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February 8, 2013 Creative Writing Celebrations: A Writing Fair By Meghan Everette
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    If you write one story, it may be bad;
    if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.

    —Edgar Rice Burroughs


    Students write every day, but how often do they show off their work? Our annual writing fair is a chance for students to exhibit their published works through a meaningful theme. Students learn just as much from the finished writing fair as they do while they help create their displays. Each spring our hallways burst with writing, which literally covers every inch of the wall and even hangs from the ceiling. It is a fun and engaging way to show student work and unite the school with a common purpose. Here are ten steps to creating your own celebration of writing.


    School Map Plan

    Decorated Hallway

    Lady Liberty Statues and Writing

    1. Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More

    Planning for our writing fair is a year-round affair. Starting the summer before, a theme is set. For several years we had a history-themed fair. This fit our curriculum needs while providing many interesting topics. Telling teachers well in advance is important to allow the class time and forethought necessary to create so much work. Our teachers save projects throughout the year, as well as create new ones, to help fill the halls. Consider: will teachers be responsible for their hallway, or for placing work throughout the school? Will each hall have its own time frame, theme, or look, or do you want something more unified? Are teachers using just the bulletin boards, or do you want corner to corner coverage? Having a plan in place helps ease frustration and keep everyone on task.

    Our hallways are divided by decade, in keeping with the American History theme. A giant map of the building is created and teachers add sticky notes with their names and projects to designate what space they will use. The fair officially lasts three days, but the walls remain decorated for a few weeks.

    State History ABC Book

    2. Start Writing!

    Writing can be anything and everything. Students create stories, nonfiction paragraphs, research reports, fact cards, poems, and even inferences about graphs to include in the writing. Tell teachers ahead of time what is expected and create a list of possible topics or forms of writing to get the creative juices flowing. If students create a graph related to a writing topic, have them write inferences. If students go on a field trip, have them write about the experience. Write using vocabulary words, write using poem forms, write book reports, make posters, diagram pictures . . . write, write, write! Keep the final display in mind. Students can put their writing on a cutout picture, mount it on colorful paper, or add stickers. Published work should be fun to read and write.

    Butcher Paper Clipped to Ceiling

    3. Get Attached

    One major consideration is how to physically attach your work to the walls. Some schools have very strict guidelines concerning hot glue! Having tried several different methods, we like to “roll” the hallways with butcher paper. Using bulldog clips and pre-cut strips, paper is clipped to the top of the hall on the dropped ceiling frame. The roll goes all the way to the floor and is tacked in place with glue. This creates a floor-to-ceiling canvas for all of the work. Teachers use clips and hooks to attach work to the ceiling. Some special projects, especially those that are heavy, are wired. Go ahead and order hot glue and extension cords early!

    Hanging Student Work

    Student Writing about WWII

    4. Divide and Conquer

    Having one person in charge of the entire fair layout is a good idea so that teachers have a point person for questions and concerns. That said, this person needs to be dedicated to the cause, and you should buy them a nice gift when the whole celebration is over! Dividing the work is key to getting the job done and to everyone staying sane. Our teachers like to apply work outside their own hall, but are also responsible for helping add work throughout the building. A spreadsheet of planned projects is kept to ensure that everyone is contributing and that all spaces have a plan. Occasionally teachers are asked to add a specific project or topic that seems to be missing or needs some pumping up. Getting everyone on board early (see "Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More" above) cannot be overstated.

    Colonial America Hallway

    Native American Hall Display

    5. Get Out Your Pocketbook

    You can have a writing fair without spending a great deal of money. However, you will want to purchase a few things to make your life easier. For us, butcher paper and hot glue are staples. To help the U.S. theme, we also have a stock of president images, flags, images of major monuments, and famous people. These can help fill in, and also lend authenticity. Some are used during the writing process to inspire and guide students while they work. Keeping the same theme for several years helps because laminated items can be reused. Carefully planning a theme (see #1 again!) will help. Use a theme that fits your curriculum and that teachers might already have supplies for. Last year we hosted a science-themed writing fair. Each hall was decorated with the course of study for that grade. This allowed teachers to use the materials already on hand for decoration in addition to the writing.

    Hank Aaron Wax Figure

    6. Come Alive

    A writing fair doesn’t have to be all writing. Our 5th graders take on the role of wax characters during the fair. They dress the part of famous characters throughout history and memorize a few short lines that their character would say. They also learn the history of their character. As visitors walk the hallway, students stand frozen. When touched, they spring to life and recite their speech. They can give more information about their history if asked. Teachers have even dressed in the time period of their hallway, adding to the fun and flavor of the event.

    Making the theme personal can add meaning. Our Wall of Service highlights service men and women tied to our teachers, students, and families. Fitting with our U.S. history theme, the real life ties to our lives are particularly moving.

    Wax Figure Characters

    Using a Glue Gun

    7. Annie, Get Your Glue Gun

    The paper is hung and the writing is ready. Somehow it has to get attached to the wall! Support staff help hang work throughout the day while teachers add work before and after school and during planning time. It is a major undertaking. Rolling the walls usually takes place two or three weeks before the writing fair and hanging will continue until the day before. If you have parent volunteers, enlist them! It is all-hands-on-deck when we get ready to display our work. When I asked my co-workers what tips they would give about our writing fair, the constant reminder was that hot glue burns are to be taken seriously! Refer back to your plan on where everything should go and include responsibilities for hanging when dividing up duties.

    Student Video Presentation

    Hall of Service

    8. Pump Up the Volume

    Another addition to our fair is music and video. Because we wind through time, CD players covered to look like gramophones, tape decks, and iPods sit in the halls. Each pumps music from the time it represents, at a soft level, of course, so visitors are transported to that decade with sight and sound. Videos of student presentations, historical moments, and even videos from servicemen related to our teachers play through computers on carts in various locations. Many of the student presentations are written and performed by students themselves, making them a valued part of the writing fair.

    1960s Hallway Enterance

    9. Hear Ye, Hear Ye

    You’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating meaningful, published writing and impressive displays. Let people know! Invite families to come and tour the fair. Our students are allowed to give tours for their parents if they come during the day. Write to the local news, invite the anchors, and send personal invites to officials. This is a chance to show off your school and your students’ work at its best. We open our fair, officially, for three days. During that time we’ve had Honor Flight members come and speak, local media come and film, and even teachers from other schools come see our halls.

    Student Scavenger

    10. Celebrate!

    When the day arrives, enjoy your work! Our students learn just as much from walking around and “touring” their own writing fair as they do creating the work. I like to make a scavenger hunt for students. The youngest grades have a picture hunt, in which they look for writing that matches pictures. It encourages them to look for major points of interest and to look outside of their normal line of sight. Lower grades have a scavenger hunt in which they practice their writing. The hunt asks them to write in years or famous names on composition lines. Older students have to find answers to questions by reading information displayed. Large blank posters at the end of each hall encourage visitors and students to reflect and leave notes for students about their work. Students burst with pride over a writing fair that they created and that shows off all of their hard work.

    Need more inspiration? See our 2010 and 2012 writing fairs, and our wiki of history resources.

    Have you attempted a writing fair? How do you organize and divide the work? What else do you need to know to get started? The writing fair is my favorite activity of the year, and I’d love to share our successes and learning experiences!


    Student Readers Pop Up Writing Sample Student Readers


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