Category Archives: writing topics

The magic of snow

It snowed in Georgia this morning, the first snow this year.  I was tutoring a fifth grader still in his pajamas when the snow started.  The dining room blinds were drawn, so we didn’t know.  The student finished his lesson, stood, stretched, and walked to the door.

By Nicholas Powers, 6

“It’s snowing!  It’s snowing!” he screamed, literally jumping.  “Miss Kathy, it’s snowing! My shoes.  My coat.  I gotta get outside.  Everybody!  It’s snowing!”

The family came running.  Everyone was shouting about the snow.  None fell last year near where I live, and maybe just a few flurries spit from the sky the year before.  The forecast was for flurries in the morning and melting of anything that stuck in the afternoon.  But already more than an inch had fallen.  Serrendipidy!

The boy’s older sister looked longingly outside and then sat down next to me for her lesson.  “I remember when it snowed,” she mused, gazing out the window.  “Maybe I was three.”  We sputtered, trying to get the lesson going, but she was distracted, glancing through the blinds, now open, to the cluster of kids gathering outside, scraping the car for wet snow to pack into snowballs.  For 15 minutes we struggled, but the shouts of the kids  captivated her.  We ended the lesson.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Miss Kathy,” she said, bolting.

Guess what we’ll be writing about next week?

12 reasons to write using a pen name

Have you ever thought of writing under a pen name / pseudonym / nom de plume?

You might think that pen names are an obsolete notion, or that only people who have something to hide would write under a pen name.  But that’s not true.  There are many good reasons to write under a name different from your own.  For example,

  • Your name is difficult to pronounce.
  • Your name is difficult to spell.
  • Your name sounds too young or too old for your target audience.
  • Your name doesn’t fit with your genre of writing.
  • Your name sounds too ethnic or not ethnic enough.
  • Your name brings to mind the wrong image.
  • Your name, or one like it, is already taken by another writer.
  • You need to disguise your identity.
  • “You” are really two or three authors working together.
  • Your name sounds a lot like another author’s name in your genre.
  • You want a website or URL under your published name, but that website name or URL is taken, is difficult to remember, or is difficult to spell.
  • You want a name which creates better marketing opportunities.

If you are a teacher looking for a writing topic for your students, here is one.  After you explain what a pen name is, and why a person might choose one, ask the students to create pen names for themselves.  Then ask them to write about the pen name.  For younger students, the writing might be a paragraph, but for older students, this assignment could be an essay explaining why they are choosing to write under a pen name and why they chose the pen name they did.  You could collect the assignments and read them aloud, letting the students  decide who really wrote the essay.

Next:  Some famous pen names

Using current events to provoke writing assignments and learning new vocabulary

Too bad school’s not in session.  Retorts by Congressmen to President Trump’s remarks about President Putin would make a great vocabulary lesson, tying current events (of interest to students) to vocabulary (of lesser interest).

Using direct quotes could happen any time a current event brings forth a slew of comments.  Even events from history and the responses of the people of the time could be used.  What could the writing lessons be?

  • Define ten of the words as used in the sentences and then use them in your own unrelated sentences.
  • Select ten of the words and write a narrative / editorial / news story /poem using those words properly.
  • Create a multiple choice test. Use the quoted sentence as the prompt and then underline one word per sentence and offer four choices identifying the correct meaning.
  • Write a persuasive essay saying which remark is the most persuasive or the most polarizing or the most noncommittal.

Here are some of the comments from a week ago.  (The underlines are my own.)

Senator Susan Collins of Maine:  [The president’s] position is untenable.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska:  When the president plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.

Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas:  The problem is. . .Russia’s duplicitous behavior.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington:  The president must hold Russia accountable for their adversarial actions and their continued efforts to undermine our democratic institutions.

Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina:  the United States will not tolerate hostile Russian activities against us or our allies.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri:  [Putin] is a calculating adversary who is trying to exert all the influence he can anywhere he can.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas:  I think [Trump is] conflating different things — the meddling and the collusion allegations for which there does not appear to be any evidence.

Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma:  We must unequivocally denounce Russia’s election interference attempts.

Senator John McCain of Arizona:  No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.

Finding good writing topics for children is hard

When I tutored a third grader this week, I suggested writing topics.

“Swimming.  Aren’t you on a swim team?”

“I already wrote about swimming.”

“Greek myths.  I know you like them.”

“Yeah, but I already wrote about all the Greek myths I know.”

“Hmm.  How about a class field trip.”


“What it’s like to be the youngest child?

She rolled her eyes.

“A book you’ve read?”

“I already wrote about the book I read.”

As a writing tutor, I find the hardest part of the job is coming up with writing topics.  Oh, sure, there are lists upon lists of topics online, but I find the best topics are ones which students care about or at least which they have studied and know about.  And for young children who can’t do research yet, the only good topics are ones from their personal experience.

One solution to this problem is for me to contact the parent ahead of time and ask for a list of activities the student is interested in.  I hadn’t done that with this student, but I will.  Many parents can provide helpful topics such as a particular trip, a favorite TV show, a funny happening, an ambition, or something the student enjoyed studying.

Another way to get the student to write is to ask the student to use particular vocabulary words we are studying together.  Most students balk at this though, because 1) it is hard and because 2) it seems like an assignment, not genuine writing.  Good writing can come from this kind of assignment, but convincing a student it is worthwhile is hard.

I have had success using books students have read.  One writing assignment might be a summary of the book or of a chapter.  Another might be a comparison of a character in a book with another character or with the student herself.  A third writing idea might be to put characters in the book into a different story.

“Fractured” fairy tales can be fun.  We discuss changing the point of view of the fairy tale and rewriting it from the point of view of the big bad wolf or Prince Charming.

Sometimes I bring an object or two for the student to write about.  I have had students successfully compare several fall leaves and (for older students) several rocks.  One girl who sews did an excellent job comparing two quilting squares.  Another analyzed the unusual face of a child from the newspaper.

When time permits I let students read what other students have written.  Sometimes this leads to friendly competition or pricks a memory.

But the best topics are usually student generated.