Kids are great at making excuses. They make excuses about why they were late, why they didn't do their work and why they got in trouble. They are experts at coming up with excuses. About this time every year, we harness this power to write "excuse notes" as a writing assignment. On Monday, we talked about all of the excuses kids have made in the past to their teachers and parents. We get a good laugh out of many of them and the kids appreciate the creativity of each excuse that is described in the conversation. Then, I tell them about our new assignment: the excuse note. I ask the kids to write a few paragraphs about why they couldn't do something or why they were late somewhere or why they didn't turn in something. While the kids get a charge out of the assignment idea, we talk a bit about the elements of a good story. I tell the kids that they can use something that actually happened to them or make up something completely fictional. After all, there are elements of truth in even the best fiction.
I ask kids to write a 2-3 paragraph excuse note. The note can be from them, a letter from their parents or any other manifestation of an excuse they'd like to create. We go over some of the finer points of good, descriptive writing and talk about believability. I stress to the kids that the best excuse notes are ones that can pass as truthful, whether they are or not. We want readers to ask at the end, "Hmm, I wonder if that really happened." I ask for no aliens, monsters, etc. I want real drama from the kids.
As an added challenge, I told the kids that they would get some bonus points if they wrote the entire excuse note without using the letter "o". I was surprised at the number of kids who decided to try the challenge. There are always the kids who want to push themselves harder to see if they can achieve something. We have many of those kids on team this year.
Well, the kiddos did a great job on their notes. Many of the kids had elaborate scenarios as to why they were late to class, didn't turn in work or failed badly in a different situation. I read all of the notes to the class and the kids listened intently to each note, trying to guess which student wrote each note. It was a fun assignment that brought out some creativity in the students and stressed the importance of clear writing.