The smell of freshly painted halls, the excited chatter of returning students bursting with 2 months’ worth of gossip to share – it must be the first day at school once again.
Rusty pens and dusty pencils are hastily pulled from the bottom of school bags where, for many, they’ve lain all summer.
Now, you’ll need some engaging writing activities to get those atrophied writing muscles back in shape. The standard ‘What I Did This Summer’ type essay just isn’t going to cut it.
Luckily, we have 7 Great Back to School Writing Activities for you to help shake off the cobwebs and get your students’ writing skills back on par. Let’s get started.
Ice Breaker Writing activities
At the start of each school year, there’s likely to be a new face or two in the class, and while two months isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, our students can do a lot of growing and changing in that time.
Ice-breaker writing activities allow students to connect with others in the class. They give students some insight into the lives of their classmates.
Here are some fun ice-breaker writing activities to get the new school year off to a strong start writing-wise.
- The A to Z of Me!
Students write an acrostic poem about themselves in the A to Z of Me. With the first line of the poem starting with the letter A, each new line begins with the next letter of the alphabet and should reveal something about the poet.
This may be too long for younger students – it’d be a 26-line poem after all. In this case, you can quickly adapt the activity to employ the letters of the student’s first name.
The aim of this activity is for students to capture the essence of who they are in their poems. They can write a phrase or line based on their interests, appearance, things they have done, hobbies, desires, ideas, where they’re from, etc.
You can make this more challenging for older and stronger students by insisting they employ a rhyme scheme throughout their poems.
For example, they could write their poem in couplets (AA, BB, CC, etc.) or with an alternate line rhyming scheme (AB, AB, AB, etc).
When students have finished writing their acrostic poems about themselves, they can perform it to the whole class as a class poetry slam.
- Guess Who?
This fun activity challenges students to recall what they know about their classmates or, in the case of a newly formed group of students, to explore their initial impressions of each other.
In Guess Who? the teacher divides the students into 2 groups. They then write down a unique fact about themselves on a piece of paper, fold it up, and give it to the teacher.
If everyone already knows each other very well, you might want to limit the facts to something they did over the summer that the others in the class are unaware of.
Students could write about a hobby or a talent they have, a language they speak, a place they visited, or anything that they feel makes them unique or special.
Students then take turns reading a fact written by someone from the other group, and they then guess who wrote it.
A point is awarded for each correct guess, the winning team being the team with the most points.
Collaborative writing activities
Collaborative writing activities offer students opportunities to work together with a partner, a small group, or the whole class to produce a shared piece of writing.
As with the previous activities, these activities can break the ice. More than that, though, they help students establish a level of comfort working together to achieve a shared goal – a key dynamic to encourage at the start of any school year.
- Snowball Story-Writing
In this simple, but fun activity each student starts by writing the beginning to a story. There should be an allotted amount of time to complete this, the length of which will depend on the age and abilities of the students.
When the allotted time is up, students should stop writing, roll their piece of paper up into a ball, then throw it up towards the top of the classroom!
Students should then each retrieve one of the ‘snowballs’ from the front of the classroom and, when the timer is started, read the beginning of the story and then write the story middle until the time is up.
Again, the students throw their snowballs to the front of the classroom, before selecting a new snowball to write the ending.
When the stories are completed, they should be returned to the students who wrote the story beginning. This student should write a final draft of the story to ensure it reads well
Students can then share their stories by reading them out to the class.
Sometimes students will struggle to kick start their writing. To help students get going, it can be helpful to provide students with a sheet of paper with a writing prompt on it. This can be in the form of a sentence or even a picture.
These prompts can be easily differentiated to suit the age and abilities of your students. For example, more prescriptive prompts are useful for younger students, while more open-ended prompts will be suitable for older and/or stronger students.
- Tapestry Poems
Tapestry poems are a collaboration between two students. So, as a first step, you need to assign each student a partner to work with.
The next step requires you to assign a topic for each pair of students in the class. Each partner then independently writes a 9-line poem on the assigned topic.
When each student has finished their 9-line poem, they share them with their partner.
The task at hand is for the students to now work together to produce an 18-line poem from the two 9-line poems they have created.
To do this, the students will have to collaborate to make the composite poem work. The idea here is to weave the different threads of the two interpretations of the topic into a single ‘tapestry’.
