CRWP Middle School Writing Camp: Day #3

Day 3 of writing tech camp is in the books!  My how time will fly.  We spent the first half of the day doing our writing marathon.  For those of you who are not familiar with the National Writing Project and their work, participants of the summer institute do a writing marathon where we visited different places and wrote.  With the middle schoolers, we visited the campus greenhouse, the sports arena complex, and the library. The students not only had various places and items to motivate and inspire them to write, but they learned about some wonderful places on CMU campus.

Upon completing our marathon and returning to our lab, the students took time to cool down and eat their lunch.    Then, we had another guest speaker talk with the students.  Our free-lance writer writes for the CMU paper and shared two short videos with the students about her trip to Mexico where her and some other students who are going into teaching, worked with students who had very little.  The video was great and she used it as a lead into a discussion about how our writing should be as if we are looking through a video camera lens.  Our writing should invoke all our senses. We should use as many senses to appeal to the readers of our writing.  She completed a writing activity with the students that allowed them to choose from several different prompts and then the campers found ways to make their writing better by answering some questions that surrounded the prompt.  In addition, they learned synonyms that made their writing stronger.  For instance, words like polite, kind, friendly, likable, and charming can be used instead of “nice”.

To conclude our day, the campers worked on completing their pieces of writing from the marathon we embarked on earlier in the day.  I posted two discussions on Youthvoices and the campers need to post to those discussions.  In addition, we had them continue to work on the stories they did with our guest speaker as “free-lance writers”. The other co-director decided we also wanted the campers to go back and “polish” their writing so that it wasn’t completely riddled with errors.  I know there are professionals out there that would put more emphasis on grammar, sentence structure, etc. However, I am more interested in hearing the participants ideas and seeing them transform their ideas into pieces of writing, no matter what mode that writing may take on.  In addition, it is important that the students express their great ideas into a piece of writing that represents them.  We can worry about the polishing later.

Now that we are nearing the end, I have been reflecting back on the past few days and I am thrilled with the group of campers we have.  They have great ideas and their word choice is incredible when it comes to their writing.  Our guest speakers have been truly impressed with the originality of the their ideas.

I would definitely give the students more time in between the places we visited, so the students have more time to write.  I feel as if they were rushed today as we went around campus.  Furthermore, I would like the students to use more technology like podcasts for their poems and such.  More thoughts on that to come.

I am saddened to say tomorrow is our last day, but I am excited for the fact the students get to take some time at the end to share with us and their parents what they have been doing all week.  It should be a great time as we discuss research and the food industry.  I can’t wait to blog about it tomorrow.  Until then…


CRWP Middle School Writing Camp: Day #2

With our second day of middle school tech writing camp complete, I am no doubt more fired up about the campers and their writing, but I am also exhausted.  Today was a huge poetry day along with tying up some loose ends with our writing yesterday.

We started today with the students writing 25 word stories in their composition notebooks.  I showed the campers the examples on Kevin Hodgson’s Prezi.  The campers enjoyed the many stories that were in the Prezi.  We then proceeded to share our own 25 word stories out loud.  Participants did an amazing job!  We then quickly transitioned into our poet coming in and speaking to them about writing and what it means to be a poet/writer.  Robert Fanning was our poet and he did a super job with his presentation.  He had the students create this huge word wall on our whiteboard and then he read some poems to the kids.  He discussed the power that words have, something that students today need to hear again and again. At the end of his presentation, he took the campers down the hall and opened a box full of words on pieces of paper.  He then had the students throw them in the air and once they landed, the students needed to form lines of poetry. He instructed them to be silly and non-traditional and I was impressed with how our campers worked on this.  I was even more impressed by one young man who had some really powerful lines.  Below are some pictures of the activity and the lines individuals came up with:


When our poet departed today, the students wrote three different poems.  They wrote something called a diamond poem where they started with a topic like female and then end up at the complete opposite which would be male in this case.  In addition to their diamond poems, they wrote haiku poems and then collaboratively wrote a poem that rhymed.  You can see student work on Their work is under CRWP and writing poems.  I encourage you to check out some of their work.

