St. Patrick’s Day Writing/Journal Prompt

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up Saturday. It’s a fun time for kids and families–wearing green, eating green, hunting and making shamrocks. It has also inspired the following writing prompt for either class writing projects or journaling fun.

St. Patrick's Day Writing/Journal Prompt Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesPrompt

  1. What is one St. Patrick’s day wish you would make for yourself?
  2. What is one St. Patrick’s day wish you would make for someone you love?
  3. What is one St. Patrick’s day wish you would make for your community?
  4. Write a paragraph explaining why your chose the wishes you did?

Note, question number three quite deliberately focuses on the writer’s community. I framed it in this manner to avoid the more generalized answers a wish for “the world” might inspire.

Use this St. Patrick’s Day Writing Prompt in the Language Arts Classroom

If you are a teacher, or a parent teacher, you might use the prompt, even the graphics I have included, for a language arts class warm-up or writing project.

A fun bulletin board might include cut-out shamrocks with each student’s wishes written in on each leaf and their explanations written on an index card to go with each.

Use this St. Patrick’s Day Writing Prompt to Inspire a Journal Entry

If you are someone who enjoys journaling (that would include me), or you want your students to journal as a way to develop writing fluency, you could also use this as a journaling prompt. Our wishes, hopes, and dreams change with the situations in which we find ourselves. A journal entry based on this prompt would provide a brief snapshot of who and where you/your students are at this time in your lives.

Your Turn

What might you wish for in answer to any of the first three questions. Explain why.

Please share your response in the comment box below. Let’s inspire each other!

St. Patrick's Day Writing/Journal Prompt: Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives


Play With Your Words Writing Prompt: Describe a Unicorn–There’s More Options Than You May Think

Play With Your Words Writing Prompt,,


Writing to a prompt is a great way to exercise writing skills. Today’s prompt was inspired by a post I read recently on the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts Blog, “How many horns does a unicorn have?”



Go to: to  Read the article and enjoy the illustrations from medieval manuscripts ranging from the 1500’s to the 1600’s.

I found this article delightful and was both surprised and inspired to discover so much variety in the “unicorn species.”

Prompt: Use the writing process to write a description of a unicorn. Use some of the surprising details from the article, dream up your own.


Brainstorm a list of characteristics for your unicorn–both in appearance and nature. Throw down anything you think of. The list doesn’t commit you to using any of them.

Write–Rough Draft

Describe your unicorn.


Look back at your description.

Do you use any words that are kind of bland? Substitute in more specific words.

Are there places where a comparison might enhance your reader’s understanding? Use metaphors or similes to create vivid word picture’s in your reader’s mind.

Ready to share? Not yet. Once you have finished revising, proofread your description. Do you use uppercase letters at the beginnings of sentences? Do you use end punctuation at the end? (I often skip these when I’m doing a rough draft because my mind is so focussed on creating.) How about your grammar and punctuation? Remember, writing conventions help to make your writing more easily understood and therefore you communication more effective.


Share your description with your classmates, friends, or family. If they have also written a description, compliment them on the strengths of their writing. Encourage one another.

* Want to do this exercise with a pre-reader writer in order to improve their pre-literacy skills? Read the article to them and point out the pictures. Then ask them to imagine and describe their own unicorn. If you’d like, write their description down as they create it, then read it back aloud, pointing to each word as you pronounce it. This reinforced the one-to-one correspondence between the spoken word and words on the page.

Your Turn

Share your response in the comments box. If you share yours, I’ll share mine. Let’s encourage one another.

How to Nurture a Literate Lifestyle in a Crazy, Non-stop World

How to Nurture a Literate Lifestyle in a Crazy, Non-stop World: Debby Zigenis-Lowerys Literate LivesAs someone whose famous last words as a child were, “Just let me finish this chapter!” and who discovered at an early age that I think best with a pen in my hand, the crazy, joyous, busy holiday season, while wonderful, is also a severe challenge to my quiet spirit, and no more so than this year, when I came down with a cold the Monday before Thanksgiving and never quite got over it until nearly Christmas Eve.

Here are a number of literate practices that helped me to manage my stress and keep my eyes on the blessings and special joys of the season:

  • write emails, letters, and texts
  • make lists
  • doodle meaningful vocabulary
  • read blog posts
  • read seasonal books
  • engage in devotional/inspirational reading
  • collect quotes
  • braindrain to collect memories

Write Emails, Letters, and Texts

As with most families, the holiday season, like any other time of year, came with both its trials and joys. I relied on emails and letters to support an uncommunicative relative who was going through a difficult time.

