Teaching Writing

Innovation Station: 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).

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. -Thomas A. Edison

Did you ever have to make a copy of a door key? Did you every need to use a hammer to pound a nail? If so, then you used items that were cut by a modern form of the Blanchard Lathe, an important invention of the year 1819. And what about flying? If you’ve ever flown in a plane then you’ve benefitted from the tenacious work of the Wright Brothers who successfully flew the first airplane at Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1902.

In these two videos you’ll learn about the Blanchard Lathe and the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight, plus the earlier, not-so successful attempts. You’ll be asked by Ranger Pearl to write about some other inventions that have changed the course of history, and Rangers Lulu and Adonis will ask you to use your imagination and write about something you want to invent and to consider the obstacles that you might encounter in bringing it to life.

Writing Sparks

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way …to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark from Wright Brothers National MemorialDo you have a dream? How will you overcome your obstacles?

Content focus: Wright Brothers experimentation and flight at Kitty Hawk
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: Video: 3 mins 57 seconds, writing time as needed

Rangers Lulu and Adonis teach you about the trial and error and eventual success of the Wright Brothers’ first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk in 1902. They ask you to write an action plan and a hypothesis for an invention of your own! What might you invent? What obstacles might you encounter in building it?

Spark from Springfield Armory National Historic SiteThink about an invention that changed the course of history and describe why it was so important.

Content focus: Innovation and the Blanchard Lathe
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time:  Video, 1 min 13 seconds, writing time as needed

Told in both English and Haitian Creole, Ranger Pearl teaches you about the invention and uses of the Blanchard Lathe and asks you to think of and write about other inventions that have changed the course of history.

Sharing your writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Wright Brothers National Museum: Wind, sand, and a dream of flight brought Wilbur and Orville Wright to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where, after four years of scientific experimentation, they achieved the first successful airplane flights on December 17, 1903.

Springfield Armory National Historic Site: Springfield Armory National Historic Site commemorates the critical role of the nation’s first armory by preserving and interpreting the world’s largest historic US military small arms collection, along with historic archives, buildings, and landscape

Works Museum, Inventions by Kids! Have you ever marveled at kids’ creativity and enthusiasm? Or maybe you remember being a kid yourself and having a never-ending stream of imaginative ideas. These seven kids took their ideas and turned them into real, physical products. Some of them are practical, popular, or used every day, yet you would never guess a child invented them. Others will make you smile at their brilliant and sometimes whimsical uniqueness.

Kids Invent Stuff! Kids Invent Stuff is the YouTube channel where 4-11 year olds have the chance to get their invention ideas built by engineers Ruth & Shawn!

Important Innovations and Inventions, Past and Present, ThoughtCo: There are endless famous (and not so famous) inventions worthy of curiosity and wonder. Of course, the lists below are by no means complete, but do provide a ‘greatest hits’ list of inventions, both past and present, that have captured imaginations and propelled us forward.

Five Women Inventors You Didn’t Learn about in History Class, Smithsonian Magazine

10 Black Inventor Who Changed the World, Mental Floss

Image source: Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash 

This post is part of the STEAM-powered prompts for Writing Outside collection.