Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Writing with kids

I'm back in Salina, KS this week, making up for the two snow days of December. As I write this, it's snowing and very cold. I hope school is on tomorrow.

Today was fun. I was at Sunset Elementary School. Today was a writing day with fifth graders. In the first session, I had all four classes (10 year olds, more or less) together for a storytelling performance. Because most of the kids at this school have heard me tell stories through the years, they know me. One teacher said that when she wrote my name on her whiteboard as "Miss Howe," the kids asked "Is that Priscilla?"

We had a good time in the storytelling session. Trixie and the baby puppet came out briefly, and the kids asked if I had other puppets. I promised to bring them out briefly in the writing sessions.

I did three writing sessions (one was with two classes at once). I began with a quick show-and-tell of three more puppets (the Gunniwolf, Mavis the monkey and Trixie's little sister Roxie). Then on to the writing. I read aloud a folktale, written in a slightly archaic way, and then told it. The difference in the kids' attention was startling. We talked about the two versions, what makes a good story, about the importance of imagination in writing and telling stories. In the storytelling session, I had given them an idea of one story structure, so now I gave them another. Then I introduced the idea of writing practice, and gave them an abbreviated set of rules for writing practice from Natalie Goldberg's book Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life. Here they are:

1. Keep your hand moving.
2. Don't think.
3. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar.
4. Be specific.
5. You're free to write the worst junk in America.

The students wrote these down and I explained what they meant. The goal is to stretch the writing muscles, not to have something perfectly written. I gave them a topic and set the timer for three minutes. Ready, set, write!

When they were done they read aloud in small groups. Then the whole class heard a few of them. After this, we did it again, this time for longer. More kids wanted to read aloud.

We didn't have much time, so we rushed on to one more story structure game. It's a game where we write a story line by line, folding the page backwards after each line and then passing that paper to the next person. I prompt the kids for each line: "Who was it?", "Where was he/she?", "What did he/she do?" and so on until the story is done. After each line, the paper is passed to the next kid. They're not supposed to look at the previous lines, so when the paper is unfolded, it's a completely ridiculous story. Some of them make a strange kind of sense.

The kids were great. Though some occasionally got stuck on the timed writing, generally they dove right in. I love the intensity in the room as they're writing, writing, writing, occasionally shaking a cramp out their hands. The more they do this, the more easily the words will flow out of their minds onto the paper. They seemed to like the last game, though we could have used another 15 minutes for them really to enjoy it.

Tomorrow is a storytelling day at three other schools.


Faith said...

Cool! Heads, bodies, and legs, only different!


PriscillaHowe said...

Yes, that's exactly it! I completely confused one group of kids by mentioning that game--then they thought they were going to draw.

marni said...

Priscilla, I just love the kids knowing your TRUE self - Ms. Howe??) And picturing you with them. I can hear your voice in your writing (this is a unique and familiar voice - and giggle - in my head). I love that you share Natalie Goldberg's just-keep-your-hand-moving with them. I wish you were MY writing teacher!

Keep having fun. You model that all for us soooo well.

love and delicious white pages,
marni gillard

PriscillaHowe said...

Yay! Now you can read my blog--when I first began, you weren't able to get to it.

Thanks for the comment--I love how you work with kids, so it means a lot to me.