It’s that time of year where the kids are restless, teachers are exhausted, and gift-giving season looms. What if I told you we could use our writer’s workshop time to help us in all three areas?
Whether you have some days this upcoming week with students where you’re still not sure what you’re doing, or if you’re looking for ways to ease back into the routine once we get back from winter break, today I want to invite you to think about ways we can encourage students to use their writing as gifts for the people in their life.
I love Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book and how versatile it is as a mentor text. From the imitable structure to the crisp imagery to the simple illustrations, this book consistently inspires some of the best writing all year.
A few years ago we used this book as a thank you for my son’s first grade teacher. Each child wrote a “Important” poem about her, which a parent compiled into a keepsake book. I’ve written Important poems about my children at different ages, including this one about my daughter Emma. A colleague writes Important poems about each of her students at the end of the year, giving it to them as a farewell gift.
How might students craft their own Important poems?
I was first introduced to Charles Harper Webb’s poem a dozen years ago in a class taught by Tom Romano (note: that’s where about 90% of any good ideas I ever have originated — in a class with Tom Romano).
I think students have so much advice for the people in their life, and they are so often not asked for advice. How great it is to invite them into the conversation about how they think we can live our best lives? And how else might we complete the rest of “How to…”? Imagine the possibilities as students practice procedural writing in a non-traditional way.
Did you see this tweet from @jessica_salfia last week? It instantly instigated so much thinking and I have been itching to try it with students.
I love the idea of writing odes about unconventional items. After seeing this tweet, I was getting ready to work with a group of elementary teachers. As I was trying to think of how to adapt the content of this tweet for younger students, I remembered my most favorite book of last year, Crown: Ode to a Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James. This book is such a beautiful way to take an ordinary moment in life and to expand on what these small moments mean to our lives.
What would happen if we invited our students to write unconventional odes? I might write an ode to a tradition in my family, or to a special memory. What would you write about?
When I first taught honors 10th graders 13 years ago, I borrowed an idea from my colleague Leah Naumann and asked students to create a poetry anthology for a person in their life. Students were required to find a variety of poems and in a letter to the recipient, they wrote about the ways that each poem reminded them of their intended audience.
It was some of the best writing and most thoughtful analysis I read all year. Students read dozens of poems, thinking critically about how these poems might fit a person. They naturally thought about themes and symbolism. They read poems for deeper meaning in ways I had never managed to teach. It was inspiring. Then they compiled the poems and letters into a book form, gifting it to their person.
I knew this was a gift of writing in so many ways when a few years later a former student reached out to me. His mom had recently passed away after a long battle with cancer that had begun the year he was in my class. He told me that through creating that anthology, he found a way to express things to his mother that he hadn’t been able to articulate in words. He found peace in that after she was gone. What more could we ever ask for our writing but to help us to all find peace in this world.
How will you find ways to encourage your students to see the their writing as the gift it is?
Angela Faulhaber lives in Cincinnati, OH. When she’s not freaking out over Christmas lists and to-do checklists, she’s trying to focus on enjoying the small moments with her family. And to avoid all the germs that are floating around. She first heard about the idea of Gifts of Writing from Nancie Atwell and has loved the idea of creating space for students to envision a life for their writing beyond the classroom.