9 First Day of School Writing Activities your students will love
Ahh…the smell of a freshly painted classroom and, perhaps, a sea of freshly-scrubbed new faces staring up at you from their desks.
It must be the start of a new school year again. It’s time to start as you mean to go on.
Writing activities are a great way to get your students’ writing muscles warmed up after the long break.
They aren’t just busy work while you hurriedly stick up the last of your classroom displays but important opportunities to get to know your students.
They’re also a chance for students to get to know one another, and, perhaps most importantly of all, they’re a chance for you to see where your new students’ writing abilities are at.
In this article, we’ll take a look at 9 engaging writing activities to grind brains into gear and get the ink flowing.
Back to school writing activity 1: Interview a Classmate
This activity provides students an opportunity to get to know each other better while also developing their interviewing, note-taking, and writing skills.
Begin this activity by asking the students to compile a list of questions that they would use to get to know someone they’d met for the first time.
The first questions the students generally tend to be surface-level small-talk-type questions such as:
- Where are you from?
- How many brothers and sisters do you have?
- What’s your favorite subject at school?
- What are your hobbies?
- What do you want to be when you grow up?
- What’s the best thing about you?
Write these on the whiteboard, of course. They’ll be useful as warm-up openers at the beginning of the interviews, but we want to encourage a deeper dive.
For the interviewer to reach a more intimate understanding of the interviewee, they’ll need to probe further.
Encourage students to come up with more challenging questions to ask in the interview and write these on the board. These questions should be geared toward gaining insight beyond the superficial.
Explain to the students that when they are the interviewee, if they’d prefer not to answer a specific question, they can just say “next” and the interviewer will move immediately onto the next question.
Some examples of deeper, more probing-type questions might include questions like:
- Can you tell me about an event or a story that had a big impact on your life?
- Who has had the biggest influence on who you are as a person?
- What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do?
- What is your best memory? Worst?
At the end of this brainstorming session, there should be a considerable list of questions on the whiteboard.
Students are then partnered up. They will then take turns interviewing each other, with each interviewer taking comprehensive notes as they interview.
Students should not use voice recording equipment during this activity. This activity aims to improve note-taking abilities.
When the interviews are over, students then write them up as best they can using their notes and memories to try to recreate the interviews.
For the more advanced students, this will not just involve recreating the dialogue of the interview but will involve weaving a narrative around the dialogue to convey the interviewee’s character, expressions, and mannerisms.
Back to school writing activity 2: The Book of Summer
This writing activity is an upgrade from the “My Summer Vacation” type essays.
In this activity, each student will compile their own Book of Summer describing and depicting their holidays using as many different writing genres as possible.
For example, the student might include the following in their Book of Summer:
- A non-chronological report on a day trip
- A comic strip based on a family celebration
- A review of a movie they saw or book they read
- A fictionalized account of their summer
- A recipe of a meal they made
- A playscript for a sleepover they went on
- A haiku on the end of summer
The scope for creative interpretations here is almost endless.
For younger students, it may be best to be more prescriptive about the various types of genre to include and the titles for each piece.
But for students with the ability, the open-endedness of this task gives room for their creativity to run loose while affording you a valuable opportunity to see just what they are capable of.
Be sure to read our complete collection of back-to school writing activities.
Back to school writing activity 3: Guess the Student from their Bio
For this activity, students write their autobiographies. This makes for a timely opportunity to review the main features of this text type before the students put pen to paper.
You will most likely need to set an appropriate word count or restrict students to a certain number of pages for this activity.
Students should reveal the main events of their lives to date, but refrain from mentioning their own name in the text.
When they’ve finished, students should sign their work only with a ‘code name’ of their own invention to help them identify it later.
The completed autobiographies should then be collected by the teacher. They are then read out to the class by random students over the day or week and the students have to guess who wrote each autobiography.
Back to school writing activity 4: From a Different Point of View
Narrative writing requires competency in a broad range of complex skills. We can roughly divide those skills into structural ones (such as text organization), and language-related skills (such as sentence construction and creativity).
Getting your students to write a story is a great way to assess their abilities in these areas.
In this activity, however, you provide most of the structure for the student, giving them the space to exercise their imagination and you a chance to focus on their grammatical control – among other things.
In this exercise, ask your students to select a favorite fairy tale or other traditional stories that they know very well. The students’ task is to rewrite their favorite fairy tale from the point of view of another important character in the story.
For example, they might want to retell the Jack and the Beanstalk story from the point of view of the Giant or Jack’s mother.
