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).
Originally Posted on the NCTE Web on March 27, 2001.
- [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
- [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
- [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.
- [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
- [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.
- [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.
- [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.
- [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.
- [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.
- [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.