Earlier this month, I began sharing the four ways I notice making enriching writing in the workshops that I facilitate and coach in. In my work, that’s what I’m constantly watching for and trying to inspire–making that enriches writing and moves writers forward rather than tempting them to evade the process entirely.

This is why I love fire starters: Creative constraints that I bundle together and light at the start of each session. Each fire starter includes a provocative prompt that’s aligned to the learning target for that workshop session, a handful of loose parts to build with, and limited time for completion.

Here are some examples, from my work in schools this summer:

settingfirestarter metaphorfirestarter screencollage

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Writers often use the loose parts provided in totes and trays like these, although I often just hand individuals or groups a pile of far less fancy stuff to build with, too. Recyclables are perfect. So are natural elements like leaves, sticks, and stones. When writers can choose their own materials, that’s even better, but I’ll be honest: We don’t always have time, and I find that writers also tend to choose materials that they are comfortable with. Sometimes, it’s powerful to work with materials that are unfamiliar to us, though.

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Writers make a great deal of their thinking visible while they build, and when they talk with me about their creations, I’m able to assess their understanding of critical content and their ability to perform certain skills. Confident writers find their perspectives challenged and their ideas stretched, refined, and transformed when they’re required to communicate using a medium other than print. This isn’t merely fun. It’s hard thinking and work, when we do it with intention.

Interested in learning more about fire starters? The Make Writing Starter Set includes answers to frequently asked questions and sample starters for every grade level, aligned to narrative, information, opinion, and argument writing. You can use them as is or refine them for specific projects and lessons.

Something else: It’s not enough to build in writing workshop. These challenges must elevate the learning that will happen during mini-lessons, and they must help writers put down print as well. I find that frames like these enable this transition very well. What would you add? How would you adjust?

I’d love your feedback on all of this, friends.




  1. Caryn Ziettlow Reply

    I am very intrigued by this work. Do you have any writing examples that show how students used the metaphor building activity in their writing? Maybe I just need to try it myself to see how I can use it in my own writing:)

  2. I love this idea! I would love to subscribe but unfortunately when I put my email into the box, it says it’s an invalid address. :/ Perhaps there’s something wrong?

  3. Bernadette Valenzuela Reply

    I want to subscribe to get the fire starters but I don’t see the option from my phone. Help!

  4. D'Arcy Terpstra Reply

    I had the same problem as Briana above – it said I had an invalid email address as well. I work at a school that has a huge focus on makerspace and being changemakers, and I’ve felt a little left out of the movement as a language teacher (ELA and French) I’d love to learn more about how my classes can be part of it as well!

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