Fun & Festive Free-Write Prompts

Need a simple and fun way to sneak some writing into the busy days of December?  I've got you covered!  Below you will find 25 free-write prompts for the holiday season and winter.  Here's how to get started:

1. Download the PDF at the bottom of this page.
2. Print & cut the prompts apart.
3. Pop them into a jar or basket.
4. Grab a notebook & pencil.
5. Reach in and select a prompt.  No peeking!
6. Set the timer.  (You choose the length of time.)
7. Start writing.

It's that simple!  There's no need to worry about perfect spelling and mechanics right now.  The goal is to get the creative juices flowing and to have fun! 

Have a writer who isn't quite ready to write alone.  No worries!  Have her share her thoughts aloud while you write them down.  You'll be spending valuable time together and she'll see that what she has to say matters.  Together, you'll be paving the way to a connected writing relationship.  Win! Win! Win!

The prompts are also listed below in case you'd prefer not to print!

1. Colors are often used to describe Christmas.  Choose one color, any color, describe what a Christmas of that color would look like.

2. Imagine you just built a snowman.  Write a story about what you would do with your snowman.

3. Choose a holiday treat to eat.  Using your senses, write about what you ate.  What did it taste like?  Smell like?  Feel like in your mouth? 

4. Make a list of 10 holiday nouns.  Then make a list of 8 descriptive words.  Put your lists side by side and make phrases with them.  Then choose one phrase and write about it.

5. Choose a letter and think of a word for each of the following categories.  Using the words create some tongue twisters.
Noun
Animal
Girl’s name
Describing word
Food
Verb
Boy’s name
Place
Clothing
Emotion

6.  Imagine you just opened the best gift ever.  Describe how you feel.  What was in the package?  Give as many details as you can.

7.  Go back to one of your free-writes from this month.  Choose one sentence that you think is really well-written.  Put that at the top of a clean sheet of paper and start writing.

8. A blind person wants to know what your house looks like when it is decorated for the holidays.  Describe it to them with lots of detail.

9.  If I could give my ________________, just one gift, it would be __________.  Describe that gift, how you feel when you give it and how the person reacts when it is opened.

10.  Find one of your favorite holiday stories (or any story you have handy).  Copy the last sentence onto a clean sheet of paper.  Use that as the beginning of a new story.

11.  Imagine that the trees are talking to each other at this time of year.  Write a conversation between them.  What are they saying?

12.  What is something you love to do at the holidays?  Write about it.

13.  Imagine that you live in a gingerbread house.  What would it be made of?  What kinds of treats would decorate it?  What would you do if you lived inside?

14.  Try this word game with a sibling, parent or friend.  Start with a holiday word like “Joyful.”  The next person thinks of a word that starts with the last letter of the word.  So, in this case “l” would start the word so you may choose “lights” as your word.  Keep going back and forth until you have at least 20 words.  Make sure you write them down as you go.  Now choose one of the words from the list and use it to inspire a story or poem.

15. Make an advertisement for snowballs.

16. Write directions for how to build a snowman.  Number the steps.
 
17. Spend some time watching the birds outside your window.  Write about what they are doing this time of year.

18.  Imagine racing down a hill on a sled.  Write about the experience.

19. “Oh the weather outside is frightful…”  Write about the frightful weather. 

20. Write a secret note to someone in your house.  Leave it somewhere for them to find. 

21. You just made friends with a gingerbread person.  What will you do together?

22. Look through magazines and catalogs to find a photo that reminds you of the holidays.  Cut it out and use it for your free-write.

23.  Make a holiday card for someone.  Decorate the front, write a note on the inside and pop it in the mail.  Better yet, deliver it in person, if you can.

24.  Choose a holiday word and use it to write an acrostic poem.  Write the word vertically on the left side of your paper.  Write a word or phrase beginning with each letter of your word.  They should describe your chosen word.

25. Fold your paper so that when you open it up you have 4 sections.  In each section, write one of these words at the top.  Lights, Cozy, Sweet, Family.  Then, set your timer for 3 minutes.  Jot down words and phrases that come to mind for one of these categories.  Repeat for each section.  Then file this away until the next time you free-write.  When you come back to it, re-read what you wrote and see what stands out.  Choose a word, a phrase, an entire category, or any combination and use it for the topic of your free-write.


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Exploring Literary Devices with Owl Moon

Picture books are my all-time favorite teaching tool, especially when working with multiple ages.  A well-written picture book is a whole pouch of seeds waiting to be planted.  For your visual learner, pictures cover pages from edge to edge.  For your auditory learner, a feast of well-chosen words awaits.  And picture books cover a rainbow of topics and genres, so you’re sure to find something to spark the interest of your kids. 

Perhaps my favorite use of picture books is to inspire writing because.....

  1. Picture books are short.  We want to make the most of our time during busy homeschool days, and since picture books can be read in one sitting, they’re perfect for the job.  We can read the book through once, typically in 10 minutes or less, and then re-read sections we want to highlight as we guide our emerging writers to explore various techniques.
  2. Picture books authors have to choose words with care.  When an author is limited to about 32 pages, she has to select her words really, really carefully.  Otherwise, the young readers and listeners on our laps will be asleep before we get to the last page. The same is true with “older” pre-teen and teen readers.  A picture book for the purpose of teaching writing, must be engaging enough to hold the interest of everyone.  After all, it was C.S. Lewis who said, “A children’s story that is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story.”
  3. Picture books are written with younger readers in mind, but that doesn't mean older readers won't learn anything from them.  What it does mean is that they make ample use of literary techniques such as descriptive language, similes and metaphors, and voice.   Picture book authors have a gift for serving up bite-sized portions of amazing language and vocabulary.  Just enough that we feel satiated but not overwhelmed. 

One of my favorite books to use is Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.  It’s chock-full of vivid writing and literary devices & tools with which we want our children to make friends.  I’ve outlined three that are easily spotted in Owl Moon, including examples from the text.  Because good writing weaves literary elements together, these overlap, but that's the beauty of this book!

Here's a list of literary devices I want to make sure my kids know before they leave home.

Here's a list of literary devices I want to make sure my kids know before they leave home.

Simile & Metaphor
Well placed similes and metaphors blend seamlessly into the writing to compare something, possibly unfamiliar, to something familiar.  To create a picture for the reader, to bring the reader into the emotion of the story.  Similes and metaphors are powerful tools when used well.  It’s often the difference between showing the reader what is happening, rather than just telling them.

  • The trees stood still as giant statues.
  • Somewhere behind us a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song.
  • And when their voices faded away it was as quiet as a dream.
  • The moon made his face into a silver mask.
  • Then the owl pumped its great wings and lifted off the branch like a shadow.

I like to play a game with my kids when we’re exploring similes and metaphors.  We find similes and metaphors in the text (showing) and then rephrase it so that it is no longer showing, but telling.  Here are some examples from the text that "show" and my "tell" is in italics.

  • The trees stood still as giant statues.  The trees were tall.
  • Somewhere behind us a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song.  We could hear the train whistle blowing.
  • And when their voices faded away it was as quiet as a dream.  When their voices were quiet, it was silent.
  • The moon made his face into a silver mask.  His face looked shiny in the moonlight.
  • Then the owl pumped its great wings and lifted off the branch like a shadow.  The owl flew off the branch.

Then, we reverse it.  I give them a simple sentence such as, “I ate ice cream.”  And they rewrite it to be more descriptive by including similes and metaphors.

  • The ice cream dribbled down my arm like raindrops plopping from the sky.
  • I licked the ice cream round and round the cone like a merry-go-round, faster and faster until I caught every last dripping drop.
  • I bit the bottom off my cone and it was a faucet, dripping strawberry ice cream into my open mouth.

Descriptive language
Descriptive language covers a large area of writing because really, doesn’t all good writing rely on the perfect description?!  Here are just a few examples I pulled from Owl Moon.  Once you read the book, you’ll see that every line, every phrase is full of beautiful description.

  • Our feet crunched over the crisp snow and little gray footprints followed us.
  • The shadows were the blackest things I had ever seen.  They stained the white snow.
  • My mouth felt furry, for the scarf over it was wet and warm.

Now it’s your turn.  Play charades where the only answers are strong verbs.  Are you galloping, shuffling, sauntering, trudging, sipping, gulping, teetering?  Or pull out a magazine and leaf through it.  Find a picture of a scene or something that interests you.  Describe it using strong verbs and adjectives. 

Setting
In Owl Moon, Jane Yolen is consistently bringing us back to the setting. She gives us details right from the beginning that show us what a cold, bright, clear winter evening it is.  Go on a scavenger hunt through the book to find these.

Your turn.  Go outside and find a comfortable place to sit.  Describe the setting in such a way that your reader will feel like he is there.  Keep in mind all the ways you take in your surrounding, through your senses.

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So, grab a copy of Owl Moon and jump in.  Choose one literary device.  Define it.  Find it.  Try your hand at it.   Most of all, have fun with it. 

To download a printable pdf of how to use Owl Moon to explore literary devices, click on the image below.

Writing with Training Wheels

Writing is like learning to ride a bike.  At first, the “rider” needs our full support to steady things.  After a while, all the rider needs is some gentle support as we keep our hand on the back of the seat, prepared and ready to help.  Once she gains more confidence and skill, we’re able to run alongside being the encourager, but still being there to bandage the skinned knee if she falls. 

Once in a while there’s a wobbly day, when things just don’t go as smoothly as before, so we step in again to support our rider.  But finally, the rider is independent, pedaling off while we look on, amazed at how much she has grown and changed.

Never once along the way, did we say that we are riding the bike, not even when we were the ones keeping that bike and its rider upright with our own strength.  The credit went to the rider, the one being brave enough to sit in the seat and try, even if only in tentative pedaling at first.  It all counts.

Be there for your writer.  Don’t worry if sometimes you’re supporting more and sometimes less.  The goal isn’t perfection on the first try, or even complete spelling and grammar accuracy.  The goal is to honor your writer’s courage to share what is going on inside his mind and heart and to support him as he gains the skills necessary for strong writing. 

Don’t be afraid to take the pencil (with permission, of course) and transcribe what your writer is saying.  The thoughts are hers but sometimes the complicated task of getting those thoughts from the brain into language to the hand and onto the paper can be downright overwhelming.   

Feel free to help your writer with word choice.  Toss around some synonyms for ‘went’ or ‘good’.  Help him choose the words that really show what he sees in his mind’s eye.  You may be surprised by his perspective.

Read to her (even if she is reading on her own).  Talk about what you’re reading, not just about plot and characters but about the way the author used metaphor to show the sun melting into the horizon.  You may learn something new together.

We’re all writers . . . . because we all have something to say.  It’s part of being human.  We’re all at different places in our growth as writers, especially our children.  Julie Bogart of Brave Writer describes the natural stages of writing in such a way that we can see the beauty of each stage.  If you’re curious as to how to support the writers in your family based on where they are in their writing development, click on the image below and find out for yourself just how amazing your developing writer really is!

Successfully learning (and teaching someone) to ride a bike depends on the relationship between the rider and the guider.  the same holds true for writing.  Too much support and the writer feels suffocated.  Not enough and he feels alone and unsure.  There’s no secret formula to say, give this much support here and this much there.  It ebbs and flows and it is in the relationship that you will know how much is needed.

So listen to your writer.  Chances are she will show you exactly what he needs. 

