About the Afterschool Training Toolkit and Related Resources
The Afterschool Training Toolkit is available online free of charge.

The following resources can be used with the online Afterschool Training Toolkit to give you the resources you need to build fun, innovative, and academically enriching afterschool activities.

Practice: Writing

The goal of Writing is to help students to see themselves as writers by tapping into their interests and experiences and allowing them time to practice writing in a supportive environment. Students need strong writing skills to succeed academically and in the world beyond school.

Video 1

Writing: Creating Film Characters (4:51)

Watch seventh and eighth grade students develop characters for an original screenplay inspired by the Mirabal sisters' struggle for freedom in the Dominican Republic. These students are part of The Children's Aid Society afterschool program in New York City.

Video 2

Writing: Analyzing Media (2:45)

Watch seventh- and eighth-grade girls at the Citizens Schools afterschool program in Boston explore the ways that women are often depicted in the media.

More About the Video

Afterschool Program
I.S. 90 Mirabal Sisters School, in collaboration with the Advantage Theater and Film Program of The Children's Aid Society

Washington Heights, New York City


  • Amala Lane, Afterschool Educator and Filmmaker
  • Darnell Holguin, Afterschool Educator and Improvisational Theater Actor

Time Allotted
1 hour

About the Lesson
The objective of the filmmaking class is for students to write, produce, and direct a film by the end of the 12-week session. Twenty seventh and eighth grade students script an original film inspired by the legacy of the Mirabal sisters' struggle for freedom in the Dominican Republic. (This story is familiar to many of the Dominican students in the class.) Students write about possible characters for the film, explaining their motivation and backstory, and why they act in certain ways. This writing exercise helps students focus their ideas and practice abstract thinking by connecting their own experiences to a real historical event. The collaborative environment also helps students who are English language learners expand their vocabulary in English (although students are encouraged to express themselves in the language they feel most comfortable).


  • Spiral notebooks for writing assignments and ideas
  • Writing paper

About the Curriculum
The Advantage Theatre and Film Program of The Children's Aid Society, in association with its resident teaching artists, designed the filmmaking curriculum.

Afterschool Program
Woodrow Wilson Middle School, in collaboration with the Citizens Schools Afterschool Program

Boston, Massachusetts

Oluranti McClaine, Afterschool Educator and Mentor

Time Allotted
1 hour, over the course of several weeks

About the Lesson
In this lesson, seventh and eighth grade female students explore the depiction of girls and women in advertising and the media. This class focuses on media literacy and the techniques that marketers use to sell products. Using magazine advertisements and other forms of media, students create posters that show various images of women and highlight themes (such as domestic violence, sexual violence, and nudity). Through essays and personal stories, students explore how they feel about various depictions of women in the media, and how they feel women should be portrayed.


  • Journals for writing activities
  • Posterboard, magazines (for clipping images), glue, markers, and other art supplies for creating posters

About the Curriculum
The curriculum was developed by Oluranti McClaine, the Youth Program Coordinator of the Media Center at the Judge Baker Children's Center. The Center is a non-profit organization affiliated with Harvard Medical School dedicated to improving the lives of children whose emotional and behavioral problems threaten to limit their potential.

Practice in Action

What Is It?

Writing activities can include learning and practicing new vocabulary, journal writing, conducting interviews, or developing storylines. The best writing activities go hand in hand with reading activities because this approach helps to further develop language skills.

What Do I Do?

There are a variety of ways to capitalize on children's enthusiasm for writing and communication. Journal writing, writing workshops, newsletter production, or pen pal projects are all good options for afterschool. When working with very young students, invite them to tell you a story about a topic of interest. Write down each story and read it back to them. For beginning writers, ask students to choose words or characters from stories they are reading. Even if they are not sure of correct spellings, encourage students to sound out words and try to write them out and illustrate their meanings. Encourage students to keep word banks for future writing projects.

For a large group of students, older students, or for students with different skill levels, journaling, letter writing, and interviews can engage students in literacy activities in topics of their choice. Ask for student volunteers who are willing to read drafts of their writing, and then have their peers review and offer helpful suggestions. Encourage students to revise their work, just like in a writer's workshop. Finally, display and celebrate completed student work.

Why Does It Work?

Afterschool programs provide a perfect opportunity for students of different levels and abilities to write informally. Engaging activities and regular practice tend to increase students' desire to write. Writing plays an important role in learning. Through writing, students form and develop ideas, make sense of their own experiences, and present their understanding in relevant ways. Creating and sharing written work provides an opportunity for students to tell their stories, see themselves as authors, and begin to understand the qualities of good writing.

