I’ve met a lot of reluctant middle-grade writers over the years, but few can resist plunging into these fun exercises. All you need is a stack of old magazines!
Create a character!
Snip out dozens of photos of people doing interesting things & include a few non-humans for those MG animal lovers. I usually divide the photos into a girl stack and a boy stack, knowing that a lot of boys wouldn’t want to get stuck with a frilly prom queen–especially in a classroom setting. Pass out the photos (sometimes I let kids draw a photo from the envelope).
While the kids paste their photos into their notebooks with glue stick, I write a few ideas on the board. Where does your character live? Where is your character going? Who are your character’s friends? Describe your character.
Some kids plunge into stories, but other students work on writing great descriptions.
Focus on the Problem!
Middle-grade writers are good at coming up with crazy characters (like zombie prom queens), but sometimes they struggle with creating strong conflicts. Using advice columns immediately gets young writers focused on writing about a problem. For more advanced writers, using the advice column exercise is a good way to teach kids how to write a scene by adding dialogue, description, and inner thoughts.
Nothing makes kids giggle like the Embarrassing Moments page in a magazine. Find a great embarrassing moment anecdote and ask students to write what led up to the embarrassing moment or what happened right after the embarrassing moment. Kids love showing off their humorous side, but I love showing them that the same idea will lead to wildly different stories (so they never need to worry about having their ideas stolen).
Middle-grade writers enjoy these exercise, but those who write for middle-graders might come up with some great ideas too. Give it a try writers!
Sydney Salter is currently an Author-In-Residence at Utah’s Endeavor Hall charter school where the above writing exercises have turned into truly imaginative stories!
I’ve been asked to come and speak with the creative writing class at a nearby high school, and have been stressing a bit since these are older than the kids I usually talk with. But your idea on using the advice column or even the embarassing moments column have given me some fun ideas. Thanks, Sydney!
@Dianna Winget, Seventeen Magazine has fantastic embarrassing moments for high schoolers. Good luck with your talk–I’m sure it will go great!