3 Ways to Teach Creative Writing Anytime

Making time for creative writing can be a challenge, especially when you’re trying to hit standards in every lesson. Here are some quick ideas for working in creative writing anytime. These low-prep ideas are easy-to-implement and move students towards your learning targets, including reluctant writers. 

 1. Lower the Stakes to Jumpstart Creativity by Nouvelle ELA

The biggest hurdles my students have with creative writing are 1) getting started and 2) finishing. I’ve found that defining a time frame (10 minutes is perfect!) keeps engagement high. If students only have ten minutes, they know they don’t have time to be perfectionists. I’ve written before about using this strategy of lowering the stakes to get students to write more. Let’s take a look at one way this sparks creativity.

If you start with a prompt that both sparks creativity and allows students to practice a standard, you’ll hit the jackpot. Students can use a song lyric or a snippet from a poem as a jumping off point for flash fiction. Once they’re ready to share and discuss, you can have them consider how they’ve surfaced conflicts or themes from the original piece in their writing. Here’s a free sample of these Poetry & Song Lyrics Story Starters that get students to do just that.

 2. Embrace Social Media by Tracee Orman

Let's face it: most of our students love social media. Instead of fighting it, I like to embrace it and incorporate it in a school-appropriate way. There are several ways you can inspire creative writing tapping into social media. One way is to prompt them to write a series of fictional posts (whether they are Snaps, Instagram posts, or Tweets) that tell a story. Sometimes it's easier for them to wrap their head around short posts that they are used to writing in real life than to conquer an entire short story. They don't actually have to write them on the platform itself; paper and pencil (or a word processing document) will do just fine.

You can use this concept for writing poems, as well. One of my favorite activities is for students to write a Poetweet or a Twaiku. They are simple, short poems based on the Twitter platform. A "Poetweet" is a poem that is limited to either 140 or 280 characters (punctuation and spaces included). A "Twaiku" is a Haiku poem but formatted as a Tweet. I have a free download that you can print & use right away with your students. Download it here and get your students' creative juices flowing!

3. Offer As Many Prompts As Possible by Secondary Sara

There’s almost nothing worse than being forced to write about a prompt or topic that you hate. The minds of enthusiastic writers and reluctant starters alike will grind to a halt if they can’t draw inspiration from the task. 

Choice is key to ownership and buy-in. Though one option is to offer a long list of prompts to choose from, an even more exciting idea is to allow students to choose from a set of possible narrative writing assignments, such as choosing one of five realistic writing projects or choosing from a set of projects in fun genres, including fanfiction. Sharing an element of control (but still meeting standards) gives students more room to get excited and get started. 

(Read more ideas from Secondary Sara in the blog post 18 Tips for Teaching Creative Writing.)

What are your best tips?

How do you engage students in creative writing, even when you're short on time? Leave us a comment and let us know your best tips. :)

Happy teaching!
-Danielle, Tracee, and Sara

5 Types of Bell Ringers to Incorporate into the Secondary ELA Classroom

5 Types of Bell Ringers to Incorporate into the Secondary ELA Classroom
Hi, there! Christina, The Daring English Teacher, here and I am sharing five different types of bell ringers middle school ELA and high school English teachers can incorporate in their secondary ELA classroom.

Whether you choose to call them bell ringers, do nows, bell work, or class starters, there is a lot to be said for the work your students do at the immediate start of class. Students thrive on routine, and though they may be a bit reluctant at first, students come to know what is expected of them when there are consistent classroom routines.

One of the most beneficial classroom routines I've used with my students year and year again is a do now activity. My students know that at the beginning of the class period, and preferably as close to the bell as possible, they are to have their do nows out, and they should be quietly working on whatever activity I've projected onto the board for them. And while some students might need a little more guidance and assistance into starting their bell work, it usually goes off without a hitch.

The daily do now activity provides me with several minutes at the start of class to take and enter attendance, reset my computer from the previous class, and handle any individual student questions that may arise. It's one of my go-to classroom routines that helps me keep my classroom in order.

