Why You Should Give Them Time to Write Every Day
I am not sure what I did before warm-ups. I think what I did before warm-ups when I was first starting out was make a warm-up activity that was catered to each and every lesson. As a new teacher, this was exhausting. After doing some research a couple of summers ago, I moved to canned warm-ups, and I have loved every minute of them. What I mean by canned warm-ups is that each day has a theme and each week uses a specific form. In other terms, there is a plan.
This specific plan started with what I think kids needed. I wanted to focus on the growth mindset, vocabulary, mentor sentences, and creative writing. These were the main areas that kids love and also struggle with in terms of practice and freedom of choice. The breakdown looked like this:
Tuesday=Tough Choice Tuesday (Would You Rathers)
Wednesday=Word Wednesday (Academic Vocabulary and Figurative Language)
Thursday=Revise It Thursday (Mentor Sentences)
Friday=Free Write Friday
Kids love starting the week with Mindset work on Monday, they banter over Tough Choice Tuesdays, and Word Wednesdays have inserted some much-needed test prep vocabulary into my day-to-day instruction. The first trimester went beautifully. The second trimester was going well, but I was starting to notice some discrepancies with the warm-up process. An alert always goes off inside of me when I don’t want to do something. and I had started to not want to do warm-ups. If you don’t want to start the lesson off with an amazing hook, what is the point of the lesson? The creative writer in me was a little shook. Then, recently, I remembered why I struggled with the canned warm-up in the first place.
I saw students answering the warm-up in an unoriginal way. They didn’t sound like themselves. There was no soul. Do you know what I am talking about? For example, if the prompt was: “Remember a time when you were challenged.” And next to the prompt there was a picture of a kid falling down on the sidewalk. The response would be something like:
“Blah, Blah, hard work. Blah Blah, never give up. Blah, Blah this is why I learned from my challenges.”
They sounded like a herd of robots. It was terrible to grade! I was like my students were getting burnt out on the daily theme of warm-ups. I struggled with this because aren’t I supposed to be streamlining my processes? Aren’t I supposed to be figuring out ways to make my teaching world easier? They were getting the point of having a full five-sentences on their pages, but they were more concerned about hitting their sentence length requirement than actually making some good writing with good ideas down on the page. I have always dreamed of mixing creative writing with academic writing in so many ways in the classroom. So, the idea of a focused writing warm-up appeared.
How It Works
A focused writing warm-up consists of writing for 10-15 minutes at the start of each class. My students associated this with Friday Free Write; however, why not apply this to other genres and in other areas of writing? I also realized that my students were struggling with writing endurance. They sometimes wanted to write, and they sometimes didn’t The need and calling to write-no matter what- was a life skill I was and am dedicated to teaching students. I like to call this the stuff of imagination.
In order for this to be successful, there must be proper preparation and a realization that this is a tool that can be used to make your paper load get smaller, as well as increase the number of time on the clock that students are writing in class.
Writing Genres/Types of Prompts
Life Skills/Character Building Non-Fiction Prompts
Fictional Prompts: Fantasy, Mystery, Realistic Fiction, Thriller, Sci-Fi, Suspense, Horror, Drama, Etc
Creative Non-Fiction: Six-Word Memoir, Etc.
Picture Prompts (My Favorite. )
Mentor Texts from Other Authors (I am LOVING The Creativity Project edited by Colby Sharp)
Figurative Language Word Challenges
Lists of Words into Story Prompts
Persuasion/Argumentative Prompts (I love ProCon.Org for this or anything that can spark a debate)
Facts/Guiness World Recordbook Stats (Kids love these. )
Best Opening Lines
Best Closing Lines
Grab-A-Book Prompts (Grab a book and read a line for inspiration)
GIFS or moving images (I did this with the rollercoaster prompt below. it was really fun)
What Kids Need
Students need composition notebooks in class. I was using warm-up sheets that I collected at the end of every week. While this works, the movement to grade more items in class is something all teachers-not just English teachers-need to embrace. There is no need to take half of the papers home if I am present in the real-time classroom environment. What I mean by this is that there are particular points in the year, in every month, in some of the days (I love Mondays, I hear people hate them. ) that they can zone out. Good teachers even do this. We can get so caught up in the flow of every day that perhaps we should ask ourselves: “Are we really paying attention? How can we use each present moment during class to make it so we have retained our sanity and our self-time later on in the day?” The need for teachers to use more of the minutes in class, and less of the minutes outside of class or at home is a real epidemic.
Students using notebooks is an important element so they can keep their writing in one place. They need a tool to write with, and they need the time and space to do it. I also supply the music. I love ChillHop Music on Youtube. It has become my obsession in the classroom because finding upbeat instrumentals that don’t contain lyrics is key. I like to play this when I need something that helps students to keep going but is not going to lull them to sleep like the sounds of the ocean.
Besides the actual physical elements, I need to prepare the prompts each day. Initially, the warm-up was only involving one question or statement. I now give three choices. I let students decide if they want to continue a story that they have been working on or try something new. If they want none of the above, they can tune into non-fiction prompts, such as, “How is your week going? What would you change about today?” These types of prompts help students tune into personal reflection and also give students much needed time for them. Here are some focused writing prompts I have used so far this last Trimester:
Form. Language. Imagery. Rhythm. Tone. Subject matter.
Teaching: Creative Writing Warm-ups
Hello again – hope the term is treating you well.
If, like mine, your school has dedicated writing lessons, you may want to use these creative writing warm-up activities to avoid agonising ‘pulling teeth’ sessions where kids procrastinate before churning out unfocussed drivel.
