Everyone knows that summer is the time for forgetting (almost) everything learned during the previous school year, right? Not necessarily. What if summer were a time for sharpening thinking skills by thinking like a writer? Following are a few ideas from Jeff and me for helping students do just that. Keep in mind that you may need some follow-up in the fall to provide incentive or closure—even if it’s only a class discussion or presentation time to let students show off what they’ve done.
Many students do summer reading. Make it more interesting (and critical) by asking students to nominate books (or other readings) in a variety of categories, e.g.—
• Best book jacket
• Best lead
• Best ending
• Best single sentence
• Best use of words
• Best lines of dialogue
• Book that would make the best film
• Best female/male/animal character
• Best read-aloud
Posting these nominations in the fall just might spur further free reading—or give you (as a teacher or reading coach) ideas for study group books.
Oh, no—not the dreaded journal! Hold on . . . journals don’t have to be daily drudgery, nor do they need to consist of whole paragraphs. Consider Jeff’s previous post on “What do you notice?” Students could make one- or two-line journal entries noting details in their surroundings others might have overlooked: flora, fauna, people, landscapes, seascapes, architecture, street corners, whatever. This teaches them to see the world through a writer’s eyes. Daily entries would be terrific—but probably not realistic for most students, who may not be ardent journalists (right away). They might shoot for, say, ten entries throughout the summer. Be sure to have them share these—with the class or in small groups.
Other journal entries worthy of note—
• Moments from overheard conversations (nope—not snooping! Just capturing the cadence of human speech)
• Writing ideas (things they might write about during the coming year)
• Favorite books, television shows, films, speeches, moments from the news
• Wishes (things they’d like to see happen in the world)
• The 5 senses: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the student’s neighborhood (or any chosen location)
Got any writers in your community? Maybe no famous novelists visit your local coffee shop, but keep in mind, writers are everywhere! Someone is writing newspaper copy, stories for the local TV or radio news, advertisements, PR for local businesses, travel brochures, and much more. Who is it, and what is the world of writing like for him/her? Encourage students to make contact with any local writer or journalist and find out what’s involved in taking a piece from first idea to production. Have them share the results in writing, via podcast or video, or just through a chat with the class next fall.
4. Building a Quiz
It’s often said that the best way to learn anything is to test others on it. Think about it. You have to figure out which questions are worth asking—and if it’s a multiple choice test, which incorrect answers someone else is most likely to give. Why not get students involved in this thinking-about-thinking challenge by asking them to come up with one or more questions involving conventions, grammar, famous quotations, author-book matches, director-film matches, or anything else for which there is a right or wrong answer. In the fall, put their questions together in a mega-quiz that everyone can take together (including yourself!). You might consider offering a prize for top score, too!
5. Something New
What haven’t your students written? A poem? Play? Dialogue? Essay? Argument? News story? Greeting card? Editorial? This might be a time to try whatever-is-new for the first time and share the results. Students can not only write in a new form, but report on it: What was challenging? Unexpected? Fun? Tedious? Frustrating? Surprising or rewarding? Is writing just writing—or does it differ from one form to another?
Or . . . Switch it up—write a news story as a poem, turn a recipe into a restaurant review, an ad or promo piece into a play or news story, etc.
6. Letter to an Author
A few years ago, I wrote to Larry McMurtry to tell him how much I’d loved Lonesome Dove. To my surprise and delight, he wrote back! I learned that Lonesome Dove (the book) had been over 20 years in the making, and that the film (which starred Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall) had originally been cast with John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. Really??!! I also learned that McMurtry himself had never seen the film version of his Pulitzer Prize winning book—and that Robert Duvall had originally been cast as Call, not Gus McRae. Who knows what your writers might discover upon writing to a famous author? Many do write back, and trust me, receiving a letter from someone who’s a personal favorite in your own library is quite thrilling. I would add that a physical letter you can hold in your hands (something many of our students have never received) is a real treasure. Which brings me to the next suggestion . . .
7. Writing a Letter
Letters are special. They’re more personal than texts or emails, perhaps because they require more effort and time to produce. Encourage students to write a snail-mail letter to someone—anyone—who’s important in their lives. I recommend looking up Garrison Keillor’s “How to Write a Letter”—written in the 1980s, but every bit as pertinent in its message today. You can find this on teacherweb.com Share it aloud with your students to help them appreciate the value of old-fashioned letters. (Yes, people do still love them—but parents and grandparents, or others of their generation, will be especially happy recipients!)
To switch it up: Write to a company to praise a product/lodge a serious complaint.
8. 10 Errors or More
Spotted any conventional errors lately? Of course you have! That’s because you’re used to looking for them—in students’ work, for example. Your students can develop those same eagle eyes with practice, and this could be the summer to do it. Encourage them to scan newspapers, magazines, advertisements, billboards and other public signage, news tickers on television, or any other medium that includes visible print. See who can collect 10, 20, or more errors—and make a class or school display of your findings next fall.
9. Found Poetry
As its name suggests, found poetry emanates from discovered or overheard bits and pieces—words, phrases, lines, quotations. They might come from film, conversation, random thoughts inside your own head, descriptions of images, quotations, tag lines, ads, or any source at all. One line often prompts another and another, and soon, presto, you have a poem. Found poetry is fun to illustrate, too, with paintings, sketches, or photos—even videos. Poems can be shared through a display or open mic presentation.
Fun sources to explore: Street signs, business signs, classified ads, movie trailers, ingredient lists on food packaging, names of cars or other products (cereals, kinds of cheese, types of doughnuts, etc.), warning labels, directions, GPS voices.
10. Photo Journalism
These days, almost everyone is a photographer or videographer of some kind at some level. Your students might focus their talents by doing some photojournalism with a particular theme: people of the community, friends, summer activities, ecology, local businesses, agriculture, water sports, water shortages, wildlife, insects, changes (of all kinds), family, or whatever their imaginations can conjure up. Photojournalism is a unique form of communication in that it speaks without words yet communicates a message to viewers as sure and precise as if the words were there—and often with added emotion or passion. Even students who have minimal experience with photography may surprise themselves with what they’re able to capture in this powerful medium.
Possible themes . . .
• A summer day in the life of _______
• The foods of summer
• Fighting boredom
• Loveable pets
• Keeping cool
11. Post Cards
Send post cards (purchased, homemade, photo cards) to your school, teacher, classmates describing a summer highlight, an interesting trip, etc. These could be used for a bulletin board to help students remember summer, and could grow into longer pieces of writing in the fall.
A Brief Hiatus . . .
We hope you try one or more of these ideas, and if you do, please send us a comment to let us know how it goes! Jeff and I will be on hiatus for a few weeks, enjoying summer along with many of you. We plan to return in early August with reviews of our summer reading. Thank you for visiting us regularly, and please schedule us into your lives once again beginning this August. Until then, have a wonderful summer (whatever that means to you—take photos!), and give every child a voice.