters who might be in a story. Draw them and write a few details.
- Draw and describe three steps in doing some task like making a paper airplane, doing a cartwheel, or making a sandwich.
- Draw and describe three different moods of a character or yourself
- Draw and describe a tree in three different seasons or at three different times of the day
- Show three different places you love or three places you want to go
- Create three different views of the same object (i.e. front, back, top).
- Draw and describe three goals you have or three things that were hard for you to do.
- Imagine three items on a menu.
- Write about three favorite people you would like to invite for dinner.
- Write about three things on your wish list
- Design three new street signs you think we need, three cars you would love to own, or three pairs of shoes you could wear.
- What will something (cars, shoes, clothes, furniture, etc.) look like in 20, 50, and 100 years?
- Draw and describe three stages of growth for something (frog, plant, etc.)
- Stop reading at the exciting part of a book and consider three possibilities for what might happen next.
Calkins, Lucy. The Art of Teaching Writing. 2nd ed. Portsmouth: Heinman, 1994. Print.
Argument & Summary:
Lucy Calkins is a prominent voice in contemporary discussions of elementary-level literacy practices. In The Art of Teaching Writing, she argues “as human beings we write to communicate, plan, remember … but above all, we write to hold our lives in our hands and to make something of them” (8). Writing allows us “to turn the chaos into something beautiful, to frame selected moments, to uncover and celebrate the organizing patterns of our existence” (8). In the book, she sets out to articulate how teachers can help children, even those reluctant to do so, become engaged, motivated, and proficient in the craft of writing.
The book is structured somewhat like a literacy lesson itself, beginning with a discussion of the essentials of teaching writing. Effective teaching begins, Calkins asserts, with rejecting the assumption that children believe writing “will always be a dreaded activity” as well as the tendency to “push, lure, motivate, and bribe” students to write (11). We cannot teach writing, she posits, “unless we trust that there are real, human reasons to write” (12). Writing has often been taught in ways that make it a dreaded activity, as a place to “display – to expose – [a student’s] command of spelling, penmanship, and grammar” (13). Children understandably have little investment in such a task. Writing only matters, she claims, when it is “personal (when it is self-sponsored and grows out of purposes in [writers’] own lives and when it is interpersonal” (14). This begins with listening carefully to children and “demonstrating to them that their lives are worth writing about” (16). Teachers need to encourage children to make writing a part of their everyday lives, capturing things they notice, respecting the ideas they gather, and engendering an “atmosphere of graciousness and care and respect” (31).
Building upon these essentials, Calkins moves into a consideration of the importance of listening carefully to children, for they “will invite us to share their world and their ways of living in the world. And then, when children become our teachers, showing us what they see and delight in and wonder about and reach toward, then, and only then, will we be able to extend what they know and enrich their ways of knowing” (54). She offers a brief overview of the various stages in the development of children as writers, giving readers a framework for becoming “better observers of children” (57).
In the third section of the book, Calkins moves from theory to practice, introducing the idea of the writer’s workshop. Though commonplace in elementary schools today, the writer’s workshop was considered fairly groundbreaking in the mid 1980’s when she discussed the idea in the first edition of the book. Instead of planning each day’s new activities, she claims, “we need to anticipate how we will initiate, scaffold, and guide the classroom community toward an ever-deepening involvement, and we need to select rituals, arrangements, and classroom structures” (183). Though complex and demanding a rich awareness of all members of the classroom community, the workshop structure provides an apt medium to achieve this end. It involves time for writing and conferring, mini-lessons on a relevant topic, peer conferencing, and opportunities to share or publish work. Teachers work with students in small groups or as individuals to guide them along the writing process while other students work independently or on pairs to develop their work.
The book concludes with a discussion of practical matters, including tools to help teachers create mini-lessons, tips for conferring with students, guiding editing and revision, and ways to assess student writing. She also spends time talking about ways one might apply the structure to specific writing tasks, such as memoirs, literary nonfiction, and poetry, genres one might be required to teach to meet mandated standards. She ends with a spirited reminder to teachers that their work matters and that they need to spend time nourishing their own imaginations in order to help their students nourish theirs.
Lucy Calkins has a tremendous respect for students, evidenced in the countless examples upon which she draws. She recognizes that children, like adults, will care about writing when they write about things they know and want to discuss. Calkins regards helping children “know that their lives do matter” as her primary mission and develops an approach with respect and consideration at its core (16). Throughout the book, she provides one example after another of the various ways in which young writers managed to find their voices and purpose when they were given the agency to do so within the space of the classroom.