A Tour of Our Reader's Notebooks

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A Tour of Our
Reader's Notebooks

I recently shared the idea of Reader’s Notebooks  and how my children and I are using them to have meaningful, on-going conversations about the books that we read together and the books that they read independently. Can I just say how much we love these! Not only are we “discussing” books, but my children are learning to put their thoughts onto paper. They are reading with purpose and with more attention to detail than ever before. And best of all, I am able to get a glimpse into their hearts and minds while gently teaching them about grammar, mechanics, and letter format. The few hours I spend each week preparing and responding to their letters is far outweighed by the benefits!

Here’s a brief map of the parts of our Reader’s Notebooks, but they are explained in more detail in the video below.

Letters

Golden Lines

Books I’ve Read

Books I Want to Read

List of Comprehension Strategies
(from Strategies that Work*)
To download this list for your own use, sign up below and it will be sent to your inbox.

Story Chart (from Teaching the Classics)

Post-It Notes

Tabs

 

If you have any questions or comments, leave me a comment or send me a message here at the blog or on my facebook page.

*This post contains an amazon affiliate link.  Purchasing through that link, helps support the blog.  Thanks! 

For your free "Strategies for Reading Comprehension" printable   Sign Up Here>

Learning to Trust with Boys & Baseball

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There's a Book for That, Day 10:
Boys & Baseball

Allowing learning to unfold naturally is a tightrope walk between anxiety and trust. At least it has been for me. I have often questioned my own notion of learning, and often done so multiple times in an hour. What I have learned is that whenever I allow trust to win out over the fear and anxiety, the result is beautiful. Always. The process is not always neat and orderly. Actually, it rarely is. But beauty and blessing can be found in every corner of trusting enough to respect your child’s voice in his own education. That’s the lesson all six of my children teach me daily. And among my children, there is no better teacher than our eight year old. This boy has pushed me out of my comfort zone in splendid ways that I thank him for.

boys baseball graphic

So when his love of baseball happily threatened to take over every aspect of his waking (and most likely dreaming) hours, I made the conscious decision to welcome the passion. Thanks to Julie Bogart over at Brave Writer and Lori Pickert over at Project-Based Homeschooling, this decision was easy. I suggested to my boy that he come up with a project about baseball. His enthusiasm for this ideas matched that of Christmas morning. Not only was he going to immerse himself in learning all about baseball, but he got to take the lead and he got quality time with me sharing his passion. All of these are immense benefits, but the latter is what this parenting gig is all about. Nothing says ‘I love you’ to a child more than spending time together focusing on what they love.

So now, on to the books….

These are just some of the books we read together. We also watched some YouTube videos documentaries about different baseball players and baseball history. And this boy amazed me every step of the way. He was focused and attentive and persistent. After some brainstorming, he decided he wanted to write a book. And he doesn’t mean just a little, easy reader book. He means a BOOK, and he is prepared for it to take him all year to do it.

jeter project text

This is the result of trusting my boy and being his partner in learning.  As recent as a few months ago, he did not want to learn to read or write.  Now he is doing both, with enthusiasm!

two paths

Throughout the process so far, he has learned how to read and spell several dozen words. He has learned how to paraphrase and re-tell what he has learned. He has learned how to ask questions and seek the answers. And he has learned how to go through a video or book with a fine tooth comb a second, and sometimes third time, to make sure he got the facts straight. And above all, he has learned that he is a reader and a writer. So if you ever  When you come to the fork in the road where you have to choose the path of fear or the path of trust, choose trust. Let’s make it the path more traveled.

Want more practical and inspiring tools for learning & connecting with your kids?  Click here 

There's a Book for That, Day 3: Owl Moon

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There's a Book for That, Day 3:
Owl Moon

The beauty of books is the depth and breadth of learning they offer. Just one book can lead us in so many directions, hopping off on rabbit trails that lead us on to discover new ideas on a variety of topics. Owl Moon is one of my favorite books for just that reason. Jane Yolen’s writing effortlessly lifts us up out of our homes and right into the cold night going owling with Pa. We hear the crunch of the snow. Feel our hot breath behind the woolen scarf. See the magnificent beauty of the owl.