Throughout the time the participants were working on their writing they used Ipads for the duration of the day.  Some campers had experience with using Ipads, others did not.  Students were actively engaged in writing using Google Doc/Drive and Youth Voices.  There were very few gliches and overall, the students did a plethora of writing today incorporated with the use of technology. They finished out their day responding to other camp participants work on Youth Voices and trying to polish their detective skills by solving some of the staged scenes that were posted on to the Youth Voices website.

With all of the writing the campers have done so far, our goal for this camp is to look at a way we can incorporate the three major areas of writing the Common Core State Standards focuses on: narrative, informational, argumentative.  Yesterday we asked our participants to be detectives and try and solve a murder which led them to writing a police report, a great lead into argumentative writing.  Today, we focused on poetry, part of the narrative world of writing.  Thursday we will look at research, a type of informational writing.  Our adventure continues tomorrow as we embark on our writing marathon and hear another guest speaker.


CRWP Middle School Writing Camp: Day #1

It is without a doubt a whole different world when you are talking to middle schoolers about writing when they actually care and want to be writing.  All in all, the first day of middle school tech writing camp was a success. I now understand what NWP directors go through with logistics on the first day. My co-director and myself spent a good portion of the morning getting a majority of our students signed up for their Google accounts so they can use google docs.  Unfortunately the Ipads were not ready today so the students had to use their composition notebooks, which isn’t a major set back, it was just frustrating when it is a middle school tech camp and they couldn’t use the technology.

After their writing into the day was completed, we focused on argumentative writing with the campers and we used George Hillock’s Teaching Argumentative Writing and Crime and Puzzlement by Lawrence Treat.  The campers looked at two different cartoon murder scenes and wrote down what evidence or facts they saw in the picture.  Then, they used that evidence to form a rule or warrant.  If the evidence did not answer all of the questions the campers had, they wrote down those questions.  The students worked in groups on this and eventually they wrote a police report.  Before the students wrote their reports we had a detective from the CMU police department come in and speak to the campers about his job and what police reports look like and why writing is important in police work.  The students asked great questions about his profession and they asked really smart questions about the reports they were writing.  In addition to the detective, we showed a model of an actual police report that was done on a car theft.  I also showed the campers a short youtube video on writing a quality police report.  The video had to be slowed down because it went to fast, but the students were able to understand what we were asking.  When the students were done with writing their reports, all four groups shared out their report.  Next year, I am hoping they will be put into a google doc and then be shared with the other groups so they can collaborate and get feedback from their peers.

The really fun part came in the afternoon when the students got to use the digital still cameras and the digital video cameras.  The campers were instructed to make their own murder scene and take digital still pictures of the staged murder scene similar to the ones that were given to them earlier.  In addition, the campers were to take the digital video cameras and record a narrative that would explain the scene for others to follow.  Before the students were allowed to wander the building and stage their murder scenes, they needed to develop and write out their plan for what they wanted to do.  Furthermore, they needed to write out a script for their narrative. Once their scripts and plans were approved, they were able to start staging their scene.  What I want to do is load their images and videos into  Then, I want the camp participants to go to youth voices and watch other groups videos and look at their pictures.  After viewing other groups work, I want them to comment on their work. I have to upload their work tomorrow morning to the youth voices website.

The last item I had participants complete today was write a short reflection on the days events and discuss what they might have learned about argumentative writing, visual literacies, writing as a whole, etc.  Reflecting on my own work today,  I want students to have more time to play with the digital cameras.  I would also like to bring them in props to use next year (if we go this route).  It would also be beneficial for the participants to have more time to plan for their murder scene and script.

Again, it was a very successful day. I feel that it went well and it extremely fast.  Tomorrow we are exploring poetry and we have a poet lined up to come in and speak to the students.  It should be a blast!