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Video Writing Prompts: Keeping kids engaged in those “between units and right before vacation days.”

It’s that time of year in many of our classrooms: that restless  time between Thanksgiving break and winter recess.  I mark my kids “present” every day, but I know that most of them are, in fact, many miles away – dreaming of festivities, skiing, vacations, and lazy days in pajamas.  Every day seems to be a battle to keep my kids engaged and really present, especially in writing workshop where we’ve completed our memoir genre study but are not quite ready to begin our nonfiction unit.

So, what to do in this restless, in-between units time?

Here’s when I turn to my secret teacher weapon:

Video clips make wonderful writing prompts, and (best of all) they bring new life and excitement into our writing workshop just when we need it most.  I am always on the lookout for interesting clips which I save to Pinterest or just on my hard drive (some day, when I have five free minutes, I intend to organize them in folders with easy to search for labels), and I tag these with ideas for different types of prompts. The idea is to present my kids with a variety of writing options with which to try out a variety of writing skills.  Here are some of my favorites:


I found this one on Katie’s wonderful blog some time ago, and it has become the very first video writing prompt I share.  We view this several times to take notes on the story it tells, the setting, and the people involved.  Then my kids use their notes to write a narrative in the form of a news story, complete with a snappy headline and subtitles.  This is our longest writing prompt, and takes us a couple of days from start to finish:

Next, we move on to something completely different, Charlie Chaplin.  Both these videos require my kids to pay very close attention to facial  expression and subtle movements and details – they must be writing detectives!  In each case, we watch the videos twice and then my kids write stories.  It’s always great fun to compare these stories during our share time – each student invariably notices something nobody else did, which gives each story a unique twist:

A few years ago, Amy Krouse Rosenthal (fabulous and prolific writer, as evidenced by her blog) created a video entitled “17 things I made”

which turned into an amazing project – The Beckoning of Lovely:

We watch the first, and my kids create their own “17 things I made” in narrative form.  I have learned to be pretty loose in my instructions for this particular prompt, because the things my students write about have always surprised and moved me.  As usual, my kids rise to the occasion when given the occasion…and we love sharing and comparing these lists.

Then, we watch “The Beckoning of Lovely”, and my kids write an observation/reaction piece.  They love the act of spontaneous creativity that is “The Beckoning of Lovely”, and their reactions reveal so much about their sixth-grader’s sense of hope and faith in humanity. This is such a feel good experience for us all.

Finally, there is  this video, which is a trailer for a PBS documentary:

I love the fact that this is an issue-oriented video which brings home to my rather over-privileged kids the challenges children their age face in the larger world.  We watch this several times, discuss the ideas and emotions that it elicits, and my students write narrative/opinion pieces which sets us up for our unit on argument writing when we return from winter break.  

And, if there is time, we wander over to this site which imagines homes like this:

bizarre home

Who would live here?

Why would they want to?

What would they look like?

What would their life be like?

We frame our writing around questions like these, and then I let my kids’ imaginations run wild.  Their narratives are often hilarious and deeply imaginative, and we so enjoy sharing these stories, too.

So, there you have it, my survival guide for writing workshop until winter break. We will continue to write, we will continue to write well, and we will have some fun, too.



Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

6 thoughts on “Video Writing Prompts: Keeping kids engaged in those “between units and right before vacation days.” Leave a comment

  1. Love the ideas, Tara, especially “my kids rise to the occasion when given the occasion”. These videos must start very lively conversations. Will pass it on, although most of our students are very into their unit work now, so these two weeks will fill up their work along with all the holiday festivities. It’s such a short time this year-already everyone is talking about the break! Thanks for a post so filled with ideas!


  2. Hi Tara,
    I have only had time to view the first video. WONDERFUL! I love those kids and how they achieved their dream. This kind of goes with a favorite childhood book/record of mine, The Carrot Seed where the little kid did not give up. Love this post! Thank you!


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