Let’s spice up that traditional and overused opening activity of “Describe Your Summer Vacation!”
Ask your students to write about their summer breaks, but remix their activities into a new genre or setting. Change the events! Add new activities. This takes a dull reciting of facts and turns it into a creative writing assignment based (loosely) on real events. Review and introduce new genres to your students. Encourage off-the-wall settings and use of existing worlds (perhaps they vacationed at Hogwarts, Mordor, or Tatooine).
Marvel as you read about:
- vacations to space stations
- homebound students staying in the family castle
- buying and raising a new pet minotaur
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 work our brains, and so on.
This works best if (like most things) you model it first. Make up your own summer break first so they can see the process. If you take the risk first, more students will follow.
Write A Summer Song
One year my students rewrote the lyrics to The Beatles’ song Help (here’s another Beatles related assignment). This served to introduce them to a classic piece of music, an important musical group (yes, some were unfamiliar with the Fab Four!), and allowed me to introduce figurative language in an immediately meaningful way.
- Food! (these students even created a band called The Eatles)
As an extension, I brought out a pile of empty CD jewel cases and students designed album covers for their hit single.
These tasks are enjoyable for students as well as for me, serve as some nice browsing items at Back To School Night, and give me a peak into my kids’ personalities. Sometimes the classic assignments have a lot of life left in them if we do a slight tweak.
Photo by mdanys (with a couple modifications!)