One Summer – Collaborative Writing Prompt

What are you reading?

In my TESOL presentation on Blending Authentic Materials with Ready-Made ELT Materials, I talked about how teachers can find creative ways to teach or review bits of English using excerpts from books they are reading. Students love to know personal tidbits about teachers, and what better way to let them in than through what we’re reading?

One Summer…

Right now, I’m reading a book of personal essays by Nicholson Baker called The Way the World Works. One of my favorite essays so far is called One Summer. It’s a collection of paragraphs, each beginning with One summer… and ranging in length from one to ten sentences. Each paragraph is about a summer memory. The paragraphs also range in content from the author’s recent summer memories to his childhood ones.

One summer my family went on a boat in Georgian Bay with another family. There was a girl who slept on the boat with her eyes open.

One summer a guy down the street got mad at the fact that people were allowing their dogs to poop every day in the front yard. He took some white forks and put them in the dog poops. They looked like little sailboats.

Immediately after reading Baker’s essay, I was inspired to write my own collection of One summer… paragraphs:

One summer my friend and I sold my brother’s BMX bike at a neighbor’s garage sale. We had to find a way to buy it back, so we set up a Kool-Aid stand.

It’s fun to see what kinds of memories come back when you use this prompt.

Writing Prompts

A collection of One summer… memories can quickly become a set of past tense Grammar Stories. You can pair this exercise with a ready-made lesson on the past tense (see links below). Here are some activities to try with this writing prompt:

  1. One summer… paragraph and put the stories together in a collection. Work together to guess which story belongs to which student. You may also want to guess how old the student was that summer.
  2. Have each student write 3–5 One summer… paragraphs and have a read-aloud session. Choose the best ones to go in a One Summer… anthology. Encourage the other students to say, Tell me more!
  3. Have students write a series of One summer… paragraphs with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 or more sentences. Discuss which works best for this type of short story.
  4. Have students write one factual and one fictional story using the One summer… prompt. Guess which ones are true and which ones are fiction.
  5. Have students write one or two sentences using the prompt at the top of a piece of paper, and then have them pass it to another student. The next student will add a related story, starting with “Oh yeah? One summer I…

Repeat any of these activities with other seasons (One winter…) and create a Year Book using your students’ awesome writing.

Blog Challenge

Write your own One Summer… memory in the comments below!


You can pair this prompt with the following ESL Library lessons:



Leave a Comment ↓


    Linda Slater-Gilbert says:

    Aug 15, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Thanks! Just what I needed for my intermediate class tonight!


    • Tara Benwell says:

      Aug 17, 2017 at 8:24 am

      Great! We hope you had fun with this writing activity!


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