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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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End of the Year Ideas for Secondary Students

The end of the year is fast approaching, and although it’s generally an exciting time of the year, it can also be chaotic and stressful as teachers and students try to wrap everything up.   

1. Get Organized
If your school is anything like mine, there is sooo much going on at the end of the year! If you’re teaching seniors, you know how wrapped up they get with Graduation and Prom events  and for everyone else there are award ceremonies, wrap-up events, final exams, library books due and more!  I keep track of major events on my classroom whiteboard and try to help keep my students on track with everything.  An easy way to do this is to give them a calendar of the last 1-2 months of school—that means I give my students a May/June calendar.  I mark ALL of the important dates for them, add some age appropriate clip art and then photocopy on to brightly colored paper.   They are so popular with my students that I often have kids who aren’t in my classroom come and ask me for a copy so I always photocopy extras.  I encourage my students to refer to their calendar often and ask them to add to it as dates and events pop up.  Use these FREE editable calendars with your students during May and June.


2. Collaborative Review
In British Columbia, where I teach, we do not have formal province wide exams or testing anymore,  however, many teachers still provide some sort of final assessment for students based on their year’s work.  My school requires a final exam for all ELA classes and so review exercises are a part of my end of the year wrap-up.  I love to use online games like Kahoot to review literary terms but I also like to ask students to work together to write a final exam.  They work in teams to create a final exam and then switch with another team.  The teams work collaboratively to create the questions and then work collaboratively to answer the final exam given to them.  My students LOVE to challenge each other and love to work together!  You can set the criteria for the test—the topics, the vocabulary and the number of questions.  For another review activity check out a Review Freebie HERE - help students organize their studying by tagging their work with their level of understanding!

3. Teacher Feedback
I like to review and reflect on my own teaching practice at the end of the year so I always ask my students for feedback.  I have done this a variety of different ways over the years and have always appreciated the feedback students have provided.  For a truly anonymous student survey you can use Survey Monkey to ask for feedback—students may feel more free to provide honest feedback if they know you won’t see their handwriting.  The advantage to Survey Monkey is that students can easily access the survey at home or through their phones if you don’t have access to a class set of computers.  If a digital survey does not interest you, here's a FREE END OF YEAR SURVEY you can provide your students to give you feedback on your teaching.  I always have my students type out their answers to encourage more authentic feedback - they always worry I am going to recognize their handwriting.  Looking for more feedback ideas? Check out this freebie from Nouvelle ELA - End of Year Student Survey - Editable.



4. Make a Meme
My students still think memes are hilarious and I have a few displayed around my classroom to inject a little fun!  Why not have your students create their own meme to represent their school year?  Use Memegenerator or their own photos to create a meme to represent their learning or the funny events that happen during the school year.  My kids love to tease me for a few funny things I routinely say or do and they love to make a meme about me!  What do you say that your students find funny? or annoying?  What do you find yourself saying over and over again?  I'm guilty of saying "get 'er done" in a silly voice... 

5. Musical Memories
Music plays a big role in my classroom—I often have it on when students are working quietly, we look at song lyrics during poetry and I try to find ways to incorporate it into our learning whenever I can.  A fun activity to wrap up the year is to ask students to come up with the songs that best represent their year in your class.  I have done this a few different  ways—as a group activity where we collaboratively  decide on the sound track of the year or as an individual activity.    Either way, my students really enjoy talking about the music that represents their year.  This activity is included in my End of the Year Activity Pack for Teens & Tweens if you would like activity sheets to help students plan our their songs as well as many other end of the year activities! 

My song of this school year is "Scars to Your Beautiful" by Alessia Cara - my students and I watched the video and had an amazing and powerful discussion.  I was so proud of them for their ideas and the writing that came from it.  It's an incredible song to use as a launching point for writing and discussion. Whenever I hear this song I am immediately transported back to my favorite class activity of the year.   

What's on your playlist?

For more End of Year activities be sure to check out the following resources from the other members of the Secondary English Coffee Shop!

The Daring English Teacher - End of Year Activities for the Secondary Classroom
The Classroom Sparrow - End of Year Writing Activity



Espresso Shot: Tips for Teaching Poetry

ideas for teaching poetry

It's National Poetry Month, and the Coffee Shop gang has gathered to share their best tips for teaching poetry. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so join the conversation and share your tried-and-true strategies in the comments. 


