The Writing Process: Creative Assignments Round One

Time to share some of my favorite assignments at this point in the teaching the writing process.

One of my favorite activities is The Song Review. Below you will find the form I use, you are free to use it or revise it to fit your lessons. The basic idea is for students to choose one of their favorite songs to analyze it using the six traits of writing. It is interesting to see how difficult the students find this activity. Not because it is difficult to fill in the form, but the switch in thinking it takes to see a song as a piece of writing.

SongReview (PDF file)

Deciding on what order the song uses, the types of introductions and conclusions, and conventions are the areas that cause the most problems. Part of the issue is what genre of music they choose. Country music tends to tell stories more, while hip hop breaks lots of convention rules. Students enjoy this activity, but it does challenge them to see how the writing process is more than just essay writing.

I also like to use movies or TV shows in different ways. If you are using an LMS you can embed videos into assignments or even quizzes. For example I used the intro to Over the Hedge as a quiz question covering the types of introductions. In fact, I had a whole section of the quiz devoted to using videos as the foundation of quiz questions about different aspects of the writing process.

Another favorite activity is my Skittle Organization (follow the link to the Snapguide for directions). I usually buy the snack size packets and give the students two packets. Yes, they enjoy eating them afterwards, but I gives me a reference point to use throughout the semester when talking about the different orders or grouping information.

Even though creative assignments can be a challenge; I believe that it is worth it because the creativity builds a deeper understanding of the writing process. Students start to see the components, like introductions, in the media around them. They start to appreciate how important those elements are for their own writing.

Share any fun, creative assignments you use in your lessons in the comments below.

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Writing Process: Intros and Conclusions

One area that I stress for essay writing is composing a strong introduction. One of the hurdles I face is getting the students to understand that an introduction can be more than just the first paragraph. This is difficult. Even with their research based essays, that are about five pages, the introduction is just a paragraph.

In the process of teaching about the introduction I try to emphasize what an introduction does.

Three Functions of an Introduction

  • Catch reader’s interest
  • Set the tone
  • Present thesis

Now, I know that some teachers may disagree with me on the next section, but that is OK. The purpose of this post is not to argue about the different types of introductions. It is to generate ideas to help students strengthen their writing. I present the idea of six basic introductions the students can construct.

Six Types Introductions

  • A Question (rhetorical)
  • Anecdote / Example (a little story)
  • A Startling Fact or Unusual Opinion
  • Background Information
  • Set the Scene
  • Thesis Statement

*An introduction may mix together different types, but has one central idea that sets the tone of the introduction

As a class we read professional essays, like “The Chase” by Annie Dillard (especially for narrative writing). But I also collect (with permission) student essays to share with my classes. Whatever we read, I always ask them about what type of introduction is being used and what type of conclusion.

Yes, I present six types of conclusions.

Six Types of Conclusions

  • Restate Main Idea
  • Summarize Main Points
  • End with a Comment
  • A Call to Action
  • Refer to the Introduction
  • Use a Quote

The hardest part of ending an essay for students is to trust that the reader understands that the essay is ending without saying, “In conclusion.” I can’t tell you how many times I have read those two words…

Yes, the content of the essay takes work, but for most students the body is easier to handle than writing a powerful introduction or trusting their conclusion. It is worth it to spend more time with these two components of an essay.

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Writing Process: Word Choice

I grade essays with the six traits of writing model. Yes, I know that there is a +1 now, but I continue to use the original six for my instruction. This post isn’t about the traits, but to share a few lessons I use to teach the importance of the traits.

Word Choice is an important factor for creating a clear picture in the reader’s mind, plus it connects to the voice of the essay. One lesson I use is Word Choice Carousel. Below is a Snapguide covering the basic instructions.

https://snapguide.com/guides/reinforce-word-choice-for-writing

Another assignment I use to reinforce Word Choice and Voice is a Visual Tone assignment. Below are the instructions:

Instructions:

1. First you will use Google Images (or any other search engine you choose) to search for photographs of different tones connected to your essay topic.  Browse among pictures until you find images that really interest you.

You may also use your own photos for this. Use photos that create a tone. Yes, you may add filters to create a better expression of the tone.

2. Choose three possible pictures (three different tones). For each picture, use befunky (or any photo editing application you choose) to add two words that could be used to describe the photographs.  Use both literal and figurative language in your descriptions (e.g., a desert might be described as “dry” or “hot” but you can also use words like “hopeless” or “clean”). Another option is to use Google Slides to add the pictures and text.

3. Save the pictures as a jpg or png if you use a photo editing site.  If you used Google Slides share the presentation.

Word Choice and Voice can be difficult traits for students to understand. These two lessons can help the students understand the that words create a tone or vision for the reader.

