Writing into Summer: Creative Assignments Can Keep Students Academically Engaged

Many students see the summer break as a time to put off their studies and stop thinking about school for three months. Yet parents and teachers alike know that summer also lets students backslide in their academic development.

Summer writing projects offer a chance to slow the slide — letting students dive into  subjects they care about but might not get a chance to explore during the school year. The key is to avoid tedious academic assignments and focus on projects that are fun, engaging and developmental.

Here are two ways to make that happen:

Vacation journals

A travel journal can keep students intellectually engaged over the summer.Many students get a chance to travel in the summer. Whether the trip is foreign, domestic or a staycation, travel helps students experience and understand different parts of their world, which in turn provides opportunities for research and academic development.

Think about giving students a travel-writing assignment with journal entries made up of three parts: research, note-taking and reflection.

Research

Before going on their trip, parents and their kids should make a list of locations they aim to visit. This enables parents to help their children track down resources about their destination. Students can write down interesting aspects of the location or jot down historical facts.

Note-taking

While at the location, students should write down the most memorable things they notice. They can keep track of information they read, note new facts they learn or sketch the things they see. The idea is to get students actively engaged in the discovery process.

Reflection

After visiting each location, students should reflect upon what they’ve seen. They should think about how it related to what they read beforehand, how the place looked different than what they imagined or anything significant they noticed while there.

One benefit of this writing assignment: Students who keep their journals over the years may find they enjoy reading about and remembering their early travel experiences.

What about students who can’t travel during the summer? They can do the same assignment for trips to the zoo, local museums or even hikes in the mountains.

Creative writing

Many students join summer reading challenges or use their vacation to read a new series of books. One way to encourage creative thinking in students is to have them write about characters from the books they are reading — essentially creating amateur fan fiction.  Parents can make a list of cards about scenarios students might write about and let them select new cards as they progress through the book.

For instance, the cards might challenge the student to write an alternative ending, to rewrite a hero as a villain, to tell a scene from a different character’s perspective and so on.

This process helps students develop important storytelling and creative-thinking skills. And because it pairs well with reading, students will develop their reading and writing skills simultaneously.

Fun writing tasks will pay off

While summer should be a time for fun and adventure, it doesn’t have to be devoid of academic progress. Students will have plenty of time on their hands; parents should use it to help them see how writing can be a key part of fun assignments.

Assigning enjoyable activities might also help children get more invested in the family’s travel plans. While they’re strengthening their academic skills, they might also uncover creative writing skills they never knew they had.

 Caitrin Blake has a B.A. in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.

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