(From October 18, 2012)
Since it was close to Halloween when it was my turn to lead at Horace Mann Elementary School, I decided to make the connection between their writing and the holiday. I was pretty confident most of the students enjoyed Halloween, and when I opened the activity with that question, they all enthusiastically raised their hands and shouted what they would be dressed as. With this energy, I told them about the week’s activity. The focus would be “setting,” but to make that more interesting, I told them to brainstorm two lists; one list would be places that are typically considered scary, and the other list, places that are completely not scary. Then I told them to pick one place and make it the opposite. So, if it were a scary place they were to write a story in which the place was no longer scary, and if it were a place that wasn’t scary they had to somehow make it scary.
Right away the students began brainstorming. Some had so many ideas and creative ways to make scary places not scary that they ended up with two or three pages. One student liked my suggestion of making a calm meadow scary, so they incorporated things that they thought were scary to them. Most of the students took the route of making scary places (like graveyards) into places that weren’t scary by using humor.
All the students were furiously writing (even the ones that sometimes had difficulty spitting out a few sentences). By the end, most of them had a few paragraphs. It was a great feeling to give the students a few ideas to run off with and have them take it to the next level so enthusiastically. I learned that sometimes the less structure for creative writing, the better; the more leniency students have with a project, the more they can put themselves into it and the more likely they will enjoy it.
(Read a story inspired by Chesley’s exercise here!)