From William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" to "Pirates of the Caribbean," the message in a bottle is a popular recurring symbol in stories of castaways, deserted islands and high-seas adventure. It also offers students a chance to join the literary tradition by creating their own message in a bottle stories through both individual and interactive writing. Whether you're teaching English or a kids' writing workshop, a message in a bottle writing activity lets students be creative while practicing their storytelling and language skills.

Just Sit Right Back and You'll Hear a Tale...

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Before they write their messages in a bottle, students can create the back story behind their letters, including where they are stranded and how they got there. Ask students to imagine the places where they've ended up, then let them brainstorm their letters by describing their surroundings, the weather, what they're doing to survive and obstacles they've encountered. For example, they may have discovered an ancient tribal culture that's angry at being disturbed by outsiders or made their own weapons using everyday objects they had on hand when they arrived.

Send an S.O.S. to the World

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Once they have the details of their castaway encounters on paper, students can create their messages. Ask them to compose letters explaining what happened and pleading for help. Students can describe where they were headed when they got stranded, how long they've been there and where they're from, and they can discuss their surroundings and experiences. To add authenticity, students can write their letters on fancy paper or crumble up and unfold them to make them look old and wrinkled. Give each student a plastic bottle with a lid, then have them roll up their letters and secure them in the bottles.

Bottle Wash-Up Simulation

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To get the full effect of writing a message in a bottle, students need a body of water to put it in. Set up a large plastic container such as a storage tub or a small kids' swimming pool in the room and fill it with water. When everyone's letters are done, have the students toss the bottles into the water, then choose another student's bottle from the container. Back at their seats, they can open up the bottles and read the adventurous tales their classmates have written.

Newsflash: Castaways Rescued

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Each of the students began a story when they wrote their letters, but now it's time for the bottles' recipients to finish them. Ask the students to make an outline of how the people who wrote the letters are rescued. Perhaps a fisherman in a boat caught the bottle on his line or a picture of the castaway showed up in a satellite view on a navigation website. Then, have the students write news articles describing the dramatic rescue of their classmates. As a group, share your articles so everyone can see how their stories ended.