Stick Around & Write Something: A Writing Prompt for Teenagers

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

― William Faulkner

There is never a dull moment when you work around, and with, teenagers. After teaching high school for two decades, I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else.

A few years ago I learned an important lesson. Never underestimate the power of stickers when it comes to teenagers. One day my 9th grade students were addressing envelopes to mail letters and I offered them stickers to attach to their envelopes. They were delighted and even the unruliest of students became quiet as they intently selected the perfect sticker combination to decorate their correspondence.

This year I had a Donors Choose project funded that included, you guessed it, stickers. A few weeks ago creative writing students were overjoyed when I offered them stickers to adorn their Chromebooks and/or journals. However, first I made them write.

The following was their prompt on Google Classroom:

Attached you will find an assortment of images. Choose one of the collections of vinyl stickers and imagine that the stickers are attached to someone’s: computer, water bottle, locker, or another personal belonging. Allow these collection of stickers to tell a story. Imagine what these images say about identity and personality.

I then posted the following images:

The Sweet Life
All who wander are not lost.
Rocket scientist, or bust!
Home Sweet Home
Stand tall, my dear.
Art is life…
Adventure Seeker

This prompt works well with students who are visual learners. It provides them with a place to start writing and helps them flesh out a character.

For other teachers reading this, I hope your students enjoy this writing prompt and that it inspires them to be creative. I would love to hear from you in the comment section. As I always tell my students, our words matter.

How to Organize a Creative Writing Class (Ideas for Teachers)

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

― Ray Bradbury

I genuinely enjoy teaching all of the classes on my workload. This year I am teaching 9th and 11th grade English and in previous years I have also taught 8th, 10th, and 12th grade sections too.

Teachers are not supposed to have favorites, but I have a confession to make. I do.

Creative writing.

While I celebrate all of my student writers, there is something about a group of teenagers that choose to take creative writing as an elective. While there are often a few students who may be taking creative writing because of credit requirements, or because it fits best with their schedule, most of my students in 7th hour are prodigious wordsmiths.

This year I am thrilled to have a positive, creative, and quirky group. They cheer each other up and on, they openly share their writing, and when I ask them to write – they do not take shortcuts, but instead write, write, write their hearts out.

Many of my CW students take my course more than once (some all four years of high school) and for the fall semester we focus on fiction and in the spring our focus is on poetry (though I am flexible with the genre they choose to respond to a prompt. After all, I understand deeply the sudden urge to break into verse or how some things can only be said in narrative form). Since many students take my class multiple times, I try to switch things up for them so they are not doing the exact same assignments year after year. While this may sound like a chore, I love the creativity that this affords me.

My philosophy about creative writing class is that it carves out precious time every day for my students to write. Therefore, we write daily. Not every assignment is graded (most graded assignments are credit or no credit) and students are encouraged to share with each other what they are writing. While I make sure to read everything that my students turn in, because they are generating such a large volume of work I cannot give feedback on everything they write (especially with my workload of 4 other f2f classes and 2 other online). Therefore, I ask students to let me know which particular pieces they would like me to look at closely so I can give constructive advice.

Ultimately, my priority is to create a creative writing class and environment that I would have thrived in as a teenager. I have always loved to write and it is what truly makes me feel alive. I want to share this passion with my students and help them find their voice and understand what a special and rare gift self-expression through our own writing is.

We do not have textbooks in creative writing and often the assignments I give come into being spontaneously. Honestly, some of the best ideas and assignments are developed on my thirty minute commute to work. There are several books on writing that I do draw on for lessons (I will share titles and ideas in future blog posts).

This year, due to Covid-19, I am teaching one face-to-face section of creative writing and one online. Therefore, I decided to come up with a weekly schedule to keep us organized.

Creative Writing Weekly Schedule (this is the basic framework I work around).

MONDAY: Student Generated Prompt
Each student at the beginning of the year submitted a writing prompt and I select one each Monday. Their prompt can be a photograph (visual image), a song and/or song lyrics, a passage from a novel or short story, a YouTube video, a piece of writing that they wrote, a comic strip, a news article, or anything that provides inspiration. They must include any information and/or instructions that they want to provide to the class. I feel that this

TUESDAY: Independent Project Work Day or Writing Contest Work Time. This is one day a week where they can work on a writing project that I have assigned or that they are working on as a personal journey. We also enter several writing contests and this gives them time to write. If a writing contest deadline is near, Tuesday gives us the opportunity to conduct writing workshops and give small or large group feedback on writing.

WEDNESDAY: Character Journal.
Many fiction authors discuss the “background work” they do to create realistic, colorful, and meaningful characters. They put a lot of work and attention into fleshing-out these characters and “getting to know them”. These characters become as “real” to them as you and I. Some authors experiment with their characters by writing about them in various scenarios and even going so far as to sketch out how they would look. For my students’ character journal I ask them to choose a character to develop. They can start simply by choosing a gender, an age, and some basic information about how they look etc.

