As an educator of adolescents, I strive to create a lively, productive, challenging classroom where students feel inspired to take control of their own learning, learn to communicate clearly, and see from new perspectives. All of this is best done away from my desk.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Snow Globes and Writing
Triggering Creative Writing
Sometimes, inspiring a student to write involves a simple
object—like this silly little penguin snow globe.Let me explain . . .
I co-teach a film-making elective for 11/12th
graders.In this six week course,
students boldly venture through each stage of the film-making process, including
the creation of an original live action short film of about 6-10 minutes. The
first task is to write a short screenplay that can be produced in the final
weeks of the class.I have
struggling writers as well as “natural” writers in the group, and it’s often a
challenge to get them all to write a complete 5-10 page script, which they then
pitch to the class. In the class
of anywhere between 10-17, they decide on about four scripts to produce. We’re also challenged by time; ideally,
the class would be at least eight weeks, and there would be time to draft the
scripts before production weeks.
So, with a couple weeks and a diverse group of writers, I’ve
tried many things to inspire the screenplays.
I’ve tried music.I play various songs (everything from jazz to Vivaldi or rap), and ask
students to close their eyes until they start to see a scene or a person.I then ask them to open their eyes and describe
what they see, embellishing if they want.We go through 4-6 songs, followed by a brief writing time.Those scenes sometimes result in at
least a character, if not a story concept or location idea.
I’ve also tried pictures, and I’ve tried shoes, which I tell
them I found along the side of roads.I ask, who lost this shoe and how? Today, I brought in a bag of random objects from my house,
including an old cowboy boot, a dusty 1950’s camera, a bracelet from the
Dominican Republic, a box of cheerios, and a penguin snow globe that is part of
my daughter’s old collection.I spread
them out on the tables in front of the students, and told them to see which
object calls to them.My instructions:
Examine it and then decide who it belongs to.Imagine this person, in as much detail as you can, and then
describe that person.Once they’ve
got their character, I ask them to look at the list of prompts on the board to
help them think more deeply about him or her.They use these prompts to further learn about/create their
character, and possibly even think of a conflict for a story.
Prompts to develop character:
A person who . . .
likes. . .(i.e.:
cheerios, Beethoven, belly dancing, or her 5th grade teacher, etc.)
hates. . . (i.e: beets, his mother, people who lie etc.)
spends every afternoon . . . (i.e: knitting, riding a bike
along the beach, filing, etc)
wants . . . (i.e: a girlfriend, attention, to be able to fly,
forgets . . . (i.e: most things, his students’ names, his keys, etc.)
eats . . . (i.e: rye toast and cheese; popcorn without
needs (i.e: a new robe, a job, a ride home, etc.)
Today in class, one of my students was intrigued by the snow globe, and
quickly came away with an idea not only for a character who owned that object,
but also for a whole story line.After
class, she chattered excitedly to me in the lunch line about her story about a
young girl who loses her favorite object, even thanking me for doing that
It was one of those gratifying teaching moments.And all it took was a few objects from
I look forward to reading the scripts that students will
write in the next week.