Have a look through the list below and experiment with a few in the coming weeks. You’ll be surprised at how much good writing will come from your kids once they’re warmed up. Also, the activities make creative writing far less daunting – a blank page and no remit is terrifying for the best of us…
Enjoy (and thank me later)
Creative Writing Warm-up Activities
- Write about yourself doing something scary in the future, in the 3rd person.
- Choose two or three random words which the students have to link in a piece of free writing. This is more or less a creative game that ALWAYS yields hilarious (and inventive) results.
- Write continuously for two minutes. It doesn’t matter if it’s gibberish or even ‘I don’t know what to write’. It’s just a warm-up.
- Write as many words as you can beginning with a particular letter of the alphabet. Really good to instil confidence in unconfident writers.
- Describe the teacher in as much detail as you can. For this, encourage a forensic level of detail. Let them inspect you – from a reasonable distance of course.
- Write about someone else as though you were them, in the 1st person. This can be a good ‘well-being’/ PSHE activity too, as it encourages empathy.
- Describe someone you know well as 1)a type of water (puddle, swimming pool, ocean, etc) 2)a type of glass (wine glass, mirror, window, glasses, etc) 3)a colour 4) an instrument, etc. After a writing a short piece on each, one can be chosen and expanded on. As above, can be great to analyse relationships.
- Complete free writing (write ANYTHING). Very refreshing.
- Write about an object that is very near. Write about the same object from very far away.
- Describe the history of a piece of damage/ scuff mark.
- Eavesdrop conversations and turn soundbites into a piece of writing. Difficult to do in a classroom, but can be set as a lunchtime activity.
- Write statements that you know to be untrue. Share, swap and write a scenario in which your statement could be true.
- Describe three journeys, short, medium, long in distance.
- Pick two random words each and share. Use a selection of these words in a short piece of free writing.
- Play a few rounds of Countdown online and use the words created in a piece of free writing.
- List basic words and get students to think of synonyms (eg: hot – scorching, burning, warm, sweltering). Use these words in a short piece of free writing.
- Play a piece of music and write something to accompany it.
- Provide a ‘bland’ sentence and get students to embellish, develop it. Eg: ‘The man fell’ or ‘The car stopped’.
- ‘Still life’ description. Object displayed, as in an art class, and students to write a descriptive piece on it. Compare, share, critique results.
Creative writing checklist (for students to self/ peer-assess):
- A sentence beginning with a verb.
- A sentence beginning with an adverb.
- A sentence beginning with an adjective.
- A sentence beginning with a connective.
- Three noun phrases.
- An example of personification.
- A dramatic short sentence.
- An extended description of one thing.
- A listing sentence.
- Unusual or extensive vocabulary.
- A complex sentence with the subordinate clause at the beginning. Eg: After eating his dinner, Billy read his comics.
- A complex sentence with the main clause interrupted by the subordinate clause. Eg: Billy, after eating his dinner, read his comics.
Right then. More later. Please use/ share and do let me know how you get on, either by commenting on this blog or seeking me out on Twitter (@unseenflirt).
The Ten Best Writing Warm Ups
Every writer needs to warm up. We need to get that brain into writing mode, make sure the muscles are limber and ready to get to work.
I use warm ups especially when I don’t feel like writing. Instead of walking away from my desk, I do an exercise. Nine times out of ten by the time I’m done my warm up, I’ve changed my tune.
Here is my top ten list of writing warm up exercises. Do one every day before you start a project. Or, do one every day when you don’t have anything to write about. You’ll still be working on your craft, you’ll still be moving forward. It’s all writing.
TOP TEN WARM UP WRITING EXERCISES
1. Automatic Writing
I talked about this one a couple of weeks ago. Give yourself a time limit, a topic and go. Don’t stop, don’t self-censor, get those words on the page.
2. Personify an Object
If you ever have trouble creating characters, use this exercise. Take an object – a discarded coke can, a rock, a toy car – and get specific with it. If that object could talk, what would it think? What does it do all day? Write an inner monologue for this object. Write a character profile for them.
3. Prompt – picture, headline, object
Start collecting items to use as a prompt. Look at a picture and as a warm up exercise, ask 10 questions about that picture. Writing is all about the specifics and questions are a great way to dive deep. Focus on the who, what, where, when, why? And then try to answer those questions. There’s no right or wrong here, the best answer is the one you come up with.
4. Play a piece of music and write
We all need different stimuli to work. Some respond really well to music – do you? Throw on a piece of music at random and start automatic writing. What characters come to mind? What emotions does the music stir up? What locations do you visualize?
5. What’s going on outside your window
Easiest warm up ever. Every day look out your window and write down your observations. Be specific. Don’t just focus on what you see. What else is there?
6. Write a description of an object or person
Again it’s all about being specific. Take one person and describe them in utmost detail. Describe them using the five senses. Find the one word that describes them perfects. The one action that would tell a stranger everything.
7. Write a response to something you read, a tv show/movie you saw, a play you attended.
Your point of view and your opinion are useful writing tools. Start developing them in full. Watch a tv show and then write down your response. Go beyond “I like, I didn’t like.” Get specific with what’s happening, why you react in a certain way, who are the characters.
8. The Half page monologue
Monologues are key to the theatrical form. Get in the habit of writing them. Go to google news, find a headline, decide on a character who comes from that headline and write a half page monologue for that character. No more though, this is just a warm up.
9. The one location two person scene
After the monologue you need to become an expert on the two person, one location scene. For warm ups, stick to a page. Take two characters put them in a room and have them talk to each other. Define the relationship, define the want. Which one will leave at the end of the page?
10. Write in a specific form
Warm ups are a great place to experiment and explore. On Monday, write your one location two person scene. On Tuesday re-write the scene as a historical romance. On Wednesday, try absurd. Thursday, make it a children’s show. Friday, a musical.