At Trinity College, we are fortunate to be surrounded by incredible writers. Lucy Ferriss, a writer in residence at Trinity volunteered to put together a series of daily writing prompts for 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students that can be completed at home. These prompts are designed so that they can be done alone or in pairs, remotely with a school friend, or at home with a family member. We encourage you to share these prompts with others. Enjoy!
3rd and 4th grade prompts
Go through your family’s old photos. Find a moment that you remember. Write about that moment, but as if you are there right now. So instead of describing the photograph, like “In the photo my mom is holding my baby sister,” you might write, “Mom holds my baby sister, Tina, on her lap, and I feel jealous.” Try to write at least 4-6 sentences.
Answer some of these questions. (You don’t have to answer all of them). When you have answered some of these questions, put the answers together and add any details you like to make a little story of your early life.
- When and where were you born?
- What do you know about your birth? Who told you?
- What is your earliest memory?
- Where did you live before you started going to school? (If this is still the place you live, tell us about it.)
- Who lived with you?
- Where did you play? Describe a favorite thing that you played with.
- What did you find amazing?
- Tell us about a daydream you used to have.
- Were there any animals you loved as a child? If so, describe them.
- What do you remember about your first days in school?
Describe yourself from someone else’s point of view. For instance, if you were your mom, what would you say about you? What would you say if you were your best friend? What would one of your stuffed animals say?
5th and 6th Grade
Go into your back yard, or into a park nearby. Write down all the things you notice. Then, either writing outside or back home, do this:
- Describe the yard or park from the point of view of a bird, but don’t mention the bird, or that she has a nest, or anything to give it away.
- Describe the yard or park from the point of view of a thief, but don’t mention the thief or that he’s stolen anything.
- Describe the yard or park from the point of view of a person parachuting from a burning plane. Don’t mention the fire, the plane, or the parachute.
Now read your three descriptions aloud to someone in your family and see if they can guess which is which.
Here’s a poem by Robert Kelly about a snow-woman. “Palaeolithic” means like a cave person, and “fecund” means ready to give birth, the way spring gives birth. I’ve underlined parts of the poem and explained that below.
The snow-woman we’ve seen all week,
big-breasted, big-hipped, small
headed, is much melted now
by the side of Mount Rutsen Road.
It has come to her by day
and the warm melting
is registered each cold night
and held there one more day.
Today her chest is gone
almost and her head’s
a little prong. But the enormous
shapeless hips are where
the upper body’s gone.
She is palaeolithic now, cave mother
a naked, pure big belly
as if this road and this town too
were fecund, and spring will come
here fantastically and soon.
Do you notice that the poem has three tenses? I’ve underlined them for you. Something’s happening now, something happened before, and something’s going to happen in the future. Can you write a poem that has one part in the past, one in the future, and one now? Mix up the times any way you like, but see if you can imagine three moments of time in one poem.
Try to answer some of these questions. (You don’t have to answer all of them.) When you’ve answered some of these questions, put your answers together in a paragraph or two that tells the story of your life from the time you started school till now.
- Recall your earliest memories of school. What do you remember feeling about your first few years in school?
- Who were your friends when you first started school, and what did you most like to do together? Who was your “best friend,” and how did your friendship begin? What do you think you were given through this friendship?
- What do you do when you come home from school? Who is usually there?
- Describe a usual evening in your home; a usual Saturday or Sunday.
- What kinds of music did you hear when you were younger, and what do you listen to now? Write of a memory that involves music.
- What types of reading material do you have in your home? Which books are your favorites?
- What does “being good” mean in your family?
7th and 8th Grade
This exercise takes two people. You can do it with someone in your family, or over a video call with a friend, taking turns. One person should shut their eyes while the other one reads the following. Be sure your eyes are shut before you start!
Go back in your mind to something you always do, or used to do, after school or during the summer. In your mind, look at what was surrounding you. See the place where you were playing or working: an afterschool program room, a library, a lemonade stand, a beach, a swimming pool or park, your home with your sisters or brothers. Notice all the shapes and colors of what is around you. Look at whatever you might be holding in your hands: notice its shape and its colors.
Now look at the other people who are there with you: parents, brothers or sisters, friends, babysitter, neighbor, store owner. Choose one person and observe that person closely. Notice what the person is wearing and the expression on his or her face. What’s this person doing as you watch?
Begin to hear the sounds in this scene. The sizzle of hamburgers on a grill, the hum of a machine, water splashing, a phone ringing, the thump of music, whatever. Listen to the voices around you: what are they saying? Maybe you’ll hear a line or two of dialogue. What is that person you observed say, and what do you or someone else say in reply?
Now let yourself experience the smells in this scene: food cooking, fresh-cut grass, sweat, flowers, salt, candy. If you’re eating, you might want to be aware of tastes – the salt in the pizza, a chocolate bar that’s already melted and slick, the fizz of a Coke, the crispness of an apple.
Look around you and be aware of the climate. Is it summer or winter? If you’re outdoors, what’s the weather like? What time of day is it? If you’re indoors, is the air stuffy or fresh? If you looked out the window, what would you see?
Next, become aware of touch and texture. Are the things you’re playing or working with soft or rough, smooth or fuzzy, wet or dry? Notice heat and cold, like the damp icy feel of a glass of soda or the warm texture of a child’s hair, or maybe something that’s gone oily or gooey.
Now turn your sense of touch inward. What movements are you making? How do your muscles feel? Turn to your emotions. Are you tired and depressed, happy and excited, scared? What are you looking forward to after you leave this scene?
Finally, do you like or dislike the people around you? What do you feel about that person you chose to observe? What do you think that person feels about you? What would you like to say to this person?
When all these things are clear in your mind, but not until then, open your eyes and write them down as fast as possible. Write in present tense, as if you are still in the scene.
When you’re done, you might read what you’ve written aloud to the person who helped you, and when it’s their turn, they can read aloud to you. These aren’t stories yet – but they might be the start of stories!
Let’s write a sonnet! You may think a sonnet is hard and old-fashioned. But “sonnet” just means “little song.” The main rules of a sonnet are easy – it should have 14 lines, and somewhere along the way, there should be a shift in the feeling of the poem. That’s it. You can rhyme or not. You can have lines as long or as short as you need. Let’s look at this sonnet by Rita Dove, who was recently Poet Laureate of the United States:
Nothing can console me. You may bring silk
to make skin sigh, dispense yellow roses
in the matter of ripened dignitaries.
You can tell me repeatedly
I am unbearable (and I know this):
still, nothing turns the gold into corn
nothing is sweet to the tooth crushing in.
I’ll not ask for the impossible
One learns to walk by walking.
In time I will forget this empty brimming.
I may laugh again at
a bird, perhaps, chucking the nest –
but it will not be happiness,
for I have known that.
Do you notice how in the first part, she talks about how very sad she is, how nothing makes her feel better? And then, in the second part, she realizes that she will feel better in time, though she’ll never again be as happy as she was before.
One last thing. You don’t have to focus on rhyme or rhythm unless you want to. But you can listen to your language and your sentences. For instance, you might write:
My hair wilts when it gets hot in the summer.
Think about moving that sentence around a little. For instance,
In summer heat, my hair always wilts.
Summertime, heat, and wilting hair.
Whose hair never wilts in the summer? Not mine.
Any of those lines might give your sonnet more “punch,” more sense of the music that will make it a “little song.”
Lucy Ferriss is a Writer in Residence at Trinity College and the author of 10 books, mostly fiction. Foreign Climes, her forthcoming book, is a collection of stories. Her website is http://lucyferriss.com.
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