Also, due to how hectic the days felt, if I needed to contact someone, I relied on emails and texting whenever possible, thus avoiding long drawn out phone conversations.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? Prioritize your time by using the most efficient means of contacting people, and save phone conversations for meaningful interactions.

Make Lists

When you work full-time, are a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, friend, blogger, and writer, you have a lot of relationships and responsibilities to juggle. This December, I did not rely on my memory. I made lists for what I wanted to accomplish each day, lists for baking plans for the season, multiple lists for the grands’ Christmas craft party, not to mention shopping and gift lists, and lists for our family’s Christmas Eve gathering. I was able to do, complete, and  provide everything that mattered most to me.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? When things matter to you and there’s a lot going on in your life, commit them to lists so they do not get forgotten, you can track your progress, and you will not be disappointed when you discover it’s too late to do that thing you were looking forward to.

Doodle Meaningful Vocabulary

I love Sybil Macbeth’s Praying in Color book and website. This year she posted an article on honoring Advent, the season before Christmas, by doodling an Advent themed word each day. She had a list of words I started with, then I brainstormed some more of my own. While I did not do this every day of Advent, I found when I did practice this, using a 3″x 5″ card, I experienced a sense of stillness, calm, and deep meaning in the present moment (which served as a great stress-buster as well).

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? When you are very, very busy and don’t have time to journal or write, choose a word, or brainstorm a list of words that make this time meaningful to you, then pick one to doodle for five or ten minutes. It’s very refreshing. (P.S. You don’t have to be an artist to do this. Note I used the word doodle. Anyone who can hold a writing utensil can doodle.)

Read Blog Posts

Often functioning in a state of overwhelm or exhaustion, I did not have the energy to sustain the attention necessary for my favorite form of reading, the novel. So, I read a lot of blog posts–much shorter, more easily digested–and thus kept my reading-loving brain satisfied.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? What types of short works do you like to read? Switch to “shorts” during challenging times–short stories, poetry, essays, magazines, blogs… There is much to be gleaned from short, tight writing that can be satisfying to the spirit.

Read Seasonal Books

I love to read Christmas novels and novellas in December. So when I had the leisure and energy, I indulged. The stories were lighter fare than my usual reading rotation, which helped with my lack of energy and time, and they helped remind me of what I love about the Holiday season.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? Read something seasonal, whether it’s a romance novella for February, a beach read for summer, or a cozy mystery for fall, to remind yourself to savor the season you are in.

Engage in Devotional/Inspirational Reading

For me, Christmas is meaningless without Christ. Fortunately, there is a whole Christian marketplace full of devotional books with short daily readings. I chose one and tried to read faithfully each day. (However, I did not beat myself up when I missed a day, rather I looked on that missed reading as a short bonus pleasure I could slip in on another day.)

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? You don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy inspirational reading. There are so many themed books of readings in the marketplace. Topics include: seasonal thoughts, collections excerpting a particular writer or group of writer’s work, themed collections of daily thoughts, and of course, publications from your own philosophical tradition. These kinds of readings can remind you of what you love, what you value, and what you want to focus your attention on.

Collect Quotes

I love words; I love quotes. A short quotation can be so meaningful, comforting, and inspiring. So, whenever I found a quote that “spoke” to me, I either cut and pasted it into an email to myself or jotted it down for my collection.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? When you hear or read something that makes you stop to think or appreciate, collect it. It doesn’t take long, but to your inner reader will find it most satisfying.

Use a Braindrain to Collect Memories

I keep a journal, but during times like this past holiday season, I do not have time to sit down and write in it in a leisurely manner. Christmas Eve, my husband and I had such a wonderful time with our kids and grands, and fell into bed exhausted, with a travel day planned the next morning to see my parents and brother. But I so wanted to remember all the highlights of our own Christmas party. So, that morning, while I drank my coffee, I did a braindrain of all the special memories. I didn’t worry about, spelling, grammar, or complete sentences. I didn’t worry about putting everything in the right order. I just jotted each delightful memory down so it could be savored latter. And I thoroughly enjoyed the process.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? Sometimes our minds are so full and we long for time to just sit down, pen in hand, and reflect on it all, but there are no big enough chunks of time in which to do so. In such situations, a braindrain can be most satisfying.

Your Turn

Thanks to these strategies, I enjoyed a peaceful, meaningful, joyous holiday season.

