Wednesday, December 16, 2009



Yesterday I taught my first class with PenTales, a wonderful organization I have partnered with to help them with their children's curriculum. It's a new age group for me (10-12 year olds) and I was a bit nervous, not entirely sure if my methods would hold up (given that I spend my teaching time with very young children). But I had nothing to fear, they were an amazing bunch. Excited, eloquent, respectful, eager and a real treat to have in my classroom. I am thrilled to be working with them and look forward to a January filled with adventure. I wanted to share the writing exercise we did yesterday in case any of you have older children. I know I talk a great deal about early literacy but the process continues well into grammar school. These children are still, in many ways, coming to the written word. It is a joy to see them grow and expand on the platform they have already built. Here is what we did:

A writing exercise I call the "What If?" exercise.
I spoke at the beginning of class a bit about how stories usually come out of one of three things: people, places and things.

I asked the students what people are called in stories. Characters!

I then asked if anyone knew what places were called...setting!

And the third, things, I call details...little things that make a story special.

The goal is to get them thinking about narrative in terms of elements, so they understand the structure for how a story is built.

I told them we were going to pay some attention to setting today and do an exercise I use when I need to get in the writing mood. I then had everyone close their eyes (I imagine many of them didn't do it but I couldn't tell you, being as that I kept mine closed!). With their eyes still closed I asked them to think about if they could be absolutely anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

It could be a made-up place, a place from a dream, a faraway place they have never been to or a place that makes them feel really happy and at home. Once they had chosen a place I told them to "open" their eyes in the place (with eyes still closed) and record every single thing they saw.

What does it smell like there? Taste like? What colors are there? What do they feel? Hear? "Look around, remember everything you possibly can about this place." Are there other people there? Who? Where are they? I gave them 30 more seconds to really take some mental snapshots and then had everyone open their eyes, get paper and pen or use a computer, and write it down. Everything about the place they could remember. "Make us feel like we were there with you. Tell us everything you possibly can about this place."
I gave them 15 solid minutes for writing but the children wanted a writing teacher, is there anything better? Afterwards we all sat in a circle and shared our pieces. Some children had written more of a list of details, that read like poetry. Others got really into the description of their place. All of them were wonderful.

Next up: a character description and three details. Then we are going to put all three elements together and start talking about that big one...PLOT!

Read away,


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