Helping children find their voices as writers is paramount for Calkins and is another of the strengths of her argument. Once young writers lose the spark and desire to write, they often fail to ever reclaim it. “Wise teaching, like wise parenting,” she states, “begins with watching and listening and delighting in the learner” (54). It does not begin with drilling capital letters, commas, or lists of spelling. These mechanical elements can and will come, at the right time. An emphasis on the conventions of writing to the detriment of content and voice has the potential to rob children of what Calkins sees as in inherent desire and ability in children to inscribe meaning.
Though the numerous examples and anecdotes Calkins includes in the book threaten, at times, to overwhelm the content, the book provides a useful model for teachers working to achieve a balance between teaching structured content and allowing students to pursue their own interests. She does not give students unstructured, free reign over their work, but advocates for a careful balance between guidance and instruction, both built on a foundation of respect for the students.
Though I have never taught in an elementary classroom, I have taught writing. Even at the college level, generally free of mandated standards, I did not have the latitude to allow my students to pursue their own interests fully and select their own topics for writing. In the age of the Common Core, teachers have a firm agenda of writing tasks that their students must complete. Such a rigid structure undermines Calkins’s central premise that our writing instruction must begin and end with the students, allowing them to teach us what they need. Moreover, it is hard to trust your students and have faith in the process when your job is on the line. (I am aware that Calkins has recently published another text addressing this exact topic, but I have not yet had a chance to read it)
Moreover, the book presents countless examples of Calkins’s vision of the writer’s workshop playing out flawlessly. Second graders ask each other pointed, relevant questions, students eagerly return to their desks to revise, few balk at their turn in the author’s chair, and teachers manage to maintain order while working with a small group, trusting that the remaining students are on task and working productively. Calkins has spent plenty of time in the classroom and is not overly idealistic, but her tone sometimes comes across as such. She offers guidelines and advice but little concrete information on how to achieve this environment. I have a hard time imagining it working perfectly even at the college level. In my own experience, even peer review, a standard component of most college writing classes, was rarely as productive as one might have hoped.
Furthermore, Calkins’s vision requires a sustained level of engagement from teachers that might not be fully achievable in an age of increasing demands, increasing expectations, increasing class sizes, and decreasing funding, salaries, and public support. While there are certainly many teachers out there eager to understand and approach each of his or her students as individuals and to take the time to engage them as legitimate authors, doing so requires a great deal of time and effort. It is easier, no doubt, to plan a lesson with clear, concrete outcomes, present it to the entire class at once, offer help when called upon, and grade it.
What we can take away:
Though written explicitly to classroom teachers, Calkins argument is just as relevant to homeschool parents teaching their own children. Some parents are fiercely devoted to their highly structured and rigidly scheduled literacy curriculums, even though many express concerns about its goals or regret that their children hate the subject or, at best, tolerate it. Calkins would suggest that you begin, not with a curriculum, but with your children, listening to what they have to say and allowing them freedom to develop their own voices by writing in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them. The curriculum, then, could become a tool to enhance that writing, used piecemeal and when needed.
While I have concerns about the idealism of Calkins’s premise within the school classroom, I think it is very well suited to the home environment. We know our children well, we are aware of their strengths and weaknesses as writers, and we have the time and flexibility to manage a writer’s workshop that perfectly addresses their needs. Since many homeschool parents are responsible for just a few students, they can quite readily serve as writing mentors rather than teachers. In this capacity, they can step in to offer guidance and instruction when necessary and step back when it is not to let young writers experiment, take risks, discover, try, sometimes fail, and ultimately succeed.
Our fall co-op session ended yesterday and the committee is finalizing plans for the spring session, which will begin in late March. I am teaching a writing class for little kids and one called “Engineer’s Toyshop” for middle age kids (8-12) where I will have supplies and a challenge each week and they will have to construct things like a Lego person parachute, marble runs, towers from various materials, etc. If anyone is in search of ideas for their own classes, here is a list I have been working on for a while in case I ever run out of topics or need inspiration for projects to do with my own kids. If anyone has anything to add, I will update the list.
Math & Economics:
- Math Games
- Real World Math
- Time & Money for little kids
- Introduction to Economics
- The Economy in the news
- Elements of Art (focus on line, shape, color, value, texture, form, and space)
- Famous Artists
- Mediums of art (focus on a single medium)
- Stop Motion Film Making
- Art Across Time (brief art history overview)
- Introduction to Graphic Design
- The Art of Film
- Movie Making
Music, & Theater
- World Music Instrument Workshop (learn about & make instruments native to different countries)
- Learn the Recorder
- Composing Music 101
- Beginning Improv
- Introduction to the Theater
- Classical Music
- Introduction to Opera, Rap, Jazz, etc.
