A hearty thank you to all the teachers and librarians who are off and running in a new school year! We certainly wish you the best. Educational settings of all types have seen wild change and plenty of challenges in the last year and a half, but educators continue to rally, adapt, instruct, and inspire.
For those of you on the lookout for ways to offer your middle grade writers new and creative ideas, here are some suggestions to try!
- Capitalize upon and promote students’ start-of-the-year enthusiasm and excitement.
- Can be used as icebreakers and in peer-response circles (in which each student provides one “This is awesome!” and one “This is just a suggestion!” remark for a fellow writer).
- Will fulfill one of the most fun Common Core State Standards—Narrative Writing (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W3)!
- Will connect to (relatively) pain-free grammar and composition mini-lessons as students revise and edit, which account for additional Writing Standards.
- Will connect to Reading: Literature CCSS if you tie the writing lesson to the study of a novel and Speaking and Listening CCSS if students share their original work aloud (with a bit of coaching on presentation skills).
- Can serve as a foundation for powerhouse lessons and quality use of instructional time–not to mention a chance for kids to use imagination along with skills in a memorable and fun writing experience.
The “What I Didn’t Do This Summer” Composition
Students might need a little explanation if they are not aware of the traditional “What I Did This Summer” essay that kicked off each year of English class for so many generations of students. Then, turn the notion on its head: Kids write an imaginative piece that includes events their summer certainly did not showcase: didn’t talk to penguins at the South Pole, didn’t go back in time and meet pirates or ninjas, didn’t even try to dig a hole to the other side of the world, didn’t get the cell phone to work as a portal to another planet. Offer more structure to those who don’t jump in on their own, for example, “Three Adventures I Wanted to Try This Summer But Didn’t,” or “Three Things I Wouldn’t Have Done This Summer Even for Ten Thousand Dollars.”
The First-Line Fest
The best part about a First-Line Fest is the time involved; you can spend a few class periods on this activity, use it for a five-minute filler, or utilize any length of time in between. You might want to start by offering a read-aloud of first lines from some great test-of-time middle grade novels (and letting kids guess the titles is a nice intro). Some possibilities:
“It was one of those super-duper cold Saturdays.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number Four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”
“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital / Columbus, Ohio, / USA— / a country caught / between Black and White.”
“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni and cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”
Then, coach students to compose an attention-getting first line to a story or novel that they do not have to write. Use whatever guidelines or fun twists suit your purposes: must be a full sentence with an action verb; must contain at least two characters; must jump in with a conflict; must be a setting description with an animal; must be more than 20 words but fewer than 25; etc. Or, throw rules out the window (except, of course, for your classroom-appropriate guidelines 😊 ) and see what first-line creations students come up with.
The Favorite Genre Never-Been-Done Premise
Explain the concept of a premise to your would-be writers and allow them to guess a book based on its premise. Knowing what books they covered as a class the previous year ensures success here, so for example, if they read Other Words for Home: “A seventh grade girl leaves Syria for Cincinnati, bravely auditions for a musical, and remains hopeful for the safety of the missing brother she left behind.”
Next, review genre as a literary characteristic, and have kids narrow their favorite genres. Finally, assign a fun one-to-three sentence premise for a story or novel in their favorite genre they’d love to someday read or write. Some facet of the imagined storyline must make the premise never-been-done before (a challenge, as we writers are well aware!). Look to recent releases in some favorite genres for inspiration and recommended reads for your students to dovetail with this writing assignment:
Also, consider genre mash-ups to make the never-been-done objective a little easier—and a lot more creative.
Have a great year filled with creative opportunities for your middle grade writers, and thank you again for your devotion to educating kids.
First lines: The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling; Holes by Louis Sachar; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo