Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reading as Writers

My sophomore English class is in the middle of a free-choice book project. The question for me is: what happens during class time? How is this project not simply an independent project? So, for the first week, we're reading as writers for universal elements (there's been a lot of build-up to this all quarter).

We stared with first sentences. In groups, students did what I call: sentence-level work. Basically, we ask: what can we learn from the first sentence? In what order are the ideas presented? What's the point of view? What do we learn about time? And what questions does the first sentence beg us to ask?

Every cycle, students submit a one-pager of their choice. In conference, I point out two things that they've done well, and give them one thing to work on for the next one-pager. This cycle, the twist was to start with the first sentence (as opposed to an idea or question). They had to write a first sentence based on the first sentence of their books. Then their group members did the same sentence-level work with each student's sentence. The writing task became figuring out how to write the rest of the one-pager with the awareness of audience, from which they already had comments and expectations, and questions.

The next move was to identify, in the same group, three passages that were especially interesting for some reason, in each book. Together, the group had to discuss what the author did to create the effect, then give the writerly move a creative name. Of course, they had to incorporate three of the moves into their own writing.

Here are some of my fav first sentences:

"I'd be lying if I said I knew what I was doing."
"Stars will explode."
"We see what we imagine."
"Back when hairdos were higher and clothes were brighter and dancing required skill, Scanty Sanctuary was where juveniles would be after the sun set."

Yes, the sentences are fun. But what I learned was that to scaffold some writerly risk-taking paid off with a lot of purposeful student writing.

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