Collaborative Writing Activities

A few years ago I became a part-time student and enrolled in a master's course called Writing Instruction.  The professor took a unique approach by having us, a group of English teachers, write our own poetry and fiction.  It was an eye-opener.  I realized that somewhere between high school and my first teaching job, I forgot the lonely and uneasy feeling of staring at a blank page, not knowing where to begin. 

When the professor allowed us to work with another teacher on the next writing piece, there was a sense of comfort in that I had someone to discuss, collaborate, and share ideas with.  Collaborative writing not only broke down my reserve and hesitation, but also allowed me to foster a relationship of trust and partnership with my co-author. I wanted to bring this experience into my own classroom, so I made a point to allow more opportunities for students to write creatively with a partner or a group.  Try 5 of my favorite engaging, low-prep collaborative writing activities that you can use in your class tomorrow.

Snowball writing is an activity that your middle and high school students will always remember.  It can be used with almost any writing genre and is highly-engaging for even your most reluctant writers.  I use this method for narrative, poetry, descriptive, and essay writing.  I even use it as an introductory icebreaker activity during back-to-school or a semester change!
How It Works:

- One student starts the writing process for a timed period decided by the teacher.

- When time is up, the teacher tells students to crumple up their work into a “snowball” and throw it somewhere else in the room.  Get ready to see lots of confused faces J. 

- Students retrieve one of the snowballs, smooth out the paper, and continue the writing process! (Tip: have students use a pen to make the writing easier to read for the next student)

This process is repeated as needed.  When all parts are completed, the paper goes back to the original writer who creates a final copy. If you want to know more about how I use this for narrative writing, read this detailed blog post that gives the step-by-step process in more detail. 

Have your students write a descriptive paragraph using vivid imagery with an activity called Shared Sensory Writing.   
How it works:

- Put students into groups of three and give them an object to describe. 

- As a group, they decide which of the 3 senses they will focus on (sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing).  Each person is assigned a sense, and they write a short paragraph describing the object based only on the sense they receive.

- The group combines elements from each of the paragraphs to create a final descriptive piece.

Download this activity for FREE by clicking here:  Shared Sensory Writing

One of the challenging parts of creative fictional writing is developing the story elements that will form the plot. Use the graffiti fiction brainstorming technique as a way for students to work together  to spark fictional writing. 

How It Works:

- Set up 4 chart-paper stations around the room with the following titles:  Conflicts, Character Traits, Settings, and Themes.  Break the class up into 4 groups and have each group go to one of the stations. 

- The group members work together to “graffiti” the page with potential conflicts, character traits, settings, and themes that could emerge in a fictional story.  I fill in a couple of my own examples to get them started. 

- Have each group spend 3-4 minutes filling the chart paper up with their ideas.  Then, have them all circulate to the next station to repeat the process. 

- When they are done, have each student select one character trait, conflict, setting, and theme from the graffitied pages to develop a unique narrative.  You can choose to have them write independently or with a partner. 

Tapestry poetry was developed by Avril Meallem (of Israel) and Shernaz Wadia (of India).  The two women started writing tapestry poetry collaboratively via email. The form consists of two authors writing a 9-line poem based on the same title, and then working together to meld it into one seamless finished product. 
How It Works:

- Put your students into pairs (or let them choose a partner).

- Have one of the students select a title for the poem.  This student who selects the title is the only one who has the option of using it in the poem (to avoid repetition).

- Both students write a 9-line poem. 

- When they are done, the pair works together to interlace the poem into one.  All 18 lines must be included.  Students are permitted to make grammatical changes (singular to plural, verb tenses etc.), and adjustments to adjectives and adverbs, but the majority of the poems should remain the same.

Download this activity for FREE by clicking here: Tapestry Poetry

Sketch and scribble writing is meant to be used with descriptive/narrative writing and will particularly appeal to those artistic students in your classroom.   

How It Works:

- Have students form a group of three.  Give each of the students a picture as a writing prompt.  The picture prompts below are the ones I use. The images should allow them to use a narrative voice to describe a scene. They should keep the prompt hidden from the other members of the group. 
- Once the time is up, each student passes the writing to another student in the group who will read it and draw the scene based on the description (no words allowed). 

- When the drawings are done, they are given to the final student who must write a paragraph based on the drawing.   In the end, have students compare and contrast the drawings to the original picture writing prompt as well as the two pieces of writing. 

Want even more ideas for collaborative writing?  Check out these activities from some of the other Secondary English Coffee Shop bloggers! 

Tandem Writing from The SuperHERO Teacher
Group Writing Challenges from Room 213
Two Truths and a Lie from Secondary Sara
Round Robin Writing from Nouvelle ELA

Have other ideas for collaborative writing?  Click the comment button at the top of the post to join the conversation!  

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