Sunday, April 24, 2016

Writing by Emulation: Using Student Writings as Prompts for Other Students

     "Without _____" was the prompt for a poem in which the poet imagines a life without a certain possession, condition, luxury item, ingredient, or anything we might take for granted. As example poems, I shared three "Without..." poems, written by my students over the years: one about life without sugar (with lines such as, "Sweet Tarts would only be tart"); one about life without the color green ("the name we use to remember the colors of the rainbow would be missing his middle initial: ROY BIV"), and one (by me) about life without adjectives ("a thesaurus would not only sound like a dinosaur, but also be extinct, like one").

      Ethan, a nine year old, found this prompt very inspiring: he wrote these two final drafts in his notebook. I have retyped them below. Note that the odd spacing in one of the verses in the first poem was written in the shape of a smartphone; and that one blank page interrupted the second poem, on purpose.

Without Smartphones
by Ethan 

Without smartphones, people would
need to walk to talk
to their friends!

Without smartphones, you would
need to write letters
instead of e-mailing!

Without smartphones, people would
need to go outside
to play instead of
playing games
on their phones!

Without smartphones, people would
need to draw instead of
taking pictures 
with their phones!

Without smartphones, you couldn't
talk to your friend or
cousin in Singapore!

Without smartphones, people would
need to check on the calendar
to know what day it was!

Without smartphones, people would
go outside more,
and play more board games.

Without smartphones, people would

need                                                   to
go                                                      out-
si-                                                       de

to                                                       che-

ck                                                       the

wea-                                                   th-

e                                                           r

and wouldn't know where they were
without Google maps!

       And now, here's the other "Without..." poem by Ethan:

Without Writing

by Ethan

Without writing
the world would be

Without writing
people would not
read books.

Without writing
you would walk into
a store and say,
“Can I have
that candy
in the red
package that
has a rainbow on it?”

Without writing
Books would
be pages with
pictures and

Without writing
this poem would
be this:

                                               [HE LEFT A BLANK PAGE HERE]

A world without writing
Would be a disaster.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kids Prompting Kids with Healthy Competition Through Emulation

          Young writing students find a special kind of inspiration and motivation in high-quality works written by their peers. They also learn a lot about critiquing and editing from reading words by other kids. That is why I especially like to teach pairs or small groups of students, and facilitate their shared feedback and collaboration. And that is also why I like to use works by young authors as writing prompts. Whether I'm sharing a poignant piece written by another of my students, or a published work by a kid author featured in a children's magazine, I find that my students react with a healthy sense of competition to such prompts, driven to write words as memorable as the ones written by someone close to their age. "If a kid my age can write something that good, so can I," they tell themselves.

          Using a short memoir by another young author, "My Gygy," by Joseph Sicurezza, published in Creative Kids (Fall 2007), I asked 9-year-old Nakita to write a similar piece--full of vivid, multi-sensory imagery--about a treasured possession from her early childhood.  I explained the meaning of retrospective narration, "looking back at the past, from the present, like a storyteller does, and then reflecting on that object from the past." Her first draft offered what sounded like an outline for this final version; it lacked details and relied on "telling" not "showing" kinds of words. I read the piece aloud to her, and then asked pointed questions about what it felt LIKE  to wear those slippers, and what she used to do while wearing them. Her answers resulted in more vivid imagery, as well as some figurative descriptions, which ended up in this final draft of "My Slippers."

My Slippers
by Nakita, age 9

    I received my pair of bunny slippers when I was about 6 months old. When I was younger, I played and played and played with my bunny slippers. I remember when I wore my favorite slippers, and they glided me across the wooden floor like ice skates. My feet dug into my soft and cozy slippers when I crawled on the carpet . My slippers still smell like sweet mango from the juice dripping on them from snack time. Shh! went my slippers when I went across the wooden floor.
    Then I remember the day when I lost one of my bunny slippers. I cried so hard that my face turned red. I saw the remaining slipper by me, and I saw the tiny stuffed bear I always lost when I slept with it. I GOT AN IDEA! I quickly grabbed my slipper and my bear. I put the bear into the hollow area of the slipper where my foot went. My slipper was now a placeholder for my bear!

    From that day, I have kept my bunny slipper on my nightstand. Whenever I come into my room, I remember the memories of the slipper and how it made a wonderful home for my tiny, stuffed bear.