Notable Notes: Starting The Year Off Write (Reprise)

All, Notable, Teaching, Writing

In my last blog post, Starting The Year Off Write, I noted some of my favorite ways to kick off the school year or semester using writing to break the ice and set the stage for the work we will do together. This post will share some great tips from my professional learning network about starting the year off write.

Last week was my first week of classes and I did indeed start everyone off with six-word stories as I usually do. I just can’t help it…I love them so much (Exhibit A – I created the image for this blog post just this morning) and they are so very useful. I did put off my idea for a critical thinking ice breaker until next week. In part because I haven’t gotten the official go-ahead from the powers-that-be and also because I think it will take some time and I didn’t want to dominate the first class with too much “work.”

In addition to six-word stories, my first-year classes also wrote about and shared their superpowers and kryptonite. As I watched my son start his first year of high school, I thought first-year college students could probably use a reminder that they possess awesomeness as they embark on so much new. As these classes are hybrid and I want to build our community with Blackboard as well as the classroom, I took a page from CLMOOC and had them create some Digital Untros – which are awesome so far! While my upper level students in professional writing could probably use a similar reminder, the predominant theme of their six-word stories was stress, I decided to combine community-building with preparation for our professional learning network assignment and asked my students to create an About.Me personal landing page. Both activities helped us get to know each other better and set the stage for our work. Win-Win in my book!

But enough about me, how do my PLN members start off their school year?

My friend, the amazing Liz Prather, shared three different creative writing exercises on her blog this week that make both great ice breakers and fabulous writing prompts. Her Walking Through The Forest lesson is always a popular one among Morehead Writing Project fellows. I have personally written a lot in response. It is also a great break from some of the more obvious, familiar ice breaker prompts. She also took her students on a Writing Walkabout very early in the class which is an interesting way to get students acclimated to their new surroundings or at least to think about familiar places in new ways. I am a big fan of the Writing Walkabout (which we use a lot in our MWP programs) and love how many different ways it can be used. Finally, she challenged students to bring in a childhood photograph (with people in it) for a third writing activity. I always love this sort of writing prompt because not only are you challenged to write by your personal photo and the memories attached, but often another’s photo can be even more inspiring and activate unexpected memories.

Kathleen Sokolowski shared a great activity, Territory Maps, as an alternative to the often used Heart Maps on the Two Writing Teachers blog. I have always loved the use of maps (in all their incarnations) as a source of writing inspiration. I often pull out Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book as a great resource for creating map-based writing prompts and activities. I find writers at all levels can get into this activity because it very tactile but there isn’t the pressure to “write” – at least not yet! Sokolowski also shared another great early community building activity that I love – writing mantras! How wonderful to write individual mantras as well as a class mantra as a tool for demonstrating the power of language and how much words matter.

I will leave you with one final note from Deb Frazier about building a community of writers where she explores both long- and short-term plans for building a community of writers.

Do you think it is important to build community in your classroom? How do you create a community of writers?

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