Freebies for Youth-Serving Adults

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Teen Writers Workshop

The following is a write-up of a program I did with teens at the Mayfield Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library in suburban Cleveland, OH. It became part of the Program Notebook for Young Adult Services. In April and May, 1999, and it was used as a handout at a conference program on creative writing programs for YA's.

The basic goal of Teen Writers Workshop is to keep kids writing: "like blood dripping from your finger." To this end, I did not stress grammar, spelling or punctuation - this is NOT a remedial English class! Also, I always stressed that the writing was their choice; it could be poetry or prose (most times) and they could start with ideas I gave them and take them ANYWHERE; just keep writing!

WEEK ONE (of 6, 1-hour sessions)
Preparation: Write the "bland sentence" in #4 (below) on the blackboard or type it up and make a photocopy for each writer. On the blackboard or as a poster, write the motto: Writers WRITE!

Introduce yourself and the teens to one another. Introduce the motto and the purpose, and make sure they know they are not to focus on grammar and spelling, and that they have the freedom to write what they want. Everyone will be encouraged to share their writing with the group, but no one will be forced to speak.

Ask the writers to write down three or four sentences about anything. After you've done this, scramble the words, writing them down randomly, repeating them, mixing them up. Next, try to punctuate the words, turning them into several new sentences. Ask for volunteers to read their new, mixed-up, silly sentences, with expression.

Say, or write out for disply, "She picked a flower." Ask each writer to describe the flower brought to mind. Writing is a process of making the unspecific concrete, by adding the details of the senses.

Give the writers a bland, bare-bones skeleton of a story, such as the following: "He (she) had a book. He put it down. He went to the kitchen. Something strange happened." Each writer should then rewrite the story, adding details that will tell the reader the setting, the character's mood, and what happened. Be colorful! Be specific!

WEEK TWO
Preparation: You might want to go over Week One's writing and share good examples of colorful detail. This was done without specifying who had written the examples.

Talk is the exercise ground for writing. Ask each writer to tell a story - what happened to him/her this week?

Ask the writers to write three short poems, just three lines each, about anything they can think of. The title of the poem should identify the subject. The poem should not repeat the subject title, but add to it by description and/or action. (The Rose. Curved petals pink/ Makes me think/ Of love's soft bloom.) Ask for volunteers to share their poems.

Ask your writers to write about some strongly felt emotion or feeling. They should try to write so that the reader experiences the emotion, without the writer using the word "afraid," or "angry" or "passionate." (She slammed her book down so hard, the cat shot up from it's nap with tail frizzed full.)

WEEK THREE
Preparation: On small slips of paper, three for each writer, write a word or words to identify a subject: books or a book, a box, a large dog, school or a teacher, etc. Mix these up in a hat , box or bag. If you do not have bushes in sight out of a window, draw some bushes on a blackboard or a poster.

Point to the bushes and say, "Someone is in the bushes! Who do you see? Write about them." They should spend about ten minutes writing a description or story. Ask them to share.

Have your writers each pick three slips from the hat/box/bag. They then have five minutes to write (poetry or prose) with the first subject as the "starter" and going off from there in any direction. After five minutes, switch to the next subject, and the the third. Share?

Take the letters in your name and create a new name. Have this "new you" write a few sentences about himself/herself. (Janet Dickey=Deejay T. Nick: I ain't the Man. No way/ Never had much. Life don't be givin' me much/ But I got the music. I got the sound/ Spread that around, maybe other folks'll be rich/ Maybe me, too.)

For next week: ask the kids to bring in "props" such as hats, ties, scarves, masks, and jewelry.


WEEK FOUR
Preparation: Gather up a few props to add to those the kids bring in. Have the kids dress in various props to "feel different" while they write.

Write about "What I Did on My Summer Vacation." However, choose one of these variations: write it as a poem; write it as though you're not on this planet; or write it as though you're the family pet. Concentrate on the sight, sound, feel, smell and taste. The "I" in your story doesn't even have to be you.  Share?

Verbs have power: have each writer take a piece of paper and fold it in half lengthwise. Write a list of ten nouns on the left half. Flip the paper over to the right half and write the name of an occupation on the right half, then a list of 12-15 verbs that describe actions that go with that occupation. Finally, open up the page and try to match the nouns and verbs on the two lists to come up with sentences that have fresh, new combinations of nouns and verbs. (Carrots hammered themselves deep into the rich loam.) Share?

