traci's lists of ten

Traci's 31st List of Ten:
Ten Ways to Write about Your Vacation

Posted to NCTE-Talk on 12/19/00.

Snow days... Winter break... End of the Semester... Whatever you call it, it's vacation time for most of us. I actually dreamed this little list up more than a year and a half ago, and given it's the vacation time of year, it seemed like time to do something with it. I hesitated to write the list at all, and it's taken me all these months to get up the nerve to finish it. After all, I am supporting a bit of a stereotype. Interview any random sample, and what will they tell you about us writing teachers: we always have a red pen somewhere, we're obsessed about grammar errors, and we always assign that "What I Did On My Vacation" essay.

But I thought about it, and I decided that there were situations where this assignment could be a lot of fun. Let's say you're getting a batch of students direct from a teacher who really did do that "What I Did On My Vacation" essay. You make the announcement — then twist things a bit and let them play. Further, while I've written them all for winter vacation, they could just as easily be used for Spring break or Summer vacation — or what you did last weekend or last night.

Another way that you might work the assignment into the other work that you're doing is to introduce a unit on the genre that you ask students to write on by having them write about a recent experience using that genre. Let's say you're about to start a unit on poetry. Have your students write poetry about their vacation to get started (more below).

  1. [CRITICAL REVIEW] If your vacation were a movie or a book, how would you review it — thumbs up or thumbs down? Offer a summary and a critique of your vacation, pointing out both its strengths and its weaknesses. As you outline your points, consider how your point of view affects your explanation — Can the events be looked at from a different perspective that might lead to a different listing of strengths and weaknesses? Your review should place your vacation in the context of other vacations — what other vacations were possible, and how does the one you experienced compare? Finally, make some suggestions for future vacations and recommendations to others considering spending their time off in a similar fashion.

  2. [LAB REPORT] Pretend that your vacation was actually an experiment that you were observing (or participating in). Write a lab report that explains what happened and explains your findings. Your report will probably have five sections: (1) Introduction, (2) Procedures, (3) Results, (4) Discussion, and (5) Conclusion.

    In addition, be sure to consider these issues:
    • Include the information necessary to allow someone to repeat what you did. Include geographic locations, definitions of key terms, and anything else necessary in order to understand exactly what you did.

    • Give explanations for and implications of any relationships observed. Were the relationships as you expected from underlying physical principles? What are the main sources of uncertainty in interpreting your observations?

    TEACHING NOTE: If your students are taking lab courses, have them use the same organization that they would for their lab rather than these five sections.

  3. [SATIRE] Write a satire describing the events that occurred on your vacation. You might write a parody that talks about the dangers that people must be prepared for if they try a vacation similar to yours, or you could describe a series of calamities from your vacation as if they were truly fortunate and rewarding events. You might write satirical instructions telling someone how to take a vacation just like yours. Whatever you choose, pay attention to the relationship between the real facts about your vacation and the satirical details that you include in your paper. What makes a satire good is its relationship to the real world.

  4. [SPORTS REPORT] You went on vacation, and the next thing you knew, you were being trailed by the Sports Center Crew from ESPN — how would they describe the events that took place? Take the language and sentence style of a play-by-play announcer or of a sports writer, and write a description of the activities and events. A tip: To make the most sense, choose a specific sport and stick with it through your entire piece. It wouldn't make sense to talk about a blitz and free throws in the same paper.

  5. [GREAT ADVENTURE/CHILD'S VIEW] Describe your vacation from the point of view of a child who has just returned from a great adventure, an amazing, magical series of events. Your paper should use plenty of specifics: what did you do? where did you go? who did you see? what did you hear, taste, and smell? As you describe the events, remember that you're talking from a child's point of view — what would a child have seen? Think about what would make the events and sights magical and memorable to a child. Your paper will take all these ideas into account. The descriptions that you provide your readers should make the events just as magical and amazing.

    NOTE: You might look at a child's adventure story before students begin writing to help them understand the genre — anything from a Winnie-the-Pooh adventure to a chapter from a Narnia book would do.

  6. [POEM] Give students a very simple assignment: Write a poem about what you did on your vacation. Once students have written their poems, divide them into groups, and ask them to look for the characteristics that their writings hold in common. What are the implications of the similarities that they see? Have they stereotyped poems? What characteristics have they left out — and why? Once they've assembled some notes on their perceptions of what a poem is, move to published poems in your reader — perhaps beginning with poems that push at the characteristics that they've identified and force them to rethink the ways that they are defining what a poem is.

  7. [FABLE] What lesson(s) did you learn on your vacation? What did the events that you took part in teach you? Write a fable that tells readers about the events that took place and concludes with the moral that you learned. The events that you describe in your story should lead naturally to the moral at the end.

  8. [TESTIMONIAL] Write a testimonial letter, telling others why they should spend their vacation as you have just spent yours. Your letter needs to be convincing — so think about the kinds of things that make a testimonial believable. What made the vacation exciting and interesting? Why would your readers enjoy participating in a similar event? Your letter should tell readers enough specific information about your vacation to show them why they'd enjoy the same activities you did.

  9. [JOURNEY] Describe your vacation as a journey — from beginning to end. You started in one place and ended up in another. Describe the starting point and the destination as well as what you did along the way. Your paper should tell readers about the trip that you took, how you traveled, where you stopped, what you did when you stopped, how you planned the various activities on the journey, and other features of the trip. Most importantly, this is your opportunity to be creative. Your journey need not have been a geographical one; that is, you did not need to go from one physical location to another. Instead, you might have gone on a mental journey, perhaps you learned something over the vacation. Your paper might describe how you overcame your fear of flying over your vacation, how you learned to ski, or how you recognized something about someone that you didn't know before.

  10. [INVESTIGATIVE REPORT] Describe your vacation in the form of an investigative report — the kind of piece you'd hear on 60 Minutes. Start with a question or issue that your vacation focused on, explain all of the facts and details that you uncovered in relationship to the issue that you were exploring, and conclude with whatever insights that you gained as a result of your investigation. Like an investigative report that you might see on TV, your paper should stir the reader to some kind of implicit action as a part of the conclusion — the point might be to stir the reader's emotions, to inspire the reader to challenge a rule or system, or to suggest that the reader change a habit. Regardless, the investigation should have a goal of influencing the readers specifically.

Originally Posted on the NCTE Web on March 27, 2001.