ELL Enhancement

For English language learners, writing ability is closely tied to literacy experiences in their native language. Students with minimal literacy in either their home language or in English may need to be taught about the practical purposes of written language. For ELLs with literacy in the primary language, transfer of writing ability is influenced by the similarities and differences between writing systems, such as alphabetic (e.g., Spanish) and logographic (e.g., Japanese). Some ELLs may be literate in alphabetic writing systems that use letters and print conventions that are very different from English, such as Arabic or Thai. Explicit instruction in writing conventions and text structures is crucial for ELLs learning to write fluently in English.

Planning Your Lesson

Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.

Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons. The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.

Lesson Planning Template (PDF)

Lesson Planning Template (Word document)

Lesson Planning Template Questions

Grade Level
What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?

How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?

Learning Goals
What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?

Materials Needed
List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity. Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?

What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?

Think about how you might divide up groups―who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?

Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.

What to Do
Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that might be useful—and which was originally developed for science education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see the 5E's Instructional Model.

Outcomes to Look For
How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?

After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place. How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?

Sample Lessons

Recycling (3-5)
view lesson

Students read or listen to a story or poem, discuss how it relates to themselves and their world, and create a new piece of writing of their own.

Recycling (3-5)

Duration: 60 to 75 minutes

Learning Goals
  • Learn how waste and recycling affect the environment
  • Read and understand a related story
  • Make connections between literature, students' own lives, and the world around them
  • Write a poem and begin to understand the conventions of poetry

Materials Needed
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • Audio recording of the poem, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out, also by Shel Silverstein
  • Paper and pencils
  • Sample poems

  • Review the text and audiotape, identifying key themes and any new vocabulary.
  • Collect examples of poems.
  • Develop a rubric for poems.
What to Do
  • Read The Giving Tree aloud.
  • As you read, ask questions about the story's characters and meaning.
  • After you read, engage students in a discussion about how trees are used.
  • Play an audio recording of the poem, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out.
  • Ask students what they think the poem means, and what different words and phrases suggest to them.
  • Ask students about recycling in their own homes and school: Do you recycle? What types of things do you recycle? What happens to recyclable items when you recycle them? What effect does recycling have on the overall environment? What happens to items when they are not recycled?
  • Discuss the difference between stories and poems (using the two examples from the lesson).
  • Provide a couple of examples of other poems for students to read.
  • Review the rubric for writing a poem.
  • Ask students to write their own poem about recycling and taking care of the environment.
  • When students are finished, ask them to read their poems aloud.
Outcomes to Look For
  • Active, attentive listening
  • Comments, questions, and answers that reflect an understanding of the story and poem and an ability to connect them to students' own lives and the world
  • Written work that reflects the criteria you developed for writing a poem
Writing and Sharing Community Stories (9-12)
view lesson

Students interview community members for personal stories on a shared theme; they write, publish or perform, distribute, and even sell this collection at community events.

Writing and Sharing Community Stories (9-12)

Duration: Multiple sessions of 30 to 60 minutes

  • Generate student/community engagement in an afterschool writing project
  • Inspire students' use of writing to explore and express community culture
  • Expose students to a complete publication and/or performance process—conception, research, draft composition, revision, publication design, and/or rehearsal for performance
  • Create an identifiable product or event that will connect afterschool achievements with the community

Materials Needed

  • Review classroom examples of this activity online (see "Resources" below).
  • Work with students to identify a topic that engages and unifies the diverse cultures in the community (everyone has a "story").
  • Prepare a list of interview questions that will elicit good stories and more details about the topic.
What to Do
  • Select quality oral history essays written by students and read them aloud (for examples, see "Resources" below).
  • Share characteristics of good oral history writing—what brings stories to life?
  • Using an oral history guide, invite one interviewee to your site and conduct a demonstration interview.
  • Ask each student to briefly interview a few community members of different ages about the selected topic, checking that diverse community cultures are represented.
  • Discuss information from these interviews (interest/age/culture/perspective), working with each student to identify the best candidate for a full interview.
  • Have students conduct interviews, using a list of questions, taking notes, and tape recording them if possible.
  • Ask students to prepare outlines, drafts, and revised write-ups of the interviews.
  • Have students work with peers to polish each essay, using a writing rubric.
  • Have the publication team prepare a final manuscript (desktop formats, pictures, etc.), and/or students prepare and rehearse presentation for a community performance/. Include photos of the interviewees in the manuscripts, if possible.
  • Distribute publication and/or carry out the performance, with special invitations and/or recognition for interviewees.
Outcomes to Look For
  • Students' enthusiasm for writing and engagement with the community through the project
  • Students' knowledge and application of interview skills
  • Improvement in student writing through the draft and peer review process
  • Students' ability to sustain a writing project through the stages of conception, research, composition, revision, publication, and/or performance
  • Enthusiastic community feedback about the final product
My First Book (K-2)
view lesson

After reading a story and reviewing the elements of a book, students develop ideas and create their own books with a cover, storyline, and illustrations.

