Exploring a Place Through Writing

Want a writing exercise that will transcend content, place and time? I’ve got the thing for you. 


Whether this is your first time back into the classroom after a long break at home or not … this year is the year to dive into the importance of place.

Why does place matter?

This is the question I asked myself many times this summer when taking a Place Based Writing Course through my local National Writing Project chapter, [Ohio Writing Project.] 

I was consistently brought back to the same thought. Place gives meaning and purpose. But so often we don’t allow our students to explore the space they dwell in let alone the space in which their learning happens: i.e. experiments, simulations, even book plots. 

I introduce a super simple first week or two activity “Sit-Ins” 

Sit Spots

I know what you may be thinking… What is a sit spot and what does it have to do with the precious little time I have in my classroom? Hear me out. 

The idea of a sit spot is allowing a student to sit in a place whether virtual or traveled too and observe their surroundings. It helps students develop a sense of place and what components make up that space. 

Why do our students need to understand place? 

That is a long conversation for another time but… this strategy is a great strategy because it leans into our students’ skills of observation, questioning, and inferencing. What does a student see, hear, think, feel? What may a creature think, see, hear, feel in that space? What are your impressions of that space? What do you already know about that space and what questions do you have? This gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in space. 

It also gives students a platform to understand place and how that relates to not only their own sense of place but characters in our books, history, science sense of place. 

Finding a Place to Sit Day 1: 

Introducing this strategy could go a few different ways. I am going to walk you through one way and leave you with some ideas of other pathways and further implementation at the end of the article. 

The first day of our sit-spot we took some time to observe our classroom. 

I have students on the first day find a spot in the classroom other than their own seat. It could even be a spot on the ground. I tell them, “Get cozy.” 

Students with their notebooks in hand create a T chart simply stating: See/Hear. This first day’s exercise is just noticing small details. Zooming into what the place has to offer. I tell my students they have 3 minutes to come up with 10 things they see and hear from their sit spot. 

I give them 5 minutes to observe and write. 

Timer goes off and I have students meet up and compare notes. I ask my students to talk about these two things. 

  1. What did they have that were different? 
  2. What did they have that were the same? 
  3. Why do you think that is?

Then I have my students find a different location in the room and we repeat it. 

6 Room Poetry (5 Doors) [ Day 2 ]

Day one is all about asking questions and making observations about the space around them. The second day is about using the 5 senses to analyze and synthesize that data. Here we go. 

We start with a class discussion. 

How did it feel to sit in your “sit place” yesterday? 

Was yesterday’s activity hard for you? Why or why not? 

Did taking time to look and ask questions about our classroom help you in any way?

What are our 5 senses and did you use these in yesterday’s activity? 

From this conversation we move on to today’s activity.

6 Room Poetry (Heard, 1999) (Also called 5 Doors of Poetry

Maybe you have used this strategy before, maybe not… but this is the perfect place based writing activity for the beginning of the year! 

6 Rooms takes students through 6 rooms or steps using the 5 senses. You are not going through physical rooms; they are metaphorical. 

Students using their thinking from the previous day will walk through the 6 rooms with their observations. 

There are many templates out there based on Georgia Heard’s 6 Room Poem. I have included my templates for you. But a simple good explanation is as follows: 

Room 1: Describe the place

Room 2: Talk about the quality of light in the place? Colors… shadows? 

Room 3: Quality of sound in that place

Room 4: Questions you have about that place or questions that place may have about you

Room 5: How do you feel about the place? 

Room 6: Find an important word or phrase from the 5 other steps and repeat that three times… 

After students “move” through the 6 Rooms students they are ready to compose their poem. 

Students read over what they wrote in the six rooms, and then see if you can create a poem. You can rearrange the rooms in any order; eliminate rooms, words, or sentences. I ask my students to at least have 6 stanzas… one for each room. But of course they can definitely have more and we make a short list of what a poem could look and sound like. 

Take time to share

Beyond First Days

So many ways you can use this strategy to extend beyond just observing classroom surroundings. 

  • Students create 6 Room Poems and turn them into a classroom audio/visual video. 
  • Going around different places in the school to create a understanding of community
  • Finding places outside in nature to collect sensory information. Recording that for future sensory words in their writing. 
  • Taking students on virtual field trips using sit spots and 6 Room poetry 
    • I.E. Social Studies 
      • Taking students back in time to where the events are taking place
      • Creating a setting for histories characters and how their place shaped them 
    • Science
      • We use this with Earth and Space to create an understanding of space and what elements belong in different places
    • ELA 
      • Aid in characterization development and setting 
      • Develop inference skills about characters emotional feelings connected to the setting 

6 Room Template Examples

Beginning of the year template… I use this to explore our school.

Science 6 Room Poetry Template Example

Exploring Setting in a Novel or Historical Place

Cheers to creating meaningful connections to place this school year. Can’t wait to learn and write with you.

Please reach out with questions, reflections, and connections in the comments below or on Twitter @Mrsablund. Check out my other articles writing out of the ELA classroom.

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