Have the writers spend five minutes writing a dream sequence that ends, "but then he/she woke up and realized it was only a dream." Now they should rewrite, but it's no dream, so how can it be realistically resolved? There's no escape, each writer must deal with the situation he/she created. Share?

Voluntary homework: Go someplace different to write. Begin by describing the surroundings, then look up and add a character to your setting. You can write anywhere!

WEEK FIVE
Preparation: Cut phrases from a newspaper or magazine, two or three for each writer, such as "After a long, hard day," "Quiet, dreamy Francis," "Complimentary refreshments."

Tell everyone: close your eyes. In your mind, walk up twenty steps, open the door. Now open your eyes and write what you see. Share?

Have each writer pick three phrases from the hat. Write about one or all of them, separately or in combination. Go anywhere. Share?

What is it like to fly? Be a bird, butterfly, angel or pilot. Fly a spaceship or sprout wings. Share?

Ask the writers to suggest ideas to use as starters for next week. Also, if you are planning to publish their writing, let them know that they should pick what they would like to have published. (Decide ahead if you will limit the number of individual pieces.) After choosing what they would like to have published, the writers should type their pieces neatly and edit grammar, spelling, etc. It's a good idea to read each piece out loud.

WEEK SIX
Preparation: Set up a display of books on writing and getting published, along with collections of poetry and short stories and magazines dedicated to writing.

Give the writers and ending, such as "when the smoke cleared, we held hands and looked at each other." The writers must get to that ending any way they can.

Write a "what if" story or poem. What if I were in charge of the U.S? Of my school? What if pigs could fly? This is designed to be a wild, fanciful flight of the imagination!

Use an idea or two from those submitted the previous week, or try some group stories: Each person starts a story by writing a few lines, then after just a couple of minutes, he/she passes the story to the next person, who adds to the story and passes it along until the last one to have each story tries to write an ending. Read the resulting stories.

Ask for evaluations. If you've made a bibliography of writing books, magazines and websites, pass those out. Let them know when the booklet will be ready and how they can get their copy. Tell them to keep writing. Writers WRITE!

Note: Many of these ideas were adapted from suggestions in Natalie Goldberg's book, Writing Down the Bones. Writer's Digest is another good source for "idea starters."


c. Revised edition, 2002



Sock Puppets Workshop

Presented by the CATS (Council of Advisory Teens) at Mayfield Regional Library (Cuyahoga County Public Library, suburban Cleveland, OH) in July, 2000 for children in grades 3-6.

Supplies: clean socks - each participant was asked to bring one; donated sock decorating items: trims, fabric and felt scraps, beads and assorted "junk"; craft glue (even school glue would work - it's unlikely anyone will be washing their puppet); music player and dance tunes.

The first half of the hour-long workshop centered on making the sock puppets. Teens and kids decorated their socks with the craft items. I encouraged the kids to add braids, ears, tails and other "swing-y" things that would move when they acted with their puppets.

We then encouraged all of the kids to show off their puppets as one or more of the CATS spoke the words and the others lead the action at:

The Alien's Party
Welcome to the Party!
Come and join the fun-

First, please, introduce yourself
As we greet you one-by-one:
Cats begin by introducing themselves (that is, their puppets):
give the name (Eloise, PigglyWiggly,
Zam) from (Mars, Mayfield Hts.,
Hogwarts School)
then the Kids are invited to do the same.
We're glad that you could come today,
From Venus or from France,

Please gather round each table
And synchronize your DANCE! 
Cue MUSIC. Cats do a few "line dance" moves with their
puppets, then spread out to encourage each table.
After a
few minutes, each table demonstrates its
dance for the others.
We hope you're having fun now,
We hope you're in the mood.

We've got big bowls of "fritzels"
On Jupiter - it's FOOD!
Pass out bowls of "fritzels."  Everybody dig in - throw, hoard, share, etc.
Thank you all for coming.
It's time to say "Good-bye"

Or what word would you use? "Aloha"
Or "'Ave a nice Day (Dye)?
Hugs and kisses.

Fritzels" were colorful short lengths of curling ribbon, curled into little corkscrews. I also added some M&M candies to the bowls, which distracted some kids from the whole puppet thing and are completely unnecessary.All-in-all, both boys and girls had a blast!
c. Revised edition, 2013



© 2011-2013 by Janet Dickey
Last update:1/27/2013