Fun writing exercises, that resemble games, are a great way to pass the time while we are ‘sheltering in place’ during this pandemic. While children in school might be working through a structured writing program, for now let’s set the writing standards aside and focus on having some fun while keeping kids busy (and writing.)
Play With Words
The best writing experiences are those that get us thinking, imagining, and playing with language. I’ve done this particular exercise with kids from 5 years old to high school and always with some incredible results. We are just going to write a few sentences, so nothing complicated. After you finish the exercise you can extend it a bit by creating a short story (or paragraph depending on the ages of your students) around one of your sentences.
The first step in this exercise is critical, to explain to students that the key to good writing is taking a thought that is in my head and placing it into the head of the reader. This needs to be a recurring conversation that we have with children. They will not grasp the power and magic of the written word without multiple (like a zillion) discussions about this idea. Through the written word we can place our thoughts into another’s mind, amazing!
Vague Sentences Don’t Transmit Ideas
In the exercise that we are going to do today, we are going to provide students with both a skill that will help them improve their writing, and an understanding that vague words weaken their message.
Take a typical sentence that an elementary student might put in a story, like ‘the man walked into his house.” Then have students bring up an image of that sentence in their minds. Point out that if we read that sentence to 10 people, we would all picture the man walking into the house differently. This sentence doesn’t create a vivid enough picture so that what I’m imaging in my head is the same picture the author has.
The goal of the writer is to transfer his idea, vision, or story from his mind into the imagination of the reader. While the writer has a vision and knows what they want to communicate they need to remember their audience can only work with what they provide. They need to be specific, to fill in the details, to provide the context in order for the reader to understand their message.
Next brainstorm with your students other words you could use to paint a clearer picture. In the example sentence: The man went into his house, If we change the word man to clown, zombie, or dentist we are making progress. Now the reader is picturing something specific, maybe not an exact match to the writers idea, but closer.
Brainstorming means we throw out ALL of our ideas, even if they aren’t that great. We want as many words to work with as possible, so go for it. Be ridiculous, be silly, write out every suggestion.
Use this example sentence: The man walked into his house. We want to replace three words: man, walked, and house. Start brainstorming more descriptive, concrete words and list your ideas.
Construct Some Crazy Sentences
That is the goal of the exercise. To allow students to see the power of concrete, vivid words and how they can improve their ability to communicate. Have each student write 5 sentences using the words from the list. If they wish they can add one adjective to their sentence.
Time for some more discussion. Now that students have written their new sentences discuss what they think about the difference between those sentences and, ‘The man walked into his house.’
Have students take one of the sentences that they wrote and expand it into a paragraph. Stop the lesson here, but tomorrow come back to that paragraph and ask students to read it and see if they can find 3 words that they could replace with even stronger words.
Here is the Writing worksheet that goes with this lesson.
If you want more explanation, here is a Facebook Live video I did explaining the exercise. If you try this out with your kids I would love to hear the sentences you came up.