Here is a fun writing exercise that I did with some of my writing students last week. This exercise can be adapted for elementary through high school students. I brought a bag full of a variety of knick-knacks to class. Collect a mismatched group of things you have lying around the house. My bag included: an old TV remote, the jaw of a shark, a key, a guitar pic, a stuffed animal, a tiera, a bottle of nail polish, a paint brush…you get the idea. Now, I had a class full of kids so we drew numbers to decide who got what to avoid squabbles. If you are doing this with just a few children you could let them choose.
Once the students were staring at their new treasure I told them they were going to write a one page story from the perspective of their item. This can be a difficult concept, especially for younger students so take some time to explain. Being able to tell a story from a different perspective is a useful tool for children to develop. Beyond the fact that it’s fun to pretend to be a quarter traveling around experiencing the world, writing from another perspective encourages students to think outside of themselves. This is a non-threatening assignment that they can have fun with…but it is also a lesson in viewing events and problems from another’s eyes…even if the other eyes are a TV remote.
My high school kids were coming off a longer, more intense assignment so I gave them a break and we did this the same week as the younger students. For your more advanced students this would be a great warm up to having them try their hand at a more serious topic. If you are studying WWII maybe you could have them tell about the war as if they were a German soldier, or a Jewish child. Perhaps writing a diary entry of a mother trying to help her child deal with peer pressure, or a disabled student starting at a new school. There are so many ways to incorporate this idea into your school day, that will not only improve writing skills, but expand your students understanding and compassion for people with different life experiences.
From this exercise I got a couple great stories. The student who had the TV remote told the sad tale of being poked all day long, lost in couch cushions, yelled out and banged for not working properly and then (sigh) being replaced by a younger, newer model. Oh, the unfairness of it all. The Guitar Pick had the fabulous story to tell of being used by a famous Rock star, going to concerts, flying across strings to produce outstanding guitar solos…and then…being tossed into the crowd to become the souvenir of a some sweaty fisted teenager with dreams of being the next music sensation. Our paintbrush had a celebrated life in the studio of Picasso, and so it went. Each everyday item had stories to tell and once the kids got started the ideas started flowing.
One aside to this story…sometimes when we are asking our students to work we want them to be quiet and ‘concentrate’. While I understand that that will be necessary I tend to allow some chatter as students are beginning these types of assignments. They need to brainstorm, toss out a few ideas, hear a friends flippant comment back that sparks another idea. All of this chatter is not meaningless, it’s part of the process. I find if I let it go for 5-10 minutes it dies away as students begin to get into their stories, then things quiet down. You’ll have to decide in your own situation how much of the ‘chatter’ is helpful and how much is a ploy to avoid writing.