Category Archives: Education

The 20/20 Experience

Having student writers connect to the strategies of a contemporary singer can inspire some to do the work to make their writing better. Justin Timberlake is my new inspiration for writing.

While on a long drive recently, I was listening to a Ryan Seacrest’s interview of Justin Timberlake regarding Justin’s recently released 20/20 Album.

justin-timberlake-confirms-timbaland-2020-experience-producer(1)__oPt

What a brilliant album title. What struck me is how Justin came up with the title for his new album 20/20. He said, “This is music you can see.” My understanding of that is that music that you hear is to be really seen and experienced with another sense – that of sight and visual recall.

Isn’t that how we want all of our writing to be? Not just read – but experienced through our sense of smell, taste, touch, hearing, to connect with the reader at a deeper level – to connect with the emotions and memories of the reader?

head and heartTo connect to the emotions of a character, I always taught my students that characters in their writing need to share from the head, their intellect, as well as the heart, the emotions. In fact, I would have them sketch a quick gingerbread body shape and put a heart and a brain in the appropriate spots. Then I would have them draw a line from each organ to what line/s of dialogue or what line/s of narrative would connect the reader to each of these response areas. This seemed to get the results I was seeking.

Connecting with responses to the intellect always came easier than connecting to the emotions. Digging deeper requires more evaluation into the vulnerability of a character.  Digging deeper to reveal emotions is always a risk but a risk worth taking as it makes writing the 20/20 experience that readers crave.

Thanks JT for your current inspiration.

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Esbru and Revision Strategies

empire-state-run-up-header

Wednesday, the Esbru, the Empire State Building run up takes place this Wednesday in New York City. Kelly Ripa, of Live with Kelly and Michael, will participate as will many others who will run up the 1, 576 stairs in 86 flights in dark, cramped, oxygen limiting conditions to raise funds for Multiple Myeloma Research and other worthy causes. I say bravo to them for their single-mindedness and dedication to this task.  From what I’ve read, success in this task requires the use of a variety of training strategies

newyorkageempirestatebuildingrunup01-w440Strategies benefit writers in their climb to the top as well. Last week, when presenting my children’s book at a K-8 school, a 7th grader asked me what is harder – writing the beginning, middle, or end of a book. I responded that the middle is the hardest and qualified it with “actually, the revision of the middle is the hardest. Writers usually know where they want a piece to begin and end, but getting the delicious details and connections right in the middle is the hardest.  Revision is a beast that one must constantly try to harness with a variety of strategies.

Some of the revision strategies I find helpful in my race to perfect my writing include the following:

Reading a piece out loud is a favorite of mine. I used to advise my students in testing situations to pretend they were sitting in our author’s chair sharing with the class, and to read their piece out loud – inside of their own head – so as not to disturb others. Otherwise, I suggested that they really read the piece out loud. So many glaring errors appear during the out loud reading of one’s work. This reading aloud is like a team that supports any competitor whether it be a race or a creative task.

Another favorite revision strategy of mine involves bouncing ideas, or sections of my writing off of others. Their input and honest feed back often prompts such additional creativity for me. The right person must be picked for this task. Having one say, “That’s really good,” is not helpful to a writer. I trained my students to respond with specifics about what they liked thought lacked details or proper connections in a piece of shared writing. I also reminded them that listening or reading a piece for revision is not the same task as being asked to edit a piece. It is so much easier to correct punctuation and spelling than to really get to the heart of what needs to be fixed about the writing. This frankness and specificity is what helps me improve my writing. Don’t you agree?

A final strategy that I use throughout the writing process is to carry my idea everywhere I go. I keep the piece front and center in my thinking and jot ideas down for revision on the notes section on my smart phone. Some of the best ideas come when I’m listening to presentations or seminars on a variety of topics. It just seems that when my brain’s energy moves on to direct itself to other tasks, fresh creativity sneaks in the other side of my brain. Once again, I try to hold on to the idea long enough to politely jot it down on my phone while not disturbing the speaker. This strategy keeps me pumped up and keep my eye on the prize of writing my best piece.

These are some of my most productive strategies to climb to the top in my race to improve my writing What revision strategies work best for you?

Children are Real Writers

A recent incident in California highlighted the value of children’s writing.  It seems two cousins wrote a book of 157 rules to live by, and then lost it in a Wal-Mart parking lot. A young worker who retrieves carts found the book, recognized its value, and advertised for its owners.

Now that girls and book are reunited, I hear that publishers are seeking the rights to publish the book of heartfelt rules like, “Don’t bite the dentist,” and  “Don’t keep saying please, if someone says no.” book of rules

Just like all real writers, these girls wrote about what they know best: their rules were gained from their life experiences and the advice of their parents. Like all real writers, these girls developed the skill to closely observe life around them.

As a teacher, these are the skills I tried to hone in my students. This kind of teaching takes time, but the benefits pay off. You may have seen post of my students’ work in my blog before; they wrote some amazing pieces – and they valued themselves as writers.

Teaching students to be real writers can come very early. I recently helped my seven-year-old granddaughter write some poems inspired from her Christmas book, Where the Sidewalk Ends  by Shel Silverstein.  See if you think she’s a real writer, too.

 Racing ©

by Delaney

Depends on if the

Judge is fair.

Depends on the

Sneakers you wear.

Depends on if

They count the nose.

Depends on if

You have long toes.

Depends on if

The track is square.

Depends on if

There’s dusty air.

Depends on if

You are not fat.

Depends on if

They put down a mat.

The race is won

By the raciest one.

The Groomer ©

by Delaney

I do not want my fur to go.

I do not want my nails cut low.

I do not want my long ears shaved.

I do not want my body bathed.

I do not want to have to wait

Locked up in a tiny crate.

