Tag Archives: creative writing

The Need To Tell: Monologue Writing in English & Social Studies

Diane Arbus Photograph

Look at the person in the photograph.

Who is this person?
What is her/his name?
What is special about her/him?
Where is she/he?
How does she/he feel about being there? Why?
What does this character want, need, or dream about?
What’s stopping her/him from getting it?
What does she/he need to tell?
Who is she/he telling?
Why is this day different from any other day?

Objective:
1. To create an individual character and establish a foundation for characterization.
2. To write a monologue based on a photograph used to create a character.

This activity was first presented to when during a playwriting workshop for teachers presented by Young Playwrights, Inc. This activity can work as a creating writing assignment or role playing in response to a story or specific period in history. For example, I use photographs of Japanese Internment and students choose a person in one of the photographs to write about experiences during internment. Integrating tools of creative drama and theater tools – like pantomime, movement, improvisation, scripted drama, oral interpretation, debating, storytelling, readers theater – creatively communicates ideas to others and requires students to become the people they read about and study.

Procedures:

  1. Post a photograph on the SMARTBoard. This will be used for a whole class brainstorm.

Tell the group that there are no right or wrong answers, as you will all be making this up as you go along. Ask the following questions:

Who is this person? – Get a specific answer. You may have to vote between 2 or 3 names.

What is her/his name? – Have writers begin to define the age, occupation, and general biographical information based on what they see in the photograph. Make a group decision who this person is.

What is special about her/him? – Have writers think about the way he or she talks, dresses, walks. We are looking for specific character traits.

Where is she/he? – Get writers to be as specific as possible.

How does she/he feel about being there? Why? Happy? Sad? Worried? Angry? What does the expression in the photography tell you?

What does this character want, need, or dream about? – We are moving away from what can be seen to inferring emotions and thoughts based on visual cues.

What’s stopping her/him from getting it?

2. Inform the group they will now have the opportunity to allow her or his 􏰂􏰋􏰆􏰃􏰆􏰂􏰅􏰌􏰃􏰁 􏰅􏰉􏰁character to speak. to begin writing a monologue or speech Instruct writers 􏰎􏰈􏰌􏰆􏰣􏰜􏰁(written in first person) bearing in mind what the character Needs To Tell. Add three new questions writers should answer individually:

What does she or he need to tell?

Who is she or he telling?

􏰖􏰁Why does this need to be told today?

The character doesn’t need to answer these questions in the monologue, but the answers should be what drives her or his words.

3. Expand the Activity – After students share out ideas based on the class character brainstorm, I have them choose their own photograph (I have a class set for students to choose from around seven or eight different photographs based on the theme we are studying) and complete the assignment on their own. It is often fascinating for writers to see how many different and distinct stories and characterizations can emerge from a single photo.

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Digital Writing Tools For Reluctant Writers

So, your students tell you they hate writing or they profess they are not good writers. Why beat them over the head with writing essays? Here are ten digital writing tools to help build writing endurance and have students create authentic and creative writing pieces.

  1. Blog It – This year my students are blogging about their Genius Hour projects. Each of their blogs detail and record their passion project research and findings. Students can create blogs about anything and everything so don’t only have them write on lined paper for your eyes only. Let students write for a global audience and write about topics that are meaningful to them.
  2. Collaborative Writing with Google Docs – Whether students are working collaboratively compiling research for a debate or working together to write a screenplay or story, why do it alone? So many authors today are collaborating and students should be able to work together too.
  3. Digital Inspirations – My friend and colleague, Carol Varsalona creates these amazing pictures and inspirational words on her blog Beyond LiteracyLink and has all different writers, teachers, and artists contribute their own digital inspirations. Have your students take their own photographs and write inspirational words, poems, ideas to go along with the images produced.

C Varsalona Beyond Literacy Link4. Podcasts are a great way to get students writing, speaking, and collaborating. I am a huge fan of NPR’s RadioLab podcasts and have used them in my classroom as a mentor text. Students can script their podcasts before recording them and make their own radio shows on all different issues and topics.

5. Prezi Picture Books in lieu of a traditional picture book, students can create their own digital picture books using Prezi or Google Slides and then screencast an audio file reading aloud the picture book created.

6. Twitter Poems and 140 Character Memoirs

7. Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books in the 1980s? Have students create their own Choose Your Own Adventure story or research inquiry using YouTube, Thinglink, or SymbalooEDU. Students do all the writing and research and allow the viewers to choose the direction of the story or inquiry.

8. Create Your Own Textbook on Wikispaces. What if you had students create the course textbook for the students next year? Let students curate the materials, and design the texts that are essential to classroom learning and content knowledge.

9. StoryWars is a website that was recently shared with me because it is a collaborative story telling website where people can upload their own stories or contribute a chapter to an existing story. Participants can read a story, write a chapter, or vote on a story’s path.