Students will need to include the 9 lines of both poems, but they have room to edit for verb tense and to make minor grammatical changes to make things work.
The partners must also compromise to agree on a single title for their shared piece.
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Memory Writing activities
While we want to avoid the cliched ‘What I Did This Summer’ essay, it doesn’t mean that memories of the long holidays can’t serve as an ‘in’ to some worthwhile writing activities.
In the following writing activities, students will be asked to access their memories of summer to serve as a jumping-off point. Let’s get started!
- Paint a Picture With Words
Essentially, this writing activity challenges students to write by employing their senses to evoke a memory.
First, ask the students to choose from a memory of a place they visited during the summer vacation. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a beach trip or visit to a shopping mall, they’ll both serve equally well for this activity.
Students must then endeavor to recreate the scene as they recall it through careful selection of vocabulary and description.
The main focus of this type of writing will be the use of sensory language. Students should meditate on the things they saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt while they were in their chosen place.
Students should work to paint a vivid, multi-dimensional picture in the reader’s minds-eye. For this reason, they should choose a static memory such as a scene they recall. This activity has more in common with landscape painting than with film-making. A plot is not required.
This activity offers students an opportunity to hone their descriptive writing skills which will help them improve their writing in many genres.
As with the last activity, this type of poetry is typically focused on evoking a scene. In the case of the haiku, this is usually a natural scene.
Before putting pen to paper, be sure students are suitably familiar with the features of the haiku:
● It consists of 3 lines
● It contains 17 syllables
● The 1st and 3rd lines have 5 syllables and the 2nd line has 7 syllables
● It does not need to rhyme
● It’s usually about nature or a natural phenomenon
● Often has two contrasting or juxtaposed subjects woven into it.
This activity is best introduced by reading and examining a couple of well-written haikus, such as those by Basho in translation, to ensure student familiarity with the form.
This is a very meditative writing form and it is important to set a suitable mood and atmosphere in the classroom to encourage the necessary concentration and reflection the writing process will require. The playing of gentle instrumental music is one way to help achieve this ambience.
FUN WRITING ACTIVITIES
While the first of our Back to School Writing Activities focus clearly on breaking the ice and drawing on memories, the primary focus of the following writing activities is on having fun.
While these activities will also offer students opportunities to develop some technical aspects of their writing skills, the main emphasis here is on students seeing writing as a fun, creative activity where they have the space and time for self-expression.
- Creative Excuses
To start this activity, students must come up with a list of 10 chores or tasks that they absolutely hate doing.
Next, students should choose 4 from this list of their most detested tasks. They need to then write a letter explaining why they cannot complete these tasks.
Encourage students to get creative with their excuses. The crazier and more imaginative the excuses are, the better. This activity is an opportunity for students to let their imaginations loose.
- ‘What If?’ Writing Prompts
Writing prompts are a great way for students to break through writer’s block. In this activity, students generate their own writing prompts by creating ‘what if?’ scenarios for other students in the class to use as writing prompts.
Many of the best and most creative stories come from starting with an inquiry into what would happen if x happened. These scenarios can be silly, serious, fantastical, or humorous, as long as they provide a jumping-off point for the student writer.
When students have completed their prompts, the teacher should gather them in to distribute randomly among the class.
When students have finished writing their responses to their assigned prompts they can share their work with the class. This will be especially interesting for the writer of the original prompt.
- Fictional Interviews
This activity involves a little bit of writing and a lot of role-playing.
In this activity, students should be paired up with a partner. Each partner chooses a fictional character they will role-play. The character can be from any type of fiction, for example, movies, comic books, or works of literature.
Partners must prepare and write up a series of interview questions for their partner’s fictional character.
Partners take turns interviewing each other while the interviewee is in character.
This is a great way to bring a bit of drama into the classroom, but if you want to emphasize the writing aspect of the activity, you can set the students up the interview in the style of a magazine feature article. This will require the student to weave some narrative writing around the back and forth of the questions and answers of the interview.
So, there we have it. 9 engaging activities to kick start the writing process at the start of the school year.
There is quite a variety to choose from here, with some activities honing technical aspects of the writing process, while others are more centred on the fun of creativity.
Remember, at the start of the school year, it isn’t so important what the students write, but that they write!
With the selection of activities above, you’re sure to find an activity to suit even the most pen-shy of students!
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The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and English university 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.