I. Introduce and review pre-writing techniques. Include listing, clustering, and freewriting as ways of brainstorming, Point out ways in which students can make use of them in the classroom and across the curriculum. (For a description of the clustering and listing techniques, turn to Carol L. Altieri’s “Approaches to Writing,” in The Process of Writing, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, Vol. IV, 1986.)
II. Decide on what kind of writing you will want from your students. Let them know. Point out the qualities of good writing. These should be posted in the room. My list includes writing that is simple, descriptive, insightful, and which involves the reader. Present a sample, perhaps a paragraph from a short story, or a brief poem, which portrays these qualities.
III. Explain and begin to familiarize students with the following: (a) what a draft is; (b) focusing; (c) the power of using one’s senses in description; (d) “showing” vs. “telling;” (e) how to avoid stating the obvious; (f) how to avoid clichés and stereotypes. Discuss how these are qualities of poor writing. Look for them in student writing. Point them out during student conferences.
IV. Hold one student conference during which you should: (a) recognize and support students’ efforts; (b) point out examples of quality writing in their pieces; (c) point out occurrences of “showing” and “telling;” (d) encourage peer conferences so students can discover topics and approaches used by other members of the class; (e) spend some time exploring with students their sources of ideas so that they can be conscious of them. (No teacher should have to be burdened by holding student conferences all at once. They can be scheduled throughout the week, and prevent the class atmosphere from being disrupted. One can confer with a student when he is having a specific difficulty, and use this opportunity to place the problem within the context of a mini-lesson.)
V. Students should compose the following core writing assignments:
A Childhood Reminiscence
—Students write a composition based on a memory from childhood. A presentation on “focusing” can be coordinated to help them narrow down their ideas.
—Introduce the character sketch, Explain how a sketch is similar to a “portrait;” how it allows the writer to reveal the personality of a character. Point out situations where character sketches would be called for. PROCEDURE: Write a two-page character sketch. Create the person as you know him or her. Include an event that shows us what kind of person this is. Can you show where this event takes place? Does the way in which the person speak, and what he or she talks about, say something about him/her? Can you give us an example of this?
The Image Poem—
Inspired by Daitzman’s
these are poems which focus on, freeze, one moment alone. These are comprised of one single verse whose words are broken into a number of lines. It is effective for helping students focus, begin to develop “an ear” for poetry, as well as for helping them begin to develop a sense for the economy of language. PROCEDURE: Students are asked to choose from a list of “stimulus words” and focus on one of the images this word evokes. Called “stimulus words” because they co¥el images, these are later used as title for the poems. (For a sample list and poems, refer to this unit’s packet of supplementary materials.)