One goal as a class is to have everyone, including teacher, discover something new about themselves and about writing by the time the course is over. You will be working together, professionally and personally. (Discussion of the necessary preparation for class and the grading system you will use, should take place tomorrow.)
Activity #1 It is easy to feel tense when we take on new things. That is your first “problem” as a class. Point out that you will hold an experiment with the purpose of loosening up everyone. Ask that students write a paragraph in answer to this question: How do you feel right now
? At this very moment? They are to write whatever is presently in their thoughts. Are they tired? Hungry? Nervous? Where else would they rather be? Why? Stress that paragraphs should be legible, but emphasize content over grammar-and spelling. One’s purpose should be to put the class at ease. They will have five minutes to do this. A one-minute warning helps conclude writing smoothly. Assure students that they are not obligated to identify themselves.
Take a seat nearby and begin work on your own paragraph. After the compositions are collected, let students know that the class should know how everyone else feels. Let them know that you won’t pressure anyone into reading aloud or revealing themselves. You can choose a paragraph at random and read it yourself. Read with enthusiasm. Whether at the beginning, middle, or end, read your own piece and identify yourself. Make connections between the feelings your paragraph portrays and those of students. Request feedback. This is information you may want to refer back to at the end of the course or unit.
Activity #2 Hand out an interest inventory. Use or modify the sample provided in this unit’s packet of supplementary materials. Make certain to include a question with reference to the student’s writing background. “What is the earliest recollection you have of a writing experience?” Allot them fifteen minutes to complete the handout. If possible, pair off students who don’t know each other well. One student will ask the other questions in whichever order he likes, and jot down responses on the sheet. When a question requires multiple answers, he is to choose the top two or three. It is important to tell them not to write complete sentences or they won’t get too far. Each pair is to switch interviewer after 7 minutes, regardless of whether they’ve completed the handout.
If you have a large number of students,split up oral presentations into two class sessions, and allow each student three minutes. Let the class assist you in choosing the order in which they will take turns. Arrange chairs in a circle. It is preferable to begin by introducing the student in your pair first or vice-versa.
FOR TOMORROW: Students are asked to bring in a notebook. This notebook is treated as a journal, and should remain in class at all times. All freewriting and autobiographical material will be kept in it.
Materials you will need for today: manila folders, notebooks, copies of “Topics I Can Write About.”
Proceed with an overview of the course and unit. Specify your goals. Discuss what is expected from the class, as well as what can be expected from
as teacher. Explore the relationship between what students will learn about writing in your class, and writing across the curriculum. If you have a writing background, share some of your experiences and difficulties in becoming a better writer. Stress confidentiality. Encourage students to write honestly and openly. Assure them that you will not share information that may compromise them.
Pass out folders. Everyone should be allowed to decorate them, or doodle on them as they please. These should contain a copy of “Topics I Can Write About” (a handout with enumerated blank lines). Encourage students to add to this list today, and to continue doing so throughout. (For the purpose of simplifying the grading of daily writing, a modification of the point system is recommended.
) The form on which points are recorded is also attached to the folder. Upon coming to class, each student is responsible for obtaining and reviewing his work from the previous day.
Activity #1 Introduce freewriting. Explain that it is a stream of consciousness, a way of clearing one’s mind of thoughts. Freewriting requires the student to write about topics of his choice, for ten or fifteen minutes, without stopping to strike out errors, check grammar or spelling. (The use of pencils and corrasable pens should be discouraged.)
Day One’s Activity #1 is freewriting modified. This is particularly useful when, for example, in reading a short story, you want to tap the student’s inner thoughts on a particular topic or element of the story. In this unit, this is referred to as “directed-topic” freewriting. Although freewriting does not form the basis of group discussions, it contributes to them by allowing the student to explore, gather and confront his thoughts, leaving him prepared to develop them. It also draws from autobiography, and serves as a warm-up assignment. Have students do a freewriting on a topic of their choice.
Activity #2 Proceed with a presentation on what one can do to grow as a writer. Encourage students to use their imagination and contribute. A list follows: not be afraid to explore; find challenging topics to write about; expand our vocabulary; read to see how other people write and to expand our horizons; learn to observe; question the world around us; keep a journal; be persistent; care about what we do .and write about; listen to or read other students’ writing; let other people read our work for feedback; read our work as if someone else wrote it; revise.
In the Days to Follow:
Stress observation skills. You’ll also want to discuss description, and using the five senses. Explain the importance of these skills in good writing. Conduct activities that center around the student’s personal experience, and which make use of observation and description. These should be built into daily class sessions.