During our daily Writer's Workshop, I encourage my kindergarten and first grade students to choose their own topics, so that their writing will be meaningful. Most of the time, kids do their best writing when they're writing about what interests them, when they're telling a story they want to tell. Emergent writers and readers often draw a picture before they write, and then experiment with print in telling their stories. And they need lots of opportunities to play around with print and words, along with lots of praise and recognition for their efforts.
As children learn more about how print works, I begin to see a shift in their writing. At some magical point that's different for every child, the illustrations become secondary and the writing moves into the spotlight. Instead of drawing a fancy picture in their journal, they sit down and write first, and are extra-excited to share their stories with one another and with me during our conference time. We edit their stories together, and the illustrations become part of the publishing process
Even the best writers get stuck sometimes. We often brainstorm as a group about what we're each going to write about, and that helps most of the time. Still, there are days when some children just can't come up with a topic, or they simply have trouble getting started. That's where Story Starters come in, to be used as a starting point for writing.
As an adult writer, I use Story Starters for what author and teacher Natalie Goldberg calls "Writing Practice." Sometimes Writing Practice is my writing ~ other times I do Writing Practice just to get warmed up and shake the cobwebs loose.
Other writing teachers call this type of exercise Quick Writes or Free Writes. No matter what you call it, the point is to get started. Once the kids get their hands moving across the page, they may head in a totally different direction. That's OK, too, unless you're teaching a lesson about staying on topic. Some of the best stories ever written started out as something much different than what they ended up being.
No matter how your students choose their topic, I think one thing is vitally imporant: you need to sit down and write, too. Not for the entire time, but maybe for the first five or ten minutes. Why? Because our students need to see that we, too, are writers. And because it's good to keep our writing muscles in shape.
Some days you'll write on the same topic as your students. Other days you'll write about something else. I don't allow my students to interrupt me while I'm writing ~ by modeling getting right to work, I show my students that writing time is important. After I've written for a few minutes, I get up and assist students, offer encouragement, have writing conferences. But first, I always write. I like Natalie Goldberg's motto: "Sometimes you just have to shut up, sit down, and write."
This list was compiled by <PAULABRIANSTEDMAN@prodigy.net>, who graciously allowed me to post it here, with the following note:
Here are some ideas I received from this and other mailrings in the past. These are not my original ideas, and I did not save the names of the people who sent them.
I'm certain you'll find something here to use in your classroom. Happy Writing!
Start each phrase with "What if ..."
... there were no colors except white?
... we had three arms?
... children were the parents?
... there were no stoves?
... we had no pencils?
... we couldn't cry?
... there were no clocks?
... we had no policemen?
... we went to school at night?
... there were only adults in the world?
... there were no school at all?
... there was no such thing as breakfast cereal?
... every country had a king?
... it never stopped raining?
... we had no cars?
... insects were as big as people?
... there were no books?
... our only form of transportation was horses?
... our parents never said 'no'?
... there were no music?
... we were never hungry?
... we didn't have to eat vegetables?
... we all looked the same?
... we didn't have holidays?
... smiling was against the law?
... snails could run?
... every wish came true?
... the world was flat?
... we never recycled anything?
... people could fly?
... there was no gravity?
... no one had manners?
... all people were selfish?
... there were no teachers?
... our shadows were alive?
... there were no wars?
... there were no telephones?
... the ocean was made of jelly?
... we could only eat pizza?
... we used cookies instead of money?
... we all acted the same?
... water didn't freeze?
... trees grew candy?
... we never slept?
... one of the five senses
... your house
... a hamburgers ingredients
... the best kind of pet
... how a turtle protects itself
... why your proud of your school
... favorite things about your school
... the parts of a tree
... your favorite animal
... something you did over the weekend
... an event to remember
... things that quench your thirst
... the benefits of watching television
... your favorite book
... your favorite movie
... a visit to the doctor or dentist
... why you like skateboarding, skiing, bicycling, etc...
... places to go in your city
... things to do when your sick
... your grandma or grandpa
... your favorite toy, or video game
In school I do my best when ...
If I were a teacher I would ...
I don't like to eat ...
If I were five years older I would ...
If I had a million dollar I would ...
I get angry when ...
On Saturdays I like to ...
My family likes to ...
I love to eat ...
Something I do well is ...
At school I like to ...
I feel silly when ...
If I could be invisible I would ...
An important person to me is ...
When I become a parent I ...
I once got hurt when ...
I'd like to solve the problem of ...
I don't like it when ...
I love to give ...
I like going home because ...
If I were very small I would ...
I get attention by ...
I would hate to lose ...
As a friend, I can be counted on to ...
Once somebody helped me by ...
Over the weekend I ...
I wish people would stop ...
I look best when ...
People hurt my feelings when ...
I need to improve in ...
A good friend is someone who ...
If I were a giant I would ...
School would be better if ...
I would like a great big ...
If I had a magic ring ...
An important thing in my life is ...
Something my parents like about me is ...
I wish I could ...
Something I like about adults is ...
When I want attention from my parents, I ...
When I want attention from my teachers, I ...
I would be happier if ...
One of the best things about me is ...
I like to play ...
My best vacation ever was ...
Families are important because ...
The best thing about my family is ..
Some of the rules of my family are ...
A tradition my family has is ...
My favorite holiday is ...
With my best friend I like to ...
When I am around someone I don't know I ...
One of the happiest events of my life is ...
Something I could teach to someone else is ...
If I could break the Guiness Book of Records it would be for ...
What is something about yourself that you are proud of?
What is something that your parents say they like about you?
What famous person would you like to meet and why?
What are qualities in other people that you admire?
Explain what you like and dislike about your name.
If you could be any animal, what one would you be and why?
What is your favorite holiday? Write the reasons for your choice.
Write about your favorite pet--one you have now or have had in the past. What did it look like? Why did you like it so much? (If you have never had a pet, write about a perfect pet--one you would like to have.)
What do you like and dislike about where you live?
Write freely about the bravest thing you have ever done.
List the things you worry about. Then write about the thing you worry about the most.
If you could be a super hero, what extraordinary powers would you give yourself?
Would you rather be a dog or a cat?
Would you like to live to be 100 years old?
If you could be a superstar in any sport when you grow up, what sport would you choose?
Who or what makes you laugh? Explain why you think this person or thing is funny.
Imagine that you drank a magic potion and then started to grow smaller and smaller. Finally you were no larger than a fly. What would you do?
Imagine that all the television stations stopped broadcasting for one week. What would you do instead of watching TV that week?
What is your most prized possession?
What makes you special or unique?
Based on what you now know about yourself, make five predictions about your future.
Who is a hero of yours? Explain why this person means so much to you.
Retell a compliment that someone recently gave you. Explain how that compliment made you feel.
If you could be someone else, who would that person be.
Invent the best dessert in the whole world.
What would you do if you woke up at night to find your room was filled with smoke?
If I could change places with my parents for one day, I would ...
The best day I ever spent was ...
One thing that really makes me angry is ...
If I had three wishes I would wish for ...
If I had things my way I would ...
What is the best present you ever received (or gave) and why?
If you could decorate your room any way possible, what would you do?
Who would you like to hang out with for a day and why?
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
Tell a story about one of your parents as a child.
If you could choose your name, what would you be called?
Name one sport you would like to be really good at and why.
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