Posted on November 21, 2016
Let your students have fun with descriptive writing through publishing their own scary stories!
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.
Posted on August 6, 2016
When I first started teaching I was overwhelmed by the expansive amount of content I needed to cover in a year’s time. I was responsible for guiding my students towards meeting all of the standards in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. On top of this, I needed to make sure that I was helping the students grow socially and emotionally. Oh and on top of that, I had to make it fun too so that they would actually enjoy school.
I quickly learned that this was no small task and became heavily focused on content. I made my lessons challenging and engaging at the same time. I pushed my students to get through the material, but still kept running out of time. Fearing I would not be able to accomplish all of the required skills, I began to look for areas of downtime where I could discreetly sneak in more content. One of the areas I
looked to was snack time. Did my fourth graders really need fifteen minutes to eat? Could I incorporate an educational activity into that time while they enjoyed their snacks?
One of the activities I incorporated into my daily ELA lesson was a read-aloud to the students from one of my favorite chapter books. This activity was beneficial because it allowed me to model fluency and expression as well as important comprehension skills. I made the decision to move the read-aloud to snack time so that I could free up valuable time in ELA class but still include reading to the students in our day.
After a few months, I wondered if this was the right decision. I had found a way to manage time more efficiently, but my students seemed less engaged in the read-aloud activity. One day, I decided to go back to the old format of letting students have a break while they ate their snack. I walked around the room getting things ready for the next lesson and overheard two of the students having a heated discussion.
As I listened in, I realized that they were discussing the book they had read earlier in ELA class. They both had different predictions for what was going to happen next and to my surprise, they were backing their predictions with evidence from the text!
For a minute, I thought I was hallucinating. Could it be that my students were engaged in a text based argument during their free time? Yes, they were! I was so happy I almost broke into tears. Instead I went back to my desk and let them finish the conversation on their own.
This will always be one of my happiest moments in my teaching career, but also one of the most enlightening. I had been under the impression that free time in the classroom was wasted time. Many teachers feel this way because there is so much content to get through each year. On this day, during snack time, my students taught me something. Students deserve breaks in their day. My students were clearly listening to the things I was teaching them and were able to apply those skills indepen
dently during their conversations with peers during those short breaks.
Now, I’m not saying that every time students have a break they will engage in intense literary discussions. Most of the breaks in my classroom are filled with video game discussions, bathroom humor, and sports talk. However, even in these conversations they are using creativity, analysis, and other important critical thinking skills. Not every moment needs to be a well planned teaching moment, but every moment has the potential to be an impromptu learning moment. In this moment, I surprisingly learned more than my students.
This entry was posted in Instruction.