- Reader’s Theater
- Elements of Theater
- Music Theory
- The Symphony Orchestra (learn instruments, about the score, etiquette, attend a concert)
- Script Writing
- Costume Design
- Learn to use Finale Notepad composing software
Science & Engineering
- A Bug’s Life (learn about the habitats, behavior, food, defense, anatomy, etc. of local backyard bugs)
- Journey Through the Solar System
- Building with Legos
- Weekly Toy Making Challenges
- Learn Electronics with Snap Circuits
- All About Volcanoes
- Introduction to Earth Science
- Animals Around the World
- Animals & Their Environments
- Basic Astronomy or Star Gazing
- The Ocean
- The Desert
- The Forest
- The Plains
- The Amazing Human Body
- Rocket Building
- Backyard Science
- Kitchen Science
- Simple Machines
- Earth Day Every Day
- Water Experiments
- All About Birds
- Botany 101
- Building Bridges and other Structures with Everyday Materials
- Paper Engineering
Where Our Food Comes From
- All About Farming
- Deconstructing Electronics (take apart & study broken electronics)
- How Things Work
- Trees in our City
- Native Flowers & Plants
- Great People of Science
- Inventions & Inventors
- Rock Collecting
- Natural Disasters
- Water Science
- Exploring Genres for young writers
- Writer’s Workshop
- Preparing College & Scholarship Applications
- The Craft of Poetry
- The Craft of Fiction
- Playwright Workshop
- Writing About Literature
- Writing About History
- The Research Paper
- News on paper & screen
- Journalism Basics
Language & Speech
- American Sign Language
- Greek & Latin Roots
- Beginning Italian, Chinese, Latin, or other language
- History of Language (or the English Language)
- Middle English
- Old English
- Introduction to Logic and/or Rhetoric
- Great Speeches in History
- How to Speak Publicly
- Introduction to Linguistics
Reading & Literature
- Exploring Middle Earth (plot, characters, themes, etc. in one or more Tolkien books)
- Exploring Narnia (plot, characters, themes, etc. in one or more Lewis books)
- Exploring Hogwarts (plot, characters, themes, etc. in one or more Rowling books)
- Phonics Fun (early literacy activities for little kids)
- How to Read a Poem
- The Illiad or The Odyssey
- Meeting Shakespeare (an introduction to his works)
- Reading Shakespeare (focus on one play or the sonnets)
- Author Study (focus on work by one author)
- World Fairy Tales (read versions of the same fairy tales from different cultures)
- American Girl Study (focus on a character & historical period)
- Greek or Roman Mythology
- Introduction to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or other religious tradition
- Science Fiction
- Chaucer’s World
- Picture Book Author Study (Dr. Seuss, Mo Willems, etc.)
- Great Short Stories
- Modern American Poets
- The Great American Novel
- Jane Austen
- Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Graphic Novel
- Classic Children’s Literature
- Epics & Adventure
- Book of the Week for Little Kids
- Story Craft Adventure
- Letter of the Week for little kids
- Film Adaptations of Literature
Cooking, Crafts & Handiwork
- Embroidery 101
- Knitting 101
- Basic Sewing (handstitching)
- Basic Cookie Decorating
- Basic Cake Decorating
- Candy Making
- Crock Pot Cooking (everyone brings a crock pot, ingredients provided, everyone goes home with dinner)
- Floral Design
- Card Making
- The Basics of Building
- Recycled Crafts
- Fun with Crayons (you can do more than just color!)
- Felt Sewing
- Healthy Snacks
- Bicycle Safety, Repair, and Maintenance
- Babysitter Basics (learn basic skills and develop ideas & activities to keep kids engaged)
- Basic Bookkeeping
- Personal Finance
- Investing 101
- Homekeeping 101
- Planning, Planting, & Maintaining A Garden
- Outdoor Survival Skills
- Natural Skin, Hair, and House Products
- Pet Care
- Who Are the People in your Neighborhood (for little kids)
- Understanding Personalities with Myers Briggs
- Introduction to Sociology, Anthropology, Archaeology, etc.
- Introduction to Communication
- Human Geography
- The Economy in the News
- Basic Ideas of Psychology
- Introduction to the Law
Social Studies & History
- Curate A Museum Exhibit (learn about museum exhibits and create one)
- African, Asian, South American, etc. Art, Music, and/p Food (select a country or two to focus on)
- Home and Family (thematic activities for preschoolers)
- The Branches of the American Government
- The Constitution
- Continent Hoppers (learn about each continent)
- The Stock Market
- The Middle East in The News
- Children Around the World (what they eat, play, learn, etc.)
- Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I or II, Viet Nam, Korean War, etc.
- Christmas across time & place
- Classic Heroes & Heroines
- Kings & Queens of England (France/Europe/etc.)
- History Fair
- History of Human Space Flight
- In the News
- The Knight, Lady & The Castle
- Mythical Beasts in Context
- Lewis & Clark
- Native Americans
- Road Trip: Armchair Travel from here to there
- Life in Ancient Rome, Renaissance England, the Plymouth Colony, etc.
