5 Differentiated Activities to Inspire Writers
- September 30, 2020
- Posted by: ttadev
- Category: All Blog Postings
5 Differentiated Activities to Inspire Writers
Even if you are teaching in a virtual setting, there are still great ways to inspire your students to write. We love to use authentic literature and our students’ interests to keep them engaged. We differentiate to reach all students where they are academically. Here are 5 differentiated strategies from our Writer’s Workshop course that you can use in your virtual or face to face classroom.
Differentiated Activity #1: Great Opening Lines
Read the opening lines from classic books below. Guess the title of the popular books!
- “The tropical rain fell in drenching sheets, hammering the corrugated roof of the clinic building, roaring down the metal gutters, splashing on the ground in a torrent.”
- “Witches’ brooms don’t last forever. They grow old, and even the best of them, one day, lose the power of flight.”
- “This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse. A small mouse. The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive.”
- “3 May. Bistritz. – Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late.”
Can’t wait any longer for the answers? Check the below…
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
- The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg
- The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
- Dracula by Bram Stoker (Don’t worry, it was the Kid’s Classics)
Each of these books were on the shelf of my 4th grade classroom. Occasionally, I would read parts of the books aloud, to show how authors use certain techniques. Frequently, they were available for my students to use for research, interest or inspiration.
Here is how I used each of these books in my Writer’s Workshop:
Introducing Complex Language/Suspense
I read aloud parts of Jurassic Park to my students because I want to introduce them to complex language and suspense using a fun, relaxed approach. Most of my students knew the story because of the movie, however, I love to read the part about the T-Rex eyeing up the kids behind the waterfall and how he followed them by swimming “like a giant crocodile” in the river. Both parts are not in the movie and are utterly suspenseful. It is okay to have high-level books for your students to reference in the Writer’s Workshop. They may not be able to read every word, but they will pick out some complex words to use in their own writing. How awesome would it be to pick up a paragraph written by one of your students, using the word laceration or superstitious?
Using Past Tense Text Structure/Recognizing Author’s Work
The Widow’s Broom is not only a fantastic story but is told using a past-tense text structure. The story begins by telling the reader, the events took place “a long time ago.” The Widow’s Broom, The Sweetest Fig, Jumanji, The Stranger, are similar in text structure, style and artwork (Chris Van Allsburg is also the illustrator of his books, and always adds a tiny dog somewhere). He is a great author to use when teaching students to recognize writing style.
Using Literary Devices/Author Study
The Tale of Despereaux is filled with symbolism, metaphors, colorful characters, suspense, tragedy and triumph. Kate DiCamillo took the smallest, weakest most “disappointing” mouse and made him a hero. I love when my students try to figure out what she was thinking when she decided Despereaux was going to save the princess! (Oops! I hope I didn’t spoil it for you.)
Introducing Journal Entry Text Structure / Connection to History
I used Dracula because the story begins as a journal entry by one of the main characters, Jonathan Harker. It is a varied text structure that I want my students to notice, as they begin to read books like writers. The story also takes place during a historic period that we cover in class. I like to ask my students to think about how current events can make a fictional story seem real. Of course, it contains plenty of examples of suspense, descriptive language and old-school, raw, scariness. Don’t read this one alone!
Additional Activities for using opening lines:
OPTION #1: Create a whole class game/challenge: Correctly identify the story, characters and/or book title or author.
OPTION #2: Use the opening line to create a new plot or different characters.
Differentiated Activity #2: Exploring Descriptive Language
Directions: Print out excerpts from books that use good examples of descriptive language. Allow students to choose from a variety of passages. After reading the excerpts, have students highlight examples of descriptive words that they might consider using in their own writing. (See below) Challenge students to speak to each other using the descriptive words they chose.
- Lucy thought she had never been in a nicer place. It was a little, dry, clean cave of reddish stone with a carpet on the floor and two little chairs (“one for me and one for a friend,” said Mr. Tumnus) and a table and a dresser and a mantelpiece over the fire and above that a picture of an old Faun with a gray beard. Excerpt from, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis.
