Thanksgiving is often a 4 or 5-day reprieve from busy work and school schedules. Many families get together for visiting, food, football or movies. The hours leading up to Thanksgiving dinner can be busy for those hosting family, filled with cleaning house, grocery shopping and the inevitable hours spent in the kitchen. For kiddos, (after of course helping in the kitchen, and cleaning their rooms), the hours stretch out before them and soon they’ll be asking for tv or the ipad. What if instead of relying on screen time, they created their own worlds with their imagination?
I’ve taught creative writing to elementary students from 2nd-5th grade, and many are aching for inspiration to create those worlds. There are those students who have always loved to weave stories and have no problem writing pages and pages of narrative. There are others who are reluctant to write, and are often nervous about judgment or criticism. But often after a few classes, even those who claim to be “horrible at writing” have asked for “just one more minute…” while deeply entwined in their story arc.
I’ve put together five writing prompts for inspiration. For the reluctant writer, set a timer for 20 minutes and let him/her pick the most compelling prompt. Let your writer know there will not be any grammar, spelling or judgment of plot. This is an exercise on creativity and a gateway to building confidence and belief in one’s voice.
Most importantly, let them know that there will be a “live authors’ reading” after dessert in front of the Thanksgiving gathering of friends or family. (note: if the thought of presenting their story aloud makes them fret, offer to read the piece for them. I’ve found that 100% of the time the writer wants their voice heard.)
First person point of view: the viewpoint of a character writing or speaking directly about themselves, using variations of “I” – Wikipedia
You, dear writer, take the first person point of view of the head turkey on a turkey farm. Go ahead and name him or her. Let’s say its name is Tom Turkey. Tom lives on a bustling, feathery turkey farm and Thanksgiving Day is rapidly approaching. Tom is one smart turkey and decides enough is enough: he will orchestrate a coup d’état, or a turkey-rebel uprising, against the farmer. Start with Tom Turkey’s escape plan – who does he gobble his secret plan to first? Does he draw out a map using a piece of hay dipped in mud? Does he get his hands on walkie-talkies and don black clothes so as to better escape in the dead of night? Or does he and his turkey friends dig a trench near the pond with an elaborate maze of tunnels for escape? Try to write from Tom Turkey’s point of view and make sure you consider the following:
Setting or location: barnyard, barn, pigpen, turkey house, farmhouse, horse corral, pond, tractor, garage, or anything else you want to include!
*Extra points for drawing a map of the escape route!
Personification: the representation of a thing or idea as a person – Word Central.com
What is the mashed potato’s biggest dream? Perhaps it’s to meet the girl of his dreams: a pat of butter. Or maybe it’s to disappear the turkey so that it may be the star of the Thanksgiving table?
Pick a Thanksgiving dish and give it a dream. Here is a list of traditional dishes, or pick one you usually see on your own dinner table.
- mashed potatoes
- sweet potatoes
- pumpkin pie
- pecan pie
- green beans
Example: “My dream in life would be to take over the Thanksgiving table. My family and I would become a delicious variety of textures and flavors for every human’s taste bud: my brother the baked potato, my cousin the scalloped potato, my little nieces and nephews the tater tots! We would call it – Thankspotato Day!”
Magic Realism: the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into seemingly realistic fiction. – Encyclopedia Britannica
You have been charged with making the pumpkin pie for the Thanksgiving feast. What your family doesn’t know is that you have a magical ability to make one ingredient in the pie induce a very magical effect on those who eat it. Pick a regular ingredient that you will then bewitch to create a magical effect. Here are the ingredients for pumpkin pie:
Pumpkin pie recipe:
1 deep-dish pie crust
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 15-ounce can of pumpkin
1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
Write a story about what happened during dessert to all of your guests at the table. Magical effects might be invisibility, ability to fly, the ability to read minds or any other forms of magic!
Pick a favorite character from a book you love. It doesn’t have to be your very favorite but it could be a fictional or non-fictional person you admire, or who makes you laugh, or who you would love to be friends with in real life. Next pick a friend, a real friend, someone you’re grateful to have in your life. Your real friend and your fictional friend are both coming to your house to have Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Write what happens.
For example, I love the character Hermione from the Harry Potter series. “The doorbell rang and Cathy and I went to answer the door. It was Hermione and not only was she right on time but she had a book under her arm. “Hi! I can’t wait to have Thanksgiving dinner with you! It’ll be my first Thanksgiving ever and I’ve been researching all about it. Did you know that when the Pilgrims arrived…” Hermione kept talking and Cathy and I looked at each other and giggled….”
This exercise sounds a bit strange but I’m aiming for a little appreciation of something we don’t thank enough: our body. Your body works tirelessly in ways you don’t think about every day. Your lungs help you to breathe, enabling you to deep breathe while running, or hold your breath while swimming. Your heart never skips a beat and distributes fresh blood throughout your body with its endless pumping. Your legs provide you with the ability to run, skip, jump or walk. Your brain gives you thoughts and solves problems and creates dreams.
Write a letter to a body part, thanking it for all the ways it has been there for you. Here’s my example:
Thanks for being there for me, Hands. You’re there for me when someone waves hello, or gives me a high five. You often catch me when I fall (even though you sacrifice the palms getting scratched up) and you are great at throwing and catching a ball. You help me grasp tree branches so I can climb high. When gloved, I can hold ski poles for the slopes in winter, or even while wet I can hang on to paddles on a kayak. I can dance with you, I can snap, clap and flick with you. I’ll take good care of you, Hands, and always give you a band-aid when you need, or wash you with soapy water when you’re dirty, or give you a rest on my lap when you’re tired.
First step: think about a person you’re thankful for. Maybe it’s a family member, a teacher, a friend, or someone who has helped you out in a time of need.
Now imagine you’re headed to an island with one single house for you and this person, but no other people inhabit the island. You can also bring one thing, and one food (there’s enough drinking water in the house). You’ll be on the island for one school year.
Here are my picks: I’m thankful for my Aunt Rebecca because she’s a writer and she has always encouraged me to keep writing. I would bring my favorite book, one that I never get tired of reading, “My Brilliant Friend” and I would bring a black bean and cheese burrito with avocado and salsa.
Now that you’ve made your choices, write about a typical day on that island. Wake up and look at the beautiful azure sky and the brilliantly clear-blue waves hitting the sand. What do you do next?