How do you nurture your literate spirit when times get tough? Please use the comment box to share a strategy that you love or have found particularly effective. Thanks for you willingness to nurture our literate lives.

Winter Holiday Literacy Activity: Borrowed Poems

Winter Holiday Activity literatelives.wordpress.comOne of the things I love doing with my students, which you can do either in the classroom or at home for fun, is write what I call Borrowed Poems.

What is a Borrowed Poem?

A borrowed poem is a new poem created by analyzing and playing with an already existing poem or song. The winter holiday season is so jam-packed with so many familiar songs that it lends itself well for this activity.

How to Write a Borrowed Poem

First, select the song you wish to play with. For this exercise, I have chosen a traditional favorite: “Deck the Halls.” If you ou your student do not know the words to the song, you will need to access them.

Observe and analyze the first verse of the song.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly.
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La

What do I notice?

The first sentence is an imperative statement, instructing the listener or an unknown participant to do something. As such, it begins with the verb, “deck,” meaning to decorate.

I also notice this song uses an ABAB rhyme scheme: the two A rhymes are  “holly” and “jolly,” the two B, part of a repeated refrain, repeat the final “la.”

Finally I notice the rhythm of the verse: Dum da Dum da Dum da DumDum. Since I will use the refrain as is, I have no need to analyze this. It may be helpful to select a song that does have some repeated verse or refrain that can be incorporated into the poem.

Plan, Prewrite, Compose

Jot down any ideas you have for your new poem:

  • Who is the narrator?
  • What is the setting?
  • What is the poem about?
  • What are some rhyming words that may suit your intent?

My first thoughts were that I wanted my poem to be about getting all dressed up and doing something fun. At first I considered making it a New Year’s Eve poem. However, my imagination, right now, is rather caught up in brightly colored lights and Christmas fun. The “lights” concept gave me one of my first rhyming words: “glow.” (I love light, especially in the dark days of December!)

Thinking about lights got me thinking about all the decorated houses in my neighborhood. I thought maybe the “fun” activity in my poem can be going out to view all the lights.

However, once I got to thinking about going out–outdoors–the traditional practice of caroling popped into my head. I decided caroling would be my activity.

And once I got to thinking about caroling, I thought about neighbors and all the ways we love and serve each other through the year.

With all those ideas in mind, it was time to write.

Write Your Poem

Prepare yourself with plenty of paper, a pencil, and possibly an eraser (although often in the midst of drafting, I don’t have the patience to erase and just cross words out and go on).

Do not expect perfection the first time out. Initially, I was determined to include a babysitter in the caroling rounds, but discovered the word just had too many syllables. After much switching words in and out, I at last settled on a cat sitter instead.

Even once you think your poem is done, don’t ink out a final copy right away. Set it aside and do something else. The idea for the cat sitter did not come to me until I had washed the dishes and gone upstairs to put away clothes.

Edit and Revise

Go back and look at your poem. Play with sound of the words using alliteration, assonance, consonance, and repetition.

Edit for grammar and punctuation. Don’t be intimidated. A sentence is a sentence whether it’s written as prose or a line in a poem. However, if you wish to get creative with grammar and punctuation, a poem can be a good place to do it.


Once you feel your poem is done, “publish” it. Publishing can come in many forms–inking out a final handwritten copy, entering it into a word-processing program and printing it out, doing either of the former and decorating the final copy with stickers, borders, zen-doodling, or clip art, or mounting it on some holiday paper.

Publishing also means sharing. Maybe you want to read it to family or friends one evening after dinner, post it on a bulletin board, or write it into a card.

Here is my poem:

Caroling in Oregon

Dress yourselves in clothes that glow,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La,
Tonight, out caroling we’ll go,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La.
First to Jim, who shares his garden bounty,
Fa-la-la La-la-la La La La.
Next, to Sue, best baker in the county,
Fa-la-la-la La,  La-la La La.

Santa songs for little Sam,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La,
Angel’s carols for Mrs. Lamb,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La.
Cross the street to cat-sitter Jayne’s
Fa-la-la La-la-la La La La,
All while hoping it won’t rain,
Fa-la-la-la La,  La-la La La.

Your Turn

Did you try it? Did you and your kids have any fun? Please use the comment box below to share the titles of other songs that have a refrain, or, even better, your own creation. Enjoy this week with the young people in your life and borrowed holiday poems.

