The Stories Behind the Constellations

Consider Zeus and the tale of Great Bear and Little Bear:

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Read the whole tale here — from the Royal Museums Greenwich.

Today’s assignment:

1. Select one of the constellation legends from this collection:

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2. Rewrite the story, expanding it to include more details, including information about the setting and some dialogue between the characters.

3. Don’t forget to check tonight’s sky.

Click here for the night sky planner at NASA.

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Describing the Weather

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(photo credit: Dave Bolenbaugh)

“In his ten deadly sins of crime writing Elmore Leonard urges the writer never to open a book with the weather. What Leonard means by this, presumably, is not to go into great detail about the weather at the outset; however weaving the weather into the fabric of your narrative adds texture.

Weather is connected to the senses. In a city . . .  the weather affects everything: what your character is wearing, eating, doing and drinking, the type of pubs, the cafes, the water restrictions. . . .

When describing weather or other aspects of setting and atmosphere be specific and concrete. Ideally the writer requires that readers fill in the gaps and pick up on the hints. Reading good fiction is not passive like watching bad TV, it requires engagement, concentration to enter the fictional world. Setting and atmosphere help to create and reinforce this relationship between writer and reader.”

[Today’s Assignment:] “Think of a city (or suburb) that your protagonist knows intimately. Don’t write this city down. Jot down twenty words, phrases, sentences that describe this place. Think of unusual details. Use the senses: sounds, smells, touch, sight, taste. Now show your writing partner. Don’t tell them the name of the city (suburb) but see if they can figure out where it is. Decide which phrases, details have evoked your setting most effectively and throw the rest away.”

(from: The Handbook of Creative Writing, Steven Earnshaw, 129).   Available here.

More about Steven Earnshaw here.

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(Charles M. Schulz)

Commas and Adjectives


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A series of adjectives does not always require commas.

In the sentence below a comma takes the place of and. The words tall and distinguished could be reversed.

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In the following example, commas are not needed because little would not be reversed with old.

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See the short slide show here:

If you need a good review of commas in general, watch this:

(Ignore the misspelling of comma near the end!)

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Today’s Assignment:

1. Write a page describing a July 4th scene.

2. Use adjectives and commas as needed.

You’re a Writer . . . Are You a Profiler Too?


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Listen to James Taylor sing: “Is That the Way You Look?”


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Read The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi.

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This is an excerpt:

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The character purposefully makes her appearance dowdy.

“Being dowdy is liberating” (Filipacchi).


Today’s Assignment:

1. Consider how much you rely upon ingrained stereotypes and a person’s outward appearance in real life.

2. What impressions do your readers get about your fictitious characters based upon your character descriptions?

3. Is the description of your character’s appearance used to help define that character’s personality?

4. Are your character descriptions used to purposefully mislead the reader?

Writing Description — What is the Image Your Reader ‘Sees?’


Readers often visualize characters or settings differently than how the author intended.

This is a little test to see how accurately you are portraying your characters or setting.

Select a photo. Any photo will do. Perhaps this photo of the lovely model Cotswold village will be one you would like to describe.

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Another fun possibility would be to select the photo of an animal.

Do not use the name of the animal in your written description.

See if your reader can guess the animal you are describing.

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This is a Quokka. Read more here:

Today’s Assignment:

1. Select a photo.

2. Write a full page describing what you see.

3. Put the photo aside.

4. Give your written description to someone else.

5. Have that person make a sketch of the scene you have described.

6. Compare the sketch and the photo side-by-side!

–What are their similarities?

–What are their differences?

Co-Curricular: Art Meets Creative Writing

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……………………………………………..(Art credit: Josette Brouwer)

Art and Creative Writing are both ways to tell a story.

First, review the use of adjectives and adverbs:

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Today’s Assignment:

1. Have your students create a work of art.

2. Assign each finished work a number.

3. Exhibit the art in the classroom.

4. Have the students draw a number and write a short story about the piece of art that has been assigned that number.

5. Read the stories to the class (or have the students read them.)

6. Have them guess which piece of art they are associated with.

More great ideas here:

Poetry Friday: Winter Clothes

Winter Clothes

Under my hood I have a hat
And under that
My hair is flat.
Under my coat
My sweater’s blue,
My sweater’s red.
I’m wearing two.
My muffler muffles to my chin
And round my neck
And then tucks in.
My gloves were knitted
By my aunts.
I’ve mittens too
And pants
And pants
And boots
And shoes
With socks inside.
The boots are rubber, red and wide.
And when I walk
I must not fall
Because I can’t get up at all.

By Karla Kuskin

Scholastic has a great resource for a poetry writing assignment here:

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This focus on description is important for writers of all ages–and it doesn’t have to be poetry.

An assignment suggestion:

1. Put a variety of items on a desk.

2. Have each writer secretly select one of those items (without removing it from the desk) and fully describe it WITHOUT revealing what that item is.

3. When they have completed this written description, have the writers read their work aloud or post their written descriptions on a bulletin board.

4. The others in the group will guess which item on the desk is being described.

For example if you are writing at home–your description might include eating a warm chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven as “messy, gooey, sweet, warm, and soft.”

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Now, go write a great description!