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.

Story Starter: Make Your Main Character Want Something

“Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Photo by Julia Zolotova on Unsplash

Today is Thursday, which means it is Focused Free-Write day in my high school creative writing course. Yesterday I posted about how I created a schedule this year to keep our class organized and on-track. With all the challenges we are facing this year due to Covid-19, it feels good to have a little structure – but still have the creative spontaneity that I crave. You can read my post here.

I read Kurt Vonnegut’s quote a few days ago and I thought it would make a wonderful prompt to get a story started. So today my students will use it as a springboard to generate a story – or an episode from a story. After all, not everything we write becomes a masterpiece. Much of what we write is practice. When we write each day we naturally become better writers.

I cannot wait to see where this prompt takes my students. I wonder what their characters will want, or yearn for? Will it be something grand or will it be something as simple as a glass of water?

Maybe your character wants spring to come?
Maybe your character hails from a dystopian society and craves freedom from an oppressive government?
Maybe your character is overwhelmed and overstimulated and wants peace and solitude. A mountain cabin? A long hike in nature? Fresh air and birdsong?
Maybe your character wants a bowl of soup (or another comfort food) from their favorite restaurant, from their grandmother’s kitchen, or even from their own culinary skills? Maybe they want to become a famous food blogger or open their own cafe?

Write for 20-30 minutes (or longer) and see what happens.

Make sure you follow my Facebook Page and follow me here for more writing prompts.

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)

Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets — Produce with Amy

On the eve of Valentine’s Day I wanted to offer you up a romantic recipe. Last year I made a luscious beet soup that my husband John did not find delicious. However, his reaction was memorable and I still laugh thinking about it. Needless to say, I will not be making him soup this year. I am still deciding on an entree, but I know that I will definitely make a leafy green salad with pickled beets, feta cheese, raspberries, walnuts, and a homemade lemon dill dressing.

via Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets — Produce with Amy

YEAR ROUND SUMMER SIMPLICITY – LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI — Produce with Amy

Once we started growing our own broccoli, it would be hard to go back to store bought. The flavor of fresh out of the garden, or even garden fresh out of the freezer, is dramatically different. We use broccoli in pressure cooked meals, in green salads, as a simple side dressed with real butter and a splash of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt, or even as a late night snack (our favorite especially in the summer). Truth be told, I am known to sneak out to the hoophouse in my nightclothes to cut fresh broccoli, a few beans, and peas (if they are still growing) and whip up a batch with the seasoning mix I am sharing with you today.

via YEAR ROUND SUMMER SIMPLICITY – LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI — Produce with Amy

Hunger Moon

I am haunted by words.  I am hungry for metaphors. I am constantly searching for ways to express the thoughts that linger in my head. I have a thirst to find meaning.  I am always looking for new ways to express my voice. 

As a high school English teacher I make a living out of my passion for language. I encourage my students to make connections with with the written and spoken word in various genres.

There are certain works that have haunted me throughout my life. In elementary school I was obsessed with the Trixie Belden Mystery Series. In middle school I loved anything by Madeleine L’Engle. I was especially enraptured by L’Engle’s Austin Family Series . In high school I had an affinity for Australia so I loved the The Thorn Birds and was smitten by Gone with the Wind.

As an adult Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried stands at attention in my life, as well as a myriad of poems. In fact, so many poems sift through my head that I sometimes think that my surroundings seem to mirror those evocative words. Or maybe it is because poetry forces us to slow down and pay attention. I notice things that would normally pass right by.

The month of February seems especially poignant to me. Perhaps it is because it feels like the longest month of winter (while it only stretches out for a mere 29 days). However, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the month of February often delivers below zero temperatures, and while the days feel like they are getting longer, in my heart I know we still have a long way to travel before the spring thaw.

As a teacher, I admit that I savor my weekends as a time to reflect and recharge. While I love to sleep in later than our normal 5:30 alarm, that did not happen Saturday morning because my stepson had hockey. We did not get home until close to 6 pm and as we drove back from the rink, I marveled at the moon in all of it glory cresting the sky. The next day it would be a full February moon. Snow Moon. Otherwise, known as a Hunger Moon.

