proud authors studentreasuresWriting is often imagined as a solo venture—thrilling, perhaps, but personal and often done in private. When we picture classical writers, we tend to think of them hunched over a messily organized mahogany desk, scribbling away with a quill pen and burning candles into the night, with only books and blank pages yet to be filled for company.

But writing doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. Some truly great stories have come from author collaborations, such as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens or the Pendergast series by by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. And for young students still learning and refining basic writing skills, two (or more) heads are often better than one, for reasons to do with both education and entertainment. These collaborative writing activities for elementary students build social skills and help your students become more effective writers by encouraging them to learn from and inspire one another.

Writing Activity #1: Sensory Descriptions

For younger elementary students, it’s important to establish strong foundations on which later writing lessons can expand. This collaborative writing activity focuses on descriptive writing and exploring the five senses.

  1. Prepare a list of concrete nouns ahead of time to use as prompts. Familiar inanimate objects, such as an apple or a stuffed animal, tend to work best. Write each noun on a small slip of paper and keep it in a bowl, jar or large hat. You should have at least one noun for every writing group.
  2. Separate students into groups of no more than five and no less than three (five is ideal). Assign one of the five senses to each of the students in each group.
  3. Have one person from each group pick one of the nouns at random.
  4. Ask each group to write about the noun they chose, with each student describing it only in the context of their assigned sense. For example, if Suzy’s group got “apple” for their noun and she was assigned “hearing” for her sense, she could write about how apples crunch when you bite into them, or how they thump on the ground when they fall off of a tree.
  5. Ask the students in each group to put their descriptions together to make a full picture and share with the class!



To turn this assignment into an even more collaborative project, have a brainstorming session with the whole class to determine an overall theme for your project, such as “winter” or “Thanksgiving dinner.” Choose nouns that match that theme, and continue the assignment as detailed above until step 4. Then, instead of combining their descriptions, ask each student to draw their own picture of their group’s subject. Finally, collect their art and writing and publish it all in a sensational classbook!


Writing Activity #2: Create Your Own Prompt

Sometimes the best way to motivate your students to write is to let them tell each other what to write about. This collaborative writing activity relieves you of the task of providing a writing prompt by allowing your students to come up with a few of their own ideas.

  1. Discuss together as a class what subject they’d like to write about. This should be a single, simple word or phrase, such as “friendship” or “summer vacation.”
  2. Ask each student to come up with their own writing prompt related to the chosen subject matter. (Remind them that their prompt should not be a question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”)
  3. Have them swap papers with another student and write a response to their partner’s prompt.
  4. After writing, have them return the papers and share each other’s responses with the class!



This writing activity can become even more collaborative in the context of a publishing project. After they’ve written their initial responses, ask your students to swap papers with a third student and ask them to peer review each other’s work. Have them return the papers back to the writers for editing, then ask students to create illustrations to accompany their work. Finally, publish the fruits of their labor in a professionally bound classbook that’s worthy of showing off their hard work!


Writing Activity #3: Tapestry Poetry

Developed by Avril Meallem and Shernaz Wadia, tapestry poetry is a collaborative method of writing poetry that explores how different perspectives can be woven together to create a unique and colorful tapestry of words.

  1. Divide students into pairs. (This writing activity can also work for a group of three if necessary, but it works best with two.) Ask each pair to choose a specific subject to write about.
  2. Ask each student to write their own poem about the subject they and their partner chose. They do not have to match in rhyme, meter, or format—though you may want to set a minimum number of lines to ensure each student has enough material to contribute to the next step.
  3. Ask students to work together with their partners to combine their poems to create a single one. Each poem should have a roughly equal number of lines from each poet (to ensure that no one feels left out). They are allowed to make only minor changes to each line they use; it should always be obvious which lines for the collaborative poem came from which individual poem.
  4. Last but not least, make sure to ask your students to share their finished creations with the class!



This writing activity also makes for a truly lovely collaborative project. Have them sign their names at the bottom of the page. Then, ask them to work together to create a diptych illustration to accompany their poems—one student draws one half of the picture, and the other completes it. And of course, don’t forget to publish your students’ art and writing in a hardcover poetry anthology of their very own!

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Engaging Elementary Students With Collaborative Creative Writing

Collaborative writing activities and publishing projects don’t just make writing fun—they give your students the opportunity to learn so much more about writing, each other and even themselves than you could teach them with purely individual assignments. Often, their strengths and weaknesses will complement one another in delightfully unexpected ways, and it is only through working with others that they will learn both when to compromise and when to speak up for their own ideas. “Most great learning happens in groups,” as author Sir Ken Robinson once said. “Collaboration is the stuff of growth.”

Ready to take the National Book Challenge with your class? Publish your unique classbook with us by May 31st, and you will automatically be entered into the contest to win up to $5,000 in prizes. It’s that easy! Check out the contest page to learn more.


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