How to write about journeys

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How to write about journeys

Journey-based writing activities in a wide range of genres

CFE Levels Early – Senior Phase (Age 0-16)


About these resources

Getting motivated

Early Years/Level 1 Activities

Level 2/3/4 Activities

Level 4/Senior Phase – everyday journeys

Senior phase – Reflective and imaginative writing

If you want to do something a bit different

Some helpful writing resources

Appendix 1

About these resources

These resources have been produced to support teachers and pupils who want to contribute pieces of writing to our Journeys writing campaign, but they can be used at any point after the campaign ends too.

For all details, check out the campaign here:

We have just a few goals in mind for these resources. We hope they do the following things:

  • Help you and your pupils come up with ideas for a piece of writing about journeys;

  • Help everyone take part by providing a range of suggestions about writing formats;

  • Help you and your pupils feel motivated to write.

    The tasks are loosely banded by age and stage, but in many cases they will be applicable at higher or lower stages too.

Your pupils don’t need to write about a journey in the traditional sense. The idea can be extended to journeys of personal development too. Also, pieces of informative writing can be written as a journey – the history of a castle or even a country can be written as a ‘tour’ in place or time, for instance.

Pupils are also welcome to submit pieces of imaginative writing inspired by the theme of journeys. Pieces of writing submitted to the adult campaign must be autobiographical, however.

Why not get other staff involved too? The journeys theme is an excellent opportunity for staff across the school to model themselves as writers to pupils, and also just to have fun sharing experiences with others. PE teacher Phil Stephen speaks about his venture into whole school personal writing in this blog: Staff will need to submit their writing to the adult campaign rather than the schools one – see the Journeys URL above for more details on both campaigns.

Getting motivated

You and your pupils are more likely to produce great writing if you feel motivated to do so. In the case of autobiographical writing, it can sometimes be difficult to see how the little details of our experiences can be interesting to others.

The example pieces of writing in this resource have been selected to show (amongst other things) how everyone’s life contains the ingredients for great writing, no matter what the scale or nature of your experiences.

However, it can be more powerful to go and find your own example pieces. Ask pupils to go and find some autobiographical writing that they like, and get them to tell you why they like it. It’s great if you can do the same! You and your pupils can look through previous public writing campaigns for inspiring pieces from members of the public:

Early Years – Build a story together Lit 0-09a, Lit 0-31a

Ask your pupils if anyone has ever been on a journey, and ask them to share the story of their journey. What did they see and do? Did they feel excited? What was the best part? Share your own journey story with your pupils too.

If you prefer, ask pupils to talk about the journeys they take to and from nursery every day. How do they travel? Does it take a long time? What kind of things do they see? Who are they with?

Explain that when you are an author and you are making up a story about a journey, your characters can go anywhere you want them to go. Read your pupils a picture book about a journey. Here are some great examples:

  • Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

  • The Loon on the Moon by Chae Strathie

  • We All Went On Safari: A Counting Journey through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs
  • Journey by Aaron Becker (this is a wordless picture book, great for showing the power of imagination)

    After you have read the book, tell the pupils that they are all going to try and make a story together. Organise them into small groups of around six, each managed by one teacher.

    Give a stimulus to start their story off. It’s easiest to make this a character: for instance, a princess. Ask them some questions about the princess. Where is she at the beginning of the story? What is she doing? Who is she with?

    After this, ask pupils to suggest a journey the princess could go on. Where might she want or need to go, and why might she be going there? After this, get pupils to suggest things that could happen along the way. Get them to pose a challenge for her. Is something in her way? Does she need to cross a river or fight a dragon? How does she overcome these obstacles?

    Finally, ask pupils to suggest endings. Does she reach her destination, and what happens when she gets there?

    You can choose to scribe the pupils’ story so they have a permanent record of it, and then ask them to remember the story and tell it to someone else or another group.

Early Years/Level 1 – investigating other cultures through drama Exa 0-12a

This activity will give pupils the chance to imagine themselves in the midst of different cultures.

Read your pupils the book When the Rains Come by Tom Pow (other suggestions are below). This book will show them some of the different activities involved in the daily routines of children in Malawi. Explain to the pupils that they are going to imagine they are a child from that Malawi going about their day. Ask them to recreate that child’s daily routine through actions and sounds.

