Creative Writing Skills for Kids – Make Me a Zoo
I incorporate writing into my classes at every age level. Though some students are reluctant at first, most perk up when I tell them that, as their secretary, I will be doing the typing—all they have to do is be creative and dictate. They get to be the boss, and tell the teacher what to do? This often opens floodgates of imagination. When it comes time to go over the finished product, I have yet to meet a child that isn’t thrilled to read something that came out of their own head.
Do I ask frequent questions to get a story more fully fleshed out? Of course. Do I make sure to use correct grammar and punctuation, even if the student hasn’t? Yes, because modeling correct usage matters. However, I’m also constantly reading back exactly what I’ve written, correct grammar and all, asking if I got it right.
Journal starter ideas are everywhere on the internet, and I often use them, so that I get a broad range of opinion and expository writing as well as fiction.
Story retelling is also useful. But summarizing a story without simply repeating what the characters said can be challenging for many students. One way around this is to use a book without any words at all (or almost none).
Two of my favorites in this category are Tuesday by David Wiesner and Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola. When we first read the book, I ask the student to explain what they see happening in the illustrations, how they think the characters feel, and how they would feel in similar situations. After that, we go through the book again, this time writing down their thoughts. This works for any age student; younger students produce simpler work, but I have higher expectations from teens.
Another activity I do with almost every student is have them make a zoo. I use Google Slides for this. On the title slide, I put the student’s name, and then we go to Google’s Image search and look for a zoo sign. They pick out the one they like and I copy and paste it into the slide. We then add new slides, each one with a different animal. They chose one picture and we write some text. Again, expectations differ depending on the student as to how much we write.
Some students would rather have an Aquarium or a Pet Shop instead of a Zoo, which I’m fine with. The specific topic matters less to me than the fact that they’re writing.
And sometimes students will push to see what they can get away with in their writing. Once I had a student choose eagles for his zoo. After writing about where they live, what they eat, etc. I told him that I wanted him to come up with one more sentence. “Eagles can’t play basketball,” he replied. When I gave him The Teacher Look, he smiled impishly and I realized he had planned to use that sentence all along. I wrote it down. He laughed every time he read that slide (I’ll periodically have them read through their entire Zoo), which is the kind of positive association I’m looking for with my students.
When it comes to keeping things organized, I generally use Google Drive. Each student gets their own folder. Each folder has a Sheet with a record of what we did each day. I also use Slides to keep their writing. This gives me the flexibility to access the files no matter where I am, and also to share them easily with parents (or the students themselves if it’s appropriate).
Speaking and writing are two sides of the same expressive communication coin. Speaking often gets more emphasis because it’s used more frequently, but writing is also valuable. It can be creative and fun, too.