Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Top Ten Writing Games for Kids

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Result of a writing game during RIO word adventure camp by Veronika

I love teaching kids writing and the way I like teaching is through games. Games, as I’ve said before, are the no fail way to get across almost any idea. In fact, there hasn’t been many concepts I’ve come across that I haven’t been able to make into some kind of game. And yes, even older teens like playing games.

So here are my top ten writing games to play with kids.

1) The Wheel of Genre – this handy device is made from a cardboard square or circle, usually about a foot across or so, and has a spinner in the middle. It is divided up into anywhere from eight to twelve to even sixteen different slices (made of coloured paper) on a cardboard backing. Initially, before creating one, I get the kids to help me by suggesting different genres of writing to go onto the wheel – leading to a discussion on genre in general. After that each of the kids picks a genre and a coloured slice of paper (usually numbered so the all fit back on the wheel afterward) and writes the genre in nice big letters, then decorates the slice to match. Once the slices have been glued down on the cardboard and sealed with clear packing tape, or some such thing, and the spinner is on and spinning nicely, play can begin.

The Wheel of Genre can be used for all kinds of things. One game we love to play at Reality Is Optional kids’ writing club is to have one person start a story in the genre spun. Then, after a sentence or two, the player would pass the wheel to the next person in the circle and they would spin a new genre and continue the story. This can become very funny when the story starts in romance and is switched suddenly to mystery or even fantasy. The story continues switching genres as often as it switches players, with each new person adding a few lines to the story, until it hits the last person who has to wrap the whole story up in whatever genre they have spun.

2) Dead Author’s night (or day) - Pick a dead author and read a bit of their work. Once that is done, either act out a part of (novelists) or the whole of (stories or poems) one of their works, or have the students write their own version of The Lost Works Of whatever author you have chosen. It’s really fun, just bring a flashlight if you’re over a certain age and reading Poe by candlelight. It’s a bit hard on the eyes. This of course introduces kids to classic authors they may have heard of but never read.

3) Kill the Princess – the kids love this one. This game starts off with the premise of a land where princesses have over run the place like rats. Using fairy-tales as well as plain creativity, the kids brainstorm all the likely ways a princess could die. We’ve had princesses succumb to high pitched notes while singing, fall out of windows when some guy tries to climb up their hair, and die due to kissing a toxic frog. Then, depending on the age of the kids, they can either write their own story of how their particular princess dies, or it can be told using group storytelling, or with the instructor racing through all the princesses deaths in a really quick summation of carnage. And if you feel this is too much violence against fictional and unrealistic women – then replace princesses with princes and have fun with that. Either way – it’s a really entertaining game which teaches kids to look at one scenario in many different ways.

4) Adventure Writing under Fire – how do you know how an action character in battle feels if you have never been in battle? How do you know what it is like to have your heart racing, hoping not to be found, when the only danger you have ever had is being late to class. Fill water guns and water balloons with icy water and have half the class attack the other, unarmed, students in the woods (or playground). Remind the students to think about what they feel while being the hunter or the hunted. When the game concludes, have them write what they felt in a first person diary type entry. Then switch roles and do it all over again. It’s amazing how actions scenes pop after this game.

5) Use Your Senses – This game is designed to get the kids to start using the Show don’t Tell method of description without beating them over the head with it. First have the kids write a paragraph or so from a story they are working on – it needs to mostly be description and action (like someone going through a time portal or something) instead of dialogue. When they are done, have them explore all five senses and create their own dictionary of descriptive words. For example – have them taste sour, hot, sweet, etc. and write down words that describe what they experience. Do the same for smell, touch (in paper bags where they can’t see what they will be touching), sound, and sight. Then get them to rewrite their paragraph with the instructions to include every sense at least once. Now the poor space traveler going through the time portal gets a strange metallic taste in his mouth, feels tingles up his arms, sees flashing lights, hears buzzing and ringing, and smells burning hair. Kids are always pleased to see how good their writing becomes after this game.

6) Late Night Talk Show – in this game you have a late night talk show host and an expert. The expert is an expert in a random field drawn from a hat filled with slips of paper created by the kids of all the things one can be an expert in. For example one can be an expert on circles, video games, falling off a horse, magnets, being annoying, man-eating birds – really anything! The talk show host doesn’t know what the person they are interviewing is an expert on and the expert has only found out what their expertise is a few seconds before. This teaches kids to think on their feet, to be creative without fear, and to be able to be convincing with their fiction. I mean, if they can BS their way through their interview, they can probably be convincing on paper too.

7) Ninja Poetry – ninja poetry is played in teams of two or three. Each team has four regular cards and one bonus card. On each card (including the bonus card) is a type of poetry (ex. haiku or tanka) with an explanation on how to write it and a small example. Each card also has a task for the teams to complete like write a haiku on a sneaky ninja moment in the spring. All the cards are hidden in different places with all the number one cards together, all the number two cards together, etc. Each team must find one of each card, but only one at a time, taking the card they’ve most recently found to their ninja hideout and doing the writing exercise on the card as a group before moving on and finding the next card. The bonus card can only be retrieved at the end, even if it is found before the other cards. After half an hour the game is done and all groups must read their poetry and vote on the best poem for each card. Points are awarded based on really random things and none of the scoring is taken very seriously. Sometimes poems just win because they mention the word ninja or something. In the end it’s all just for fun and everyone has won for something, even if it is for the most incoherent poem of the night.

8) Recipe for a Character – Have you ever wondered how to whip up your own Jack from Jack and the Bean Stalk? Mario from Donkey Kong? I mean what kinds of things would you mix together? And how long would you cook him for? And how? All these things go into a character recipe. Kids pick their favorite fictional character from stories and movies (or even video games) and create a recipe in cups, litres, and degrees, including instructions on how to mix the ingredients together. This really makes analyzing a character fun and it’s a good way to break characters down into their elemental parts.

9) Instructions For Simple Things – In this game kids write a list of very precise instructions on how to do very simple things. Have the kids pick a topic, such as turning on a light switch and break it into a set of very precise instructions using the component elements from walking to the wall, to finding the light switch, to reaching out toward the light switch, to . . . well you get the idea. It really makes kids think about description, action, and method, and it’s pretty funny too.

10) Act it Out – when kids write actions scenes, I love to have the author read her action scene out loud while a couple of other students act it out based on what is read. Not only can the author of the work really see what they have created, they can also see what worked and what didn’t in real time. This is very good for editing and lots of fun.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kim Firmston

Kim Firmston is a writer and creative writing instructor in Calgary. Her teen novels Schizo and Hook Up were Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Bet Selections. Her short story "Life Before War" was shortlisted for the 2008 CBC Literary Awards. Her most recent novel for teens is Touch, about a teenage hacker with a troubled family life.

Go to Kim Firmston’s Author Page