For example, the pupils could do the following things: feed farm animals before breakfast; greet each other using some of the phrases in the book; walk to school with their bags in the heat; and queue up for porridge in the morning.

There are plenty of other books which you could use for this activity. Here are a few:

  • One World Together by Catherine and Laurence Anholt

  • Mirror by Jeannie Baker;

  • Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary Chamberlain, Rich Chamberlain and Julia Cairns.

Level 1/2 – Go on a journey and write a poem Lit 1-31a, Lit 1-25a

Before you set out on this task, do some fun poetry activities to help get pupils in the mood. The Scottish Poetry Library has some great ideas here:

Take your pupils to an outdoor space (a park is good) and encourage them to record what they see in a variety of ways. Photographs are great, but they should also note down what they see. You can use the sheet in Appendix 1 to help them.

When you return to class, tell them they are going to write short poems describing things they saw on their journey. Nature lends itself very well to figurative description, so ask them to come up with metaphorical descriptions of what they have seen. You can use the ‘This pond is...’ format in the example below:

This pond is…1

This pond is a book

with so many things inside.

This pond is a home

for fish to come and hide.

This pond is a work of art

that trees lean over to see.

This pond is a lock

but we need to find the key.

This pond is a lid

for a world underneath.

This pond is a giant

with fish, cozy beneath his feet.

(By Ashleigh Chan)

Extension – an urban journey

Ask your pupils to repeat the above exercise for a journey they make in their spare time: for instance, the journey home from school. Ask them to find at least three features of the landscape and write a stanza about each one in the same style as the poem above. For instance:

This streetlight is a guard

Keeping watch from above.

Level 2/3 – write, perform and record a poem Lit 2-31a, Tch 2-04a

Before you set out on this task, do some fun poetry activities to help get pupils in the mood. The Scottish Poetry Library has some great ideas here:

Write the words ‘Long journeys’ on your board and ask your pupils to suggest things that come to mind. What feelings do they associate with long journeys – excitement, anticipation, boredom? What kind of things do they think about – do they daydream? What can they see, hear, smell? How do others behave around them? What do they do on long journeys?

Now, show Michael Rosen performing ‘The Car Trip’: Rosen really brings his poem to life with his performance, and you can use this task as an opportunity to help your pupils do the same.

Performing poetry can be a lot of fun, and it’s a great idea to get pupils to perform some pre-existing poems. This can help to loosen them up and inspire them to create some actions and voices for their own poems. In the second half of the following video, you’ll see three pupils performing James Carter’s poem ‘What Did You Do At School Today’: The poem is available online here if you want to use it with your pupils: Get your pupils to find some fun poems to perform with voices and actions – try a few of these books for ideas:

After this, ask your pupils to create a poem of their own about a long journey, then ask them to record a performance of their poem as a video or sound file. You could hold a ‘poetry slam’ after all poems have been written, getting everyone to perform their poems (teachers and parents could come along and join in too!).

If you record a poem and want to send us the sound file to be featured on our website, please email us at and we'll explain how you can do this.

Level 2/3 – write a personal account Lit 3-20a, Eng 3-30a, Lit 3-11a

The topic of journeys can provide great inspiration for producing a personal essay. The activities below will help your pupils gather ideas and decide on content for their piece.

  • Establish your pupils’ preconceptions of personal writing by asking the following questions:

  • Why do they think people write about personal experiences?

  • Why are people interested in hearing about others’ experiences?

    To foster motivation, ask them to go off and find a personal piece that they like from the selection found here: Ask them to come back and tell you why they like it. Share a few of your own favourites too.

  • Ask your pupils to write down different kinds of journeys people take. They will probably write down holidays first, so you can prompt them with the following questions:

  • What other reasons might people have for taking a long journey?

  • What kind of everyday journeys do most people take?

  • Not all journeys have a return leg. What kind of one-way journeys do people take?

  • Some people take journeys which are physically very difficult to complete. What kinds of journeys might these be?

  • Some people have taken journeys which have become very famous. Can they think of any famous journeys?

    Now, discuss the examples your pupils have written down:

  • For a journey to be interesting, does it have to be a long journey to somewhere far away? Or can the small journeys be interesting too?

  • What do they find more interesting: the journey, or what happened when the person reached their destination?

