Slice of Life writing is one of my favorite genres to do with young writers. Here’s a slice I wrote while waiting in a bus station in central Athens last week. It appeared first on my personal writing blog.
Parenting seems to be the same around the world. Whether you live in the United States or Greece, all parents have their hands full with a four-year-old boy.
Today, I’m watching a mother, father and their son who looks to be about four at the Liosion Bus Station in central Athens.
A pigeon is swooping its way through the bus station lobby, which includes a cafe, a mini grocery, a trinket shop, and a bookstore. The pigeon flutters from one side of the lobby to the other.
The patient father follows his son casually around the lobby. The boy jumps high whenever the pigeon swoops low. He can’t reach it, much less catch it. In his green t-shirt with a tiger emblem and bright yellow shorts, ankle socks and grey tennis shoes, he reminds me of my own son many years ago.
Now, give me a word… any word… and I show you, how the root of that word… is Greek. How about “arachnophobia”? “Arachna,” that comes from the Greek word for spider… and “phobia” is a phobia, it means “fear.” So, “fear of spiders.” There you go. Read more at: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk
Gus Portokalos would be proud
You know in the movie My Big Fat Greek Weddingwhen the father, Gus, explains how every English word can be traced back to the Greek language?
Well, he’s right on that point when you look at the name for the group of islands that my husband and I are visiting: the twenty-four Sporades Islands along the east coast of Greece. (Actually, we’re only visiting one of those islands, Skopelos.)
Only four of the twenty-four Sporades Islands are permanently inhabited: Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonnisos, and Skyros.
When you look at the twenty-four islands that make…
Rejection proves that my students are indeed writers
I teach kids it’s okay to be rejected.
I teach them it’s okay to fail and
That it’s good to receive a rejection letter because
That’s what writers do: They get turned down.
I teach kids it’s okay to be rejected.
I teach them to risk it all and
Write it down now because
That’s what writers do: they deal in danger.
I teach kids it’s okay to be rejected.
I teach them to give themselves permission
To write a junky, uninspired first draft because
That’s what writers do: they don’t wait for inspiration.
I teach kids it’s okay to be rejected.
I teach them their words must work hard,
That lazy words aren’t worth their time because
That’s what writers do: they crave precision.
I teach kids it’s okay to be rejected.
I teach them to write, to rewrite, try once more
Only to receive this message yet again: “Best of luck in your creative endeavors.”
And then I photograph my kids,
My fiery bunch of seventh-graders,
Clutching their “Best of luck” letters because
That’s what I do: I create writers.
Thanks for reading! I’m a big advocate of encouraging students to enter any and all writing contests I can get my hands on. Click here for my favorite contest of the year, the Daughters of the American Revolution American History Essay Contest. See my Student Writing Contests page for the entire list of contest I use.
Next year, I’ll be moving to a new school district where I’ll be teaching high school students. There are even more contests for older students than younger ones, so follow my blog to learn about those opportunities!
Rated PG; 114 minutes long; Reason to watch: To see a movie that advocates living life to the fullest; Bonus: Great for graduating students. In fact, I show this to my graduating 8th-graders as they transition to highs school.
Rated PG-13 for stressful moments during plane landing; Length: 96 minutes; Reason to watch: To learn about a real-life hero who remains humble and respectful; Bonus: Discusses the “human factor” and how in a high-tech age, we must always respect the individual and his/her unique decision-making abilities.
Kids love to write dialogue, but it often ends up being just a series of spoken words… a lengthy showcase of spoken words followed by any one of the following: he said, she said, he replied, she stated.
This year, in my AOW and EOW assignments, I would occasionally ask students to start their responses with dialogue. I did this to encourage (or force, I guess, since it was required in the assignment) students to add narrative elements to their writing. Sure, it’s easy to just respond to a prompt with “The central idea of this article was…”. However, another level of complexity is added if one must start with dialogue. When one adds dialogue to the standard response, a story is automatically brought into the mix.
Once the students became accustomed to using dialogue in their responses (in effect, they’re blending genres, aren’t they?!), I noticed that the dialogue lacked narration… the additional information writers build into their dialogue to show setting, personality traits, reveal motivation, or other important details.