- Pirate Geography (focus on where pirates were most active)
- Symbols of American History
- The Titanic
- Things that can Fly
- Daily Life in the Prehistoric World
- Origins of the Major Holidays
Physical Activity & Health
- Basic Yoga
- Pilates for Beginners
- Strength Class without weights
- Running Club
- Basic Dance or Aerobics
- Chess Club
- Puzzle Club
- Role Playing / Fantasy Games
- Super Heroes & Villains
- Crime Scenes / Forensic Science
Computer / Technology
- Web Design with WordPress
- Basic Programming
- Photo Editing
- Page Layout & Design
- Using A Vector Graphic Program
- Introduction to Interactive Fiction
- History of Electronic Games
- Artificial Intelligence Fact and Fiction
If you are looking for some *real* science that even little kids can do, you might check out the School of Ants project. According to their web site, it “is a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools.” The faculty members who are leading the project are collecting ants from around the continent in order to map ant diversity and species ranges.
You first have to register on the web site, then you do your collection. Collecting samples involves placing cookie baits (they stipulate that you need Pecan Sandies cookies) on index cards outdoors in green spaces and paved places for one hour on a warm day (we had to add some rocks to keep the cards from blowing away). Once the hour is up, you scoop up the cards, cookies, and ants, drop them into separate ziploc bags, seal them tightly, and freeze them overnight (they promise this is a humane way to kill ants). The next day, you send them off to the lab to be identified and keep an eye on the site for your data to show up.
The collection is incredibly simple and it is a good opportunity to talk about the purpose and methodology of scientists. Both kids helped with setting up the cookie traps, but they were wary of collecting the ant-laden samples. We didn’t think we caught any ants on the pavement, but once they were in the bags and we looked closely, we saw many tiny little ants crawling around.
Thanks to Shelli at Mama of Letters for bringing our attention to the School of Ants. It was a fun project and one we highly recommend. You can see her question about the purpose of studying ants on the front page of the School of Ants web site.
In addition to the poetry class, I agreed to teach an Earth Science class for younger kids for our local co-op. Someone else had proposed the topic, but when she couldn’t do it, I offered to take it on. It sounded like it could be fun and it is. I am a bit out of my element teaching science to a large group of little kids and the class is turning out to be a fair amount of work, with many hours spend running all over the place gathering supplies. I debated how to structure the six sessions and decided to begin with the structure of the earth, spend a week on four main components of the earth, and end by talking about ecology.
The class has 20 kids ranging in age from 3 (Amelia) to 12. As in the poetry class, the range is significant, but it wasn’t a problem and I don’t think it will pose one in the future. We aren’t doing much writing or reading and everyone seemed eager to participate. I collected $10 per student to cover the cost of materials & supplies.
Our co-op has two main rules: no peanuts and respect everyone. In light of rule #2, I decided to skip the whole topic of the origins of the earth and move right along to the structure, which no one seems to debate.
We began by locating our city on the globe and discussed what we would find if we tried to dive in to the earth and come other the other side. This led into our main topic for the day: the structure of the earth. The earth is made up of the inner core, which is solid due to tremendous pressure, the molten outer core, which is in a “liquid” state, the mantle, which makes up most of the earth’s mass, and the crust, which is thin like the peel on an apple.
We made a clay model of the four layers and used small flags to label them. We built the models in stages, adding each layer as we talked about it.
I looked at many different models of the earth, but wanted something that would show both the inside and the outside at once. I found some spherical plastic ornaments from Amazon and I ordered the 80 mm ones. If I had to do it again, I would get smaller ornaments because they took a LOT of clay to fill. I looked into all sorts of materials to fill them with, but went with modeling clay because it doesn’t dry out. Amazon sells Crayola clay for about $2.50 per pound and Wal-Mart had 10 oz. boxes of some other brand for $.97. It was cheaper and worked fine, though it smelled like a cross between cookies and motor oil. Each earth took a little blue and green, over a quarter pound of “mantle” and a little less than a quarter pound of “outer core.” We used floral stones for the inner core because it is solid and the glass marble reflects that. Some kids were incredibly meticulous, forming actual continents and others moved quickly. For those who finished early, I handed out paper and toothpicks for them to make flags to label each layer. My earth looks a little lumpy in this photo — most kids did a better job making the layers nice and smooth.
The clay is greasy, so I brought newspapers to cover the tables and cleaner to spray everything down when were done. I was also vigilant about making sure we didn’t get clay onto the (carpeted!) floor of the room we use since I had no idea how we might get it out. I have at least two parent helpers for each class, and they are turning out to be pretty useful.
At the end of class, I had a handout for each parent describing what we did in class and explaining the topics we covered. I also added some additional activities for kids interested in pursuing the topic further and resources (print, video, and web) for additional research or activities.