Poetry can be a daunting subject for both teachers and student alike!  Students fear that they “won’t get it” and teachers often do not have access to poetry resources that are engaging for students.  One of the things I love about teaching poetry is teaching students to write their own—to give them the confidence to play with language and words to create funny, moving, evocative or entertaining poems. We practice using figurative language and then work up to full poems with lots of opportunity to share and have fun along the way.  Check out my Poetry Activity Pack for seven different poetry writing activities!



When students read a poem for the first time, they shouldn’t have a pencil in their hands.  The first, second, or even third read  should be done purely for enjoyment, making first impressions, and forming personal connections.  When the time comes to dig deeper into the poet’s words, set students up for success by providing them with a step-by-step framework for annotating the poem.  I have students reflect on the title, clarify vocabulary or unclear phrases, summarize 4-5 line sections of the poem, identify and reflect on the use of literary devices, examine the poetic form, and consider the theme or purpose of the piece.   If you’d like to try out this method, you can check out my Poetry Annotation: A How-To Guide For Students.
Reading and analyzing poetry is challenging enough, but teaching the poetry writing process is a whole other ball game! Because poetry is so personal, I'm a firm believer that giving students choice is the best route to take.  Instead of assigning a specific topic or type of poem, give students a variety of options while still providing guidelines.  For example, ask students to write a poem about an exhilarating time in their life.  They can use any type of poem (free verse, limerick, haiku, etc.), but they must include one instance of personification and one metaphor.  Using this strategy allows students to express themselves freely, while still meeting the standards! If you'd like to try something like this, check out my Types of Poetry Interactive Notebook: Exploring Poetic Devices.


Our students listen to music every day. So many of the songs they listen to have a natural rhythm, and yet students don’t know why. Teaching students about blank verse helps bridge the gap between music in which our students enjoy and complicated poetry in which many students shy away from. When I teach blank verse, I have my class stand up and stomp and clap to the beat. Once I add a couple sonnets into the mix, my classroom becomes center stage for a poetry show down, and the students really get into the lesson. It’s usually one of those days that just flies by. If this is a lesson that interests you, you'll want to check out My Blank Verse and Iambic Pentameter Made Easy.

In addition to celebrating National Poetry Month in April, I seek to weave poetry throughout the school year. One of my students' favorite activities is Found Poetry, which can be done with ANY fiction or nonfiction text. Students use select words and phrases from the original text, but use them to "distill" ideas about a central theme or character. Transforming words from the original text takes a lot of pressure off students to write their own poetry, but it also shows them that poetry can be found anywhere. I use this assignment two or three times per school year, and the results just keep getting better! 

I think it's important for students to know that we don't always find poetry easy. Just because we're English teachers doesn't mean we can look at a poem and instantly understand the poet's message -- we usually follow a process to try to figure it out. I like to start with a poem I've never seen before. I project it on the Smart Board and show the students the steps I go through when I read it the first time --and the second. When they see us struggle through analysis, I think it gives them a little more confidence to try too. Then, when I give them a complex poem, I help them go through these steps one at a time, so they don't get overwhlemed. If you'd like to break the process down for your students, check out my Poetry Learning Stations.

Many genres of poetry were meant to be read aloud, and not just with silent eyes on a page. In our classroom, poetry comes to life when I either read aloud OR play a video of a celebrity or expert doing a dramatic reading. (Students love getting voices other than mine!) Plus, once students have "heard" more poems as mentor texts, they're more willing to read out loud themselves and tiptoe into writing. To help with these mentor texts, I've used my Poem of the Week program stretched across the year AND in a condensed timeframe when necessary. 


When introducing poetry to my high school students, I typically utilize the first two or three classes to share and practice a few types of poetry they may have been exposed to at an earlier grade, such as haiku, limerick, sonnet, etc. This gives the students a bit of time to settle into the new poetry unit and gain some confidence towards their poetry writing ability. In addition, there are usually a few giggles and a lot of smiles! A great reference for these types of introductory poems can be found in my POETRY MINI BOOK. It is a helpful how-to reminder for each type of poem and the mini-lessons are already crested for the teacher!

One surefire way that often "kills" poetry for students is when we make them go through a poem and analyze it word-by-word, line-by-line for all possible poetic elements. Therefore, I always pick just one element to focus on per poem (metaphor, rhyme scheme, narrative perspective etc.) and look at the poem through that lens... then move on to another poem and focus on another element in that one, and so on. This way you don't analyze everything for every poem; you manage to expose students to a wonderful variety of poems; you still hit all of the relevant learning areas; and, best of all, you don't study any one poem to the point of boredom! Check out my Poetry Lesson Bundles for a variety of great, engaging lessons!
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