5 Alternatives To The Dreaded “Write About Your Holidays” PromptJan 28, 2020
I once had a neighbour ask me about orienteering as she thought her son might like to give it a go. After giving her all the information about the next event we all drove out to the bush to participate in the special AFL grand final event (with plans of having plenty of time to be home in time for the big game). As luck would have it, her son got lost in the vast bushland and we, along with members of the orienteering club- ended up spending hours searching for him. Thirsty but unharmed when he was finally located, his very first comment to his Mum when he was found was, “at least I’ll have something to write about when I go back to school.” NO JOKE!
Our students have been telling us for years that the infamous “write about your holidays” prompt is not something they look forward to after their break. It’s 2020 and I am declaring this the year to give the dreaded holiday recount a rest.
I mean, if we really want to get our students engaged and passionate about writing, setting a task they dread as their first writing experience for the year really isn’t a good start, is it?
Here are five alternate suggestions for the dreaded 'write about your holidays' prompt:
1. List writing
Give your students 5 minutes to write a list with one of the following prompts. Make it short and sharp (don’t drag the time out to 10 minutes, keep it at 5 and remind students they aren’t allowed to elaborate, they just need to list their ideas).
After 5 minutes, give them time to share their list with a partner before trying again with another prompt. You’ll find that as they read their lists and get feedback from their peers they'll become motivated to write more on their next list. Repeat this a couple of times.
Here are some list prompt ideas:
- Things they did on their holidays.
- Things they didn’t do on their holidays (get creative here- eg. I didn’t go to Europe on an exotic holiday).
- People they saw on their holidays.
- Food they ate on their holidays.
- Food they didn’t eat on their holidays.
- Places they went (can be as boring as bedroom, toilet, loungeroom).
- Lists you would rather be writing that aren’t holiday related.
List writing is short, achievable and satisfying. Importantly, it is also non-threatening. If I did nothing on my holidays, I can still write a list. If I am a struggling writer, I can write a simple list. If I'm a slow hand writer, I can get a list done. And, unlike the infamous recount prompt, people are not judged by the length of their lists. Short and sharp is the name of the game.
The other great thing about lists is that they're a springboard into further writing; once students have written their list, ask them to put a star next to any ideas they think they could write more about at a later date.
2. Expanded list writing
Ask students to choose one of the starred items from one of their lists, write the name of this item at the top of a new page and start writing about it.
Give students a short time limit to write- encourage them to get to the most interesting part straight away. (FYI- I have more Writer's Notebook activities here)
3. Holiday newspaper reports
Ask students to write about one small element of their holidays but do it as a newspaper report.
Introduce the concept of hyperbole to make this more interesting. Write about the extremes of the holidays (most boring thing, best thing, worst thing, funniest thing etc.) E.g.:
- “Boy dies of actual boredom on the holidays.” You could include interviews with the brother or the sister and the police etc.
- “Netflix overload leads to squaring of girl’s eyes” include an interview with the eye doctor and the girl with square eyes.
- “Boy reads more books than the local library can hold.”
This is a great activity for those students who say they did absolutely nothing on their holidays.
4. Writing history
Rather than having students write about their holidays, use the first week writing opportunity to get to know your students as writers. Ask them to write a letter to you telling you about their writing history.
- What have they liked about writing?
- What's a piece of writing they're proud of? Why?
- What don’t they like about writing?
- What do they hope to do in writing lessons this year?
- What do they want you to know about them as writers?
This activity can teach you a lot about your students as writers and it can help you to get to know them much quicker. You can make this much more powerful by sending each students a reply after they've written to you.
5. Free writing
Shock! Horror! You can’t let kids decide on their own writing topic in the very first week…can you?
Yes, actually you can!
It will be a fascinating experiment for you to see how conditioned your students are to writing holiday recounts in the first week back after holidays. Try it! I bet lots of your kids go straight for the thing they've been trained to do.
This activity will also serve as an excellent opportunity to refer back to when you start the work I think every teacher needs to be doing in the next few weeks: teaching students how to come up with good ideas for writing (that's a blogpost for another day though).
There you have it, five quick and easy alternatives to asking your students to write a boring recount about their holidays.
I highly recommend you giving one of these activities a go yourself before you ask your students to do it. Which one would you find most enjoyable? Once you've written your piece, you'll be able to use it as a mentor text for your students to read and learn from before they write their own.
If you do give one of these activities a go, I'd love to hear about it. Let me know what you do and what the result was over on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook Group.
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