Monday, June 30, 2014


We all know that kids love animals and animals are frequently a topic they choose to write about. Most often kids write about their pets, particularly the day that special dog or cat came into their lives. While we all enjoy a sweet Christmas puppy story, they can also be tedious. Challenge your students to imagine a more exciting scenario involving an animal.

For example, a few years back, when I had just started teaching at a new elementary school, I attended a mandatory teachers’ meeting where safety issues were addressed. The assistant principal lectured us to be more careful about the recess door.

“Remember what happened last spring,” she said. “A teacher was holding the door open for her class to file through. At the end of the line, a squirrel walked right into the building.”

Everyone grinned—last year’s teachers who had been there to see the squirrel running through the halls and the new teachers who were just imagining the pandemonium. But my smile was the widest of all. Hearing about a squirrel loose in the school had unlocked my writing block. For months, I had been trying to think of a way to begin a third Zapato Power chapter book. I needed a way for my character, Freddie Ramos, to show off his super-powered sneakers in the first few pages. Now I had it! Freddie could chase a fast and furry gray creature through Starwood Elementary.

 “I never thought I’d need to save my school from a squirrel,” Freddie thinks. “But any hero job is a job for me.” Zoom! Zoom! Zapato! Freddie’s off, following the screams of students shouting “SQUIRREL! THAT WAY!”

On several occasions, I have read students the first chapter of Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue and then asked them to imagine what it would be like if a squirrel or other animal was running through the halls of their school. It always produces a good discussion, resulting in fun story ideas.

Another possibility is to use the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and ask students to write about an animal that might follow them to school. Encourage students to consider horses, goats, cows, and a variety of farm animals who might appear at school. A picture book that might inspire some creativity on this theme is Book! Book! Book! by Deborah Bruss, a story about a pig, horse, goat, and hen who visit a public library.  

The image of an animal in a school or other public setting where animals generally don’t belong is inherently funny. This writing prompt can also give students the opportunity to describe more movement and mayhem than you would see in the ordinary how-I-got-my-puppy-story. At the very least, the silly scenario should elicit some writing workshop giggles.

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