Where Can Ideas to Write About Come From?
At the beginning of the 2008-09 school year, a small group of dedicated writing teachers in my school district began to meet in a professional development class. Our focus was to improve the writing of our students, and the text that we chose to study and implement was Units of Study for Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins.
One of the lessons suggested having the students write about a memory that is jogged by an object. As it turned out, from the time that I read how to teach the lesson to the time that I actually taught it, I got it a little twisted in my brain. I ended up engaging the students in writing about an object in their lives that had special meaning for them, as opposed to Lucy’s lesson of an object jogging a specific memory. However, it all turned out in the end, and I received some very impressive writing from my students, even those whose writing skills were definitely below grade level.
To model for them what their writing might look like, I did some “out loud” writing for them. First, I removed my college class ring from my finger and told them why that meant so much to me. I told them how I had been a high school dropout and thought I’d never amount to anything much as far as a career goes. To become a teacher with a master’s degree was beyond my wildest imagination. I explained to them how that ring reminded me of all the hard work and sacrifices I had made to be able to stand in front of them and help them to become better writers.
Then I removed one of the shoes from my feet. I told them about my cousin who had lost her battle with cancer the year before and how I inherited all her clothes. I shared with them how much it meant to me to think that we were the same size, even in our shoes, and that every time I wore something of hers, like the shoes on my feet that day, it made me think of her and all the fun times we had together. As you can imagine, I received some very touching pieces from my students as a result of that lesson. Below, I share one of them with you:
The Necklace My Mother Gave to Me
by Marissa, fifth grade writer
Have you ever had something that was special to you? Well I have something special to me. A necklace, sometimes a necklace doesn’t sound like much but the person that gave it to me was my mom. The necklace is like no other. It has seventy-one blue crystals, six black beads, and three cream white beads. Whenever I look at it, it reminds me of my mom. When she gave it to me my eyes lit up. I never found out why she gave it to me. But I think she gave it to me so whenever she’s not there the necklace would remind me of her. That was probably the first time that my mom actually game me something as little as a necklace. When I grow up I will give it to my daughter to pass down to her daughter. I learned the smallest things in the world can mean the biggest thing to you.