To show students what I was talking about when I asked them to add narration to their dialogue, I took two excerpts from two novels from my bookshelves, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean and A Separate Peace by John Knowles. For each novel, I found a short excerpt and typed it verbatim into a Word document as published. Then I took those same excerpts and removed the narration. Here’s a photo of the handout I made for this activity:
Here is a picture of the back side of the above sheet:
I read aloud each passage from the novels, starting with the excerpt WITHOUT narration, and then followed with reading the respective excerpt WITH the narration. Then I asked:
What do you notice?
What do we learn when we have the narration added to the dialogue?
What did the reader miss out on by not having the extra information that the narration provides?
What else does the narration accomplish?
We basically just discuss the narration’s effect on the text. It’s a good way for kids to readily experience the benefits of narration and how it can help their dialogue work harder for them.
Conversations should never take place in a vacuum. The narration needs to firmly ground your reader in time and space…Narration anchors the reader and creates the atmosphere of the setting and the specific circumstance of the scene.—Helga Schier, PhD., Writer’s Digest
Here’s how I would change this mini-lesson for next time:
The handout needs to have one novel’s excerpts on each side. As we went over the handout, the kids were flipping the paper back and forth from the excerpt without narration and then to the one with narration on the back. It would have been more effective to have the “without narration” excerpt for one of the novels on the top half of the page followed by the “with narration” excerpt below it. Seeing the before and after versions would have helped students more easily see the difference the narration makes.
I felt like the kids understood more about narration after this mini-lesson, but it’s a topic that definitely needs another go-over because I didn’t see many practice it in their assignments. No doubt this skill should be worked on with some in-class writing assignments so kids can apply it when I’m around to help or offer support.
A few kids (the stronger writers) did add some narration, but even some of those merely added lazy adjectives or adverbs to their dialogue, a la the following example:
“No, I don’t think you understand,” Mom stated urgently.
Not quite what I had in mind!
So obviously, narration in dialogue is a work in progress and like everything else that I teach, it takes repetition and practice.
Thanks for reading again this week! Have a great June… what I call the Saturday night of the summer for teachers! Let me know your thoughts on this post and follow my blog for more middle and high school ELA teaching stories.
I was finally able to take some students to this regional day of writing at MSU just for middle schoolers
Last Friday, May 10, I took eight students on a field trip to the Middle School Writing Conference at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo. The conference was hosted by Missouri State University’s Center for Writing in College, Career and Community and the Ozarks Writing Project. It was a fast and fun day!
I wanted to take a group last year, but the date for last year’s conference coincided with a field trip. At one time this spring, it looked as if the conflict might occur again, so early on, I hyped up the conference and made sure the kids knew that a field trip to a local bowling alley might pale in comparison to spending a day on a college campus with other kids fired up about creative writing.
When I first mentioned the conference to my classes, more than twenty students expressed interest. I wanted to narrow the number down to five, the number of spaces that would receive scholarships from the Darr Family Foundation that would cover the $50 conference fee.
To do that, I asked all those interested to write a paragraph explaining why they wanted to attend the conference. Eight students submitted paragraphs to me. The paragraphs were honest and heartfelt, and I had a difficult time choosing only five. Fortunately, in the end, three additional spaces were opened up to our school, so I was able to take all eight students for a day at college.
I asked each of the eight students to choose their top five choices from a list of creative writing classes, knowing that the schedule would allow that they attend two of those five. The second flyer photo below shows the list of classes from which students could choose.
Here are photos of the flyers from the conference:
The schedule for the day began at 8:45 a.m. with a session opened with welcomes from university officials followed by a keynote address given by Shaun Tomson, a South African World Surfing Champion and author of the best-selling “Surfer’s Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life.”
Tomson discussed the importance of young people writing “I Will” statements, “simple codes of commitment for success in life and business.” These “I Will” statements propose concrete, do-able ways for students to effect change and purpose in their personal lives. The ultimate goal? To create a wave of positive change in society and the world.
The kids responded enthusiastically to Tomson’s heavy South African-accented presentation. At the conclusion of the session, they even texted their own personal “I Will” statements to his app and/or read their statements onstage to the entire audience. I was so surprised to see how assertive and bold my students were. Every one of them approached the line at the stage to read their personal “I Will” statement!