  • Pick examples of different journeys your pupils have written down. What kind of things might people want to know about these journeys? What kind of questions could we ask about them?

    Ask pupils to pair up and give each other an example of a journey they have taken. They should each write down as many questions as they can think of that they would like to ask their partner about their journey, and then interview them using these questions.

    You can use the next task or any other exemplars in this resource to inspire pupils and show them the variety of angles and formats they can use for a piece of personal writing.

Level 2/3 – thinking outside the box Eng 3-30a, Lit 3-24a (if pupil makes their own choice of format)

This task encourages pupils to get them to explore other possible formats for their writing.

Get them to take a look at the letter below.

Dear Centerparcs,

You may remember that I visited you around ten years ago, along with my mother, stepfather and three younger brothers. I must stress that this apology is on behalf of all of us.

To begin with, I am deeply sorry for my participation in the tennis tournament. My brother and I signed up to take part in this enthusiastically, but looking back my expectations were far too high. I was not a great tennis player, but my brother was even worse, and we were beaten soundly in our first game by two much younger girls. I spent the whole game screaming theatrically at my brother’s every mistake, grinding him down into a sobbing mess. Everyone was looking at us, and I didn’t care. I am also sorry about breaking the racket I hired from you when I smashed it against the ground in my anger.

The next thing I’m very sorry about is the mountain bike. You hired it to me in good faith, and I lost it. I know it’s very hard to lose a bike.

My stepfather says sorry about the bad language at the swimming pool. He was finding it very hard to get his lilo to stay the right way up, continually clambering aboard only to slip off the other side again. He understands that there were very young children at the pool and that his outburst was wrong.

The incident I regret most of all is burned into my memory forever. I was sipping a can of Coke and eating a hot dog on a sun lounger in the park, when a wasp started buzzing around my snacks. I was terrified of wasps, but that does not excuse my actions. I leapt to my feet and sprinted as far and as fast as I could, clutching my Coke and hot dog, pursued by the beast. Eventually I could run no more, and to escape the wasp I threw my refreshments as far as I could, in the hope it would leave me alone and go after them. Unfortunately the hot dog and Coke landed smack in the middle of a toddlers’ playgroup, causing uproar. Thankfully I didn’t hit anyone on the head, but the babies were very upset. The wasp disappeared but I can only assume it followed the snacks into the playgroup, which makes things even worse. You can understand that I am still very embarrassed by this sorry business.

Anyway, thank you for hearing me out, and I hope you can forgive me. I have never come back and I promise I never will.

Ask pupils why they think the writer might have chosen to write using this format instead of a conventional personal essay. After this, ask pupils to tell you all the different writing formats they can think of: letters, diaries, speeches, poems, drama scripts, text message conversations, etc.

With a more confident class, you may wish to allow individual pupils to choose whichever of the above formats they wish. However, in many cases it may be better to decide on one format as a class task. For instance, they could all write a diary entry about a journey they remember fondly, or write a thank you letter to a place they enjoyed visiting.

Level 4 – a disastrous journey Eng 3-31a

Not every trip goes entirely to plan. Show your pupils the piece of writing below:

The events of this story occurred circa 1994, a dizzying era of bad taste, a time when sun visors, denim shorts and global hyper colour t-shirts were considered the height of fashion, and the 90’s equivalent of a holiday spent climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was a whale watching trip in France.  

So, picture me, 14 years old, tightly pursed lips ineffectually hiding multi-coloured train-tracks, decked out in an over-sized global hyper-colour t-shirt with luminous orange patches forming under my arms, ripped denim jeans hoisted up to my middle and a red plastic sun visor perched atop my head, about to embark on the whale watching trip of a lifetime somewhere in Southern France.

My mum was the first to be handed courteously into the boat by the captain, a ruddy cheeked Romeo who proceeded to follow her on board, leaving the rest of us to scramble in as best we could. The boat motored out of the harbour straight into a scene from a holiday postcard, all turquoise sea and deep blue skies. I immediately started to channel Shirley Valentine and threw my sun visor into the well of the boat with wild (and, as it turned out misplaced) abandon.

