Monday, September 2, 2013

Beginnings In Wordplay Leads To Writing

          Ruth and Stacey host this Tuesday Slice of Life on their blog, Two Writing Teachers.  Tweet at SLICE2013! 

     One of my favorite times, and quick writing assignments, was to involve my students in conversations about wordplay in their writing. I live within a block of a wonderful little park called Sunset Park.  It has a small hilly area with tall native grasses—good bunny habitat, a children’s playground and sand pit—often visited by me and my grandgirls, and an open amphitheater for small concerts. Our talks in class also focused on being aware of interesting things, ever observing the world around us!  So when I went walking around my new neighborhood one day, I discovered these signs on drainage holes beneath the amphitheater.  

                              What do you imagine when you think of “IN” and “OUT”?


in a minute
in the frig
in favor of
in the midst of
in order to
in place of
in the middle of
in a nutshell
in hot water
in sync
in reference to
in some instances
in charge
in context
in effect
in the future
in the pink, red, black
in the doghouse
in trouble
in heaven
in the same boat
in over my head
in for the long haul
in a pickle

out of doors
out of eggs
out of nowhere, into here
out of this world
out of sync
out of my head
out of energy
out of bounds
out in left field
out and about
out of my skin
out of breath
out of sight
out of mind
out of sorts
out of kilter
out of gas
out of sight, out of mind
out of the clear blue sky
out of time
out on a limb

            When we’ve generated many phrases, I would have each student choose one and write a sentence that uses that phrase to help them capture a particular memory in their lives.

For example, I feel “out of sync” when I use the words “just dial that number” and others look at me as if they have no idea what I’m talking about.

Or, I knew I was “in a pickle” when I was about eight years old and I poured all the bottle of bubble bath into the tub at the same time. 

         We shared sentences of course, and sometimes students wanted so much to tell their stories “behind” the sentences.  But that’s when the conversation stopped, and we wrote!  It was a pleasure having these conversations, showing good ways to notice details, to spark interest in vocabulary that we might not know we already knew, and to find ideas for writing.


  1. Great post! A wonderful reminder of how versatile even the simplest of words can be.

    1. Thank you Jane. It's true, one can use this with many kinds of word groups, too. I just happened to find those 'real' pictures of in & out.

  2. I love this! Great idea and great way to inspire writing!

    1. Thanks Holly. Messing around with words is something I really wanted my students to learn to do.

  3. Love this writing idea! Wish I had had it yesterday when I was blocked. I'll definitely try this with kids. It leads in so many different directions.

    1. Thanks Margaret, hope you'll let me know how it goes with your students!

  4. A perfect lesson for getting kids to build stamina for writing. It also show cases how just one sentence can generate a whole story. Noticing is key. Love those photos!

    1. Yep, time to work on the stamina, word work, just a lot of things here at the beginning of the year, Elsie. Thanks!

  5. Love this, Linda. I've been doing lots of word play/idea gathering with my Creative Writing students. This is an idea I will add to my list!

    1. Feel free to use the pics if they're helpful, Deb. I'd love to see what you're doing in your class, too! Thanks!

  6. I love this, Linda! I'm pinning it to my writing board on Pinterest. It definitely gets the mind going!

    1. Thanks Stacey, I'm so bad at even remembering Pinterest & I know there's much there to love! I'll take a look at your boards!

  7. This is such a creative activity. I love the pictures that go with it. Grandgirls....this is a beautiful word. I'm going to use it with Samantha when she comes to visit in October. This is my favorite 'in'...
    I'm in deep doo doo. It does happen on occasion. :)

    1. Oh-you made me laugh, Nancy-love the "in deep doo doo" - of course! And also, of course you can use 'grandgirl'-they are! Thanks!

  8. Love it, love it, love it. What a great way to teach students to be close observers and to pay attention to to the many directions language can take us. Thank you, Linda.

    1. You're welcome Lee Ann-hope you give it a try then let me know how it goes!

  9. This looks and sounds as a fun way to get starter ideas for writing. The phrases could take the writers in many directions.
    I am thinking how would it work with English language learners.


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