10. Make it a graphic novel using ToonDoo or Bitstrips blending dialogue and cartoon images together.

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Delight, Wisdom, and Illumination: Poetry Activities for All Ages

“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That is what poetry does.”

— Allen Ginsberg

Poetry is a multifaceted tool that can provide students opportunities to reflect on literature, content area subjects, or their own feelings, while increasing their understanding of the material being covered within classroom instruction. Poetry supports  language and reading development. Poetry brings aesthetic connections to topics and provides a personal relationship with content material. Robert Frost once wrote, “a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” (1973)  Sharing poetry with our students offers both delight and insight of the power of words.

Here are a few different types of poems that fit into any content area classroom for reading and writing.

An ODE is a poem in praise of the ordinary things in life. The ode was originally a Greek form of dramatic poetry. Some odes follow a specific rhyme scheme and stanza pattern, but it is not necessary. Think about having your students write an ode for a specific time or event in history, a scientific concept, or an ode to celebrate a famous mathematician.

A BIOPOEM or a histopoem provides students with the opportunity to create a biographical or historical summary about a topic or person. Each line of a biopoem or histopoem has a prescribed focus which guides students to summarize the information from a variety of perspectives. Biopoem and histopoems are great to use in social studies, science, and with literature.

Students can write HAIKU based on visual images for a unit on the environment or create haiku about something they are studying in your content area. Haiku are 17 syllable poems that are usually about nature and don’t rhyme. Haiku are three lines that follow 5-7-5 form.

Poet and educator, Georgia Heard, writes “Anger is a tremendous source of creativity.” In social studies class students can examine the poetry written about the past wars. Sidney Keyes, a British poet, wrote about WWII. Both Wilfrid Gibson and Siegfried Sassoon fought in the front lines during WWI and later wrote poems about the war.

Without using any words, only sounds create a musical poem or SOUND POEM. Have students write a sound poem about their mother. Then, go around the room and have people read aloud their sound poem

A FOUND POEM is shaped from a collection of words or phrases found in one text. A found poem may be created by students after a test has been read, in part or in whole. To create a found poem, readers select and combined memorable words and phrases from a text to create or “find” a poem. Annie Dilliard’s Mornings Like This is a collection of found poems to share with others. Whether students use a textbook, article, or a piece of literature, a found poem helps to understand the text deeply and make meaning.

SAY IT BUT DON’T REALLY SAY IT POEM In Eve Merriam’s poem New Love she expresses love without ever using the word love. How then do we know that she is talking about love? Have you students write a love poem (or a poem about anything) without saying or using the word it’s about.

New Love
by Eve Merriam

I am telling my hands
not to blossom into roses

I am telling my feet
not to turn into birds
and fly over rooftops

and I am putting a hat on my head
so the flaming meteors
in my hair
will hardly show.

RESPONDING TO POETRY As students listen to a poem being read aloud, have students make a list of the things that “snap, crackle, and pop in their ears . . . words, sounds, rhythms, and phrases. Students can draw a picture (realistic or abstract) of whatever the poem is saying. Maybe the poem reminds you of a song or the sound of a specific musical instrument. Students can describe the sounds and songs. Describe a memory or person the poem might evoke. Does the poem remind you of something? Make a connection. Or just respond to the poem in any way you wish.

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Dolls, Vases, Fringes — Memoir Writing & Historical Artifacts

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.

Dinner is a casual affair.

Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,

Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.

Two who have lived their day,

But keep on putting on their clothes

And putting things away.

And remembering . . .

Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,

As they lean over the beans in their rented back

room

that is full of beads and receipts and dolls

and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

— Gwendolyn Brooks

Dolls, Vases, & Fringes

We began class by reading aloud Gwendolyn Brook’s poem. Students were put into small groups and given an object from the cigar box pictured above. Students were to pretend that the object in their possession belonged to the couple described in the poem they just read. Students were to write a history of that object in the couple’s lives. Where did they get it? Why have they kept it? Where do they keep it in their rooms? What does it mean to them?

Students could write the collaborative piece in either the first person . . .”I remember when we got this . . .” or in third person . . .”The couple in the poem got this on the day they . . .” Be as specific as possible. Tell lots of details about the couple’s lives. Students were in effect, creating their memories. Making them as vivid and as interesting as possible.

After ten minutes we came together to share our histories as a whole class. Students also wrote down two or three possible titles for the poem.

The poem’s title is “The Bean Eaters” by Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

This activity was designed by my classmate while at Syracuse University working on our teaching degrees. It is an activity that I use with both my middle school students as a text pairing with the short story “A Summer Tragedy” by Arna Bontemps. In addition, I use it with my graduate students to address the role of artifacts in our classroom to teach historical literacy and creative writing.

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Get Them Writing!

