Writing Extension: Exploring Appreciative Inquiry

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Spring brings longer days and more light into our lives.  It’s the time of year when flowers bloom and tree buds turn into luscious leaves before our eyes!  With everything outdoors transforming anew, it’s so hard to capture the attention of students experiencing spring-fever!  So, why not capitalize on the fresh change of seasons, using a writing activity that will inspire students to appreciate spring and ‘Carpe Diem’ at the same time! 

Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase coined by the Roman poet Horace to express the idea that one should make the most of each and every moment of life while one can. Latin scholars translate the phrase to mean “pluck the day (as it is ripe).”  In order to do that, a person must learn how to appreciate what’s going on around them.  Learning to appreciate can translate into a more positive approach to thinking that can last a lifetime if knowledge, skill, and practice are applied. That’s where the poetic principle of Appreciate Inquiry comes into play.  It simply means that what we spend time focusing on and studying shapes our interpretations, learnings, and inspirations!  (Do you focus on what you want or what you don’t want?  Whichever it is, you’ll likely find it.)

For this lesson, students will follow the poetic principle of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as they carry out the following steps: 

  1. Define the Topic,

  2. Discover (explain the best of what is),

  3. Dream (imagine what could be),

  4. Design (develop what should be), and

  5. Destiny (compose what will be). 

The topic should be written on the board for everyone to see.  Students will get out a sheet of paper and write it at the top of the page.  Topic: A Spring Day in (City/State)…Carpe Diem! 

Since the topic has been predetermined, students will learn to appreciate spring a little more by engaging in the steps of Appreciative Inquiry.  The initial step requires students to Discover.  In this moment, they will be asked to find, emphasize, and bring attention to any factors that are included in a spring day in (city/state)…carpe diem!   They will focus on explaining the best of what is! Often times, it helps to think about positive experiences from the past, or if possible, you can have students venture outside to witness spring taking place in real time. Some additional questions include: 

  • Is there anything surprising going on around you? 

  • Does anything touch your heart or move your spirit? 

  • What seems to be going well for you in this moment? 

As students generate ideas, they will list their ideas on the sheet of paper.

Once students have discovered the attributes of a spring day in (city/state), the next step in the AI process is to Dream.  Ask students to use their imagination to enter a state of dreaming and begin to daydream about what could be or needs to be included in the best spring day in (city/state)…carpe diem…ever!  The sky’s the limit, and no dream is too big!  Some questions to help students dream include: 

  • What could make this spring day even better? 

  • What would you add? 

Students will make a list of dreams, leaving room for details that will be developed in the next step of AI.

The next step in AI is called Design.  During this step, students will write concrete, actionable steps that could turn their dreams listed in the previous step into reality.  They will literally explain the steps that would have to take place for their dream to come true.

Last, but not least, Destiny is the final step in AI.  During this step, the student must decide on how they will personally contribute to the dream (Step 3) and the proposed design (Step 4) of a spring day in (city/state)…carpe diem.  Students will write their destiny statements beneath each dream and design statement.  (Example:  I will…)

After students have completed the 5-steps of AI outlined above, they will use the information to write a 5-paragraph essay.  Students will prewrite, write, edit, revise, write a final draft, and publish: ‘A Spring Day in (City/State)…Carpe Diem!’

Resources: Use the following link for access to various prewriting maps to aid your students in their journey!

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

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In a word…YES! If you are seeking a great writing prompt, look no further than a picture book, a local art gallery, or a collection of great works of art from one of those coffee table display books.

When I was a kid, we used to have a large reproduction of Paul Detlefsen’s work, called The Smithy and Horse. I used to stare at it, sort of daydreaming about how the objects could interact if they were real and not just a painting.

Here’s just a short sample of how I made the objects in the picture come alive:

The Smithy and Horse by Paul Detlefsen

The Smithy and Horse by Paul Detlefsen

I imagined that the dog raced fiercely toward the boy in the overalls and bit him! Because the boy was in so much pain, he flailed about, knocking over the wooden barrel he was leaning on. The barrel rolled over into the blacksmith’s shop and crashed into the wooden block that held the anvil. Well, you can imagine what happened when the anvil fell off and landed on the smithy’s foot!


I could go on and on—but what matters is that the words seem to flow easily when the imagination takes flight.

Anyway, it’s true—a picture can be worth a thousand words, especially if you can expose your students to some great picture books or fine works of art.