The Hunger Moon turned the snowy landscape of my backyard into something magical.

It was cold on Saturday, but I couldn’t let a beautiful moon go to waste. What a spectacular sight to witness from snowshoes as the Hunger Moon filled the night with majesty.

I’m so thankful for the peace and tranquility of home. 💚

My snowshoe trail circles our pasture.

As I look back at the photos that I snapped on the weekend, I cannot help reflecting on how fortunate I was to witness it. A moon so bright that it washed everything it touched with a magical light. Luminous. Spellbinding.

It felt like an ancient ritual as I watched the moon. A moment in time stolen from my Scandinavian ancestors. A rite borrowed from my Finnish roots. Ages ago a woman my age manifested her dreams and wishes by only the light of moon. A mysterious orb of silver to quiet her anxiety and make the snow feel silent and beautiful.

I loved the shadows cast on the snow from the bare branches.

What could be more poetic than the name: Hunger Moon?

Pure poetry.

I have been pondering what a wonderful writing prompt it would be for a group of high school students.

Or for any writer.

Maybe if we tell the Hunger Moon in February what we desire, our wishes come true.

It makes us feel a little restless.

It keeps us awake.

It brings an awareness of things deep within our soul.

It watches over us with a profound awareness.

It reminds us that the longer days we crave are soon to come. It gives us a taste of ethereal light that mimics sunshine. A soft glow of wonder.

My snowshoeing Selfie

It reminds me of a poem I once read by the poet Jane Cooper. As I approach my 49th birthday Cooper’s poem resonates deeply within my heart.:

HUNGER MOON

The last full moon of February stalks the fields; barbed wire casts a shadow.

Rising slowly, a beam moved toward the west
stealthily changing position
until now, in the small hours, across the snow
it advances on my pillow
to wake me, not rudely like the sun
but with the cocked gun of silence.
I am alone in a vast room
where a vain woman once slept.
The moon, in pale buckskins, crouches
on guard beside her bed.
Slowly the light wanes, the snow will melt
and all the fences thrum in the spring breeze
but not until that sleeper, trapped
in my body, turns and turns.
Hunger Moon as well as other poems by Cooper can be found HERE.

If you have any photos or poems about the moon, please share them, or a link, with me.

May your February be full of adventure, creativity, and plenty of inspiration. Stay warm and well, my teaching and writing friends. ❤

LOW CARB CHICKEN & MUSHROOM SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER RICE — Produce with Amy

If you have been paying attention, some of the most popular buzz-words right now are wellness, self-care, and low-carb. Though, I admit, as I age I realize how important paying attention to all three are. While I have not jumped 100% on the “carbs are evil” bandwagon. One of my intentions for 2020 was to be mindful of creating a meal plan for myself that was lower in carbs.

via LOW CARB CHICKEN & MUSHROOM SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER RICE — Produce with Amy

SOUL WARMING HOT & SOUR MUSHROOM SOUP  — Produce with Amy

Speaking of cozy, what is better for a cold winter day than a bowl of piping hot soup? Though, I am a soup girl (regardless of the weather) this recipe is one of my favorite winter warm ups. It is healthy, full of vegetables, and can be tweaked to fit your personal tastes.

via SOUL WARMING HOT & SOUR MUSHROOM SOUP  — Produce with Amy

Lessons Learned Outside The Classroom

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” ~ Stacia Tauscher

I need to write about this moment.

Writing helps us savor and even stop time. How fortunate we are to have language at our fingertips and tongues to help us remember.

Friends, you know what I mean when I say December is busy. John and I laughed a bit too maniacally when we looked at our shared Google calendar. Hockey practices and tournaments, school board functions, school concerts, holiday to-do lists, family court, appointments galore, K9 training, union duties, and endless daily work commitments (reports, logs, phone calls… ). Not to mention lesson planning, bottomless emails to answer, grading, building a house, snow removal, trying to cook and shop for healthy meals, and taking care of our fur and feather babies. However, we realize our obligations are important and we feel fortunate that our lives are so full.