Here’s a picture of Thomson’s presentation followed by a photo of students reading their statements onstage:
After Thomson’s presentation, the entire crowd of approximately 500 student attendees from approximately thirty area middle schools walked from MSU’s Plaster Student Union to Strong Hall where the writing sessions were to be held. Students attended their first session from 10:50 a.m. to noon. This was followed by a box lunch provided by the conference and another 75-minute session after lunch. After this second session, it was time to go! As I said, it was a fast and fun day!
We had a one-hour drive back to our school. We were home by 3:30 p.m. The kids really seemed to enjoy the entire day, and due to its fast pace, it ended up being a very convenient and easy way to offer a field trip focused on writing!
In addition, it was an appropriate way to end my time at Kirbyville Middle School in Kirbyville, Mo. I will be moving over the summer to Bolivar, Mo. and have secured a high school English position at Skyline High School (Hickory Co. R-I) in Urbana, Mo.
Perhaps next fall I will be able to take a group to the high school conference hosted by the same sponsors at MSU! (Maybe I’ll even present again.)
By the way, below is one especially intriguing headline poem created by an area student in one of my sessions. Headline poetry is a very unintimidating way for students to create powerful poems with incredible and unexpected word choice and imagery. Here’s a link to a previous post on headline poetry. It is truly one of my favorite writing activities.
Thanks for reading again this week! Consider attending the Middle School Writing Conference at Missouri State University next year! Follow this link for more information.
Have you heard of George Ella Lyon? She’s an American writer and teacher from Kentucky who wrote a poem several years ago called “Where I’m From.” Here’s Lyons’ poem:
Where I’m From
I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.
I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.
Lyons’ website is extensive and explains the inspiration for her writing the poem. Here’s an excerpt from her website:
“Where I’m From” grew out of my response to a poem from Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet (Orchard Books, 1989; Theater Communications Group, 1991) by my friend, Tennessee writer Jo Carson. All of the People Pieces, as Jo calls them, are based on things folks actually said, and number 22 begins, “I want to know when you get to be from a place. ” Jo’s speaker, one of those people “that doesn’t have roots like trees, ” tells us “I am from Interstate 40” and “I am from the work my father did. ”
In the summer of 1993, I decided to see what would happen if I made my own where-I’m-from lists, which I did, in a black and white speckled composition book. I edited them into a poem — not my usual way of working — but even when that was done I kept on making the lists. The process was too rich and too much fun to give up after only one poem. Realizing this, I decided to try it as an exercise with other writers, and it immediately took off. The list form is simple and familiar, and the question of where you are from reaches deep.
Each spring, my sixth-grade students write their own “Where I’m From” poems. These poems never fail to produce highly personal, touching, and honest poems.
I always display the students’ work in the hallway or on a bulletin board so everyone can read them. Students are drawn to these simple little poems that can’t help but be packed with imagery and sensory language. In fact, just last week, one of my eighth-grade students mentioned that it was one of her favorite things she had written in my class.
To get started, I read aloud Lyons’ “Where I’m From” poem as a mentor text and then I follow that up with reading three or four poems from former students. Then I pass out a template to guide students through the poem’s organization and ideas. There are several versions of the poem template out there on the Internet and on Lyons’ website; this one works especially well: iamfrompoem
Students should use this template as a guide when brainstorming and writing their poems. I don’t require that every blank be filled out as printed on the template; students can modify it to fit their life story. It’s simply a guideline, a starting point.
These poems speak for themselves. Since that’s the case, I have simply posted below some of the more poignant ones from my current sixth-grade classes.
I schedule our “Where I’m From” poems so they can be considered for publication in Creative Communication’s Spring Poetry Anthology. (By the way, check out this link for more on this publisher and its contests.) Each year, more than half of my sixth-graders see their “Where I’m From” poems published in a real hard-cover book. It’s very inspiring and is an awesome way to end the year!
Have you ever taught “Where I’m From” poems? Leave a comment with your thoughts and experiences. Thanks for reading! See you next week.