I once had a neighbour ask me about orienteering as she said she thought her son might like it. I gave her all the information about our next event and said he should give it a go. We all drove out to the bush to participate in the special AFL grand final event with plans of having plenty of time to be home in time for the big game. As luck would have it, her son got lost in the vast bushland and we (and the orienteering club) ended up spending hours searching for him. Thirsty but unharmed when he was finally located, his first comment to his Mum was very telling: “at least I’ll have something to write about when I go back to school.”
We know, because our students have been telling us for years, that “write about your holidays” is not something many students look forward to after their break. It’s 2020 and I am declaring this the year to give the dreaded holiday recount a rest. I mean, if we really want to get our students engaged and passionate about writing, setting a task they dread as their first writing experience for the year really isn’t a good start, is it?
Here are five of my alternate suggestions (and I’d love to hear yours).
- List writing
Give your students 5 minutes to write a list with one of the following prompts. Make it short and sharp (don’t drag the time out to 10 minutes, keep it at 5 and remind students they aren’t allowed to elaborate, they just need to list their ideas). After 5 minutes, give them time to share their list with a partner before giving them another prompt. (You’ll find that as they read their lists and get feedback from their friends they will become motivated to write more on their next list). Do this a couple of times.
Here are some ideas:
- Things they did on their holidays.
- Things they didn’t do on their holidays (get creative here- eg. I didn’t go to Europe on an exotic holiday).
- People they saw on their holidays.
- Food they ate on their holidays.
- Food they didn’t eat on their holidays.
- Places they went (can be as boring as bedroom, toilet, loungeroom).
- Lists you would rather be writing that aren’t holiday related.
List writing is short, achievable and satisfying. Importantly, it is also non-threatening. If I did nothing on my holidays, I can still write a list. If I am a struggling writer, I can write a simple list. If I am a slow hand writer, I can get a list done. And, unlike the infamous recount prompt, people are not judged by the length of their lists. Short and sharp is the name of the game.
The other great thing about lists is that they are a springboard into further writing; once students have written their list, ask them to put a star next to any ideas they think they could write more about at a later date.
- Expanded list writing
Ask students to choose one of the starred items from one of their lists. Rewrite the item at the top of a new page and start writing about it. Give students a short time limit to write about it- encourage them to get to the most interesting part straight away. (FYI- I have more Writer’s Notebook style activities on this shared Google Slides deck- check it out and add your own.)
- Holiday newspaper reports
Ask students to write about one small element of their holidays but do it as a newspaper report. Introduce the concept of hyperbole to make this more interesting. Eg. Write about the extremes of the holidays (most boring thing, best thing, worst thing, funniest thing etc.) “Boy dies of actual boredom on the holidays,” you could include interviews with the brother or the sister and the police etc. “Netflix overload leads to squaring of girl’s eyes” include an interview with the eye doctor and the girl with square eyes. “Boy reads more books than the local library can hold.” This is a great activity for those students who say they did absolutely nothing on their holidays.
- Writing history
Rather than having students write about their holidays, use the first week writing opportunity to get to know your students as writers. Ask students to write a letter to you telling you about their writing history. What have they liked about writing? What is a piece they are proud of? Why? What don’t they like about writing? What do they hope to do in writing lessons this year? What do they want you to know about them as writers? This activity can teach you a lot about your students as writers and it can help them to feel as though you know them a bit better. This would be made much more powerful if students received a reply letter from you as well.
- Free writing
Shock! Horror! You can’t let kids decide on their own writing topic in the very first week…can you? Yes, actually. Yes, you can! In fact, it will be excellent feedback for you to see how conditioned they are to writing holiday recounts. Try it, I bet lots of your kids go straight for the thing that have been trained to do. This activity will also serve as an excellent opportunity to refer back to when you start the work I think every teacher needs to be doing in the next few weeks: teaching students how to come up with good ideas for writing (that is a blogpost for another day though).
So there you have it, five quick and easy alternatives to writing a boring recount about your holidays. How about you do the activity first so you can share your example (and show your students that you too are a writer).
I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below. Let us know what you have trialed, have used in the past or are planning to do in the future.