The excitement of scanning the horizon for whales lasted for roughly 23 minutes. My brother, sister and I then turned our attention to the infinitely more interesting scene of the smitten captain practising chat-up lines on my oblivious mum in broken English. We cruised around for another couple of hours in the blistering sun, before giving up on the whales and heading back to shore. As we motored along, I became aware that I was feeling really, really unwell. I felt dizzy, sick, my entire t-shirt was turning a vibrant orange colour and I had the worst headache I’d ever experienced. Pretty convinced that I was about to die, I stumbled over to my mum to tell her, only to be drowned out by my brother shouting WHALES, WHALES!  As I slumped to the floor, everyone rushed over to the side of the boat to admire the pod of whales swimming past the boat. I couldn’t lift my head by this time, so I completely missed the whole thing, and to this day I have never seen a real live whale.

When the attention finally turned back to me, the indifferent captain, thwarted in his final attempt to woo my mum with his knowledge of cetacea marine mammals, diagnosed sunstroke, pointedly putting my sun visor back on my scorched head. The journey back to shore seemed to take days as I lay there in head-spinning, gut-wrenching misery, convinced that my final hour had come.

Eventually we did make it back to land, and I recovered after a day or so, though returning home looking like a lobster and being unable to contribute in any meaningful way to the whale-watching holiday anecdotes in the lunch queue did mar the latter part of 1994 for me.

    You can ask your pupils to write an imaginative piece where someone sets out on a trip and things go horribly wrong. Ask your pupils to come up with some potential settings for such a story. A well chosen setting will offer a good few possibilities for things going wrong, so ask your pupils to consider destinations which might pose some kind of potential for mishap – for example, a circus, petting zoo, beach, pony trekking, or any other suitable outing.

    Well drawn characters will be important to the success of the story too. They will need to make sure their characters have different expectations of the trip – the person who instigated it will need to have unrealistically high expectations of the trip’s success, for instance.

    Finally, structure will be very important – things can’t start going disastrously wrong straight away. There needs to be a build up and a gradual progression in the scale of things going awry before the disastrous climax!

Level 4/Senior Phase – everyday journeys Eng 4-31a (haiku), Exa 3-14a (script)

The short, everyday journeys we take can be just as fascinating as the larger scale ones. The trick lies in finding the interesting things about what we see every day.

Show your pupils the piece of writing below.

He says “hello” to the driver as the bus dips down to let him on; the smile on his face brings one to mine, too, even though it’s too early in the morning. He always sits on the second row, by the window – not in the “priority” seats, even though he’s older than everyone else on the bus – and if someone else of his age gets on, he’ll stand so that they can sit. It’s as if he thinks he’s a teenager, just like us.

His tweed suit is frayed at the collar and he wears a waistcoat underneath, the same one every day. As he sits down, he folds the bus ticket once – only once – and puts it into the top pocket of his jacket, patting it gently so it’s doesn’t stick out at the top. At home he must have hundreds of folded tickets, all to the same place.

He looks out of the window as we trundle along, the bus huffing and puffing at every stop. I scoot across my seat and onto the one just behind him. I see this man at the beginning of every school day, but he is a mystery to me. He’s so close that I can see the grey hairs in his ears; it’s no wonder old people become hard of hearing when their ears are so full of fluff.

I reach my hand out to tap him on the shoulder, to ask him a question, maybe, or just to say hello, but he looks so serene as he watches the streets pass by that I can’t disturb him. He looks happy.

As the bus pulls up to the school, I press the bell and shuffle out of my seat. The man smells of fresh cups of tea and old clothes, and as the bus doors close and I see him still staring out of the window, I wonder whether he’s going anywhere at all, or if he just goes on to the bus, puts his ticket in his pocket, and rides all the way back around to home.

Ask your pupils to mind map all of the features of their journey to and from school (or another daily journey they take). Ask them to think about what they see; the people they encounter; the things they hear; any memories they have of unusual things happening on the journey; the kind of conversations they have and anything else that stands out. You can use the sheet in Appendix 1 to help with this.

You and your pupils could attempt a similar piece of continuous prose after this. If you’re looking for a different platform, why not try one of the writing tasks below?

  • Haiku – nothing captures the small things more succinctly than Haiku. Creating these small poems can be a great way to focus on small details, and can lay the groundwork for a longer piece of writing. Get your pupils to try some haiku summarising their daily journey. For instance:

    We pass factories

    Closed and abandoned for years

    Iron gates rusting.