After several entries, if students want to switch and work on another character that words as well. In the past when I had students develop character journals they had great success with them and some of their prompts they were able to turn them into stories and some even started turning them into novels.

I tell my students that they are not to worry about perfection. They should experiment with language, dialogue, and challenge themselves as a writer. The point of a character journal is to PRACTICE their craft.

THURSDAY: Focused Free-Write.
I assign a prompt.

FRIDAY: Flipped Day.
Our Covid-19 school year plan has a Flipped Friday each week. That means that only teachers report to school on Fridays and our face-to-face students learn online. This helps give teachers time to contact students and guardians, grants time for grading and creating online content for distance learning assignments (create Google Slideshows and videos etc.) It also is teaching our face to face students how to learn online in the event that our district gets shut down again.

My ultimate goal for Flipped Fridays would merge my Face-to-Face and Online classes for a group Read Around. Each class member would share something they wrote that week. They could share an excerpt or an entire piece – 2 to 5 minutes each)

Flipped Fridays would also be a great day for a writing workshop. Students could be assigned groups or partners to give each other constructive feedback digitally using Google docs.

Like most teachers I have a wide and varied community of teachers that I network with (both locally and nationally). I often am contacted by other teachers when they have the opportunity to teach creative writing and they ask me for advice.

One day my goal is to publish my own book (I suppose I would call it a text book of sorts) on teaching creative writing with the various prompts I have developed over the past two decades. That idea helped me create this blog. I thought until I have time to flesh out a manuscript, I could ruminate on the idea here and stimulate my own creativity and hopefully give other educators some ideas for their own classroom.

So stay tuned for more creative writing classroom tips. My plan in the next several weeks is to share some of my writing prompts that are tried and true in my classroom.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions and most importantly carve out some time for your own creativity. What are you going to write today? ❤

Make sure you follow my blog and like my Facebook page for more ideas about teaching writing.

This is me writing many years ago during a Writing Marathon that I helped organize for the Upper Peninsula Writing Project (National Writing Project)

BEYOND THE WINDOW by Abigail McCabe (A Student’s Pandemic Journal)

The 2019-2020 school year marks my 19th year in the classroom as a secondary English teacher. I suppose this year due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus, like teachers across the country, I can now add Distance Learning Teacher to my resume. Though, I would prefer the title Distance Learning Encourager. I have always felt that the word ENCOURAGER aptly describes my role as an educator. I encourage my students to read, write, and to record their impression of the world. I try to instill in them the belief that our stories and our voices matter. Our writing is our way of making our thinking tangible – it is truly our fingerprint. Our writing is a time capsule that can chart our personal, academic, and professional growth as human beings.

Our district recently unveiled our Continuous Learning Plan and our teachers, like others across the country, have been engaging students in lessons via online platforms such as Google Classroom, Zoom, DoJo, and Google Meet.

While I have been a blogger for years, I admittedly struggle with technology. Since I live in a rural location – I too had issues at first with “Equal Access” when it came to internet connectivity. However, thanks to a data boost to my Verizon jetpack, I believe I have the issues ironed out.

I am thankful for a strong network of administrators and  colleagues for the guidance and support as we navigate these challenging times. I have to give a huge shout-out to my best friend and fellow English teacher Heather Hollands for helping me come up with ideas to help keep ourselves and our students connected and engaged for the remainder of the school year. She helped me develop a plan to have students create a Pandemic Journal and a plan/log for daily reading. (Heather credits Kelly Gallagher http://www.kellygallagher.org/).

I have used this blogging platform to help model a “Pandemic Journal” to my students over the past couple of days. It gives me a way to publish my writing and hopefully connect with other educators and writers. This blog was part of my the professional development goal that I set for myself last year. When I created Glitter and Dog Hair I had no idea that I would be using it in this capacity. It is exciting that I can use it to help publish not only my writing, but the writing that my students create as well.

Here are my posts from the past couple of days. I am proud to say that I even traveled out of my comfort zone and made a couple of videos to let them know I am thinking of them:

Pandemic Journal #1: We Write to Remember
Pandemic Journal #2 – Earth Day

My instructions to my students for their Pandemic Journal were the following:

Dear Students,
We are living through a history making moment—right now! Today, tomorrow, and the days that follow will be captured in history books. Some day, you will share stories with your children and grandchildren about living through the challenges we are facing in 2020. Because these days are historical, it is critical that we not let these events pass without capturing how they affect you, your family, your school, and your community.

How we are documenting our days – on paper, on canvas, on social media, on video – will one day become a primary resource for others to reflect on. As I often say in class, “Our writing is a time capsule.”