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The Writing Process: Prewriting

The first step for any writing assignment is to prewrite, to get ideas going on paper. It doesn’t matter if students are given a topic or choose their own topic, prewriting will help them past that first hurdle: What do I write about?

I present the following activities in kind of a lecture format. I note the guidelines, but then I have the students practice the prewrite with a topic I give them. Depending on how much time you allow for students to share or discuss, going through all the prewrite activities can take two class periods.

I usually start with the prewrite activity, Brainstorming, because it is something all of us do to some degree.

Brainstorm

  • Subject at top​
  • Jot down ideas​
  • Don’t stop until you have run out of ideas

I ask my students to brainstorm all the best birthday gifts they have received over the years, plus to add the year that they received that gift. I do this to show how hard it is to remember things, but then follow that up by pointing out how brainstorming got them thinking about the topic. If you allow them to share their list, you can point out how the memories started to surface as they focused on that topic.


A visual prewrite is Mind Mapping or Clustering, or whatever name you use for this activity. I use the topic of a perfect day and ask them to have two levels completed.

Clustering / Mapping

  • Subject in box/circle​
  • Write ideas around & connect​
  • Don’t evaluate

I like this prewrite because it can help the student organize their thoughts, while providing content that they can use for their essays.


Answering the 5 Ws and How questions is a powerful way to gain information for research based essays. However, it is also good for narrative essays or other personal writing. Not all the questions work for personal writing, but it is still a good activity to get their brains working.

5 Ws and How

  1. Who​
  2. What​
  3. Where
  4. When​
  5. Why​
  6. How

When the writing asks students to be creative, like a narrative essay, using the five senses is an important prewrite activity. I draw a box of popcorn on the whiteboard, then ask them to think of an event where popcorn was available. Then to fill in information that matches that sense. Depending on the skill set of your students, you can ask them to create similes or expand their writing in different ways.

The 5 Senses

Smell​Popcorn

Touch​

Hear

Taste​

Sight​


Ask ​“What if…”

Using your topic, simply generate unique “What if …” questions. For example, the topic I use in class is “school organization.”​

  • What if schools got rid of grade levels?​
  • What if schools used ACT scores to graduate?​
  • What if teachers were drafted like athletes?

In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he shares how What-if questions were the inspiration for some of his books.  This prewrite is simple, but can lead students to other questions that generate some good discussions.


The most difficult prewrite is the Freewrite activity.

Freewrite

  • Set a time limit​
  • Start with an idea (one or two words)​
  • Just write​
  • Work through blocks (don’t stop)​
  • Loop (same word, numbers, loop)

I usually set a time limit for 8 minutes. I then ask them to write about a regret or advice they should have followed. Most students will hit a wall and have to loop, but most of them will generate more ideas. Their hands might start to cramp, but that’s OK. The best part of the prewrite is the content the students create in that 8 minutes. For most of them, they have part of their essay written.

Final Thoughts

Prewriting takes only a few minutes. Doing a little work at the beginning can save you time because you don’t waste time staring at a blank screen trying to will an essay into existence.

 

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The Writing Process: Introduction

For the next series, I am going to focus on the writing process. I will share some of my lecture notes, but also share some of my favorite assignments I use to enhance my classroom. Some of the assignments are creative. They challenge the students to think about writing in a different way, and I am always up to challenging my students in a creative way.

So, let’s get started with some advice from Stephen King:

and Neil Gaiman:

I show these two videos at the start of my writing unit. I like the direct answers to what it takes to actually write. Both authors indicate the importance of reading. I also like how Neil Gaiman talks about living, about doing things that make us human. This is what gives us content to write about.

Next post I will share the prewrite activities I have my students use throughout the year.

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Metaverse AR Platform

The Metaverse is only a screen away… well with the Metaverse app anyway. So download the app, scan the code below and experience what Metaverse can do.

QR Code
If you are reading this on your phone, click the link below.

https://mtvrs.io/BelatedCheerfulAmericancrow

First, I tried to design an experience that could be done anywhere and highlight a few options that are available for the app. By no means does this experience cover all that is possible. So, enjoy the experience than come back to the rest of this post… I’ll wait for you…

Welcome back, I bet you have a ton of ideas running through your mind. Me too. So, let’s talk about Metaverse (here is the Metaverse YouTube Channel to learn how to build an experience).

In my position I am often challenged with the question, “Why should I use this?”

And it is a valid question. To be honest, you don’t have to use this app. I think you should only use a tool to enhance your curriculum and professional goals, but Metaverse has created something that will enhance your lessons and engage the students.

The important aspect of the Metaverse studio is how easy it is to build an experience. Here is what the experience looks like in the studio.

Icons of the Storyboard

The interface is a storyboard. Side note: Like many things, I suggest drafting out your idea before you create an experience. Yes, it is easy to build, but if you don’t have an idea of what you want to do you will waste time. The tutorials above are informative and will get you up and running in minutes.