I am currently in the middle of reading Kelly Sassi and Anne Ruggles Gere’s Writing on Demand for the Common Core State Standards Assessments (2014, Heinemann). My personal teaching goal this year is to focus on close writing with my students the way that I have focused on close reading. I plan to increase the amount of writing my students do to meet the demands of the Common Core Standards and improve their writing. I have always been told that in order to build better readers and writers, students need to read and write everyday in the classroom.

In Sassi and Gere’s text, three levels of writing are described:

Level 1 = writing is personal, informal, and ungraded

Level 2 = is for an audience, more formal, and graded

Level 3 = writing is public, formal, and high stakes

The authors state, “Writing skills are best developed at Level 1 and Level 2.” For every text my students read, they are writing Level 3 assessments. I am planning on bringing more Level 1 and 2 to engage my students in writing opportunities that engage  students. Below is a compilation of ten different writing opportunities I have compiled over the years that allow students opportunities to write for themselves and for pleasure.

1. Five Truths and One Lie – You probably know this ice breaker activity, students write down five true things about themselves and one lie. Their peers have to decipher the lie. Have students take one of the truths and tell a story.

2. Things that Irritate Me – Make a list of all the things that irritate you. Then choose one and write about it for five minutes, as a free write.

3. Writing Territories – I believe this writing activity comes from Nancie Atwell. Students brainstorm possible seed ideas and share out possible writing ideas. Students can take pieces and extend ideas or even write from a different point of view.

4. Write off One Line – Give your students a sentence starter to free write off of: “One thing about me that would surprise you…”

5. Talk to the Hand – Have students trace their hands and write in the hand interesting stories. Brainstorm all the things your hand has done today.

6. What I Wonder – Based on the book Ever Wonder Why, students generate a list of ten things they wonder about and then find the answer to write about. Students can compiled their own class set of Ever Wonder Why.

7. I am An Expert – Students generate a list of all their expertise and then write about what they know about these topics.

8. Worst Case Scenarios – Students write about a worst case scenario they fear the most.

9. The Most Boring Thing – What would be the most boring thing you can imagine. Write about it.

10. Write the Small Moments – Ralph Fletcher describes this strategy of giving students a visual photo to write about. Students pick a small moment from the photo and write about it. What is happening in the photo? Create the dialogue if there are people in the photo, what do they need to tell?

Students need to know that writing is important. Kelly Gallagher writes in Teaching Adolescent Writers, writing is hard, but hard is rewarding, writing makes you a better reader, and writing prepares you for the world of work.

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Voices from History: Ideas for a Historical Blog Assignment

In order to help students ask questions and be critical thinking citizens, teachers need to offer assignments (and reading material) that helps students see multiple points of view about people and history. Blogging allows for creative writing, especially in social studies. We want students to step into periods of history and understand different perspectives, experiences, and events.  At the same time tap into the Common Core Writing Standards:

  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3a Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

 

The assignment described below was used with a unit on colonialism but this assignment can be adapted for any unit in history.  

Here is a Colonial Blog assignment that requires students to take on the identity of an imaginary colonist and write three blog entires explaining their reactions to specific events that angered the colonists. The focus of this assignment is to understand what caused the colonists to revolt against the English. 

First, students are to imagine a character that was living in a colony in 1760. Using data given in class, students select a country of origin, home colony, a religion, a profession, and a name. Students invent a name, age, and family circumstances. The assignment requires students to write a brief biography of their character. This includes: demographic information, family’s history, and a description of life in the colony. 

For the first blog entry, in character, the student is to write about how one of the British acts have affected you. Describe which rights have been violated and how this act changes your life. Tell how you will respond to this act. The following are the British acts during this period: Proclamation, Stamp Act, Boston Massacre, Line of 1763, Quartering Act, Boston Tea Party, Sugar Act, Townshend Act, Intolerable Acts. The blog entries are expected to be based on the history of these events and be descriptive. 

The next blog assignment requires students to read the posted blog entries from other students and write a response. Comment on the experience of a fellow colonists. Give advise, sympathize, or ask a question. Tell what happened after your previous response. Tell how one of the British acts has affected you. Describe what is going on in your life, which rights have been violated, and how this act changes your life. Explain how you will respond to this act. 

The final blog assignment has students read the posted blog entries of the other colonists and write a response. Tell what happened after your previous blog entry and how another British act affected you. Describe what is going on in your life and that of your family, which rights have been violated, and how this act changes your life. Explain how you plan to respond to this act. 

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Flash Fiction or 420 Character Short Stories

A writing assignment for your students:

Inspired by Lou Beach’s 420 Character Short Stories, students write mini short stories, written as Facebook updates, when there was a 420 character limit including spaces and punctuation.

A word to the wise, Lou Beach says, “Throw out your garbage.”  A great way to help teach young people about crafting clear and concise writing.   Following his lead, I will make this blog post short.

Happy Holidays!!!

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