    Strange conversations

    About football and Star Wars

    Ripple through the bus.

  • Script a conversation – The seemingly insignificant conversations we have with friends can make for great material. Show your pupils the following clip from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist:

    Nothing of any real importance is discussed in this conversation, but we are entertained and touched by the interaction between the characters and sense the warmth that lies beneath their simple dialogue.

    Ask your pupils to keep a notebook for a week or two, recording little snippets of conversation they hear: jokes, arguments and any other interesting nuggets. Inspire them with this feature on top writers’ notebooks: After this, ask them to write a script of a conversation taking place on a journey, working some of the things they have recorded in and fleshing them out. Parents and guardians might be able to help out with this if pupils are writing about their daily car journey to school.

    You can give a bit more direction in this task by asking your pupils to use their notes to come up with imaginative pieces based on the following stimuli:

  • Script a conversation where two people are in love but can’t admit it to each other;
  • Script a conversation where two or more people are arguing about something: bands, films, TV shows, sports, etc;

  • Script a conversation where one person has a slightly strange idea and is trying to persuade everyone else how good it is.

Senior Phase - Reflective and imaginative writing

Many of the tasks suggested for levels 2 and upwards in this resource provide a suitable base for writing at senior level, and the activity below can be used to develop skills applicable to any piece of expressive writing:

  • Everyday journeys – writing about these commonplace situations can provide an opportunity for pupils to explore the subtleties in people’s interactions with each other. To show pupils some great examples of how tension and conflict can be present in seemingly innocuous situations, explore a few of Raymond Carver’s short stories in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: many of these stories have no apparent drama or climax, but the tensions are subtly revealed in each character’s speech and actions. Why not challenge pupils to come up with two characters who are in conflict with each other in some way, and then write about these characters in an everyday scenario, revealing the conflict implicitly? The two characters must never be allowed to voice their grievances directly.

    Even if this only yields a short piece of writing, it can be a great exercise to help pupils with writing dialogue and showing instead of telling.

If you want to do something a bit different

Not everyone will be attracted to the idea of a personal account or an imaginative piece. These ideas may help give those people an opportunity to take part in your Journeys writing project, and can also provide some great opportunities for cross-curricular learning.

Go on a fact finding journey Lit 3-14a, Lit 3-25a, Tch 3-04a (web page)

You and your pupils could take a journey around your community, visiting places of interest and finding out about local history. Your discoveries could be recorded in an informative text or even on a web page – check out the following sites which can help you set up free web pages:




Write a comic strip Eng 3-31a, Exa 3-02a, Exa 3-03a

If you think some of your pupils would respond better to writing a comic strip account of their journey, we’ve got the following resources to help them start thinking about illustration:

Illustration as a Stimulus for Writing:

Nick Sharratt learning resources:

Korky Paul resources:

We're welcoming illustrated stories for the campaign too! You can upload scanned stories via the image upload feature in the Journeys submission form.

A journey you’d like to take Eng 3-31a, Lit 3-14a (research)

If some of your pupils are aspiring travellers, why not get them to write an account imagining that they are in one of their desired locations? This would be a great opportunity for them to do a bit of research about the place.

Research a famous journey Lit 3-14a, Lit 3-25a, Lit 3-28a, Eng 3-27a

If some of your pupils are big admirers of those who climb mountains, traverse deserts and explore caves, why not get them to write a biographical piece of an explorer, describing in detail the journeys that person has taken?

Some helpful writing resources

Most of the tasks in this resource are focused on helping you and your pupils to come up with great ideas for your writing. However, we also want to point out these great resources on general writing techniques, helpful whether you choose to write a personal piece or an imaginative one:

Secondary English teacher Gordon Fisher points out some useful strategies for teaching personal writing:

Check out our video series on how to teach creative writing with writer Nick Hesketh:

There are other great resources in our Teaching Resources section:

Appendix 1

On your journey, take a few notes about things you see, hear and smell. Use the ideas below if you like, but you can take notes about anything you want!

Something beautiful

Something you heard

Something unexpected

Something you touched

Something moving

Something you smelled

Something unpleasant

Something you tasted

Something you had never noticed before

Something you see all the time

Something someone said

1 This activity and poem originally appeared in the following blog:

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