During my earlier teaching years, I unsuccessfully implemented a bell ringer routine in the classroom. However, I found that I didn't hold the students accountable for their work, and thus, they were less apt to complete the work. This scenario quickly turned into more of a classroom management issue, and that's why I created this Free Bell Ringer Recording Sheet.
5 Types of Bell Ringers to Incorporate into the Secondary ELA Classroom

It's quite a simple idea. I wanted to hold students accountable each day, and yet, I didn't want to collect and grade their work every single day. I also didn't want students to slack off and then copy all of the work the day before it was due. For about eight years now, I've successfully used this bell ringer recording sheet in my classroom.

Every four weeks, I print out a new form that is double-sided for my students. Before I print the pages, however, I write the date in the date box and add in any essential school dates or holidays. Each day, students are responsible for completing the do now that is on the board. After I get my attendance entered into the computer system, I go around and individually stamp each student's sheet. Yes, this does take some time, but not nearly as much time as you might think. It only takes about 2-4 minutes to circulate throughout the room, depending on how many individual questions students have. I really cherish this time with my students because, even though it is only for a couple of seconds for each student, I can have some face time and individually connect with each student. If something seems off, I can ask a student how they are doing. If a student has an individual question for me, this provides them with the perfect opportunity to ask a question. You can read more about my bell-ringer routine in this blog post.

As to the particular types of bell-ringer activities, the possibilities are endless. Sometimes I like to keep the activities specific to the content that I am teaching, and sometimes I like to have the activity be more of a skill-based activity.

Here are 5 types of bell ringer activities that you can incorporate into your classroom this school year.

1. Thoughtful response

One way to begin the class period is with a thoughtful response. This comes in the form of a literature-inspired bell-ringer activity like my William Shakespeare Bell Ringers or as a thematic activity like my Growth Mindset Bell Ringers.

Often, I like to share a quote with my students and ask them to respond to a brief writing prompt. The quote is usually related (either content-wise or author-wise) to what we are currently studying. To keep things rigorous and academic, I like to ask questions that align with the three common core writing strands: argument, informational, and narrative.

After students have a moment to read the quote and respond, I like to open up the classroom floor for a quick discussion by having a few students share their responses aloud. If I've asked an argument writing prompt, this time can quickly turn into an impromptu classroom debate -which is always fun!
5 Types of Bell Ringers to Incorporate into the Secondary ELA Classroom

You can try out my FREE Classroom Community Bell Ringer resource. This resource includes a week of free bell-ringer activities to use in your classroom!

2. Sentence Combining

One way to get students thinking about syntax is to incorporate daily sentence combining bell ringers into your curriculum. The idea behind this type of bell ringer is to present students with a series of short, related simple sentences. The series should contain at least 4-5 sentences. As students come into the classroom, they read the sentences and combine them into 1-2 compound or complex sentences.

To add an extra challenging component, I like to have my students do this twice. They write their responses in two different ways -each time incorporating different sentence structures into their writing. By consistently completing this activity, students learn about syntax, and they learn how they can vary their sentence structure to deliver a message.
5 Types of Bell Ringers to Incorporate into the Secondary ELA Classroom

Once the students finish writing their sentences, I like to call on a couple of student volunteers to read their sentences (and the punctuation) aloud. Not only is this an excellent opportunity for students to hear other sentence structures, but it is a great time to throw in some punctuation practice. For some holiday-inspired fun, I also have Halloween-themed and Valentine's Day-themed sentence combining bell ringers!

3. Silent Reading

By far, one of the most calming and relaxing ways to start a class period is by implementing a silent reading bell-ringer activity. One of the best ways to do this is to start it at the beginning of the year. Also, you'll want to have highly-engaging, diverse books in your room (they can be from your library or on loan from the school library).

Whenever I start the class period with silent reading, I gently remind my students that they are reading for enjoyment. I tell them to give the book they selected a shot, and that if they don't like it, they can always put it back and try a new one. I emphasize that this should be enjoyable and that it is okay to keep trying new books until they find one that they like.

I also make it a point to read during this time as well. I even keep the book I'm currently reading on my whiteboard shelf for all of my students to see.

4. Ed Tech Accounts

On days when we use our Chromebooks in the classroom, one time-saving bell-ringer activity that I like to employ is having my students log in and work on an online assignment for the first five or ten minutes of class. Usually, my students have a weekly or monthly vocabulary and grammar assignment online, and this is one way that I make sure that they have class time to work in the assignment.