My First Book (K-2)

Duration: 60 minutes (or multiple sessions)

Learning Goals
  • Understand the process of writing and illustrating a book
  • Develop an idea for a book
  • Create, write, and illustrate a book based on students' own ideas

Materials Needed
  • Chart paper
  • White paper for making books, colored construction paper for covers
  • Colored pencils, markers, crayons
  • Stapler

  • Select a book based on students' interests.
  • Review the story and note the author, illustrator, plot, and any new vocabulary.
  • Use chart paper to list the elements of the book (cover, story, pictures) and who does each job (publisher, author, illustrator). You may want to sketch icons for each element, such as an outline of the book, text, and a picture.
What to Do
  • Begin by reviewing the title and cover, inviting students' predictions.
  • Read the book aloud, pausing to ask questions.
  • After the read-aloud, review the elements of the book (cover, story, illustrations) and who does each job (publisher, author, illustrator).
  • Using the list on chart paper, draw lines or arrows to match the element with the person who does each job.
  • Ask questions such as: What do writers do? How do you think they get ideas for stories? Which do you think comes first—the story or the pictures? Do you like to write? Have you ever written a book before? Would you like to? Make the key points that writing is a process, and that good writers write what they know and care about.
  • Explain to students that they are going to make books of their own.
  • Ask students to choose a color for the cover. Then help them make "books" by taking one sheet of colored paper and several sheets of white paper, folding them in half, and stapling down the seam
  • Ask students to choose an idea for their book. It can be related to the read-aloud book, or simply something that's important or interesting to them.
  • Next, students should write (as appropriate) and illustrate their book. Each student can write a title on the cover, and should include his or her name as the author.
  • When students feel their books are complete, display them, or create an opportunity to share them with parents, teachers, and/or other students.
Outcomes to Look For
  • Student engagement and participation
  • Comments, questions, and answers that reflect an understanding of each element of a book, and who does each job
  • Ability to generate an idea, a story, and illustrations
  • Final presentations that reflect an understanding of how books come together


Technology Tip for this practice
Most afterschool programs have at least one digital camera. However, if your program does not, digital cameras may be purchased for as little as $100, and disposable digital cameras for less than $15. Digital storytelling, a writing activity that engages multiple senses and addresses many learning styles, gives students a way to bring their words to life with images and sound. For more information, check out the following Web sites:

Teaching Digital Photography: Showing Kids How to See With the Camera's Eye http://www.youthlearn.org/activities/teaching-digital-photography-showing-kids-how-see-cameras-eye

Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling http://digitalstorytelling.coe.uh.edu/

Web Resources
  • Write Source: Writing Topics (http://www.thewritesource.com/writing_topics/)
    Writing topics by grade level for grades 1-12.
  • Postcard Geography (http://pcg.cyberbee.com/)
    Students can learn about geography while polishing their writing skills in this postcard exchange project. Includes links to standards and possible extensions.
  • The Write Site (http://www.writesite.org/html/oti.html - This site may no longer be available. )
    Designed for Ohio middle school students, this project encourages students to take the role of reporters and editors to research, write, and publish their own newspapers.
Text Resources

Fitzgerald, J., & Shanahan, T. (2000). Reading and writing relations and their development. Educational Psychologist, 35(1), 39-50.

National Council of Teachers of English. (2008). Writing Now. Urbana, IL: Author. Retrieved June 23, 2009, from (http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/PolicyResearch/WrtgResearchBrief.pdf).

General Literacy Web Resources
General Literacy Text Resources
  • Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (1996). Guided reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. A comprehensive resource for implementation of guided reading activities
  • National Research Council. (2000). Starting out right: A guide to promoting reading success. Washington DC: National Academy Press.
  • Braunger, J. & Lewis, J.P. (1997). Building a knowledge base in reading. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. This synthesis of research on how children learn how to read provides a baseline for educators and policymakers to consider in helping all children to meet higher standards.
  • Novick, R. (2002). Many paths to literacy: Language learning and literacy in the primary classroom. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. This resource provides guidance on selecting children's books, and specific strategies to build comprehension from emergent literacy to independent reading.
  • Curtis, M. & Longo, A. (1990). When adolescents can't read: Methods and materials that work. Cambridge, MA, Brookline Books.
  • RMC Research Corp. (2001). Put reading first: Helping your child learn to read. A parent guide. Preschool through grade 3. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
    Describes the kinds of early literacy activities that should take place at school and at home to help children learn to read successfully. Designed for parents, based on the findings of the National Reading Panel.
  • Armbruster, B.B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read, kindergarten through grade 3. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. Summarizes what researchers have discovered about how to teach children to read successfully. It describes the findings of the National Reading Panel Report and provides analysis and discussion in five areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.


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