Creative Writing in the Natural World: A Framing
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To promote development, detail, and focus of ideas in students' writing, it sometimes helps to start with a fun, creative writing activity that encourages what you want to see in all of their writing. In this minilesson, students practice writing detailed, sensory-rich descriptions by framing a small piece of nature and freewriting about it. From this, students can develop a variety of types of writing including poetry, short stories, science writing, reflections, and other academic genres.
From Theory to Practice
This lesson explores figurative language comparisons formally known as simile and metaphor; however, the focus of the lesson is on students' use of their their imaginations to describe their observations in writing rather than on the official terminology for language use. In Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom, author Katie Wood Ray advises, "Give it [the craft element you identify in a text] a name so you can refer to it easily in the future as you study craft and as you writing your own texts"; yet the name that students use need not be the formal, "correct" name (42). The formal name of the element simply detracts from the ways that writers work. As Ray explains, "What's important is that, in seeing it and naming it for yourself, you have a new vision of what's possible when you try to write well" (42). When we do use formal names for craft elements, best practice pairs such words with students' definitions of the elements. Ray and Lisa Cleaveland say, "We are careful to use the words most writers in the world use for the important concepts of writing . . . if we embed kid-friendly explanations of what they mean...we need not shy away from the words themselves" (98).
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- A piece of loose paper, paper to take notes on, and a writing utensil (pen or pencil)
- Literal vs. Figurative Language Guide
- Internet access and the Flip Book Interactive
- Scout out a good spot to take students outdoors on the school grounds, a place that preferably has grass or that feels somewhat “natural.” If such an area isn’t available, it is okay to do this activity on constructed spaces such as sidewalks, playgrounds, and even inside the classroom if absolutely necessary, but it’s best done outdoors.
- Prepare the Literal vs. Figurative Language Guide by making it into a transparency or making copies for each student.
- Test out the Flip Book Student Interactive.
- freewrite about a specific place that is framed by their piece of paper using imaginative and literal observations.
- identify nouns in their writing that they would like to focus on and develop further.
- write using specific sensory imagery and figurative language in order to accurately describe their framed “worlds.”
- Ask students to get out a loose piece of paper.
- Have them fold it in half at least once and tear or cut out the center. (Some students may want to fold it more than once in order to create an unusual shape. That’s okay.) The goal is to be left with a piece of paper with a hole in the middle of it like a frame. The frame can be of any shape or size.
- Explain that you will be taking the class outdoors and that each student will find a spot to place his or her frame. Also explain that students will pretend that what is inside the frame is the entire world, the only thing students will focus on. In their notebooks, students will freewrite about what they find in their frames. Encourage students to use their imaginations. Perhaps they’ll find a bug and write about it as a giant dinosaur or a talking creature. However they proceed, students should write as freely as possible to get as much detailed information down about their framed “worlds” as they can.
- Once students have found a place outdoors for their frames, give them ten to fifteen minutes to freewrite.
- Back inside the classroom, ask students to remind you what a noun is. Ask them why nouns are important in writing. How do they function in a sentence, for example? (One answer is that nouns help us know who or what a sentence is about. They are they focus, and they help us visualize ideas as we talk or write about them in any genre.)
- Have them read over their freewriting and underline three to five nouns that they would like to focus on.
- Collect students' freewriting to be returned in the next session.
- Return students' freewriting from the previous session where they had finished by underlining three to five nouns to focus on.
- Ask students to list their five senses. Ask for a volunteer or two to provide one of their nouns. Use these to practice developing these nouns into fully described sensory experiences. Help students describe them using all five senses. Encourage imaginative leaps so students understand that their descriptions don’t have to be literal.
- At this point, discuss the difference between literal and figurative language, and explain that the goal is for students to describe their nouns using sensory detail and figurative language. Show students the Literal vs. Figurative Language Guide overhead or give them the handout. If the students were to write literal descriptions of their framed “worlds,” for example, they will simply write exactly what is in their frames (Grass looks green; sand feels rough; grasshoppers make a high pitched noise, etc.), but if they write figuratively, they will use their imaginations to describe their observations. This might include using similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and personification. For example, the grass looks like spiky green hair; sand is solid water; grasshoppers are fiddlers who play their legs, etc.
- Using the Flip Book Student Interactive, have students create a page for each of the three to five nouns they underlined. (Each student should complete at least three pages.) On each page, they will develop these nouns by adding sensory-rich, figurative descriptions of them in paragraph or poetry form. The goal is to describe each noun using as many of the five senses and as much figurative language as possible. Encourage students to be imaginative for this process. What might an ant sound like? How might a rock smell?
- Students may need to finish their Flip Books outside of class, or you might reserve some class time tomorrow to finish these up.
- Give students the opportunity to share their finished pieces with the class.
- Encourage students to develop their flip book pages further by illustrating them.
- Students might also use an additional page in their flip books to create a piece of writing such as a short story, poem, or reflection about the natural world. Encourage them to find connections between the nouns in their list. How might that list become one piece of writing instead of three to five separate pieces?
- Discuss ways students can use these writing techniques to improve other writing that they are doing. You might ask students to review one of their past writing assignments and underline places where they might add detail or figurative language in order to develop their ideas.
Student Assessment / Reflections
As long as students participate fully in the freewriting activity and complete at least three pages on their Flip Books, they should receive full credit for this activity. If you would like to turn the Flip Book into a graded assignment, you might require that each page include at least three sensory images and one instance of figurative language. Students might also earn credit by reading one of their pages aloud in front of the class.