For a group of students that has experienced successes with the above types of descriptive essays, the description of a city event which would include the place, time and of course the people involved would be a challenging and exciting topic. In one of my below remedial fifth grade classes, a student described her day at a church fashion show. Another student described her visit to an old age home. Each were superb pictures of the community in which we live. Again, lists of preparatory vocabulary words are essential. Photographs, and reproductions of paintings are great to get the students started talking and writing in class, and samples of other writers’ first and third person descriptions will get them thinking and then writing. One piece that I must mention here is a one paragraph description of the tragic and horrifying death of a boy in the South Bronx, by Willie Morris in Jacqueline Berke’s “Twenty Questions for the Writer.” It is an excellent example of descriptive narrative.
Many of our students have vivid experiences of this city that they might be able to begin to deal with as they read about these things and experience them in other creative forms. Street and gang violence is one of these experiences that our children share with most city writers. You might find it useful to start off with a third person essay on gang violence by Lewis Yablonsky, reprinted in Gerald Levin’s “Short Essay: Models for Composition,” and then have the students make comparisons with their own knowledge of this problem The students will be eager to talk about their experiences but you should insist that they them write them and then read them to the class: they’ll really write. Have them compare their descriptions with a few from some short stories that you provide them with. At least five such descriptions can be found in “The. Ghetto Writer” alone. Compare their works and the published pieces to the gang violence in the movie “Boyz ‘n the Hood.”
If you have a group of hard to motivate high school students, you could try teaching a couple lessons on the subject of execution. You’ll get them reading and sharing reactions at the least. Try these powerful descriptions: 1) “A Hanging,” a five page piece by George Orwell available in Leo Rockas’ “Style in Writing,” 2) the description of the guillotine and Madame LaFarge from Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” and 3) Norman Mailer’s description of the execution of Gary Gilmore in “The Executioner’s Song.” A blood curdling grouping. It would be worthwhile showing slides of paintings of executions such as Goya’s “Execution of May 3rd” and Picasso’s “Guernica.” Any Renaissance, or later, reproduction of a crucifixion of Christ, (I suggest those of Gerard David, Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden, Rubens) legal execution in Roman times, would provide an interesting historical context for the subject. Issues that you’ll be discussing would include the morality of capital punishment, preferable methods of execution, alternatives, lynchings, genocide (“legalized” mass murder) and the moral values of societies that condone capital punishment .