- On sultry summer days at my grandma’s farm in Michigan, the air gets damp and heavy. Storm clouds drift low over the fields. Birds fly close to the ground. The clouds glow for an instant with a sharp, crackling light, and then a roaring low, tumbling sound of thunder makes the windows shudder in their panes. Excerpt from, Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
- A giant of a man was standing in the doorway. His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair. Excerpt from, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling.
Additional Activities for exploring descriptive language:
OPTION #1: Whole group discussion on how the author provides a clear picture of the character, setting or event, using descriptive language.
OPTION #2: Use descriptive words to create another story.
OPTION #3: Replace the descriptive words with other adjectives. (Like a customized Mad Libs!)
Differentiated Activity #3: Modeling Story Maker
Directions: SET-UP: Choose 3-4 mentor-text excerpts. From those excerpts, choose 5-10 “unique” words. The words can be new vocabulary or simply fun words from the excerpt. Put the words in a word bank. Next, I make up a goofy, non-sensical story, speaking the story out loud and using the words from the word bank.
Modeling this activity looks (sounds) like this…
“Okay kiddos! Watch how I magically take these descriptive words from Thundercake and create a new story. I’ll use the words from this word bank (points to word bank). Heavy and damp reminds me of laundry. Because I’m a mom and that is what I do. So, I’ll make this about laundry day, with a twist, because I’ll have to work that awesome word “sharp” into my story somehow.”
“Okay, here I go…
Ugh! My clothes had been sitting in the sultry laundry room for days so when I went to pick up the load, it was damp and heavy. I used a little extra muscle to heave the clothes into the washing machine and that’s when something sharp, pierced the skin on my hand. I looked closely and there were a few drops of blood dripping from my hand onto the carpet below.”
This part of the story is over but because my students are such smarty-pants they like to correct my use of “close” and “low.” I let them, but I explain that they too can change the words to best fit their story. (I do not want to restrict their use of a word, for the sake of an activity that is designed to get them to use words.)
Feel free to copy my modeling style. (Or not!) Just remember, it’s totally acceptable to write something really wonky or make a mistake while you are thinking “out-loud.” Those slip-ups make the writing experience more relaxing and enjoyable for your students.
Additional Activities for modeling story-maker:
OPTION #1: Students use the words from a word bank to create a story of their own. They will then compare it to the original text.
OPTION #2: Students use the words from a word bank to create an acrostic poem, haiku or limerick. They will compare it to the original text.
OPTION #3: Students use the words from the word bank and act out the meanings. Then they will read the original text and have a strong understanding of the “unique” words.
Differentiated Activity #4: Exploring Humor with Character Crossover Stories
Directions: Students choose a character from one story and place him/her in another story or event. Discuss how the character might react to a different set of events and meeting new characters. This not only gives students practice using humor in their writing but also strengthens their knowledge of the characters in their stories. You may want to incorporate mentor texts from your classroom or library or from stories you have already read together as a class.
Start the discussion with, “What if…”
- What if, Dracula woke up on Patricia Polacco’s farm in Michigan?
- What if, the White Witch from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, got her sled stuck on the train tracks used by The Polar Express?
- What if Harry Potter won a golden ticket into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory?
This activity works well for fiction but you can also use it for non-fiction characters:
- What if Abigail Adams ran for President in 2020?
- What if Louisa May Alcott only had brothers?
- What if Stephen King was a musician? (Oops! That one is true…)
This activity helps students deepen their understanding of personalities by using what they know about one character and imagining how events would change if the character was placed in a completely different situation. Usually, students come up with additional humorous scenarios on their own.
Additional Activities for exploring humor with character crossover.
OPTION #1: Crossover fairy tales. Use characters from a bunch of different fairytales working through some outlandish situation.
OPTION #2: Use two different songs to combine lyrics to create new songs. Get really creative and overlap parts of the music!
Differentiated Activity #5: Genius Hour
Genius Hour has helped my most reluctant writers, begin to write. Google started this concept by allowing employees to work on “projects of interest.” Their development team would be given creative license to come up with ideas to increase the company’s productivity. Many schools are starting to implement the same idea in the classroom. Instead of focusing on writing, students use Genius Hour to brainstorm, then participate in other educational activities of interest. It’s an excellent use of your Writer’s Workshop time. I justified the time by telling my students use their Writer’s Notebooks to record their research.