One of the reasons why this works is because the students get logged into their Chromebooks immediately. That way, when we transition to our lesson, the students are already logged into their accounts. Also, many of the online learning platforms provide teachers with tools to monitor student progress. With a couple of clicks of the mouse, teachers can see what students have completed during that time.
5 Types of Bell Ringers to Incorporate into the Secondary ELA Classroom

5. Test Prep

If you teach in a state that administers state testing, incorporating some test-prep during this time during the do now allows you to help prepare your students for the test without boring them with too much test prep at one time. I'll use this time to review commonly-tested vocabulary words, punctuation marks, or to review released state test prep questions.

When I review the questions with my students at the beginning of the class period, I only go over 2-3 questions at a time. I have the students answer the questions, and then call on students to first eliminate the wrong answer that stands out the most, and then to share the correct answer. It's not perfect, but it helps with test prep without taking up too much instructional time.

I surely hope that these five different types of bell ringers help bring you some variety, engagement, and rigor to the first five minutes of class!

Here are some more bell-ringer activities you can try in your classroom:
Writing Prompts for Building Skills and Stamina by Room 213
Middle and High School English Bell-Ringers by Presto Plans
English Reading and Writing Bell Ringer Exit Slips by Tracee Orman
Career Exploration Daily Writing Prompts by The Classroom Sparrow
Vocabulary of the Day by Secondary Sara

5 Types of Bell Ringers to Incorporate into the Secondary ELA Classroom

Classroom Debates: How to Organize, Plan and Execute

If you are looking to try something new with your students or if you would like to enhance your existing unit on debating, this blog post is for YOU! I am going to share a few fun ideas that you can easily incorporate into your classroom. The goal of this blog post is to help teachers organize, plan and execute effective inquiry-based classroom debates. So, if you are ready to get started, check out the tips below to get started!

1. Start with some teen-related discussion topics

One of the easiest ways to draw in your students is to start with some topics that would be relatable to them. If students are trying to give an opinion on a topic that they can't relate to, it will be difficult to get the discussion going. First, display four signs in your room ('strongly agree', 'agree', 'strongly disagree' and 'disagree'). Not only will you get your students thinking, but you can also give them a break from the everyday work period and get them moving as well. Once you read out the opinion-related prompts, your students can go towards the sign in the classroom where their belief stands. Ask a student or two each round why they have the opinion that they do. You may even encounter a few students who change their minds during the process - this is encouraged! This shows that deeper-level thinking is going on. Here are a few topics that you could use with a middle or high school classroom.

- School uniforms should be mandatory
- Schools should always give out homework
- Cell phones should be allowed in class
- The school day should not be extended
- Rap music does not influence behavior
- Post-secondary education should not be free

Let them have their say on the topics, then put students in groups of two or three to come up with their own possible debate topics.

2. Review key debate terms

Once the students have had an opportunity to give an opinion on a few debate topics, you can now begin the process of reviewing some key debate terms. These terms are important to learn before going into a debate, so that they can be referred to throughout the debate process. In my Classroom Debate Outline mini-unit, I list 14 different debate terms and their definitions. These are the terms that I feel are important for students to recognize and understand, but you are definitely not limited to this list. Saying that, I feel like it encompasses the terms that students should know before the process begins.

3. Share some general debating tips

Like most school assignments and activities, there is a process and a set of expectations to follow. Debating is no different. To help your students get a better understanding of what's expected, go over a few general debating tips with them. Some they may expect, but others they may not. It's important to be aware of these tips. Due to the fact that this may not be the most engaging topic for your students in the process of learning how to create a debate, I created some encrypted puzzles on various general debating tips. My goal was to make this as engaging as possible. You can find these debating tips as a part of one of the challenges in this Debate Escape Room.


4. Do your research and learn the format

Research. Research. Research. Three important elements in any debate. Students need to be aware that they are not only researching their side of the argument, but the other side as well. They need to be aware of both sides, so they can adequately defend their arguments when needed.

Grab this FREE Debate Research Outline to help you get started!

Students will be required to brainstorm what they already know about the topic, then they will have an opportunity to look a little closer into a topic by completing some initial research. This outline would be a practice activity to use with a general topic first, then once they have a better idea, this outline can be used as a start for their actual debate topic. There's a lot of flexibility with the outline.

