Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Stone Soup Story Starters: How a Stone Led to a Story

A box of thought-provoking, "found objects" prompts fiction and poetry writing when accompanied by the following kinds of questions:
  • Who treasures this object, and why?
  • When did s/he receive or find it?
  • What were the circumstances of the receiving of this object?
  • Did someone give it to him/her, and if so, why?
  • Does the object evoke happiness, sadness, anger, nostalgia...?
  • Does the object represent a memory, or will you show the character pondering it for the first time?
  • Will you allow your character to narrate the story of this object, or will you choose third-person omniscient point-of-view?
  • What if the character has found the object after losing it; or what if the character has just lost this object and that is the event in your story?

I advise my students to answer the above kinds of questions in their object-prompted short stories or poems. The only requirements of this exercise are the use of multi sensory imagery and my "D.A.D. Technique for Painting Word Pictures" (the use of Description, Action, and Dialogue). Below is a sample, written by a talented new student of mine, named Allison, about the object in the picture.

Stone Life
by Allison, age 11

I opened up the pencil case, hoping for another eraser to use, but instead, I found something else. I fingered the smooth object. A silent tear escaped from my eye.
“Why’d you leave?” I whispered. Without my wanting to, the memory, from three years ago, flashed in my head.

“Amy dear...” Grandma Jen stopped me at the door. “Before you begin third grade, I want you to have this.” She stroked my wavy brown hair, pulling it into a ponytail, and handed me a rock. But no ordinary rock. A butterfly shaped rock.
I gazed into her blue eyes. How I’d always wanted pretty blue eyes like hers, instead of my drab brown ones!
“What’s it for?”
“Oh, just a good luck charm for when baby Ty comes from the hospital.”
“Ty’s born?!”
“Almost, sweetie! Now run along, you’ll be late for school.”

A day later, terrible news reached me at school.
“Amy,” Mrs. Sunn had beckoned me to her desk.
“What,” I stayed firmly in my seat.
“This is serious, don’t be stubborn.”
         I sighed loudly, walking up to her desk. Was I in trouble?
“Your grandma was in an accident today while walking home from the store," Mrs. Sunn informed me.
Suddenly, everything was blurry. The news of my grandma's death was heartbreaking, because we’d always been very close. Then I broke down and started really bawling. I hoped the kids in my class wouldn’t laugh, for they had never been really nice to me. But, they didn’t. Maybe the good luck charm really was a good luck charm.
“Grandma!” I managed to cough out.

I don’t remember much more about her death, but I know that, for the past three years I’ve never felt the same. I put the rock back into the box, not wanting the memory to come upon me again.
Suddenly Ty barged into my room.
“Amy! Mama’s mad ‘cuz I didn’t eat my lunch!”
“Ty…” I began, “Mom made that lunch specially for you, and she even used Grandma’s recipes; those are very complicated. In fact, Grandma would even say, ‘Don’t waste food that’s been made with care.’"
“But-but the aspawagas is gwoss!” Ty protested.
“Mom has a reason to be mad,” I sighed. “You should always remember, Grandma was very important to Mom and me, so we want you to, at least, cherish Grandma’s ways, you know." I touched Ty’s fine, brown hair.

How I’d always wanted pretty blue eyes like Ty’s.


  The circularity of Allison's story--with the repeated line "How I'd always wanted pretty blue eyes like..."--touched my heart, showing a nostalgic tone and an acknowledgment that people we love live on in us, even after they have passed away. This story not only uses multisensory description and subtle character development via D.A.D., but also illustrates a depth in both the character and the author herself. Congratulations, Allison!

  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and this story feels very appropriate to post today, as a tale of thankfulness for fond memories.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Metaphorical Expressions About Feeling Left Out: A Prompt that Inspired Nods and Thoughtful Poems

     Some writing prompts spark clever, analytical responses or thematically related verbal art; other prompts spark emulations based on emotional/personal connections that shine through the student's original words. My poetry prompt, "Squishable," uses my own poem about the feeling of being left out by "more popular" people to elicit an emotional and metaphorical response from students. Here is the prompt:

One student, a 10-year-old girl called Lisa, wrote a vehement analysis of the feelings conveyed by the poem (Prompt 1), then chose Prompt 2 and composed her own poem, in emulation of mine. Clearly, she understood the metaphor both intellectually and emotionally, as this poem (below) illustrates. I considered her poetic response worthy of sharing here on my blog, and I hope you will share it, too!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Poem Inspired by Reading About the Power of Resilience

Consolation Surprise
By S. L. Lipson

You’re coping surprisingly well!
The epitome of resilience!
I so admire you.
I mean, losing someone you love,
After so many years together,
That has to be devastating.
And yet here you are,
Powering through grief,
Holding it all together,
Moving forward with so much strength—


What do you mean, you don’t know what I’m talking about?