Now, you try…

  •  Select a picture book that portrays several objects;

  • Model some “thinking out loud” by talking with your students about interesting ways the objects in the picture could interact (chain-reaction stories work great with this!);

  • Jot down notes about how you connected all of the objects in the artwork;

  • Have students start with a very short picture book to think about independently, and when ready, let the students record their story in a listening center, on a cell phone, other recording device;

  • Publish the recorded story together. Have students listen to their recorded stories and then transpose it on paper. No doubt, there will be revisions so be sure that students  include them in the final published story.


The Classroom Cafe: Creating an ideal writing space

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Sniff, sniff, mmmm! There’s something special about the aroma of that sweet, little corner coffee shop.  The lingering scent of a creamy caramel latte, mixed with the boldness of jet-black espresso, brings a smile to my face.  The dimmed lights and down-tempo tunes playing in the background set the stage for an ideal writing space.  I settle-in, let the atmosphere inspire me, and begin to write. 

A great way to keep your students engaged is by turning your classroom into a cafe…The Shurley Café. The creation and set-up of the actual Shurley Café is completely up to you, but here are a few suggestions to get you started:

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How to Create The Shurley Café:

  • Arrange desks in two’s or small groups.

  • Dim the lights or bring in lamps with soft lighting.

  • Play calming, quiet music in the background.

  • Create a Shurley Café sign.

  • Create a Café Chat bulletin board.

  • Create a Reflection Form for students to write their Café Chat reflection on. (More on that in a bit.)

  • Make hot cocoa/cider to enjoy while the café is open.

  • Wear an apron.

  • Serve a light snack.

  • Invite your administration to the café!

  • Turn this into an opportunity for silent reading, as well!

  • Repeat as often as you like.

Let’s write! Now that you have The Shurley Café ready to go, it’s time to start composing. Since it is holiday time, why not have students explore how other countries celebrate Christmas?  Afterwards, they can compare it to their own family’s celebration.  It’s a great way to learn about traditions around the world as well as the traditions of their peers while working through the writing process.

To get started, you’ll need to do the following:

1. Assign different countries to students.

2. Allow time in your plans for students to research on the computer.

3. Check out some books that cover Christmas customs from around the world.

4. Make copies of a Venn Diagram.

5. Makes copies of the guided Café Chat reflection paragraph (example below).

6. Refer students to helpful websites, such as:




Here’s a day-by-day overview to help you with your planning:


  1. Assign a Comparison/Contrast Essay

  2. Choose a topic.

  3. Research your topic using books or the computer during class.

  4. Take notes on your topic.


  1. Create a Venn diagram.

  2. Write a rough draft.

  3. Begin the revising and editing process in class, individually. Revise and edit with your partner, if time allows.


  1. Continue the revising and editing process.

  2. Share your composition with your teacher.

  3. Write your final draft in class. (Complete as homework if you need extra time.)

  4. Create an illustration that depicts your topic, if time allows.

Thursday: The Shurley Café Day!

  1. Share your essay while you enjoy a warm cup of cocoa. (You can do this activity with a partner or in small groups.)

  2. Write a Café Chat reflection. (see below.)

Friday: The Shurley Café Day!

  1. Share your reflection with your partner or small group.

  2. Post your reflection on the Café Chat bulletin board. (Share with the entire class if you’d like to do so.)

  3. Enjoy reading the Café Chat board while you sip your drink and socialize.

Remember, you are still the leader of the room—more like the guide by the side in this scenario—so classroom management is very important.  Be there to assist your students through the writing process. This is their opportunity to show you what they’ve learned! You can teach so much more than writing in an activity like this!  Have an enjoyable experience and a peaceful holiday season!  


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Kimberly Crady

Kimberly Crady is an adventurous woman with an immense love for life, learning, and teaching. After teaching in upper elementary classrooms for nearly 10 years, she joined the Shurley Team in 2005.  Kimberly has had the unique experience of teaching Shurley English lessons in all levels, Kindergarten-8th grade and training teachers across the United States.  Kimberly is a National Consultant and SEDA Teacher for Shurley Instructional Materials.


Kimberly’s passion for helping people and living a healthy lifestyle has led her to continue her education in the area of Health and Wellness.  She enjoys numerous outdoor activities from hiking and snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains to paddle boarding in the ocean; although, these days you can find her practicing hot yoga in a Bikram Yoga studio. She also enjoys traveling abroad, live music, reading, and spending time with her favorite mutt, Lu.  Kimberly’s experience as a Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Teen Life Coach helps support her firm belief in teaching the whole person, especially in the classroom.