Mary Asgill, District Writing Coach

  • The teacher writes . . . On Walking 
    As I made my way onto the gravel trail, the sound of my sneakers crunching the tiny rocks broke the silence. Except for the crunching, the early morning was still and peaceful, the sun having only been awake for an hour. On the way home, only solace and solitude and cows aligned the UC Merced horizon - the quiet, staring cows - the beautiful, peaceful cows.
    The 6th grader writes . . . On Eavesdropping
    Aunt Maggie calls mom almost every day. Mom closes her bedroom door when they talk. Through the door, I hear giggles and sniffles.
    The 3rd grader writes . . . On Watching Bees
    The roses in the backyard are yellow. Bees are in them. I never got this close before.
    How are we teaching students to chronicle and capture the small day-to-day moments of this unpresented and horribly extraordinary experience? Are they journaling? Are we? How will this experience be cemented in their memories, in ours? Will our memories be captured only by the words of others: updates from the president, the governor, the media? Or will we write our own lines in this latest edition of life’s screenplay? We’ve not seen these times in the world and simultaneously in our own backyards before, this much uncertainty, this much trepidation. 
    We can look the reality squarely in the face and see only the horror, or we can see the same reality and capture the tiny moments of ordinary joy, being grateful for the comfort within the mundane. Writing three-sentence narratives during these times will help students (and us) find and remember the tiny joys. 
    As a reminder from last week’s article, narrative sentences have tiny scenes living inside them. As long as there is a character/concept/idea , or a situation/event/occurrence , or a conflict/problem/issue - especially in nonfiction - we have all that we need to teach students to capture the pedestrian moments that occur during this time of social distancing. The only caveats for these narratives --- and they’re HUGE --- are these: 
    • Keep them positive. See the good in the situation. See the beauty in the moment.
    • Keep them short. Three sentences will adequately capture the meaning.
    • Keep them real. Make close observations of what actually happened.
    • Help students capture their own memories - ordinary ones in these extraordinary times. To ignite their thinking, you might need to give them titles to consider:
    • Mom on the phone with Aunt Maggie
    • Little sister running down the hall with one sock on and one sock off
    • Fortnite battles with dad
    • Talking with my teacher on Zoom
    • Bees in the backyard rosebush
    • Watching the dog watch a dog on TV
    And if you decide to make the three sentences more academic, ask students to format the sentences to practice the structure, spelling, grammar, or figurative language that you assign: 
    • Use one vocabulary word
    • Start all sentences with subordinate clauses
    • Limit words in each sentence to eight words
    • Include at least one of the five senses in each sentence
    • Use one metaphor or simile
    • Use a colon
    Write your own three-sentence narratives. Share them with your students. Show them the importance of chronicling this social distancing experience in positive ways so that they have a say in how their memories of this event are shaped - but more important - so that they begin to observe and recognize the moves writers make when constructing sentences. More on that in a later post.
    Teach students to write sentences that focus on small observations – a way to capture imagery (the 5 senses) the way writers capture it. Teach them to consider gratitude – a way to minimize stress and support brain development. Teach them to write a little every day – a way to chronicle the ordinary in these extraordinary times. 

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