The following lesson plan was written by Katherine Fisher and Jessica Morton for Don't Forget to Write for the Elementary Grades (Jossey-Bass, 2011), a collection of lesson plans compiled by 826 National, a network of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping students, ages six through eighteen, with expository and creative writing, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. This lesson plan is intended for one session of seventy-five minutes.
Sometimes the hardest part of writing is knowing where to begin. Something the luxury of time for reflection, thought, and prewriting (though we don’t want to discount these!) can be a recipe for hours of staring, blankly and frustrated, at a continuously empty page.
How, you may ask, does one get students to jump right into even the most ridiculous writing prompts? By turning those students into pieces in a life-size board game, naturally.
This workshop gives students the opportunity to collaboratively create a plethora of short writing assignments that can be shared or expanded at a later time. Most importantly, it gets them writing, right away, and turns what is often a solitary activity into a group effort.
Before the workshop begins, take some time to create the physical squares for the board game. We cut out posterboard in five different colors and wildly varying shapes, each about a foot in diameter. When the time comes, use masking tape to lay them out, in a random order and an interesting shape, around the room you’re using. You also need to make a cardboard die. Our die was about eight inches tall, and we labeled the sides with: 1, 2, 3, 4, Roll Again, and Switch. You should also get some index cards and write random words and phrases (pinecone; Frisbee; “That was when everything changed,” she said; especially; walking) on about two-thirds of them. If you’re playing with younger kids, it’s also important to enlist help, preferably one adult for every two to three participants.
To start, ask all the students to write one of their favorite words on a blank index card and add it to your pile. Then take about ten minutes to brainstorm different writing genres. Our brilliant, amazing students came up with: acrostic poem, short story, cartoon, wild card, recipe, haiku, limerick, free verse poem, short play or skit, six-word biography, road sign, news article, advertisement, song, and Twitter-length story.
By either democratic or totalitarian means, narrow the list down to five, and assign each genre a color. Organize students into pairs or groups of three, and assign each team a facilitator.
Each team will roll the die, telling them where to move on the game board. They’ll also choose one of the index cards at random. They then have to write something in the genre that corresponds to the color they landed on, using the word on the index card as their topic. This is where the facilitators are extremely helpful, making sure that the teams stay on track and that everyone gets to participate. When the team competes that exercise, they can roll the die again and move on. The first team to reach the end of the board is the “winningest” in a group of winners.
The trick of this game is that no one ever gets bored, because everyone’s playing simultaneously. Learning to wait your turn is a good lesson, but it’s hardly the most exciting part of board games. Or of writing. This means that from the outside, the game can look like organized chaos, but from within, it’s a maelstrom of joy and creation. Give into it.