Here is a quick link if you are interested in finding out more information on Genius Hour: What is Genius Hour?
Provide students with a series of questions or topics that might peak their interest. You may choose to let them look through the Guinness Book of World Records or National Geographic magazines for ideas.
OPTION #1: Students brainstorm as many questions as possible about the topic and then research the answers to those questions.
OPTION #2: Students create a trivia game for other students to play about the topic.
OPTION #3: Students create an informational (report, graph, poster, presentation, etc.) on their topic.
Writing Skills Developed:
- Grabbing the reader’s attention (exploring opening statements, building suspense, concluding stories, etc.)
- Imitating/practicing writing techniques
- Developing a writer’s thought process
- Researching skills
BONUS! Differentiated Management TOOL: The Activity Grid
You can call this tool whatever you like, but I’m calling it a life-saver! It is a little work for teachers on the front end (okay a lot of work), but this tool will help manage the flow of the workshop and keep your students working on strengthening skills. The idea was given to me by an amazing 1st grade teacher who used the tool to manage her small group reading time. Her students would buzz around the room engaging in all different types of reading activities while she conducted one on one or small group reading lessons. I’ve seen the Activity Grid work for math, science, social studies and art classes. It is used to provide guidance as well as choices for your students.
Creating the Activity Grid
You only need to know three things to create an Activity Grid: writing activities, target skills, and student interests.
Many of the activities you put on the grid will encompass more than one skill. It is important to provide activities that specifically build the writing skills your students need. The activities you put on the grid must also be interesting to your students. Knowing your student’s abilities and interests are essential to designing appropriate activities for the grid. Having a variety of activities to choose from will also help keep your students motivated and writing, every day.
Implementing the Activity Grid
Activity Grids can be used for any subject, but they are especially effective for a Writer’s Workshop. I use about 6 different Activity Grids throughout the year. Each time a student mastered a skill, or if we moved to a theme, I would update the grid with new activities. (Students usually love getting the new grids.)
Introducing a new grid to the whole class usually takes about 20 minutes. Model the process of completing each activity and provide examples of completed work if necessary. Take time to explain the skills each activity emphasizes, and the tools needed to complete the activity.
When I taught students who learned differently, I created individual activity grids that supported specific IEP goals. I would introduce their individual grids during our one on one conferences.
Once you get the idea of using the grid, you may discover a new or different way to implement the grid. You may use as many as 12 different grids or as few as 3 throughout the year, depending on the age group, student ability levels, curriculum goals, etc. Your students will learn to work independently and build skills while they choose activities on the grid!
Example of Activity Grid:
|Roll a Story!
Use the story dice to roll a story. Jot down your story in your Writer’s notebook.
|Read Like a Writer!
Using the books in our classroom library, and your writer’s notebook, find and record nouns, verbs and adjectives that you would like to use in a story.
|Animal Research Report
(Partner or Individual)
Complete the Animal Research Report Outline.
Use complete sentences.
(Partner or Individual)
You know what to do!
Use your Writer’s Notebook!
Re-read your writing. Does it make sense? Does it sound okay? Fix it up!
Feeling the need to focus on something else?
Choose your own project!
(Partner or Small Group)
(Partner or Small group)
What’s going on in the world? Report it!
(Individual or Partner)
Beginning, Middle, End!
Our Writer’s Workshop course in an 18-hour professional development course created for busy teachers. All of our courses contain a variety of strategies and resources for teachers to integrate into their curricula right away. I hope you enjoyed the excerpt from Writer’s Workshop. For more information on this and other courses, check out our course catalog.
PA teachers looking for online professional development can check their Act 48 Hours on the PA PERMS DOE website.
Not teaching in PA but still looking for online professional development for teachers? Check your state requirements for more information.
The Teacher’s Academy is accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) and is authorized to issue the IACET CEU. States accepting IACET CEUS: MA, MI, AZ, NH, SC, GA, SD, VT.
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