 

At the end, we sit in quiet awe of having experienced something so seemingly real without having to bundle up and head outside. From reading this book, you may decide to learn more about owls and seek out a non-fiction book like Owls by Gail Gibbons, or learn more about how the seasons affect animals or about life in the country. Or, because of the beauty of Yolen’s words, you may want to learn more about writing. Owl Moon is a book that I share with every young writer I work with, either one on one or in a writing workshop setting.

If you are curious about how to use Owl Moon to inspire writing, check out 5 Simple Steps to Using Picture Books to Teach Writing .  It will encourage you to look closely at the books you read and not stop your discussion at the plot but delve deeper into looking at the words the author chose and the beauty of the language.  Really, Owl Moon, and books like it can inspire writers of all ages!  They're concise, vivid, and after all, who doesn't love a great picture book?!

So, no matter what rabbit trail you find yourself on, you’ll be glad you followed it.  Happy Learning!

5 Simple Steps for Using Picture Books to Teach Writing

using picture books Teaching writing can be one of the most intimidating tasks a homeschool parent has to face. There are so many layers to it that it’s often hard to even know where to begin. We often feel like we need to be a professional writer to really teach our children writing. But I promise you, you already have the tools to guide your child as he learns to write.

You don’t need to be a writer. You need to be a reader.

And by the very nature of being a homeschooling parent, you probably are! You need to be an observant reader. One who can look closely at the words of an author and begin to see the words on the page as more than just information to be learned or a story to be shared. A reader who can adjust her eyes to the ways in which the author weaves the details of the text.

My favorite place to start teaching writing is with reading…picture books! So many of us already read aloud to our children on a regular basis so why not use what we are already reading to teach writing?! Picture books are typically pretty short, so the author has to be very intentional with the words he has chosen. The text of a picture book is full of wonderful examples of the qualities we would like to encourage in our children’s writing.

Inspired by some of my favorite writing resources (listed below) and spending time writing with my children and in the classroom, I have seen a simple rhythm emerge that connects reading and writing and allows the authenticity of both endeavors to shine through.

5 steps

  1. Read the book.  Take your time with the words.  Take it slow.  Allow their rhythm and cadence to pull you in.  For this example, I’ll refer to Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.
  2. Rest.  Put the book aside.  You’ve already started teaching writing by reading beautiful words to your children.  Let it rest.  Let the seeds of the language sprout.
  3. Discuss.  After reading the book and letting it rest, re-visit it the next day.  Re-read it and then pick just one sentence or section to focus on.  This one part of the book should represent one concept you want to focus on; strong beginnings, alliteration, varying sentence structure, describing the setting.  The list is really endless and what you choose will depend on the writer in front of you and the book you have read.  (This step may even come before step one.  You may have a particular skill you want to focus on and choose a book accordingly.)Back to our example….Owl Moon offers so many characteristics of quality writing.  The whole text is so poetic and the words so precise that you can’t help but feel like you are out owling on that winter night.For simplicity of discussion, we will focus how to use the book to encourage our children to use strong descriptions in their writing.  I could choose a sentence like:

“Our feet crunched over the crisp snow and little gray footprints followed us.”

Discuss this one sentence. The author could have said, ‘We walked through the snow and made footprints.’ But instead, she chooses words that paint a vivid picture of exactly what is happening. Keep it simple and direct. Your message may get lost if you over-do it. Let the words of the author have space to speak and guide by example.

4. Practice.  Give your child time to try this out.  Applying what has just been learned is the best way to bring these new ideas into his own writing.  If he is keeping a writer’s notebook, he could pick out a sentence or two that he could re-write, adding more description.

Or you could make it into a collaborative task. You come up with the most boring, non-descriptive sentence you can think of. Something like, ‘We made cookies.’ Together, think of other ways you could say this so that you are painting a vivid picture for your reader.

