Today is my second day of writing workshops at St. Thomas High School this winter. By this afternoon, I’ll have met all the grade nine students here.
Some of the teachers have wanted me to do writing exercises. Other have asked me to focus on telling their students everything I can about writing.
This morning, I asked one group to remember back to when they were ten years old and to jot down details about their memories. This exercise – one I use with my students at Marianopolis College – yielded some interesting results. A student named Giovanna began her piece with the line, “I rang my friend’s doorbell.” I told Giovanna her beginning works because it has energy and the reader can’t help wanting to know what happens next. I also suggested she use the “what if?” question if she wants to turn this memory into a fictional piece. What if, for example, her friend’s parents were having a big fight? Or what if her friend was packing up to run away from home? (Notice that both my examples involve TROUBLE. As I pointed out to the students today, trouble is like gasoline -- it helps move a story forward.)
A student named Maryam remembered being at school and realizing that, “people standing away from us … [were] staring [at us].” As I pointed out to Maryam, this line, too, makes for an intriguing story. Why were the people staring – and perhaps even more importantly, how did that make Maryam feel?
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know I am obsessed with details and observations. Every time I visit a school, I look for interesting details I might be able to use in a future book. Here come two I found today:
A student named Megan has a cool birthmark on her forehead. Megan was kind enough to tell me a little about her birthmark. She said, “Once when I was camping, someone said, ‘There’s a sticker on your forehead.’” Megan says she’s used to people commenting on her birthmark; she added that there’s also something positive about her birthmark. “I find it makes me different,” she explained.
My second observation has to do with body language. There were a lot of students in my third group, which meant they were sitting close together. Well, I spotted an example of student body language I had never seen before – not in 30 years of teaching! A student was braiding her neighbour’s hair! The two students (the braider and the braid-ee) kindly agreed to be photographed for this blog, though I promised I wouldn’t divulge their names.
You know what I find? If you’re the observant sort, you’ll never ever be bored. Let me know if you have any interesting or funny observations about classroom life. Maybe I’ll use your observation in my next book. Hey, if I do, I promise to thank you in the acknowledgments!
Speaking of thank you's ... many thanks to St. Thomas librarian Carolyn Pye for inviting me to her school. Over the years, Mrs. Pye and I have become friends – one more bonus that comes with being a writer!