Take Writing to the Dark Side
Fall is my favorite season. I love fall fashion, the crisp chilly mornings, bonfires with friends, football, the changing landscape with beautiful autumn colors and,of course, Halloween! It’s also a great time for teaching writing. There are so many ways you can incorporate the season into your writing lessons. Students can write descriptive paragraphs and poetry about the fall landscapes. Another favorite is to encourage students to develop their own scary stories.
My students glow with excitement as soon as I introduce our scary story unit. They brainstorm characters and settings that they can include in their story. They physically can’t wait to get started. It isn’t long before one of them raises their hand and asks, “Ms. Poinsett, are we allowed to kill characters in our story? Can we have weapons and blood?” I teach at an all boys school, so these questions never surprise me.
Many teachers shy away from this type of writing for this very reason. They don’t want their students writing about people getting hacked apart by a chainsaw. My response to that… Why not? In the book Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, Ralph Fletcher discusses reaching writers by allowing them to incorporate violence in their stories. “If we truly want to get boys writing, we must give them a wider engagement zone in the workshop.” This can include giving them the option to include blood, guts, and gore.
The secret is to set reasonable limitations, so the stories don’t become too offensive. Every year I give my students two rules for this type of writing. Rule 1: All characters must be completely fictional. This allows the students to use their creativity to develop their own characters and prevents students from killing off their “enemies” and other people who exist in their real lives. Rule 2: If you include gore in your writing, it better be descriptive! That’s right, I want to know what it sounded like as the zombies were ripping your character a part. I want to picture in my mind every detail of these gruesome tales!
The second rule always fuels their excitement towards the assignment. The focus in the classroom as they craft their stories is a thing of beauty. In the end, I am presented with some of the best descriptive writing of the year. We turn off the lights and read by flashlight during our author share. The students love every stage of the process.
If you are uncomfortable about allowing this kind of writing in your classroom, you are not alone. However, I’m hoping that this post will motivate you to be brave. Give it a try and see how it goes. It doesn’t even have to be during the fall season. Why not break up the winter boredom with ghoulish tales? Find a few mentor texts of scary stories to analyze together, set your limitations for writing, and allow your students to produce some descriptive narratives. You might just be surprised by the effects of letting their creativity wonder to the dark side.