Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Talk is the Exercise Ground

If you recognize the title of this post, you know it's not mine.   It's one of the chapter titles for Natalie Goldberg's how-to classic Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.   (   Now, I have to admit that I don't recall doing a whole lot of talking after the class was given a writing topic when I was a student.  

What I have noticed as a teacher is that often student talk bubbles up when I assign a new prompt.   In the first few minutes, it's usually a direct discussion regarding the new activity.   If you let it go on too far past that point, it derails into unrelated subjects.   I've been wondering how to capitalize on teens' innate desire to talk, talk, talk and be heard.

Goldberg's chapter focuses on the talk that occurs spontaneously in life.   The stories we swap over and over.   I haven't thought of the best way to get this type of conversation going in the classroom with 8th graders.   At their young ages, I know that they have some stories to tell, but they probably haven't been in those social situations where the spotlight turns to them and they polish the same gem of a story time and again with each retelling.   I think that I am going to link this approach with a technique from another great how-to book that focuses specifically on teens.

Nancie Atwell has a simple, effective prewriting activity in her book Lessons That Change Writers.   (   Orient your paper/ notebook to landscape, draw a big heart, write down everything and everyone you love.   These become part of your writing territories.  

I modified it slightly to get a variety of topics.   Students label 3 larger portions of the heart with People, Places and Things.   In the bottom of the heart we leave a small spot for Ideas.   And, yes, you may list your sweet little doggie in the "People" column if you want to, Tina.  This is something I do at the beginning of the year, so students have somewhere to go for free writes if they are experiencing writer's block.

 Although this is a prewriting activity, I think if I added another step, I might be able to help students zero in on the juiciest parts of their heart map.   What if I gave them time to think-pair-share one of their topics before they start writing?   If they are unable to mine for anything interesting to say, perhaps they would switch topics before they continue prewriting.   On the other hand, if they light up the room with their passion for the subject and enchant their audience with an engaging narrative...   Well, if they are writers, they will know that they are on the right track.

Thanks to the lovely Susan Pongratz and charming Kaplan family for restoring Nancie Atwell books to my classroom.

No comments:

Post a Comment