Teaching Writing

Dear Diary…Record-Keeping Stories: Prompts for writing outside


This resource is available to support place-based writing outside anytime of year and comes with related resources and age-level recommendations. Originally developed for Write Out (writeout.nwp.org).

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. –N. Scott Momaday

Have you ever had so many thoughts running around in your mind that you think that you’ll never sort it all out? Everyone has, because life can be challenging. There are many ways to create order out of a chaotic mind (deep breaths, talking it through with a friend), but one of the most creative ways is to write it out! This can be a healing and helpful way to find a solution to a problem, come to a resolution from an argument, or to keep track of family stories when family members are no longer with us.

The following videos take some deep dives into how writing stories have helped people get through difficult winters of cold and little food, and helped people connect with and understand the struggle of family members who they only knew through old photographs. These prompts are about writing a record of what happened based on notes scribbled in a diary or on the ‘skeleton’ of tales told through the generations.

Writing “Sparks”

A spark from Valley Forge National Historic Park – Think of a time when you overcame something challenging

Content focus: Writing as record-keeping
Age-level recommendations: intermediate, advanced writers
Time: 3:52

Park Ranger Steve sits beside a fire inside a cabin from the American Revolution and describes the harsh conditions of the time. He reads from an old journal kept by one of the residents and, because of the details he used, we learn that the writer used his journal almost as if it was a friend to tell his daily struggles to, as well as to record his days. Steve then prompts you to think about a time when you struggled or were faced with something challenging. How did you handle it? For this lesson we suggest that you write this as if you are telling a friend, and use details and your five senses to help them feel as if they were right there with you.

A spark from Oklahoma State University Writing Project – Stories are passed down through the generations

Content focus: Filling in details of a story you only partially know, and N. Scott Momaday’s idea: History is genetically passed down through generations
Age-level recommendations: intermediate, advanced writers
Time: 11:16

Marlys Cervantes introduces the Native American writer N. Scott Momaday’s idea of ‘Blood Memory’ that stories are passed down through generations by birth. She offers ideas, such as meditative walking, to retrieve those stories or to fill in the details to the ones you might only know the skeleton of. For this lesson we suggest that you try to write a family story that you have heard (or have wondered about due to a mysterious photograph), and use your imagination and perhaps some ‘blood memory’ to fill in all of the details that help it come to life.

This post is part of the Story-powered Prompts for Writing Outside collection.