A Few Notes on Writing This Semester.

(This is unedited because I’m pressed for time, so cut me a little slack if I ramble or spell opportunity wrong. Watch out, world. I’m not looking back today.)

Last week, Mary did something pretty cool. She came up with an idea that she liked enough to discuss with me in the middle of world history, and then she wrote about it in a letter to the president!

Impressively, it wasn’t even an assignment. The idea was something she came up with out of the blue, entirely on her own. I just suggested she consider telling it to someone more important than me. I love her writing curriculum, so we’ve never veered away from it before. I’m glad we made the exception in this case. It was a great multifaceted experience. It gave her an opportunity to 1.) apply her budding comprehension of politics 2.) map out a way to word her ideas so that they stayed concise while being effectively specific, and then 3.) format her letter to the specifications given on the white house webpage. I was really proud of her! Better than that, she was proud of herself. She even pulled at my arm while I was on the phone with my mom, making sure I told her about it.

Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm that is not even sarcastic. I didn’t know life could be so kind.

Over the weekend, Mary saw her mom for the first time in what (I believe) has been a full two years. Mary loved telling me how smart everyone said that she was. I love that she loved it.

This semester in writing, Mary’s has just done so much growing.

Right now, we’re delving big-time into description. Namely, people. In week one, we studied public personalities (celebrities, newscasters, etc.) and the ways that maintaining an on-air persona help them to do a specific job. For example, it’s imperative that an evening news reporter convey that they are intelligent and trustworthy, more than, say, bubbly and talkative. They’d work to maintain steady “eye” contact with the camera, and only shift their position to give short, quick nods. Mary chose a ten second clip of Zayn from One Direction promoting the MTV Video Music Awards to study. She wrote that he sat with an arched back, knees bouncing casually while his sneakers hung off the rungs of a stool. He lifted his eye brows a lot when he talked and fluctuated his tone, which made him feel very personable. Our mannerisms have a lot to say about our personalities, and we’ve learned to use that in writing descriptions.

Her assignments have forced her to ask a lot of great questions through some pretty neat assignments. What do the mannerisms our friends have, tell us about them? Are there any features on our own faces that illustrate aspects of our personality? What happens if you take a previously written description, and reword it so that the person or place you’ve described isn’t revealed until the very end? What if you take a ten-second description and write it as if the person you described were an animal that had human characteristics? How would your paper improve if you took out every single “it was”, “there is”?

We’ve learned to avoid stuffing an entire description about someone in the first sentence of their introduction. Instead, try using something that they do within the story as a way to give more detail about the style of their hair or the fabric on their clothing.

We’ve learned to drastically narrow down the moments we choose to describe. For one exercise she had to craft a cardboard frame and that week, only describe what she saw within the small opening, regardless of how dull, which helped her to practice pulling less obvious details from a scene. It reinforced a previous lesson on the way shorter sentences pack more of a punch. “Superverbs” which are a single, more capable word used to replace a boring verb next to an adverb, are continually put into practice, helping to keep our descriptions from being watered down with length. We’re always stretching our vocabulary, striving to use more effective verbs, poetic adjectives and concrete nouns. Variety in sentence structure is another place we’ve focused effort. At the end of last week, we learned that beginning sentences with a prepositional phrase can be a very effective way to write step-by-steps without getting caught up, having to repeat “then”, “next”, or “after that” more than once in any paragraph.

We’ve also begun to use a set of checklists for revising independently. Our checklists focus solely on content, ensuring that students are left with quality pieces at the end of each assignment. Editing is something she’s become a real pro at this year. Not only does she have an entire curriculum dedicated strictly to editing, with exercises to be completed once-a-week, she also has the most rigorous grammar course I, for one, have ever seen. (Luckily for her, I love grammar enough for the both of us, so we get through it just fine.) She also takes a spelling course whose benefit is twofold. Obviously, being a wicked speller has it’s advantages. But I never realized what an effective way it could be to bulk up vocabulary. She must learn ten new words a week, not to mention the tenses and other forms of base words she wouldn’t recognize without the daily training she gets, breaking unfamiliar words down to their root. (Wow, I hope that makes sense.) The best part is that she’s learning these new words by asking, herself. I’m not just giving her a list and making her regurgitate their definitions for a test. I ask her to spell words that she’s never seen before, and if it’s one she doesn’t know even after I use it in a sentence, she wants to ask. Then I’ll use it in a second sentence, and she usually follows it up by offering a sentence of her own and asking if that’s the way you’d use it. It’s brilliant. I love it.

Also, also, also! I’m excited because Mary gave me permission to share some of her writing examples on here. Yay! I plan to do it very soon. It’ll be fun for me!

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