Who: Preschool and elementary ages

What: Illustrate and write captions for a Book of the Bible

When: During family devotions

When I had little people to teach about Jesus, I read the Bible with my girls. For the projects shown here, I read a chapter aloud each morning. The girls chose something from the chapter to illustrate, and wrote a caption to summarize their drawing. We accomplished three goals with this simple project: hearing God's Word, practicing drawing skills, and writing brief summaries.

Note: I didn't mandate the cover drawings. One certain someone liberally borrowed her older sisters' ideas, much to their annoyance.
Pages from a 6th grader's Fashion Chic magazine
Who: Any age

What: "Publish" a magazine about a topic/theme of the student's choice

Collect a variety of magazines for your students to browse, or look through the magazine collection at your local library.

List the types of pieces included in the magazines.

Invite students to brainstorm possible themes for their own magazines (e.g. sports, fashion, animals, adventure, current events, history).

        The assignment (to be modified to your situation)
  • Write and revise at least five substantial* pieces: articles, advice column, interview, etc.
  • Make at least  four miscellaneous pieces: puzzles, advertisements, comic strips, etc.
  • Make a cover and a Table of Contents.
  • Put it all together in an attractive presentation.
        *You can define substantial for your students.

Set a deadline. (Remember that too little time may result in rushed products, but too much time may encourage procrastination.)

Ask students to write a proposal for you, their publisher. With their best writing, they need to explain their vision for the magazine.

       Possible content to include:
  • An explanation of the topic/theme and why they chose it
  • A brief overview of the pieces they plan to write
  • A brief overview of the extras they will include
  • A  plan for how they will budget their time to meet the deadline
  • An explanation of  how they hope their completed magazine will look

As the publisher, you need to approve the proposal or return it for further work.

Set aside time each day for researching, planning, writing, revising, and laying out the magazine. To help students stay on target, consider giving them a chart for setting goals and recording completed work.

Magazines may be bound in regular binders or taken to an office supply store for  coil or spiral binding.

Please send me pictures!  I want to see the results. : )
Year ago I offered a class in my home. The objective for the students was simple:  to write a variety of pieces to include in a coilbound book. The students included a cover, Table of Contents, dedication, and About the Author. Simple but effective.

Your students can make their own books, too. Maybe they have ten (or so) pieces scattered on notebook paper. Have them walk through the writing process for each one, moving the pieces from rough to polished. Or maybe you're at a loss for what should go in the book. If that's the case, browse through the ideas in Inspiration. Choose assignments that will interest your students and get them writing.

Details to Consider:
  • Because these are polished pieces, they need titles.
  • Typing the pieces will make the books look crisp and finished.
  • You will have a sturdier book if you print the text on cardstock.
  • Illustrations would add a nice touch.
  • I highly recommend the extras: the cover, Table of Contents, dedication, and About the Author.
  • Binding is available at office supply stores. It's fast and it's cheap.

Once the books are ready, set them on the coffee table where family and visitors can page through them. Don't be surprised if you find the authors looking through them as well. They'll be that proud!
When I mentored a young history buff this past summer, I asked her to choose a person or event to study. She chose Helen Keller. I brainstormed fun and challenging writing assignments for her, which I now share with you! Use the ideas as stand-alone assignments or in a project.

Project Ideas:
  • Make a blank book with Keller as the subject.
  • Display the assignments in a portfolder with various flaps and folds.
  • Print each piece on cardstock and compile the collection in a book with coil binding, comb binding, strip binding, or book-style binding, available at office supply stores.
  • If you have multiple students completing the assignments, make a book (similar to the previous idea) with chapters. Students can brainstorm creative titles for each section.

Do a KWL chart.

Set aside time (one hour?) when you’re doing something with others—playing with friends or sisters, helping Mom in the kitchen—to be deaf, blind, and mute (any or all). Write about your experience.

Read about one of Helen’s many temper tantrums. Write about the incident, once from Helen’s point-of-view, once from Annie’s.

"Interview" Annie or Helen.

What lessons can we learn from Helen’s life?  Write a paper with an engaging lead and a satisfying conclusion.

What word best describes Helen? Write a paragraph with several examples.

Write a poem about Helen and/or Annie. Find some structures here.

Write a scene based on the picture below. Be sure to answer who, what, when, where, why, and how. Include the senses.
~Helen Keller & Annie Sullivan - July, 1888~ Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Write a quote from Keller's autobiography in braille.

Your own ideas (I never assume my ideas are the only or best ones. Getting you out of the gate is my goal.)
Who: Elementary and middle school students, although adaptations can be made for younger students

What: Write a biographical picture book, using the format modeled by Jacqueline Briggs Martin in Snowflake Bentley.
  • Read Snowflake Bentley.
  • Notice how Martin includes interesting information about Bentley in the story and in the sidebars.
  • Choose a person who intrigues or inspires you.
  • Find books, websites, and/or articles about the person.
  • Read. Read. Read.
  • Use a graphic organizer (like the first page of this one) to help you gather important information.  Add any other categories you like. To avoid plagiarizing someone else's work, write your notes after the resources have been set aside.
  • Instead of writing a report about the person, write a story as Martin did. If there is anything in Martin's writing that you want to imitate, like her beginning, that's okay. Just use your own words.
  • Remember, writing is a process. A draft is the beginning, not the end. Ask someone--or two someones--to read your draft, ask questions about it, and make helpful comments, all to aid you in making your story better.
  • Break the story into chunks suitable for a picture book.
  • For a handful of pages, write a sentence or two for sidebars that give additional information about your person. Notice the page in Snowflake Bentley that says, "He could pick apple blossoms and take them to his mother. But he could not share snowflakes because he could not save them." On the right is related information about Willie and his mother that Briggs chose to share there rather than in the story.
  • Present your story in a blank book or any other way you like. (I'd love to see a copy in the Student Showcase.)
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, "It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!
                                ~Edward Lear

Limericks appeal to kids because they are silly and simple to write. They appeal to teachers because they are an easy way to show rhythm and rhyme scheme.

Bruce Lansky, a children's poet, has a refresher course on limericks here.

These two sheets are good for introducing kids to limericks.

What can your kids do with their limericks?
  • Add them to a book of poetry. (See more poems to try here.)
  • Invite their friends to write some, too. Make a special-edition limerick newsletter.
  • Write and illustrate several for a mini book. To lengthen the book, include the limericks of siblings, friends, and you
  • Submit them to the Student Showcase. I know there aren't many trophies there, but you have to start somewhere, right?!