Teaching Writing Without Writing

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I walked into a classroom of butterscotch, caramel, and chocolate smiles and eyes glassed over with excitement. I knew I had to make my entrance big and memorable, and I knew I had to keep up the momentum for the short time I was there.  I had one hour to teach a group of 5th-8th grade students something significant about writing.  I knew I could not make them all good writers in the time given, but I could make them better writers.


Wearing a huge smile, I took big steps to the center of the classroom, and sat on the small stool.  I introduced myself briefly.  Briefly because when you are teaching a workshop, especially when you are teaching children, it is important for them to know that they are your primary focus.  Everything they say and think during that time is important to you.  You want to be a welcomed visitor in their world.


“Hey…why do you have out journals and pens and pencils?!”   I asked  with a shoulder shrug and hands thrown high.  They looked at me strangely.  I continued, “Put that stuff away!  You won’t need any of that stuff while I ‘m here today.  You are going to learn how to write without writing.”  At that point, they cheered.


We talked about journaling.  They explained that sometimes they cannot think of anything to write.  Sometimes the teacher tells the students to write about what they did over the weekend. One student explained, “I didn’t do anything over the weekend to write about.”  She continued to explain that they are required to write half a page.


I said, “Oh, so you just sat there like this all weekend.”  I sat still on the stool, looking straight ahead.


Another student called out, “You’re still doing something.”


I said, “Exactly. Now let’s see how we can get half a page out of what I’m doing right now.”


The students realized they could describe how I sat on the stool in a half page or more.  I blinked.  I smiled.  I thought.  I slouched.  I watched the traffic go by etc…  So, I thought  to myself, already, I have made them better writers.  They now know there is always something to write about.


Next I told them, “Imagine that I am your reader, and I do not have an imagination at all.  I can only see what you write.  Well, in this case, I can only see what you tell me, since I promised you would not have to physically write.  We are going to start with a simple sentence.  The man ran.”


I  reminded them several times that I did not have an imagination.  I explained that I could only see a man running in a space with nothing around him.  Well, when they finished dressing our man up, he was the coolest looking dude in town.  He had on name brands that I had never even heard of, and he was running to the Adidas store in the Cherry Hill Mall because he was late for work.  The students did argue for a bit about what colors he was wearing, but for the most part, our writing without actually writing, went smoothly.


A few moments later, one of the students called the man, “Weird.”  I explained that weird was not a descriptive enough word.  Weird can mean many things.  I told them I was leaving the room for a second, and then I was going to come back in “acting weird,” but they had to describe me without using the word weird.  They had to show how I was weird.  Well, when I came back in the room, they were laughing so hard, they could barely speak. I was acting as weird as I possibly could, which wasn’t that difficult for me, oddly enough.  I walked in rather quickly. I was a bit jumpy, and I kept looking behind myself, twitching.   I walked from one side of the room to the the other.


One student called out, “Crazy!”


And another yelled, “Paranoid.”


I said, “What am I doing that makes me crazy or paranoid?   Remember, we are pretending that your readers have no imagination.”


One student yells, “Erractic!”


I say, “Yes, I like that one!”


The rest of the students describe my behavior quite well, and I think to myself, yes, I have made them betters writers, and they had fun.  The next time I visit their classroom, they may not mind using paper and pencil.


A few tips on teaching children how to write descriptively:

1. Leave your ego outside of the classroom.  Do not worry about looking foolish.

2.  Become an actor/actress during that time.  Act out what you want them to write.

3.  Make it interactive.  Make some of the students actors/actresses.  Have them act out what they would like their peers

to describe.

4.  Walk around the classroom.

5.  Talk to the quiet students in the back.  Get them involved.

6.  Have fun!!!!!!



3 Responses

  1. Renee Fernandez says:

    Well to begin with, I love the description of the box of chocolates. What a creative apporach toward an imoprtant aspect of education. How encouraging is it to engage students, interactively and in quite a challenging manner. I am positive you drew out possibilities they never knew they had. You taught them life skills…communication and observation in a single visit. I believe the students were blessed with the skills to become better writers, and quite possibly realized that they could challenge themselves in general on that particular day. Who knows how many were inspired or will share and inspire others due to your gift of a visit to their classroom.

    See what happens when you let God use you !!!

    I’m blessed just by reading about who you’ve blessed and inspired.

    Thank you.
    Renee Fernandez

  2. Tanya Cain says:

    I love it!! Some of those 5th-8th graders were probably dreading another writing class. But were pleasantly surprised by your lesson. They are blessed because your words will likely stay with them for years to come! Great work…as usual! 🙂

  3. shawnrjones says:

    I think I had more fun than they did! lol thank you for your comment : )

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