What I didn’t do on my summer vacation…

My school district just wrapped up its first week of classes, and I’m happy to report that my first real year of teaching has started off very well.

Normally, the first couple of days of school are reserved for those fun “get to know you” activities, and I encourage that, but too often teachers resort to asking that lame old question: “What did you do over summer vacation?”


The teacher smiles on and walks around the room as antsy kids scribble uninspired responses full of phrases like “grandma’s house” and “Six Flags” and “Nothing.” No one gets anything beneficial out of this activity, so I propose an adjustment to this first week relic of a prompt…

Write down everything you did NOT do over summer vacation.

Initially, you’ll get a couple of confused stares, so follow up by saying:

For example, did you ride a rocket to Mars this summer? If not, WRITE THAT DOWN.

You’ll always have that one smart-aleck who says “But I DID ride a rocket to Mars!” Just respond by saying “In that case, you won’t write that down then, will you?”

Give your students five minutes or so to write, and tell them that they should be writing the WHOLE time because they’ll NEVER be able to write down everything they did NOT do this summer. Also, follow-up by saying that you’ll reward the most crazy, creative answer with a prize (I like to give out tickets to kids who share their responses). Students love making stuff up, and they love trying to make their classmates laugh, so this is a perfect way to get students engaging in the creative writing process in the first days of school.

Some of my favorite responses from this year:

“I did not teach a cheetah to drive a limo.”

“I did not eat a sandwich while dancing on ‘Soul Train.'”

“I didn’t get kidnapped and dumped in Cuba.”

“I did not play soccer with bumpy, yellow Martians.”

“I did not become a pink, were-fox Ninja Turtle princess.”

“I did not battle a group of albino Pringles with a tiki torch while eating a deep fried flip-flop.”

“I did not walk into a shaved, striped bear’s stomach and eat my way out while making marshmallows.”

You can easily adapt this lesson into a mini-lesson about adjectives, prepositional phrases, or subordinate clauses by taking a student’s simple sentence:

“I did not see a monster.”

And asking the class to brainstorm prepositional phrases to tack on…

“I did not see a monster in my aunt’s garden.”

…or subordinate clauses:

“I did not see a monster in my aunt’s garden after I returned from the gym.”

Regardless, I guarantee you’ll get a lot more engagement using this prompt, and your kids’ll think you’re cool. (:

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3 Responses to What I didn’t do on my summer vacation…

  1. Pingback: Near an operator sighs a steer: Generating critical thought with nonsense | Surviving English

  2. Erin says:

    This a fantastic idea. Thanks – I’ll definitely be using this with my classroom of reluctant writers this fall.

  3. Pingback: Drawing Lines: The Notebook Lesson | Surviving English

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