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What If...?

When students say, “I have nothing to write about,” use this team teaching activity to inspire creative writing through artistic visualization of answers to what if questions.

  • Grade 5
    Grade 6
    Grades 7 and 8
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. In language arts class, ask students how many have ever had trouble thinking of a topic for writing. Read aloud “Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street” by Roni Schotter asking students to note the writing suggestions Eva’s neighbors give her. What famous writer did Mr. Sims allude to when he said, “The whole world is a stage and each of us plays a part.” Discuss how Eva is encouraged to focus on story elements such as setting, characterization, and plot. How does it help when Alexa Leora suggests that Eva stretch the truth by asking “What if…?”
    2. Invite students to visualize their own neighborhoods. Do they live in a city, a town, or out in the country? Ask them to picture the setting, the people and/or the animals, and various events that have happened there. Ask them to brainstorm a list of as many details as they can think of. Then invite each to share a few of their ideas. Encourage them to add more to their lists if classmates’ ideas spark ideas of their own and to consider some “what if…” questions.
    3. In art class, remind students that pictures can tell stories just as well as words can. Examine the illustrations in “Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street.” In what ways do these illustrations differ from what photographs of the scenes might look like? Invite students to discuss the mediums and techniques used by the artist. Although the story is about a lot of different people, encourage students to note how each illustration focuses on one specific character or event. Ask students why these close ups may be more effective than an illustration that tries to show too much.
    4. Invite students to review the idea lists they made in language arts class. Distribute drawing paper and invite each student to create a close up pencil sketch of something inspired by life in their neighborhood. Show students how to create textured papers from which to cut shapes representing clothes, building materials, bushes, etc. Encourage them to use a variety of mediums such as Crayola® Watercolors, Erasable Colored Pencils, and Washable Markers to complete their illustrations.
    5. Once the illustrations are complete, encourage students to use them in language arts class as inspiration for a creative writing project. Suggest that they show their illustrations to writing partners and allow their partners to ask questions. Discussing their illustrations with partners and considering possible “what if” questions will help students formulate ideas for stories.
    6. Mount a display of stories and illustrations and invite students to discuss the experience. How did visualizing neighborhood people and events spark ideas for stories? How did creating the illustrations influence their story writing? What connections do the see between the art and text created by fellow classmates?
  • Standards

    LA: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

    LA: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

    LA: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    SS: identify and describe ways family, groups, and community influence the individual’s daily life and personal choices.

    VA: Compare the characteristics of works in two or more art forms that share similar subject matter, historical periods, or cultural context.

  • Adaptations

    Hold a public reading and invite parents and people from the neighborhood to attend. Provide each student an opportunity to read an excerpt from his or her story. Ask a few to explain how the illustration process helped with the story writing.

    Expand the writing activity to include poetry based on neighborhood people and events.

    Invite a social studies teacher to join the team and ask students to interview older neighbors about how historic events shaped their lives. Write feature articles based on these interviews. Ask neighbors for photos from the times to use as inspiration for illustrations to accompany the articles.

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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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