Friday, June 22, 2012

#Teachers Write Week 3: "I Do, We Do, You Do"

It's hard to imagine a teacher who is unfamiliar with the "I do, we do, you do" teaching model.

This week's prompts and ideas in Teachers Write reminded me of the importance of modeling writing for students, so...

This week I'd like to reflect on and share the myriad teaching techniques I'm learning in Kate Messner's Teachers Write PD.

 Monday Lesson Plan Ideas

1. Make Mine a Metaphor!

Jo Knowles posted a lovely blog about building and challenged TW participants to

"share a memory of working on a project with someone you love. What was the project? Why were you working on it? Why was it important, or why did it become important? What did you talk about while you worked? What did the materials feel like in your hands? Smell like? Were you physically exhausted? Emotionally? Show us why this memory is important to you."

I wrote about the hope chest I watched my grandfather build for me when I was 11. It was a surprise Christmas gift.

2. I had loads of fun with the noun generator Jody Feldman prompted us with. 

Go to the random noun generator:
The first word that pops up is yours for the day. You have two choices:

  • Brainstorm:Generate a full page of plot ideas with that noun at the center of yourthoughts. Need a boost? Add in a second word.                                                                                                                                                         
  • Dive in: Let your noun kickstart a piece of writing. The word generator, for example, gave me expansion 

Here's what I wrote with my word, jelly: 

“Patina dipped the knife into the jar of plum jelly. She scooped out a clump of purple goo and plopped the jelly onto the dry toast, spreading it to the bread’s crusty corners. She wished telling Tai about the baby were as easy as making toast and jelly. But a baby isn’t bread and the truth isn’t always as easy to spread as jelly on toast.” 

3. Having trouble developing characters and/or settings? Rosanne Parry gives a step-by-step- process for developing both in her lesson "Story Hunting." This is definitely something I'll have students complete. I see it as a perfect sub day lesson plan.

Tuesday: Yes, there's more!

1. "What Poetry Can Do for for You...Even If You're Not a Poet" from Sara Lewis Holmes.

Okay, I'm a horrible poet. See for yourself. I'm laying all my cookies on the table with this one. It's the product of Sara's lesson.

Why’d you put the grapes in the gravy bowl?
The bowl with the gravy packet in it.
The packet is broken
That’s why it’s in the bowl.
Now I have to rewash the grapes.
They’re gross
Dripping with gravy
Gravy I can’t use.

I wrote another one, but that's enough torture! :-)

Be sure to read all of Sara's ideas. Students will love them.
2. Following Sara's poetry lesson, Joy Preble shows us how to get to know our characters by looking in their closets, for one. Curious, aren't you? Follow the link for more.

I participated in Wednesday's Q & A with guest authors Jennifer Brown, Barb Rosenstock, Jean Reidy, Erin Dealey, and Julia Devillers

My question and the responses follow: 

How do you work through those uninspired moments, those times when the story doesn’t flow as easily as it did in the beginning? How do you keep the story from seeming contrived rather than natural? How do you let the story lead you rather than pushing it in a particular direction?
I’m writing for an older teen audience, and I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to avoid staying out of the way. Does that make sense?
I’d also like to hear more about keeping the setting generic enough to appeal to a wider audience. I have a scene set in a local national monument on the Snake River. Should I make it unidentifiable?
BTW, I really like see the authors encourage reading the MS aloud.
RE: inspiration. When I find that happening, I go back to what inspired me to write the story in the first place. I’ve found this helpful for both my fiction (YA) and nonfiction. It may be a bit easier for me because my stories tend to be character driven, but I find inspiration in the personalities, challenges & dilemmans my charcters face. If I find I”m stuck, or less inspired, it’s usually because I strayed from the core story idea. I bring it back home. I think you can do the same thing with a story that is inspired by a particular setting.
RE: Staying out of the way. I’ve found the best approach for me is to let my characters and the story drive the plot. I think if you stay true to your characters and let the story flow organically, you can avoid getting in the way (if I understand your query properly).
RE: Setting. I’ve gravitated toward using real places as long as I don’t infringe on trademarks or copyrights. In my YA historical romance, I placed my story in the 18th century US Virgin Islands and this provides a richness to the story that I couldn’t replicate otherwise. I find this provides a realism to my stories that a wide audience can still identify with, although this has limits. In my YA novel focused on bullying, I use a martial arts theme but have avoided being to specific about the martial art, the school, or the city in which it takes place, opting for a more generic setting. This allows my story to focus on bullying more generally without getting caught up in the professional and personal conflicts that seem to plague the martial arts community.
Hi Glenda! Great questions and Sam’s response is brilliant.
At the risk of sounding lazy, I’d like to repeat a technique I suggested in my reply to Natalee above. It really does work! Here goes.
Free-write in different characters’ voices in diary or interview form. Ask those characters “What do you think about this?” or “How do you feel about that?” referencing story problems or scenes from your plot. It’s directed free-writing.
Spend time with those characters, giving yourself more than just a few hours to journal in their distinct voices. If you can devote a few days to each – even better – give yourself time to get into a character’s head and voice. Some may come easily. Others may take time. But either way, your characters will inspire you and begin to reveal your true plot.
Good luck with your story!
Mapping out my books helped me to match my feelings/mood for the day with what needed to be written. Then, I put the puzzle together at the end and trimmed any fat that was necessary.
Currently I’m using the program to help me get everything out of my head and organized so I can see it on the screen. It is really working for me.
I also started writing about my progress in my blog. (Click my name if you want to see it.) Even though I didn’t have many viewers, knowing that someone might be following was enough to motivate me to keep writing and sharing the process with that person. I used the blog to chronicle the entire process for writing my 4th book in 25 days. And, it is great to go back and relive those moments again.
I hope this helps! GOOD LUCK!
Hi Glenda,
I agree with Sam here. To “get out of the way,” try putting yourself in your character’s shoes. What would he/she do at those moments when you’re stuck? It’s almost like a theater improv game. I tell students, “Don’t think. Take yourself to that place. Be the character, and write it down.”
Wow, now you’ve got me wanting to ASK the questions. Is it important to make a setting more generic to appeal to a wider audience? I love specific settings, they anchor the story for me, but I don’t write novels, is this something you need to consider when you do?
If you’re drafting and struggling, I wouldn’t worry about the parts of the story that don’t work yet. I always have more luck seeing what’s forced or contrived once I’ve gone through at least once without worrying about it, but again, as many processes as there are writers. When I’m in my own way, it’s usually because I’m trying to write how I “think a book should be” instead of simplify, simplify, simplify.
I asked the question about setting because of something I read in one of the Teachers Write posts. I think it was in the FB group. I, too, love the details and all the little nuances. My mind is all over the place right now. I actually think I want to map out an idea for a second project, a memoir in vignettes. Many years ago I wrote a feature article for my college newspaper titled “Confessions from the High Risk Bracket.” That title has stuck w/ me for years, and I’ve always wanted to do something w/ it.
I really embrace the revision process, so I don’t feel a huge need to keep the story terribly inspired during the first draft. In other words, I allow myself to write utter schlock in draft #1 because I know I can always delete it or beef it up later. I also know that, when the story gets boring, there’s something exciting just around the bend, and the sooner I get to it, the better.
I don’t know that you really need to keep your setting generic. I tend to make up the towns that my books are set in, but have enough local landmarks that my local readers can recognize the part of the country we’re in. One of the best parts of reading (and writing) a story is getting to know new places. Many of your readers will never visit the landmark you’re writing about, but they can feel like they’ve been there if your story takes them there and makes them believe it.                                                          
How lucky am I and the other Teachers Write participants to have this opportunity to learn from, study with professional writers. I'm overwhelmed by their generosity and willingness to mentor. And it's FREE! 