My mom arrives

And hugs me so

All my worries

Far to go.

Inspiration from Books

Beginning writers of all ages often don’t know how to channel their thoughts into a finished product. Using literature can often mold that creativity into a fine finished product. I’m not talking about plagiarism – just inspiration.

For example, I’ve used an excerpt from Nobel Peace Prize and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel’s memoir, All Rivers Run to the Sea to inspire both adult and student writing: Elie Wiesel

It was with the twenty-two letters of the [Hebrew] aleph-beth that God created the world, “ said the teacher, who on reflection was probably not so old. “Take care of them and they will take care of you. They will go everywhere. They will make you laugh and cry. Or rather, they will cry when you cry and laugh when you laugh, and if you are worthy of it, they will allow you into hidden sanctuaries where all becomes . . .” All becomes what? Dust? Truth? Life? It was a sentence he never finished.

 My students’ jobs were to finish that last sentence. After brainstorming all the things that words created with the letters of our alphabet allow us to convey, some inspired musings resulted:

Without the alphabet, emptiness attacks and wins. These 26 strong letters are my world, or at least define my world. These letters help me form the words that share who I am as a writer, a mom, a teacher, a lover-of-life. Words that began with “It’s a girl,” will define who I am when I die.

These letters form the words that allow me to help those I love:

“Talking about it will help the hurt go away.”

“Don’t worry, I’m here with you.”

“You will always be remembered.”

“Your life mattered.”

In the end, words formed from these 26 letters make all the difference.

What are some of the most important words these letters form in your life?

In memory of the children

We all ache and feel helpless when someone is taken from us. We want to help at any time of loss – especially when it involves innocent children.  We often cannot think of the right thing to do to honor the memory of the one or ones who were lost.

When we lost our daughter, Christy, we asked people to do acts of kindness and call them “Christys” in her honor as she lived her life performing random acts of kindness. This would keep her spirit alive. As long as one person remembers her she still exists. Having many people do good deeds in her honor keeps her spirit alive. Even though it has now been 14 years since her loss, I still get folks emailing and writing me about the “Christy” they performed. These emails make her present for just a moment and warm the space in my heart where she resides.child statue

This year, we have so many lost children to honor. A friend sent me a link where one can donate a book to a children’s library at a school or public library in honor of one of the lost children. The idea is to donate a book that connects with one of the passions of a particular child. The book is inscribed to a particular child who was lost.

I love this idea as it performs a good in the name of the child and connects to the life of that child. This idea brings a child to life as their favorite literature is shared in their honor with children who read the book.

Writing Can Heal

In times of sadness, writing can heal. I experienced this first hand when my own daughter died at 26 in a caving accident in Mexico. After the initial shock, as they days slowly passed waiting for her funeral, I found myself isolated in the backyard just writing about her. Through this healing process, I found a connection to her that I could share to help heal others.

I found the same to be true with my students after 9-11 when everyone was in shock. I led my fourth grade students in writing odes to America. By connecting with everything that America gives to us, we were able to help each other heal from this terrible tragedy. americaAs it turned out, we framed the students poems on patriotic paper, mounted them all on a bulletin board, and sold them at  a school event.

The parents were so moved to see the passion that each student poured out about this country that they just moved from poem to poem in silence. Many told me that these poems helped them to heal and were taken home and hung in places of honor. I know I still keep my teacher’s anthology in a place of honor.

Now we are faced with another senseless national tragedy. The villains who perpetuate these crimes steal more than lives – they steal our children’s sense of security. Writing can help restore the power of personal safety if we just let our children talk and write about their fears and them about the positives in their lives.

Here’s a sample Ode to America:

Ode to the Heroes

By Kelsey French, fourth grader in 2001

Over 300 hundred of you sacrificed your lives for others

Like angels radiantly praising God.

Your good deeds

Spread across our nation

Challenging us to follow your examples.

That night

You still kept your

Heads high and became

As rough as proud elephant.

Do you know

How much the children

Of the world relish you?

How much do you think you

Accomplished by your great deeds?

Everybody said you increased

In strength as powerfully

As David’s saving the world

From Goliath.

You’ve risen as swiftly

As eagles to shield your fledglings

In the Twin Towers.

So we pledge to you,

Heroes, for all the deeds you’ve done,

Let us be one America

With liberty

And justice

For all.

Story Starters for Children

Reading stories written by professionals can be a good springboard for children to create their own pieces of writing. Santa Claus Meets the Tooth Fairy opens the door to many writing ideas.

For younger children, the following ideas could prompt creativity:

  1. Write a letter to the Tooth Fairy.
  2. Write Santa a recipe for a healthy snack.
  3. Write about the time you lost your first tooth. If you have not yet lost a tooth, make up a believable story about what you think it would be like. Hint: Interview others who have lost a baby tooth to get details for your story.

For older children, the writing ideas can be more complex:  Student Writing

  1.  Research what children in other cultures do with lost baby teeth. The Tooth Fairy does not visit every house around the world. For example, in Japan, the first baby tooth is thrown on the roof and the second is thrown under the house to ensure prosperity. In another version from the Japanese culture, lost upper teeth are thrown straight down to the ground and the lost lowers are thrown straight up in the air to ensure that incoming teeth will grow in straight.
  2. What does the border in this book represent? Can you retell the story by touching the border? Create your own border, then write a story to go with it.
  3. Create a new fantasy character who will visit children in secret. Explain why this character visits children. Describe your character in detail. Does your character have any special powers. For example is there a character who visits children on their half birthday to reward them for good health habits? What about a character who visits children when they have completed other firsts in growing up like the first time they rode a bike, or the first time they used a cell phone, or the first time they ate an artichoke, or the first time they saw the beach?