Using story characters to inspire students’ back-to-school narratives

During the first week of school, I used to ask my students what they did over the summer. Sometimes they’d talk about it, other times write about it. But no matter how their experiences were communicated, the exercise became predictable and before the sharing was over, a bit tedious. 

Luckily, story characters can inspire your students to add humor, variety and interesting language to their narratives. Here are some terrific picture books to read aloud, with suggestions about how each one can enhance a how-I-spent-my-summer-vacation activity with your primary grade students.

For kindergarteners, “One Hot Summer Day” by Nina Crews shows a young girl spending a day outdoors where the urban streets are “hot enough to fry an egg on” and the hydrants open for fun. Children may enjoy brainstorming other colorful answers to “Just how hot was it?” before sharing the details of one hot day during their summer.

K-1 students will enjoy swinging to “Summer Beat” by Betsy Franco, which could be subtitled “The Joy of Summer Sounds.” Among other onomatopoeia, we have the “clackity-clack” of a skateboard on the sidewalk and the “fwit” of spitting out watermelon seeds. Invite students to add sounds to their narratives, from dog barks to the sizzle of barbeques to the sounds of firecrackers. 

Do your students have (or wish they had) a dog along on a summer vacation?  Madeleine has Carl the Rottweiler in “Carl’s Summer Vacation” by Alexandra Day. The two of them take a canoe ride, nearly get sprayed by a skunk and play baseball before heading to a fireworks display with mom and dad. First and second graders may want to tell about their summer adventures with a pet, write about their vacation with their pet as the narrator or even create a fictional adventure with an animal protagonist!

Are your second or third graders blasé about what they did over the summer? Then have them check out “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” by Mark Teague. Wallace’s parents may have sent him out west to visit Aunt Fern, but did he really get captured by cowboys, ride broncos, make a campfire from sticks, rope bulls and stop stampedes? Or was he just trying to add flavor to the traditional assignment? (You’ll love the teacher’s reaction to his tall tale.) Invite students to add some fictional flavor to their narratives. Then see if listeners can separate the true from the made-up during sharing time.

Throughout the school year, responding to literature may be exactly what you use to give your writing activities spice and substance. Please share your suggestions with the Mass Literacy community by leaving a comment below.