I was reading about the Sun Valley Writers Conference a few days ago. I live three and a half hours from Sun Valley. The conference is sold out and probably has been for months. Individual sessions are $35.00 each. Nothing in Sun Valley is free! 

Thursday: Quick Write

Idaho writer Miriam Forester provided the prompt: Flip a fairy tale.

I have to say, this was fun. Here's mine for "Little Red Riding Hood":

“Mom, I don’t have time to bake cookies for grandma and make it to the game,” Big Red Helmet Head tripped on his shoulder pads and stumbled into the kitchen.
“I’ll tell you what,” said mom sympathetically, “I’ll finish the baking while you get dressed. Then you can take this box of goodies to grams on the way to the arena.”
“That’s a game play I can score on, Mom.”
“So it’s settled,” mom said and Big Red nodded in agreement.
Before leaving the house, Red head-butted mom, cradled the box of goodies in his arm and darted out the door. Mom gave him a high-five and a shout-out, “Watch for blockades and bad-asses. Go big or go home.”
Big Red didn’t want to fumble an opportunity to score with both grams and mom in one Hail Mary play. He decided to pick up his teammate Woody to help with the coverage. Woody would be Red’s man in motion.
On the way Red and Woody strategized. “You can wear my helmet and take the box of goodies up to gram’s apartment. She lives at Shady Acres Retirement Home,” Red explained. “I’ll circle back around and pick you up. That way we won’t have to park and waste time.”
“Snaps, I like that plan,” Woody nudged Red with his shoulder pad in a side gesture since a friendly rear pat was impossible while riding to gram’s in the 442 Cougar.
After a brief timeout for a refreshing supersized soda and a fill-up at Maverick, Red and Woody reached gram’s apartment.
Woody ambled to the door and pressed the button that would signal his arrival. But when gram opened the door, her mouth gaped and she pointed her Taser at Woody in Gram-to-Man coverage.
“It’s me. Woody. Big Red’s teammate,” Woody moved sideways to avoid gram’s game of laser tag.
“You gave me a shocker, young man. I’m going to have to call a penalty on you and report you to security for immediate ejection. Now give me those goodies.”
In his shock at the geezer’s violent nature, Woody fumbled the box, spilling its contents at grandma’s feet. They scrambled to recover, each trying to outmaneuver the other until gram’s shouted triumphantly as she fell on the box. “I got it. Score.”
Woody shrugged back to the Cougar. He dreaded telling Red about gram’s illegal motion and hoped his friend would understand. After all, gram did have the home field advantage and Woody was a last minute substitute in goodie delivery. 

I can't wait to give this assignment to students and to share my flip with them, as corny as it is!

Friday: Happy Hour! and Friday Feedback with Gae Polisner

If you need a reason to start writing, how about free books? That's right. On Friday's participants get to enter a drawing for freebies. I'm still waiting to win.

Stupid Fast author Geoff Herbach is the featured author on Gae's blog this week. I love Gae's candor, humor, generosity, and writing (of course!).

Last night I wrote a scene for the YA book I'm working on and posted a snippet on Gae's site. She confirmed my suspicions about my "overwrought" mixed metaphors. I did some revising here. 

The doc is set up for commenting. All are welcome and needed.

I hope you find these ideas useful as we begin thinking about the upcoming school year. Do teachers ever not think about next year once summer begins? 

'Preciate you!