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October Projects to Encourage Reluctant Writers

By Shari Edwards on October 3, 2012
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

October is packed with great opportunities for engaging students in writing. Research shows a strong correlation between writing and reading, but getting reluctant writers to write is a difficult task. Although I use writing workshop, I find that my students need many more opportunities to write to keep them progressing.

When I pair a writing project with a little bit of "art or atmosphere," their motivation increases and I get more writing from them. Increasing the amount of writing means more time immersed in written language and that is my goal!

My Basic Lesson Frame

I am a constructivist, in my teacher's heart, and it shows up in most everything I do with my class! There are several lesson ideas below, and they all have the same basic frame. (Think of it as one of those layer cake recipes that starts with the same basic yellow cake mix and uses a different filling each time.)

Build background knowledge around a topic through questions, media, literature, and realia.

Allow for exploration, discussion, and connections.

Review any skills they will need to be successful in the project.

Show them the basic end product but allow for variations.

Provide materials and a little quiet, individual work time.

Allow group work, discussion, collaboration, and other connections.

Emphasize content of written pieces over conventions for these lessons until you are getting longer pieces from reluctant writers. 

Some of My Favorite “Art and Atmosphere” October Projects

Fall Vegetable Garden — The first week of October, I hit the stores to pick up miniature pumpkins, ornamental corn, and gourds of all colors and shapes to decorate the classroom. I begin the lesson by turning down the lights and leading the students' imaginations into a garden at night. I talk about the stars, the cool fall breeze, night noises, the fragrance of the soil, and the type of plants that might be growing in a garden in October. Next, I ask them to close their eyes, and I place one vegetable on each desk. When they open their eyes, they are ready to “become” the vegetable and write a story from that viewpoint. This has never failed to engage them in a morning of writing. I take a picture of each student with their vegetable to display with their writing.

Find more autumn resources.

Columbus Day Diorama — October 12 is Columbus Day. The Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María lend themselves well to a lesson on perspective. Explore and demonstrate near, far, and distance perspective by having students measure objects in the distance with their fingers. They are amazed that something that they know is larger can appear so small! After learning about Christopher Columbus through literature, looking at maps, and discussing questions and concepts, I have my students make three ships of different sizes out of construction paper. In the past, I have drawn black outlines of the ships, but I find the process of constructing the ships is valuable to their understanding of perspective.

We discuss and explore how big or small something appears according to how far away it is. The ships are glued to a three-layer diorama that represents the ocean with the smallest ship in the back and largest in the front. The diorama is an important component because of the 3-D effect.

By the time they finish the project, they are ready to write! The dioramas are displayed, museum fashion, next to their writing.

Find more Columbus resources.


Pumpkin Cinquain — Students create a jack-o’-lantern using strips of orange paper arranged in a star pattern on black paper decorated with yellow paper faces. Students write their cinquain about pumpkins or their jack-o’-lantern.

This is actually a project hanging up across the hall from me, outside the classroom of a team member, Kari Hickey, and her teacher intern, Bethany.

Find more pumpkin resources.

Pumpkin Life Cycle Study — Students learn about plant life cycles and then apply that learning to a writing project to demonstrate their understanding of the order of a pumpkin's life cycle. Teachers can scaffold and organize the writing for reluctant writers by adding words such as "first," "next," "then," and "last" to guide them.

This is another project designed by Kari Hickey and Bethany.

How do you take advantage of October’s rich atmosphere?

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