Let’s spice up that traditional, perhaps overused, and possibly inequitable “What did you do during Summer Vacation” task.
Rather than asking students to write about their summer breaks, remix their activities into a new genre or setting. Change the events! Add completely new activities. This takes a dull reciting of facts and turns it into an assignment that demands some thinking. Encourage off-the-wall settings and the use of existing worlds (perhaps they vacationed at Hogwarts, Mordor, Adventure Bay, or Tatooine).
Marvel as you read about:
- vacations to space stations
- homebound students staying in their family’s castle
- buying and raising a new pet minotaur
The key to tasks like this is to model. Far too often, I just gave instructions and handed it over to my class. But they really need to see it done. I need to model, not just the steps, but also the attitude I’m looking for. I want to see my students take risks, push beyond the obvious, and come up with interesting ideas. So I must demonstrate.
I’d also recommend writing a non-example. Write something that’s boring, too short, riddled with common writing mistakes. Point out the difference between your exemplar and your non-example. This will really help your students to hone in on what makes your exemplar great.
Yes, this takes time, but… we want to do things well, not just quickly, right? Right?
While many students took to this task quickly, I always had some who were reluctant to “make up” their summer break, feeling that it was dishonest. What an interesting thing to discover about students’ personalities! I’d tell those kids that they could change something small about their summers. Other students had no problem writing about how they had gone to summer school in an underground city of unicorns… and they didn’t like the food!
This task was not only an opportunity to learn about my new students but to see where their writing was at and also to set the culture of our classroom. We’re going to do things a bit differently this year, we’re going to take risks, we’re going to make our brains sweat, and so on.
Photo by mdanys (with a couple of modifications!)