The Box – Creating mystery in the classroom

The Situation

You want to engage your students in creative writing.

The Solution

At the start of each year, I drop the following box on the desk in front of my students.

And then the questions unload:

  • What is it?
  • Where did you get it?
  • Is it full of ammunition?

In an ideal classroom, students are always this curious. They always want to know more.

After the questions damper I begin to tell a story. A story that I have come up with on the spot, but a story that they care about, nonetheless.

I tell them that I went travelling over the holidays. That I was walking along the beach and the waves crashed and there was a strong wind of salt in the air. I beckon to students: “The sand was boiling. have you been at the beach when you the sand feels like it might burn your skin off?” I want my students to see the realism of the story.

And then I tell them that something shined beneath the sand in the distance. I walk over and dust the sand away and I find this box. I say “wow, my new students would love this box.”

And I finish the story with: “I haven’t opened it yet, but what do you think might be inside the box?”

There are many things you can do after this. One, which I love, is simply to get students to write a story about finding their own mysterious box. Where do they find it? What is inside? What secrets does it hold?

It is a simple prompt, but if you hold off from telling them, students will be asking “what’s in the box” in weeks to come!

Here is a fantastic TED Talk from JJ Abrams about the notion of mystery:

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