Since you will be “schooling” from home, I will describe here the activities to be done outside of our classroom. Here are your daily writing and reading plans: 

Daily writing (via a paper notebook of some sort) 

You will be asked to write at least a page a day in your writer’s notebook, capturing your thoughts, questions, comments, and concerns about the events that are unfolding. I want you to capture this history—your history—any way you’d like. Try to spend a minimum of an hour per week writing, hopefully more! Below are some suggestions for your daily writing, but you do not need to follow them. Feel free to generate your own thinking.

Some possibilities for daily writing:
●  Capture how this virus has disrupted your school year —including sporting events, concerts,   assemblies, dances.
●  Discuss how your daily life has been disrupted or enhanced (more time with family, family dinners etc.)
●  Share the effect it has had on your friends and family.
●  Write reviews of movies, television shows, podcasts, video games, etc., that you are turning to for entertainment during this time of social isolation. ●  Respond to any idea about the crisis you find interesting. You can respond to an article, a
broadcast, a Tedtalk, a tweet, a photograph, a podcast, a film, an Instagram (or another online) post, a TikTok video, a political cartoon or meme, a song, a conversation—anything that spurs some thinking.

As the days unfold, you will be able to find new aspects that encourage reflection. This story changes every day. Be creative: Write across genres: poetry, dialogue (just capture a conversation between people), description: zoom in on a moment you experience; discuss songs that capture these events for you; find and respond to charts and graphs worth thinking about. Or perhaps you’d like to make a scrapbook. Another idea is to write and mail a letter to a grandparent or other person who is lonely or missing you. 

Flex your voice and take risks. Be honest. Try to create writing that you will be interested in re-reading years from now. Chronicle your thinking as we navigate these uncertain days/weeks. Do not forget to record the date on every piece you write.

*Thank you again to Heather Hollands for the inspiration.

Yesterday my students started submitting their Pandemic Journal entries. One of my 8th grade students, Abigail McCabe, took my breath away with her journal response. Abigail had already impressed me with her sophisticated writing, but her writing still caught me off guard and brought tears of joy to my eyes. Thank you, Abigail for this gift. You made me remember once again why I am so fortunate to be an English teacher.  You’re a talented writer and visual artist and I knew that I had to share your response with others.

We are going through challenging times and yet, at a young age, Abigail understands the importance of stepping outside our human realm to allow nature to help heal and show us the way. Abigail’s writing reminded me of one of my favorite Louise Gluck quotes.

“It’s a mistake
to think of them
as birds, they are so often
messengers.”
~Louise Gluck

With Abigail’s permission I am sharing her entry with you. Here are her powerful words:

Beyond the Window

During the quarantine, the birds have been reliable, always coming and going, unphased by the panic of the outside world. Nestled in the everlasting pine-bows, their safe haven.

I stare distantly outside my window. The pine trees sway in the gentle breeze as the birds flutter absentmindedly around the newly filled feeder. They come and go in a timely manner. Chickadees arrive early after the sun’s early rays skim the treetops, leaping and fluttering from branch to branch. They begin their distinct and sweet call at eight, then leave at one.

Chickadees have always reminded me of my Grandma, whom has now passed. Perhaps it’s their soft coos that echo beyond the birch trees or the carefree and curious glint behind their dark eyes.

Petite Goldenfinches stick in groups of five, landing in synchronization on the snow-coated deck outside the large, smudged window. They descend down from the higher branches at three but never stay for more than an hour and a half.

When the isolation leaves me feeling hollow, like a roughly tumbled rock with a single omar– I open up the door, slinking out into the dappled sunlight, and sit quietly. I listen for the soft murmur of the wind, the slow rippling of the lakeside, the rhythmic dripping of the ice– so delicately clinging to the eve of the house. Most of all, the stories the birds tell– not with their sorrowful melodies as the snow begins to fall, but the air sifting between their feathers like sand as they skip like a rough pebble through the air. I, hardly breathing, lost in the chorus of selective silence, patiently wait. I squint against the sun, of which now is skimming the surface of the icy wasteland that meets the decaying pine-needle and mossy quilt at the abrupt shoreline. Out over the ice-glazed lake, small shoals are still visible under the surface of semi-transparent desolation. I turn my head, the ice rippling as a lone duck pulls itself out from the ice-infested waters.

I breathe deeply, the air crisp and bitter from the cold, but the sun warm and radiant- maintaining the balance– of which is like an orbit– both hot and cold interdependent on the other, there is no judgment of hot without the cold,  as of, no life without death. A cycle. Plagues in themselves are a cycle, masquerading behind face masks, a timely balance of panic and composure.

Photo Courtesy of Abigail McCabe

Please feel free to comment on and share this post.

Thank you to Abigail for generously allowing me to share your writing.

To all reading this post ~  please stay safe, healthy, and seek ways to discover joy in your life. ❤