Finding Ourselves in our Writing

by Kevin Emerson, Catharine Blaine K-8

In my third year at Catharine Blaine K-8 School, it seems more and more like all of my lessons revolve around trying to get my 7th and 8th graders to put more of themselves into their work. In our first week of class, we hit on some nice moments.

In 7th grade, we have started each year with a lesson on Instructional Poems, where students write a piece inspired by SARK’s “How to be an Artist” (a lesson I originally got from Karen Finneyfrock. Thanks, Karen!). This year, after writing the pieces and sharing some lines, we returned the next week and I asked them to look back over their work, find a line they really connected with, and then add a scene, something from their own lives if possible, and to go off on a tangent describing it as completely as they could, staying in that second person voice. This was something that had happened to my own piece in Scribes last summer, as I was writing probably my tenth instructional poem, and I just started rambling to answer a question I’d posed to myself in the piece.

I like how moody and haunting the new passages are, in that second-person present tense, adding setting and action to the usual form and fleshing out the narrator.

See what you think! Here are two examples, with the added revisions in bold:

How to be different
by Olivia Isarankura
Be yourself,
Be different.
Just like when you’re at home,
In your room with the door shut
Dancing to your favorite song that everyone hates at school
The lyrics running through your ears,
Coming out of your mouth in an imperfect tune.
Read a book on werewolves,
when everyone reads on vampires.
Wear a long skirt,
when everyone wears short skirts.
Write with a blue pen,
when everyone writes in black.
Give your teacher blue flowers,
when everyone gives her pink flowers.
Be different,
when everyone’s normal.
How to Love Life
by Jessie Wright
Love the rain
Find the positives
Handle the negatives
Like when you come home from school
You sit on the couch
Looking at the rain
Knowing those names aren’t true
And realize how silly you are
And go on with it
Not bothering thinking about those names
Happy because they aren’t true
Be joyful
Be fearless
Take risks
Like that time you went on a walk in the woods
at midnight
without a light
a full moon
just with your sister
the dark green trees
closing in around you
and the night sounds
filling your ears
Carpe diem
Seize the day
Watch the sunset
Wish on a shooting star

In 8th Grade, we started with a lesson called Gallagher-esque, where students wrote a piece modeled after Seattle YA author Liz Gallagher, one of my favorite writers in town. Liz writes spare, present tense prose that focuses on tiny details and personal observations. After reading passages from Liz’s newest novel, My Not-So-Still Life, students wrote their own piece. One of last year’s rising stars, Bryn, wrote this first draft about a ballet student:

 Untitled (Gallagher-esque)
by Bryn Templeton
I wake up early.
Warm sunlight streams through the window, making a golden pool on the bottom of my bed. I can feel that all my muscles are tight, warm, and not very normal. My eyes seem to be the only body part that doesn’t hurt. They travel out the window, out past the trees. Maybe if I try harder, I could actually get my shoes, that badge of honor that most girls wouldn’t even come close to looking at. I knew I was good, but if I was ever going to be better, I would have to try harder.
I slide out of bed, ignoring the protests of my feet, bruised on the inside as they are. After dressing in a tank top and sweat pants, I go to the bathroom and pull back my black hair into a tight bun, wrapping each strand around each other. Then, I grab my bag and go to the kitchen. Early morning light spills onto the table.
I jump. Turning around, I see my mother standing there in all her glory. Crazy red hair, thick glasses, enormous fuzzy bathrobe and that bright pink mug in her hand.
“Did I scare you?”
I wince. “Sure.”
“Big day today? Why are you up at-” she glances at the clock- “five thirty?”
“I have to go to ballet, remember?”
“Right. I always forget. Don’t you want breakfast?” My mother loves to pretend that she can cook.
“No. If I get too hungry, I can get something at the Subway across the street.”
The truth is, I feel too nervous to eat. Today is the day of truth: whether I get to move on or have to stay at my level.
Stepping out into the autumn weather is always one of my favorite things. That chill in the air, the smell of the clouds and rain and cold, of the leaves and how they crunch beneath one’s feet always seems to promise something, an idea or a thing that’s going to happen.
This time, as I make my way to my car, I can feel change in the air.

It amazes me that these students can write like this, and I feel lucky to have an entire year, and possibly two, to read their inspiring work.


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