My solution to this problem for my two middle school girls is to do Morning Pages, a daily morning creative writing time that we do as part of our circle time. We have the poem we are working on memorizing for the week, our quick beanbag game or other math facts review, and then Morning Pages. I learned about MP when I was taking a seminar with the National Writing Project. Our version lasts about 15 minutes. Everyone has a MP journal. We have a daily prompt, which is always optional. We set the countdown timer. You write without talking and without stopping until the chime. And then you can share, which is always optional.
Of all the magazines my husband brings home from work, when they are about to discard them, the girls ADORE Architectural Digestthe most. They've moved on from cooking and homemaking magazines to this beautifully photographed magazine showing what wealth and good taste can to do a home, in a world where nothing is too expensive.
I pulled 16 images from the two issues we had on hand: July 2014 and November 2014.
The girls used them to do the first lesson "Truisms" in Reviving The Essay: How To Teach Structure Without Formula
This is our first work inspired by the very talented Gretchen Bernabei. She gives a series of exercises to help students first make a personal connection to the writing prompt, and then she strengthens their writing skills from there. The other book I'm using for MP prompts -- a reliable favorite -- is Journal Fodder 365: Daily Doses of Inspiration for the Art Addict
A truism is a universal idea, something that is true about the world or about people, regardless of who they are or where they live. I was REALLY happy with what the girls came up with:
Natalie: "Life isn't always full of happy moments."
Natalie: "There are many steps on the path to success."
Leah: "A room can tell a lot about a person."
Leah: "Christmas is nothing without someone to enjoy it with you."
Natalie: "Nobody bakes perfectly without a little practice."
Natalie: "Life isn't always a sunny day."
Leah: "In time things crumble to dust, but friendships and family stay the same."
Leah: "Some people like order; some hate it."
Leah: "Pristine can take the beauty out of nature."
Natalie: "Not everybody sells all their wares the first time."
Leah: "Size isn't universal."
Leah: "What's comfy to one could be uncomfy to the next."
Leah: "Some people look past wealth to the beauty within, while others get stuck on the money."
In the third step of the exercise, I wrote the open-ended phrase "something surprising" up on the board. They were to draw for 2 minutes the first thing that came into their minds when they heard those words. Then they were to treat their sketch like one of the pictures from the magazine, and write a truism. The girls were tickled when they found out they both drew a surprise birthday party! But they had different truisms.
Natalie: "Not every moment spent together is a happy one."
Leah: "Life's full of surprises: some good, some bad."
By the way, I was looking back through a blog post from 2007 and realized that I've stuck some very useful teaching ideas in here, and not linked them back to the website with the appropriate grade level, so I will be going back through the previous 977 posts and tagging them with key words. EEEEK.