Many teachers are using the app to create virtual breakout experiences for math, English, and science. You can restrict an experience to a geographical area, or have it accessible from anywhere.  There are a number of quick experiences on the app to research different ideas.

The exciting part is that the depth of the options in the studio means that, with a little learning and time,  you can build complex experiences. Or your students can…

Grades

No Metaverse will not connect to Power School or Moodle. But there are a number ways to handle grades with an experience.

First, you can award a badge for completion of the experience. Then the student can show you the badge from their profile and you grade accordingly.

Profile page

Profile Page with Badges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second, in the studio you can see the block results in an experience.

Showinf the resluts from the block

How you design your experience will affect how you handle the grade issue. Or maybe you don’t grade an experience.

I think Metaverse is a cool tool for engaging students. I am excited to build some new experiences soon. If you are using Metaverse or create an experience, please share with me in the comment section. You can follow me on Metaverse, user name is jboelhower.

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ZooKazam

Are you studying animals? Maybe even dinosaurs? Want to see them up close? Even learn some facts about the species? Then you need the ZooKazam app! (.99 cents and free.)

Stegosaurus

This app still uses a target image. There are a few target images to download from the ZooKazam site to use, but you can activate the animals on any high contrast image. The Stegosaurus above is standing on a picture from a magazine, I even tested the app on the carpet in my office and it worked fine.

The app has 40+ different animals, separated by categories. The free version has one animal available in each category

Options in App

Once you activate the virtual animal, you can turn the animal on the screen with your finger. You can add options like rain as seen in the picture below. My children and me really enjoy watching the animal move and the presentation about the animal. (There is a difference between the “Teacher” and “Child” info.)

Deer in Rain

One word of caution, the app has not been update since May of 2016. The social media sharing did not work for me. On the home page it states you need to register with them for that option to be active, but I could not find an area to register on the site or the app. With that being said, this is a fun app. It is worth the .99 cents.

If you use this app in your lessons share your story with me in the comment section.

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Spacecraft 3D

Another A/R app that uses a target sheet is NASA’s Spacecraft 3D.  (Scroll down the website to find this app. You can download the target image from the site, too.) There is a main image (as seen below) and a few other target images to use with the app.

3D Target

In the app you choose which type spacecraft you would like to see.

Categories

You will have the option to download different spacecrafts in each category.

Download Spacecraft

Then use the main target to see the spacecrafts. Some have animation, there will be an option for that at the bottom of the screen. To view the spacecraft better, I suggest turning the target image instead of moving the camera. View the slideshow to see a few examples.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is a great introductory option for classes like astronomy, or robotics. Or even if you are reading a novel like The Martian (English teacher moment). If you use this app in class share your story in the comment section with me.

 

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Anatomy 4D

Want to see a human heart, or even the blood vessels in a body? Then you need to checkout the Anatomy 4D app today. It is free.

Like many AR tools, Anatomy 4D uses target printouts that you will need to download and print off to use the app. You can find these inside the app or on their website. They do not need to be printed in color to work.

When you open the app make sure the heart or human body target is in the brackets in the viewer to trigger the target.

Human Heart Human Body

You can customize the experience by tapping the bottom right menu. The menu allows you to hide / show different components for each target. You can rotate your device around the target to see the different components. On the body trigger you use the side arrows to remove the skin layer.

Anatomy 4D is a great app to learn more about the heart and human body.

If you use Anatomy 4D share your story in the comment section.

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Edorble’s New Web Virtual World

Welcome back!

To start the school year I thought I would do a series on Virtual Reality (VR) / Augmented Reality (AR) applications. This field of technology is growing, and in fact, just as I was starting this post I got an email from Edorble about their new web based virtual world. Here is my post about their virtual world option, Edorble: Virtual Classroom.

Edorble’s Web VR is in Alpha. It is very limited, but the world is cross platform. Meaning all you need is access to the internet through a web browser.  I tested it out on my phone, and it worked awesome. You can experience the world straight from your web browser or activate your VR viewer for your phone.

There are a few cool options built in to highlight what is possible for a world like this. There is a music player that has one song. There is a news corner, pictured below, that will show the headlines from a few news sources.

News headlins in boxes

There is a platform you can access to experience a 360 degree photo. The picture below is from the ocean option.

Ocean

Again, this site is in Alpha, not even Beta, but I think this kind of option where a VR world is accessible from almost any device is important for using this tool for educational purposes. The only hurdle for students is access to the internet. I am excited to see where Edorble takes this option in the future. Here is their blog post announcing the release of this tool, Edorble WebVR: Announcing the Alpha, to learn even more.

Join me over the next couple of weeks as I share other VR / AR tools that can be used in your lessons. This is going to be cool.

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