Retelling The Ugly Duckling, the student might want to write from Mother Duck’s perspective to explore her feelings about the runt of her litter suddenly transforming into a beautiful (if alien!) swan.
Back to school writing activity 5: A Summer in Headlines
Headlines are fun to write.
They should be short and pithy and seize the reader’s attention by telling them just enough about the story to pique their interest but still leave them wanting to read more.
There are several things that students can do to ensure their headlines have the desired effect including:
- Choose powerful words designed to make an impact
- Use alliteration to create catchy, snappy headlines
- Employ humor to entertain and intrigue the reader
- Create suspense by posing the headline as a question
For this activity, students should make a list of the main events of their summer break. They should create a headline for each of these.
In this way, the students will have produced an account of their summer written entirely in headlines.
As an extension to this exercise, when they’ve finished producing their headlines have them present them to the class or in smaller groups.
The best headline is then selected from each list which the student then has to turn into a complete newspaper-style article on that event.
Back to school writing activity 6: The Peer Editing Exercise
This is a great way to introduce peer assessment into your classroom, especially with a group of students who are not familiar with the concept.
You will need to spend a little time at the start explaining the editing and proofreading process to the students. The specific criteria will, of course, depend on the age and abilities of your students.
To begin, organize the class into pairs of editing partners. Students should then swap their written work to be edited by their partners.
Any of the previous writing activities in this article would serve well for this purpose.
Students can edit their partner’s work by annotating with a different color pen or, for more detailed commentary, they could use a separate sheet of paper.
Students then share their feedback with each other.
This is an opportunity for students to see each other as resources to help them on their learning journey throughout the year.
It also helps students to develop resilience and an ability to absorb constructive criticism.
Students then rewrite their text in light of the feedback given.
Time for a plenary session should be made at the end to discuss as a class their experiences of the process.
Back to school writing activity 7: From Bad to Verse
Few genres of writing can be as divisive.
Some are dismayed by the mere mention of the word ‘poetry’ – The “Why can’t poets just say what they mean?” camp.
Then, some can barely write a shopping list without a bit of unnecessary versifying.
Love it or loathe it, poetry is on the curriculum and our students need to get to grips with it.
For this activity, students write a series of poems inspired by the events of their summer holidays. Essentially, they are writing a poetic account of their vacation.
To challenge the students further, they must use a different type of poetry for each event they wish to retell.
For example, they might write a series of haikus on the weather during the summer break.
Perhaps they’ll produce a calligram or shape poem describing the treehouse they made.
Maybe they’ll write an elegy to a pet that died or a limerick on that disastrous camping trip.
They might like to use the headlines from the previous activity A Summer in Headlines as starting points for their poems.
By the end of this activity, your students will have a collection of self-authored poetry they can share with the class in the form of a poetry slam.
You may wish to provide your students with checklists of the various features of the different types of poetry to help students during this activity.
First day of school writing activity 8: The Persuasive Wish List
The start of a new school year. A time of hope and possibility captured in the form of a wish list.
But this isn’t any old wish list, this is a persuasive wish list.
Here, the students will write a wish list of things they hope for from the new school year.
The twist is that they have to make their case for why they should receive the concessions they seek.
Examples of items that might make the wish list could be the desire to see more time for their favorite activities, less homework, or the creation of a class council. It doesn’t matter so much what is on the list but that the student makes as strong a case as possible for them.
Students should be encouraged to use the full range of persuasive writing techniques at their disposal, from the use of emotional language to social proof, from repetition to the use of evidence and statistics.
Back to school writing activity 9: The Summer Yearbook
This writing project is based on the idea of school yearbooks.
School yearbooks are compilations of memories, photographs, and quotes. In this version, students compile a compilation of these based on their collective experiences during the school break.
Many writing activities can be inspired by the format.
Students can gather together quotes on the various events of vacation time. These can be sourced from family, friends, classmates, etc.
They can also collect photographs and write suitable captions for inclusion in the yearbook. The book could include a page for the autographs of all the students, as well as a page for summer memories, and a page for hopes for the coming year.
Technology can be easily incorporated into this lesson by producing a digital version. Collaborative applications such as Google Drive are perfect for this type of work.
In Summer-y [Groan]
There’s plenty in our list above to get your students writing from the get-go, leaving you with some time to put the final touches on those classroom displays.
And, if you’re still stuck for something to put up, you’ll have a ton of writing examples to choose from when the exhausted pens drop and those little voices rise to say, “Teacher, I’m finished!”
Content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and university English lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book the Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.