5. Prepare and execute the debate

This process will likely take your students a few weeks. I allow a good amount of time during the stage of preparation because students need time to plan and PRACTICE! Just as important as the actual debate itself is the preparation - it will show if a group is not prepared.

6. Follow-up the unit with extension activities

I don't know about you, but I usually follow-up my debate unit with an essay. Why? The essay format and the debate format are similar. Students need to be able to identify support for their side of an argument, then support that side with facts that they have found. Here are a few ways that you can "sell" this to your students.

I hope this blog post gave you a better idea, as to how you can incorporate the skill of debating into your classroom. Here are some other resources that you might find helpful!

Coloring in the Secondary Classroom

Coloring in the Secondary Classroom

You know how excited and giddy you feel when you see a brand new set of colorful markers or colored pencils? I don't know about you, but it always makes my day seeing the rainbow bursts of color. Guess what? Students like them, too. If you don't believe me, set out a set of markers and tell your students they can either write with a pencil or choose a marker. I bet most will go for the colors.

There's something magical about using colored pencils and markers in the classroom that should be shared with our secondary students. It helps increase engagement, stimulates both sides of the brain, and improves memory and retention. Plus, it can be a great reducer of stress AND it's visually appealing.

Here are some ways you can incorporate coloring in your secondary classroom:

If you are lecturing or want students to listen to a podcast or audiobook, allowing them to doodle or color while listening has been proven to prevent daydreaming, increase engagement with the material, and stimulate memory. I've used this strategy with my students while I read aloud and it is extremely effective--they are more attentive listeners and their comprehension improved.

Coloring in the Secondary Classroom Coloring in the Secondary Classroom

I have a wide variety of coloring page packs that can be used throughout the year. Some are related to specific novels or plays, some to specific poems, and some to specific holidays or events. I also offer a pack of literary handouts that can be used with ANY book or story; they offer plenty of room for doodling while students are listening to the story.

Remember that allowing students to partake in these tactile activities IS building brainpower. They are making connections to the material on multiple levels.

A one-pager is an assignment that allows students to fill the page with different literary elements, quotes, and visuals from the story, demonstrating their learning and knowledge. When students write and draw what they've learned, they are recording this information into memory and stimulating both sides of their brain. That's why it's so important to allow students in 1:1 classrooms opportunities for paper-and-pencil writing and doodling.


You can download this FREE one-pager template to use with your students. Use it after you've completed the reading assignment or lecture. Some students will be comfortable using a blank sheet of paper, while others will need more structure in a template. Allow them to choose which is right for them. In my download, there is one template, but my Comic Strip templates also have many layout designs that can work for one-pagers. You can also find plenty of great one-pager examples from our friend, Betsy Potash, author of the Spark Creativity blog and podcast.

If you aren't ready to jump into a one-pager, you can simply add an artistic requirement into exercises you are already assigning. If you ask students to describe a character in writing, ask them also to draw that character (stick figures are OK).

Coloring in the Secondary Classroom

Another way to add an artistic element is to ask students to map out an area from the story or a journey taken by one or more of the characters. Creating a map requires critical thinking and spatial skills, as well as an understanding of the material. It's a wonderful way to assess students' comprehension.

Coloring in the Secondary Classroom - Map it out

Choose an event or part of the setting to have students map. It can even be as simple as asking students to map out a character's bedroom. This activity can be especially effective for those that may not think they are artistic or have drawing skills. 

Let's face it, one of the obstacles keeping you from implementing these activities may be access to materials for your students. If requiring students to have their own coloring utensils isn't an option, you can try the following suggestions:

• Ask the art department or other teachers if you can borrow materials.
• Purchase supplies when they are marked down after the back-to-school rush.
• Buy in bulk from vendors such as Oriental Trading.  
• Try Facebook swap sites and ask if anyone has markers or colored pencils they can donate to your classroom.
• Add materials to your Amazon wish list and post on social media using the hashtag #clearthelists.

I hope these ideas will help you incorporate more art and coloring in your classroom!  

My friend and co-blogger Addie Williams has many Doodle & Write activities that you can easily include in your curriculum. You can check out her Winter Doodle & Write activity here!

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