For Teachers

Writing Exercises—Ways to Warm Up Your Students’ Brains

A lot of times we talk about using writing exercises as a warm up for our “real” writing. But I was curious: Do most writers really do this? I don’t typically warm up by doing a writing prompt. Instead, I enjoy going for a run on a wooded trail before I sit down to write in the morning. It’s not just the exercise but being out in nature that inspires me. I often solve some writing snag while I’m in the thick of the forest. I stop and look around, soaking up the feel of the wind, the sun, the sky.

I thought I’d throw the question out to other children’s book writers: How do you wake up your brain before diving into your work? Here’s what they said:

  • Listen to music
  • Go for a walk
  • Stretch
  • Reread what was written the day before
  • Listen to a poetry podcast
  • Journal
  • Eat a good breakfast
  • Look at a photo and write about it
  • Create a word bank
  • Review research related to the topic of the book (for nonfiction)

You might want to help your students become mindful of what gets them warmed up to begin writing. Maybe they do like beginning with a writing prompt. Or doodling. Or passing out the writing folders to the other students to get up and moving. Here’s a way to help you (or your students) find out.

Have your students do an experiment: As a class, come up with four different ways to wake up the brain before beginning a writing assignment. A few you could try include:

  • Listen to soothing music
  • Stretch or do simple yoga positions
  • Write from a writing prompt
  • Free journal
  • Take a walk around the school (if possible, outside)

Each day, have the class try one method followed by their usual writing assignment. Afterward, have each student write down how they felt about it:

  • Did you feel your writing flowed more or less than usual after the activity?
  • Did you feel more or less energized?
  • Did you feel more or less focused in your writing?

After the experiment concludes, discuss as a class what students learned about what helps them warm up for writing. Which method was most useful? Why? They may be surprised!

Need some writing prompts? Here are some good ones:

https://www.journalbuddies.com/prompts-by-grade/fun-writing-prompts-for-middle-school/

https://www.dailyteachingtools.com/journal-writing-prompts.html

https://www.lindsay-price.com/playwriting/the-ten-best-writing-warm-ups/

https://www.writingmindset.org/teach/2018/3/24/how-to-rock-a-focused-writing-warm-up

 

Reading Restaurant

by Robyn Gioia

I was introduced to Reading Restaurant at a school get-together. Our school shared a professional day with teachers from a top-rated school in another district. Our assignment was to bring our favorite teaching units to share with everyone.

We met with the reading teachers. A manila folder was handed to us by two smiling masters. The manila folders were designed to look like restaurant menus. On the front cover was the title Reading Restaurant. When you opened the folder, you were met with a menu of different projects.

Instead of book reports or summaries, students have the opportunity to do a creative project.

Just like a restaurant, students select from each menu section. Their final selection must equal 100 points. For example, if they chose a 70 point dinner, they must choose another item worth 30 points.

The projects vary and can be tailored to the level and interest of your students. Some of the cool things are designing movie theater posters, writing and performing a play, or creating a cereal box that highlights selected literary elements with a playable game on the back. Of course you can add your own projects, but the restaurant menu format and a variety of projects is a big winner with the kids.

In my class, students usually mull over the selections. At the end of the month, each student presents their project to the class. I use a rubric to grade their project and presentation skills. Afterwards, the student audience is allowed to ask questions of the presenter. This generally creates a lot of excitement and generates a lot of interest in the different projects and featured books.

 

 

Insights from Evaluating my New Year’s Writing Resolutions

I’m really good at creating writerly/life goals every January.

However, I’m terrible at evaluating these New Year’s resolutions. I rarely reflect on what obtaining or letting go of aspirations might mean.

For 2020, I’d like to start a new tradition of spending just as much time evaluating last year‘s goals as in the creation of this year‘s goals.

I’m going to take you step-by-step in what I hope will be new tradition of evaluation and reflection. I hope to come away with helpful take-aways.

Looking back at 2019, I see that I met my physical goal of walking and going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week.

This says to me I was serious about taking care of my physical needs. I can applaud myself, yes? Well, sure. In fact, unless it was rainy or I had morning appointments, I walked every day. However, when I went to the gym, I often focused on reading my book on the elliptical versus challenging myself.

Take-away: I can do better. Sweat more. Be more in the moment.

For reading, I pledged to read more wonderful novels such as The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart and Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras. I did this. Yet I could a much better job of reviewing books after reading them. I want others to review my books on Goodreads, and I need to do the same for my colleagues.

Take-way. Read wonderful books. And support authors by reviewing their books.

I promised to keep up with my grading (I teach college). And while I had the best intentions, by somewhere in the middle of the semester, I started to get two weeks behind. Yes, I can do better. But also sometimes not working means that I am engaging in self-care. There are periods when not keeping up with a certain obligation is actually a good thing, especially if there’s some sort of pressing situation.

Take-away. It’s okay to slow down. It’s okay sometimes not to meet a goal.

I met almost all of my marketing goals. However, I’m flagging a problem. With an educator, I wrote an honesty curriculum based on issues that come up with my chapter book series Ellie May. Yet, I haven’t posted it on my website or really made the curriculum available. It shows that just making a goal isn’t what counts. How did that help you accomplish a benchmark? How did it meet expectations?

Take-away. It’s not just the goal that counts. It’s often the follow-through that’s more important.

I look at my writing goals and I’m pleasantly surprised. I met five out of the seven goals. I polished and revised three picture books, one of which I sold. I came up with new picture book ideas for Tara Lazar’s Storystorm. Additionally, I got to the end of a science fantasy MG, which I’ve been working on for eleven years. This felt like a big win because it’s a project I always put on the backburner. Plus, it’s outside of my comfort zone and has helped me stretch as a writer.

Take-away. Consider why a goal is actually important to you.

I didn’t write any part of my contemporary Jewish-themed middle grade. Why? Well, honestly,I didn’t get to it. And I’m not emotionally prepared for the themes in this book. It’s okay. I will write this book when I’m ready. I’m not right now–that’s my truth and okay with it.

Take-away. Consider why you didn’t meet a particular goal and decide if you are okay with that reason.

I did work on two middle grades that were a welcome surprise–two books in the Kate the Chemist series with Dr. Kate Biberdorf. Dragons vs. Unicorns comes out this April with Philomel Books followed by The Escape Room. Fifth grader Kate uses chemistry (my favorite science) to solve everyday problems and mysteries. I’m super proud of these books. Working with Dr. Kate and the team at Philomel has been unapologetically blissful and added so much writing fun to my life.

Take-away. You can’t plan everything. And that’s just fine.

That one is so important. I will repeat it. You can’t plan everything. For me, there were some health issues that came up as well as some challenging conditions brought about by wildfires. But every challenge has gifted me with new insights and prompted me to live more joyfully.

2020. This myopic writer is definitely looking forward to a year with clearer vision.

Hillary Homzie is the author of Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2-18), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and in the summer she teaches in the graduate program in childrens’ literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.