Where Does This Lead?

Where does this door lead to after you open it?


Life List Writing Exercise


Labels can be a tricky endeavor.

Bucket Lists, Life Lists, Things to do Before you Die list – they are all synonyms for the same type of list. I finally landed on the LIFE LIST label because it seemed the most positive especially when using the writing exercise with younger children.

The students make a list of 10 things they would like to do in their lifetime. I tell them the list can contain big life changing items or small things that are important to them. To help them generate ideas I also use verbal prompts. Examples are:

Where is a place you would like to travel? 

What is something you would like to learn?

Who is someone you would like to meet? Famous or not?

What is a job you would like to have?

What type of family, if any, would you like to have?

Once they make a list of things they would like to do, see, learn, and become then a favorite is chosen. I usually tell the students to put a star next to their favorite entry on the list.

Now they have to write an activity or something they can do right now to get a little closer to their goal. What does that look like?

For example, I had a 5th grader that he wanted to be a professional artist. His list of NOW actions and micromovements were:

  1. Draw everyday
  2. Enroll in an art class
  3. Pay more attention in art special at school
  4. Check out drawing and other art books from the library

We also had a conversation about him playing with different mediums to find out which one he really liked. He had a specific interest in drawing but after more conversation starting talking about chalk, charcoal, and paints.

After this class time, he realized there were a lot of opportunities for him to work towards something he thought he had to wait to be an adult to accomplish. He realized he could have some impact on a really big life goal that he thought was much farther down the road.

Another example:

A student that has LEARN A LANGUAGE on his/her list is a possibility. Actions that can be taken now are:

  1. Learn 10 words in that language
  2. Download the Duolingo app onto their phone and use it 10 minutes a day
  3. Use Google translate to hear some phrases

My own LIFE LIST has morphed over the years but here are some of my own adventures and goals:

  • Meet Neil Gaiman
  • Become an active member of a writing group
  • See the sun come up from my cabin in Minnesota
  • Go on a Road Trip with no Predetermined Destination
  • Learn how to speak conversational German
  • Go to the counter at the airport and buy a ticket to the next available flight
  • Attend Oktoberfest in Germany
  • Write a book
  • Try a new food every time I travel
  • Learn how to box
  • Be invited to do a TED talk


If you would like to check out some other lists to use as mentor text examples here are some links:




What would be on your life list? Please share in the comments!

Ink Blot Writing Exercise



When I do writing retreats, another writing exercise I deploy is an activity called INK BLOTS. I print off color ink blot images from Google (check the copyrights) and laminate.  Number each of the cards with its own number.

Students sit in a formation that allows them to pass the laminated cards and write comfortably.

Start with students holding one card. Students write the number of the inkblot they are holding and then write a sentence or two description of what they see.

This activity is done silently. You do not want to tarnish or influence someone else’s interpretation.

At the end of the rotation, you can show a couple of the ink blots and have students share with partners or small groups their interpretation.

After sharing, students take one of their descriptions and write with those sentences as a beginning and then formulate a story.

This is an opportunity for the leader or teacher to write with the students. They are always interested in what your interpretations are as well!




Horoscope Writing Exercise #SOL18

This writing exercise is a bit dangerous.

Several years I was the organizer of the Young Authors’ Event at my school. One of the prizes for the winners for each grade level was a writer retreat on campus. One of the exercises I started doing was the horoscope writing exercise. It is meant to be fun but you need to gauge the sensitivity of your community as to whether you want to use it or not.

Use each student’s birthday and categorize the students into their astrological signs. Print the horoscope for the day before the writing exercise for each student, or link to a GOOGLE Doc if you are using Google Classroom.

Students read the horoscope and then write and reflect if they think the horoscope was accurate or not. The connections students make to some of the phrasings of the horoscope can be amusing for them and the group. In a retreat setting, there is always lots of sharing.  Some students think the predictions are ridiculous and others will read into them to make them true!


Yesterday’s Horoscope for me was: (Courtesy of the New York Daily News)


Acknowledge what you’re experiencing if you feel lonely or isolated, even if you have no reason to. You’ve embarked on a new phase of your relationship life in recent weeks, and a new approach is necessary. This calls for more commitment, not less; though you must invest that in the right people.


My rough draft: This horoscope was partially accurate for me because I was not lonely at all yesterday. I had lots of teacher friends in my office throughout the school day and I had great family time with my husband.  I am looking to make some changes in my life and have been thinking about it over the past couple of weeks. I am committed to everything that I am passionate about but I do need to make a list of 10 people I want to foster better relationships with.

These little pieces of writing can go into a writer notebook and can be seeds for other stories as well as a great conversation starter for your writers!