Halloween writing can be a snap! Just give kids a prompt about carving pumpkins. Soon they’ll be planning and penning the step-by-step process. This writing activity works well for third and fourth grade students. It focuses on good beginnings and endings, word choice, sentence variety, clear sequencing, and use of order words.
Ms. Sneed Improves Writing with a Halloween Prompt
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, was explaining the next Halloween ELA activity to her student teacher, Mr. Grow. “My fourth graders can write, but their explanatory style is loose. This Halloween writing activity tightens up their explanatory writing techniques.” She listed the steps for the prompt as she talked:
- Begin with an introduction that grabs the reader’s attention and introduces the topic.
- Use a step-by-step sequence in logical order.
- Include order and direction words.
- Choose specific (wow) words.
- Vary sentence structure.
- Wrap it up with a conclusion.
The next day, Ms. Sneed taught while Mr. Grow observed. She guided their planning with a series of questions:
- Let’s visit a pumpkin patch. Which pumpkin will you choose? Will it be tall and skinny or short and fat? Is it a perfect sphere or oddly shaped? Think about the shape of your pumpkin and draw it on your paper.
- What will the eyes look like? Are they triangles, rectangles, or hexagons? Maybe they’re stars or flowers or little slits. Do the eyes have any extra features like pupils or eyelashes or eyebrows? Draw the eyes on your pumpkin.
- Now for the nose. Think about the shape and size. Will it be big and wide, just a pair of nostrils, or snout-like? Imagine the nose you will carve on your pumpkin and draw it.
- Last we have the mouth. Will your pumpkin be smiling, frowning, sneering, or growling? The mouth will really give your pumpkin a personality. Can you see teeth? Draw your mouth.
When they finished drawing, Ms. Sneed rewarded their efforts with a virtual pumpkin carving activity from ABCYa.
“Hey, that was fun,” Mr. Grow remarked. “I don’t think they even knew they were planning for a writing project.” His eyes twinkled.
The next day, Ms. Sneed asked the students to list the steps for carving their pumpkin in order.
Then the following day, Ms. Sneed addressed her class. “Now we’ll work on word choice,” she said. As she spoke, she listed criteria on the board:
- Specific nouns – Use the exact name for each person, place, or thing. For example, when you say “French poodle,” your audience can picture what you mean much better than when you just say “dog.”
- Active verbs – Tell your audience exactly what is going on. Instead of saying, “Jonathan was in the park,” you could say, “Jonathan was dribbling a basketball at the park.“
- Adjectives – These words add a lot! For instance, if you say “tomato,” an image of a round, red vegetable will pop into the audience’s head. But saying “shriveled, rotten tomato” gives a much clearer picture of what you mean.
- Order and direction words – Guide your reader with words that help with sequencing and where on your pumpkin you will carve next.
“Furthermore,” their teacher continued, “good writers vary their sentences. Think about these things as you work on your Halloween writing:
- Sentence variety – Every sentence in your paragraph must begin with a different word. Using order words will help, but that can be repetitive too. You might be tempted to use the word ‘I’ in every sentence. That would also be repetitive. How will you avoid this? Here are some ideas:
- Write in second person, using imperative sentences or the word “you”: “First, cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin.”
- Begin with the cutting tool: “The knife slowly sliced the pumpkin’s skin to reveal a rounded nasal cavity.”
- Use with your hand: “My hand guided the knife over the surface…”
- Address with the part you’re cutting: “A sneering smile was revealed.”
- Start with a long phrase: “In the middle of the broad forehead, …”
At this point, she gave the students a themed thesaurus, which was jam-packed with Halloween words. “I’m also distributing a new copy of the planning sheet,” she said. “Rewrite the steps from yesterday. Use the strategies we just discussed to improve your writing.”
Mr. Grow circulated around the room. “Look at this,” called a boy with curly hair. “The razor-sharp dagger sliced moon-shaped crescents in the soft, orange pulp.”
“Wow, Maurice!” exclaimed Mr. Grow. “That’s amazing!”
Writing Good Beginnings and Endings
Later that afternoon, Ms. Sneed and Mr. Grow sat down to discuss the Halloween writing prompt. “I’m was so surprised with the things they came up with,” said the mentee.
“Yes, it still surprises me too. When you provide specific expectations and modeling, kids really come through.” Ms. Sneed’s famous smile tugged at the corner of her mouth
“Let’s talk about the final pieces of this project. How can we get kids to write better beginnings and endings?”
Mr. Grow shrugged. “You got me.”
“Just have them try some out! For the beginning, I ask my students to write a question, a surprise statement, dialogue, a sound (onomatopoeia), and one other beginning. To address the ending, they try a summary, a feeling, a surprise statement, a sound, and one other. Before they choose, we discuss “framing,” or choosing matching beginnings and endings. This strategy makes their writing even stronger.”
Writing, Editing, and Finalizing
When all of the steps were complete, kids moved on to drafting, editing, and finalizing their Halloween writing.
To jazz it up, Ms. Sneed distributed themed paper for their final piece. Then, of course, they displayed each masterpiece with the picture they had drawn at the beginning of the activity.
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.