Friday, February 15, 2008

More thoughts on teaching writing

Thank you, Carol, for your helpful comments about my last post. That book sounds awesome. I will definitely take a look. I was particularly frustrated that day when I last posted, but I have to say that now that I am teaching a new group of students and giving them assignments that are more creative, it's been a joy to see what they come up with. There are a few in the class who are poets at heart, and to see their writing has been a ton of fun for me this week. Here are the writing assignments I gave (nothing fabulous, but good creative writing starters nonetheless):

1. Write what comes before or after the action of a short story we read in class. This was awesome--several wrote about Jim and Della Young from "The Gift of the Magi" and put them in interesting scenarios. For example, what would happen if these two selfless, but poor people found an envelope full of money? Another two or three students wrote about what caused Montresor in "A Cask of Amontillado" to become so vengeful toward Fortunato. What were those "thousand injuries" that Montresor endured in order to bury Fortunato alive? Still others chose to tell the Misfit's point of view in "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Interesting stuff, indeed!

2. Another fun writing exercise which I LOVED was when I had my department chair break into my class and stage a scene. Then I had the students write about what they saw. It was a great exercise in showing how word choice differs a lot between people. So my department chair, right in the middle of me talking about "The Yellow Wallpaper" opened the classroom door and said, "Julie, I need to see you right now!" He really sounded mean about it too. I said that I was in the middle of class, could I talk to him later, etc. But no, he "needed" to see me then. So I left, and giggled in the hallway while the students wondered what the heck was going on. Mike left to get me a tissue to make it seem even more real, and then after a few minutes, I came back in, obviously flustered and shaken. (Not difficult for me.) One of my students said, "Do you want me to open a can of whoop-ass for you?" They stuck up for me! It was so sweet. (That was--in that moment--a highlight of my teaching "career"!) Then, after a few seconds, Mike came in and reassured the students that it was all a set up. Then, the pens started flying as they wrote down what they experienced.

3. I also asked students to take an everyday event and exaggerate it to make it into a more interesting piece of fiction. Those were fun to read.

4. Yesterday, I had students look at a photograph on the wall of the second floor of the building. I had noticed this photo (kind of Ansel Adams-ish) when I taught on the second floor last month of a couple standing on a railway platform, watching a train chug into the distance. So I had the students write about what was happening in the picture. I love those type of story-starters.

While I've been teaching this class, I've been sick and extra busy, so it's becoming a little frustrating to me that I haven't had as much time to write. But this is coming at writing from a different angle, and it's teaching me some things too.

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