We baked crispy cookies and gobbled them all up.

or

We licked crumbs off our lips so that there was nothing left of the cookies we made.

or

We rolled the dough flat and pressed little shapes into it with cookie cutters.

As you can see, each of these sentences tells more than simply saying ‘We made cookies.’ And the ways in which we can say the same thing are infinite. It is important that our children see that there are many ways to say the same thing and that they are no right or wrong answers.

However you choose to approach this step, allow lots and lots of time. Don’t rush it. If your child seems to be having trouble applying what he has learned, go back to steps 2 or 3. Sometimes, finding a second or third example is necessary to really allow the child to make it his own. Sometimes, though, taking a break is best, revisiting the idea in a day or two.

5.  Share.  Talk about how this worked for your child (and for you).  This step is crucial!  Allowing for an honest dialogue about how smoothly or not-so-smoothly we bring the skill or idea into our own writing, encourages our children to reflect as well.  It also sets the tone that writing is an authentic task and that we are learning together.  Reflecting together, allows each person’s voice to be heard and reaffirms that the child’s ideas and perspective are valid and valuable.

Even though I approach this process in a very informal, laid-back way, I have found it to be very effective! And fun! The best part is that writing becomes a joint activity, something we enjoy together. And when our children witness us reading and writing alongside them, they will see these as worthwhile, life-long learning.

If you need more ideas about how to use picture books to inspire your children’s writing, check out these resources.

writer's notebookteaching writingteaching nonfiction writing

Fanning the Flame: Encouraging Creativity in Our Children's Writing

writing notebook One of my very favorite things to do is share the joy of writing with children. They are so full of ideas and stories. Adults often find themselves envious of the child’s imagination and creativity. Somewhere along the way from childhood to adulthood, many adults feel as though they have lost the ability to imagine and create. How sad this is!

Unfortunately, the step-by-step approach we often take with writing with children seems to smother that creativity and turn writing into a chore rather than honor the art form that it is. I’ve seen children, brimming with creative spark, move from writing for the pure joy of sharing their thoughts to writing what they think others, mainly the adults in their lives, want to hear. The children are looking for the right answer according to the adult.

The child’s writing is no longer an expression of himself, but a reflection of the expectations of the adult.

What if the way we teach writing is all wrong? What if we shouldn’t ‘teach’ it at all? What if our job, as the adults, is simply to mentor our children on their journey as writers?

In What a Writer Needs, Ralph Fletcher says that writers need mentors. Wherever a writer is along his writing path, he needs a mentor who is more experienced than he is. This is good news for all the parents who feel like they can’t help their children as they develop their writing skills. Just by the fact that we have been alive longer than our children, most of us have more experience with writing and can act as a mentor.

But what does a mentor do? Ralph Fletcher lists six traits of a good mentor.

  1. A Mentor has high standards.
  2. A mentor builds on strengths.
  3. A Mentor values originality and diversity.
  4. A mentor encourages students to take risks.
  5. A mentor is passionate.
  6. A mentor looks at the big picture.

The attributes of the mentor are what most parents would say they want for their children, high standards, originality, passion. What better way to encourage these traits in our children than to model them.

We can see that nowhere on this list does it say, ‘the mentor assigns writing topics’ or ‘the mentor grades the writing’ or ‘the mentor picks apart the writing until the original piece can’t be seen and the child is turned off to writing.’

I know that the last comment seems harsh but I have seen it happen again and again. When anyone, a child or an adult, shares his or her writing, that person is opening up a part of themselves. As a mentor, we must treat the vulnerability of this exposure with respect. If we do otherwise, we will not be given the honor of being invited into the writer’s creative space again.

So it is our privilege and responsibility to act as guide, helping our children to build upon the strengths and passion they naturally bring to writing, holding the space for them to authentically express themselves, and honoring that the words and ideas within them are worth sharing.