The key to creative writing in Middle School is... keys, apparently.
Inspired by a pin I saw on a pinning site, I searched for some inexpensive, ornate keys to use with my 7th graders in a writing activity. We've been spending so much time working on structured writing - essays, formal letters, responses to questions - I wanted to give them a chance to stretch their imaginations a bit as we began a new marking period.
Each key was attached to a tag with a single sentence on it. For example, "This key would hold the answer to the mystery." "He put the key in her hand, and then gasped a final breath." "Under the pile of old books and papers...was a single key." The tags were face-down on a desk with the key sitting on top. As they entered the room, they were told to file past the desk, take a key that interested them, and then take their seat. They were not allowed to look at the tag until they sat at their desk. At this point, they had no idea what the activity was, but they were very intrigued.
Once all of the keys were chosen, the assignment was revealed. Using the key as a muse, they had to write a story that incorporated their tag sentence into it. The stories were done on Google Docs, allowing us to share and edit easily, and most importantly, track our word count. The story had to be at least 1000 words. This part got some moans and groans at first. They were a bit intimidated by the word count. But I assured them, they'd reach it quite easily as long as they developed their story using our plot chart. Setting and character development, dialogue, rising action, conflict, resolution... all the pieces would easily get them to their goal.
The rules we had in place:
- Proper heading on paper.
- Times New Roman 12 or 14
- Title of story, centered and underlined
- Dialogue must be properly written - quotation marks, punctuated correctly, and matching the character. New paragraphs as each character speaks in a conversation. All the things we've gone over, looked at, written notes on.
- Due date written in their planner so they wouldn't forget
- Properly edited - highlighted to ensure correct capitalization, peer readers, listened to using Google translate, etc. (We have a list of ways to edit our writing in our writing journals)
- 1000+ words
- The sentence on the tag MUST appear in the story, and must be in bold and red font so it can easily be seen.
After going over the ground rules, I did get some questions such as, "Can I do this?" and "Can I write about that?" and I said, YES! It's your story, so let your imagination go! It wasn't long before I heard them calling out to each other their word counts, their tag sentences, their ideas.... they were in full writing mode.
Writing formally for academic essays and test response is certainly important. But the feeling that comes from being able to lift the restraints and boundaries, and watching what happens once Middle Schoolers let loose, is pure joy. For them, and for me.