It’s 10:30 as I type this and my dear husband is still removing snow in our driveway and on our property. Lukas and I left school/work today and made sure we had a hot meal for John when he got home from a 10 hour shift. We had a solid 15 minutes of family time before he left for school board duty. Of course he came home to accomplish more work.

I’ll be brutally honest, the last thing I felt like doing tonight was going shopping. However, Lukas wanted a tie for his Christmas concert at school. How could I say no to this sweet face? So his Aimster took him shopping! ☺️

He got the idea to wear a tie from hockey. Lukas noticed a few young men walk into the rink with dress clothes on. It made quite the impression on him.

Our astute, whimsical, and sensitive little guy is growing up. I try to be aware and make daily time for his questions and observations about the world. Each morning I contemplate what it would be like to be a Jurassic Park Ranger 😂, discuss things we hear on the radio, and help Luke interpret all of his bizarre, silly, and important dreams.

When he walks into my classroom at the end of the school day I try to be mindful of this precious boy I am entrusted with and place prime value on his needs. I try to remember to pause, look up, and step away from my computer. Even though my mind is still multi-tasking, I try to put my students, and my frazzled nerves, on the back burner and listen to the events that made up his day. Sometimes this means handing him a tissue to wipe tears, digging into the bottom of my purse to find change so he can go across the hall and buy a truffle from our French students, gently but firmly reminding him of the expectations that we have for him, and always it consists of telling him how proud we are of his contribution to his education and the world. Even when I am busy and overstimulated from a long day of encouraging teenagers to reach their potential — I have to put this young man FIRST.

Tonight Luke picked out this bow tie and shirt. He was a bit stubborn. I choose a beautiful chambray blue shirt that he wanted no part of. He wanted either white or black. However, he compromised with red. He admired himself in the mirror and without reluctance, and not the trace of an eye roll, posed for these photos. He agreed that this shade of scarlet was perfect for Christmas.

Thank you, Lukas for teaching me patience and for reminding me of what is important. Life is busy and full of things we must accomplish. Yet, let us not forget about the things that our hearts need to be happy. No, I’m not talking about material possessions. The experiences. The time together. The sacred moments.

Tonight I bought my dear step son his first bow tie. It may not mean much to many people – an article of clothing – an adornment. Though, to him it meant everything. A rite of passage. A symbol of growth and maturity. I think his sudden burst of confidence says it all.

This is a moment I will never forget.

Writing and remembering helps us savor and stop time. I love you, Lukas. ❤️

*Note – I posted this piece of writing on Facebook on December 10, 2019 and received a positive response from my tribe. I’ve been thinking about the spirit what I wrote it in over the past few days. As teachers I think that sometimes we make the mistake to put our own needs, and the needs of our family, at the bottom of our to-do list. 

We must remember our own children and spouses and make time for them. There are times when my step son is excited to share his day with me, or he’s upset about a challenge he faced, and sometimes I am overwhelmed and overstimulated from teaching 150+ teenagers. This piece is writing contains an important message. We must remember to stop and make time for those we love (and for ourselves). In turn, being mindful of our own needs will allow us to be better teachers.

I would love to hear from you and your experiences. What things do you do to renew your spirit and keep yourself grounded when your schedule gets busy and you feel overwhelmed. How do you make time for yourself and your family?

Lukas tolerates all the photos that I take. This one he proudly posed.

Lukas tolerates all the photos that I take. This one he proudly posed.

Not Your Grandmother’s Egg Salad — Produce with Amy

I am not sure exactly how it happens. It may come in the form of a manual, a hardcover book – or in modern times – the password to a secret website. However, I am fairly certain that when one becomes a grandma, somehow you receive underground information on the art of sandwich making. In […]

via Not Your Grandmother’s Egg Salad — Produce with Amy