Reading Response/Writing Prompt for Characterization

Characterization Reading Response Writing PromptSome of my most viewed posts are the ones I create for use in the classroom. Thank you, teachers! However reading response exercises are not only useful in teaching reading, but for helping fiction writers develop their stories. Today’s focus: Characterization.

Characterization Reading Response

What is the main character (or one of the supporting characters) in today’s reading grateful for?

This question helps to build students inferential reading skills, as it is not particularly likely their selection will have dealt with the topic of gratitude. Students will need to look for clues in the text that help them understand what the character likes, what the character longs for, what the character values, in order to infer what this character is grateful for.

Characterization Writing Prompt

What is the main character, or a supporting character in your story or novel grateful for?

Strong characters are created, not when we sit down and list their traits, values, and preferences, but when these things are demonstrated through your character’s actions, words, thoughts, and feelings–especially sensory feelings. This is the season for Thanksgiving, so leverage that holiday feeling by imagining what your main character or other characters are grateful for.

Your Turn

Can you share what you are reading? How about providing the author and title of the work, and one of the things a main character is grateful for.

Writing? Whose character did you develop today? What is he/she grateful for?

I love to hear from you. Happy reading and writing, and thanks for joining me here at Literate Lives!


While Your Heart Breaks, Teach Someone Read

While Your Heart Breaks... Empathy and ReadingMy heart breaks today as still more friends and family mourn lost loved ones.

The  hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters that have hit in the last months were destructive enough. Do we really have to destroy each other?

Despite today’s golden sun and blue autumn skies, our world, our country looks cold and dark, and it feels as though there is so little any one of us can do to make things better.

But there is.

Pray for comfort and healing for all who hurt.

Look for ways to be kind to others–anyone…the homeless person in the stairwell, the driver waiting to pull out into crowded traffic, your partner after a long day.

And for those of us privileged to be raising or teaching young people, help them learn to read. Their ability to read fluently and with understanding is essential!

Why? Because reading, especially fiction, builds empathy, something that seems in short supply these days. Don’t just take my word for it.

“In literature we feel the pain of the downtrodden, the anguish of defeat, or the joy of victory, but in a safe space… we can refine our human capacities of emotional understanding. We can hone our ability to feel with other people who, in ordinary life, might seem too foreign—or too threatening—to elicit our sympathies. Perhaps, then, when we return to our real lives, we can better understand why people act the way they do.”      ~Keith Oatley

“Nonfiction books teach us new facts, but the real magic is fiction. Here, we zip another’s skin over our own bones and suddenly see through their eyes, learn what it feels like to be someone other than ourselves. Fiction imparts the gift of empathy. It’s also a vehicle for… warnings, for reflection, and most importantly . . . for hope.”     ~Hugh Howey

“Fiction is one of our most useful tools. Fiction is an empathy machine. If you have fiction, you have a way of relating to other people and other identities, and that is so huge. So if I write good children’s fiction, I have a chance of making the world a better place in the future and indefinitely.”                  ~Neil Gaiman

Thank you to the many authors, past and present, who have helped us learn to love and care and feel for others.

Let us each do our part to spread kindness everywhere and every day, and let those of us who can help young people learn to read. Then, maybe, our tomorrows will not look so bleak.


Teacher’s File Drawer: Character-Based Reading Response Exercise

Good teachers know, the more time our students spend reading or writing, the more they strengthen both their reading and writing skills. Using reading response exercises after a timed reading, either of a class novel or self-selected novel, gives our students time to practice both.

To make it easy for you to incorporate this practice in your classroom, feel free to use the reading response jpg below.

Character-Based Reading Response

Character-Based Reading

Your Turn

l have always loved reading my students’ responses to literature. I’d love it if you would share any responses that delighted you. (Of course, do not use student names to protect privacy.) Enjoy!


Alack and Alas…A Change of Schedule

New Blog Schedule: Literate Lives

Alack and Alas…

It has been fun blogging twice per week through my recovery from mono and over the summer, however, like summer itself, this too must come to an end.

While I love blogging, sharing my life, my reading, my love of writing, and my encouragement for parents and educators, I will be returning to the class room as an educator and will therefore have less free time for blogging.

A Temporary New Schedule

Next week I will begin blogging once per week, and next week’s post will come out on Tuesday.


I will only continue the Tuesday schedule if I do not hear from you.

Your Turn

On what day of the week would you prefer to see Literate Lives bounce into your inbox? Please voice your opinion using the comment box below. Based on your preferences, I will determine and begin blogging on your chosen day for posting.

