Monday, June 1, 2015

A Math-Mind's Response to a Writing Prompt

One of my favorite prompts to use with beginning writers in the upper elementary grades involves rewriting a boring, vague passage about a boy named Joey who gets hit by a ball. Here's the passage:

Joey was hit by the ball. He looked as if he was hurt. Others acted worried and asked if he was okay. Joey said he was. He left the field.

I ask my students to turn these "telling" words into a "showing" scene, a word picture, using my D.A.D. technique (Description, Action, Dialogue). I instruct them to SHOW Joey, the kind of ball, how he looked when he felt hurt, how he reacted, who the "others" were and how they reacted to Joey, what Joey said, and how he "left" the field. 

The prompt becomes more challenging when I ask them to rewrite three different versions to depict three kinds of Joeys: 1) Joey the Stoic, who was truly hurt by the ball, but doesn't show it or want anyone to know it; 2) Joey the Whiner, who was not really hurt, but wanted attention so he complained loudly; and 3) Joey the Martyr, who was indeed hurt, but instead of whining, he wants to show how tough he is, that he can take the pain.  

I have used this prompt with great success for many lessons, but today an 11-year-old student--a self-dubbed "math person"--offered an observation that I found very insightful and amusing: "I just noticed something! An equation: Stoic + Whiner = Martyr. Do you see?" Her dark brown eyes glowed with her discovery.

I laughed. "Yes, I do! Very clever! A martyr is like a combination of a stoic and a whiner."

She raised her chin proudly. "No, you've got to say it with the plus and equals signs. I told you I'm a math person!" 

Call it math, call it analogous thinking via symbols, but whatever you call it, she understood the lesson. Her revisions clearly depicted three different Joeys via description, action, and dialogue.