Wait, whaaat?
I was there. I saw what happened.
Even I was on the verge of tears.
I mean, you put up a tough faรงade,
But everyone knows—


Yes, everyone. Why are you denying that?
We all felt so bad for you….


Why? WHY?!  
You’re messing with me, right?

                        Note to self:
                        Wow. Never mistake denial for resilience.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Short Essays Responses To Elicit Critical Thinking and Concise Writing

     Brief essay responses to poetry and short fiction (or sections of longer works) make up the bulk of my academic writing lessons for ages 10-17. I do not believe that students always have to write the standard five-paragraph essay to convey their understanding of a piece of literature, or other art form. Quick "thematic paragraph responses" (as I call them) exercise students' writing skills by enriching the powers of conciseness and clarity of expression, and students who write these short analyses on a regular basis end up better prepared to take on full essays about longer forms of literature. While I never advocate "cookie-cutter" essay writing, I do provide my students with a mnemonic device--a silly musical allusion to "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"--to ensure a thorough, yet concise analysis of a theme (a format that is also applicable to each body paragraph of an essay): "E I-E-I O" or "E I-E-I, I-E-I O" (the longer version is for more experienced students and deeper analyses, with its repetition of the middle I-E-I section). Here is an explanation of that musical memory-jogger:

 E=Establish topic/theme

 I=Illustrate with a quotation or specific example (introduced in its context)

 E=Explain what the illustration (above) shows the reader

 I=Interpret the Implications of that illustration (why it shows what it shows)

 O=Overall statement related to theme in a broader way 

     To illustrate this kind of lesson prompt, I am sharing, below, a fifteen-year-old young man's paragraph response to a poem that I wrote. I will share the actual poem that he analyzed AFTER the paragraph, to further illustrate something I emphasize with my high school students: write essays about literature as if the reader is unfamiliar with the subject work. That ensures the clearest analysis. Here is the student's written response:

Essay Paragraph Response to “Behind the Armor”
by Enan, age 15

            In the poem, “Behind the Armor,” author Susan L. Lipson describes two different kinds of people through the use of knights and wrestlers. The author writes, “Knights... they battle insecurity loneliness, and weakness.” Knights often wear armor in battle, and when knights face a problem, they deflect them with their armor. Previously in this poem, the author talks about how arrogance is like a faceguard and how meanness is their shield. Through this metaphor, she is trying to convey the message that some people are too cocky to ruin their image. So instead of confronting their problems, they deflect them, and therefore put others down so that they can forget about their own problems. Later in the poem, the author transitions to talking about wrestlers: “Wrestlers engaged in hand-to-hand combat with emotions, building thicker skin through baring it.” When wrestlers fight, they have no protection; they use their bare skin. Although it may be more painful, in the end, the wrestler will grow to deal with the pain better than a knight would. The author is telling us that confronting your problems will make you a tougher person. Rather than be knights who deflect emotions out of their lives, we should be wrestlers who deal with emotions and therefore become stronger.

     And here is the poem he was writing about:

     Behind the Armor
     by Susan L. Lipson

Such clouded knights,
        with their vision obstructed
        by the arrogance they wear as faceguards, 
        the aloofness they don as protective suits,
        and the meanness they carry as shields;
        they battle insecurity, fear,
        loneliness, and weakness— 
        unlike wrestlers engaged in 
        hand-to-hand combat with emotions,
        building thicker skin through baring it,
        from struggle to truce
        from pain to healing,
        from sweat to sigh to 
  enlightened daze.

     Were you able to understand Enan's analysis before even reading the poem? And now that you have read the poem, does his analysis seem credible? (It does to me, and since I am the poet, that should have some weight!)


Thursday, April 27, 2017

5th Graders Write About Stylistic Techniques in Nonfiction

           It's important to point out to students that writing style is as important in nonfiction as it is in fiction. Simply providing facts is not enough to compel readers; the nonfiction author must provide memorable "word pictures" with sentences that show, rather than tell. Young writers who learn to notice and analyze specific word choices in everything they read will not only have a greater appreciation of the art of writing, but will also have a heightened awareness of the intentions behind words. Such an awareness enriches reading comprehension as well as writing skills.
          The following two short essay-style paragraphs by 10-year-old students used my "E I-E-I O" format* to examine the stylistic choices in a passage from the nonfiction book Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly.    
                                       *Establish, Illustrate, Explain, Interpret, Overall lesson/theme


Monday, April 3, 2017

Celebrating Spring with a Student's Poem

If We Lived Like a Bee
By Emma
Age: 10
(Written in response to the lyrics of my song, "If Everyone Lived Like the Tree")
Oh how sweet our lives would be,
If everyone lived like the bee.
Their whole life’s work they give away,
just to brighten up your day!
Bees spread pollen, make flowers grow,
buzz around, and create honeycomb.
We under-appreciate them every day,
so greet them with, “Namaste!”
If you take the time to reflect,
you will see the bees deserve respect.
After reading you’ll conclude,
We should thank the bees for food.