Uh-Oh, Summer Reading Lists Unread!

Uh, Oh, Summer Reading: Debby Zigenis Lowery's Literate LivesWow! It is already mid August! Did your students come home in June with a list of books they needed to read over the summer? How’s that going?

I know how rapidly summer sneaks by, so I wanted to give you three tips to help get your kids reading their required material and share a link to an article on Brightly that also addresses this problem.

Ideas to Promote Summer Reading

Go on a “reading picnic,” or 10! With summer evenings so delightful, why not pack up dinner, a picnic blanket or folding chairs, and copies of the kids’ required reading. (Bring your own book too!) Eat dinner, read for a while–everyone–including you, then enjoy a treat like playing in the playground together, a bike ride, a favorite dessert, or a trip out for ice cream. (P.S. Reading picnics can take place any time of day, even in your own back yard!)

Enjoy some audible literature–the low tech way! As you drive around doing errands, on outings, and even on a final summer trip, bring along required reading and ask your kids to read to you. Stop at the end of each chapter. Discuss the story events or information, and build you children’s ability to make predictions (a genuine, academic reading skill!) by speculating together about what might happen next and why you think your predictions might turn out.

Help you child find a reading pen pal. It could be a friend who still has to read the same book, an interested relative–grandparents are often good for this, but so might be aunts and uncles, or even volunteer yourself. Agree on how often your student will write to their pen pal about what they are reading and provide them with stationery and stamps. Encourage the pen pals to write back and ask questions abut the book that your reader can respond to after additional reading. If you are going to be your child’s reading pen pal, maybe you could make a “mailbox” together by decorating a shoe or cereal box. When each of you finishes writing a letter, you can put it in the box, and you can both check the box regularly for new responses.

Still haven’t found the strategy for your family?

Check Out this Brightly Article

You can read Brightly’s article, “I Know What You Did(n’t Read) Last Summer,” here.

Your Turn

What are some strategies you’ve used in the past to complete, or help you kids complete, summer reading assignments?

What are some of you favorite locations for reading in the summertime?

Family Literacy and Fun: Paint Chip Poetry

Family Literacy and Fun: Paint Chip Poetry

Need to make a run to the hardware or paint store this summer? Be sure to take your children along, or at least go with them in mind. Why? Because then you can have fun writing together creating paint chip poetry.

What’s paint chip poetry? Basically, its poetry written using words from a paint chip. There are several variations on the process.


Step 1: Gather Paint Chips

As I said, take the kids along and let them select their own paint chip cards, or, if that’s not possible, select a few paint chip cards for each child, keeping in mind their favorite colors and interests–the colors of their favorite stuffed animal, school, or team. Don’t forget to grab a few cards for yourself. Modeling your interest in writing and literacy is one of the best ways to encourage your kids to engage in literacy activities.

Step 2: Choose a Process

Since I lost the link for the article I read on this, I researched a few paint chip writing activities, and there were several variations on the process available. Here’s three to choose from:

  • You and your kids can make up similes (statements using the words “like” or “as”) for each color name on their selected card. You can even write the similes directly over the swatch of color.
  • You and your kids can write a patterned poem using a paint chip color.
  • You and your kids can select from grade/age appropriate options and write your poems accordingly.

Be sure to have plenty of paper and writing utensils on hand.

Step 3: Explain and Write

  • Give you children their paint chip cards.
  • Explain what you are going to do. Maybe even do a sample together from one of your cards.
  • Turn your kids loose to write for a set period of time. (For children not yet old enough to write, let them dictate their thoughts, and you write them down. Then read the “poem” back to your child, pointing to each word as you read it to reinforce the one-to-one correspondence between the written and spoken word.)

Step 4: Gather and Read

Call your kids back to a central area and have fun reading your poems to each other.

Step 5: Celebrate!

Maybe afterwards you can have a colorful snack, like rainbow sherbert, cupcakes with multi-colored sprinkles, or 9 layer bean dip and multi-colored tortilla chips.

Try using your color words in conversation over the next few days. Have fun with these words.

For Teachers

The links above were written with the classroom in mind. Also, if you search “Paint Chip Poetry” you will find still more options to take with you back to school in September.

Your Turn

How did your paint chip poetry session go? Please use the comments section to share some of the poems you or your children created. Now’s your chance to brag on those little ones!

Did you find some interesting color words on your paint chips? Share the color names that caught your fancy. It would be so cool to end up with a list of delightful names.