Slice of Life Tuesday: Silent Conversations, Redux

There I was, waiting for my students. We had thirty minutes for our Friday lesson, down to twenty-five after a long-running assembly. Down to twenty so kids could prepare for a half-day early dismissal.

Not much time.

Still, I wanted the lesson to be a reflection on their allegorical picture book reading. I thought through ways we might review the work different groups had done: class discussion? Rotate around with conversation at each poster? With fifteen kids already hyped up from an assembly and antsy for an early bell, I wasn’t so sure those talks would go smoothly. (Why hello, Understatement. How have you been?)

Cue the silent conversation. It’s one of my very, very favorite strategies. Basically, there are posters / prompts all around the room. Kids each get a pen and they circulate, writing responses, questions and comments. We visit and revisit posters, creating and responding to others’ thoughts as we see fit. Only rule? No talking at all. Every shared word comes out through our writing utensils. (Psst…got some quieter kids? This one is GREAT for folks who have a tough time getting words in edgewise. It also forces more verbal kiddos to consider and reflect before responding…)

I hadn’t done silent conversations, really, since before COVID. And boy oh boy did I miss them! These kids had never done them with me, and their energy and enthusiasm was through the roof! By the end of our time together, they were disappointed they couldn’t spend longer, and eager for the next time we could engage together.

But don’t take my word for it. I’ll let their thoughtful, insightful work speak for themselves:

Kids adding their two cents

From The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Allsburg. Is *any* amount of tech ok? Some differing views…

From Mem Fox’s Feathers and Fools. Reflecting on the connection between fear of differences and hatred.

From Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax*. How perceptive to see things from the Onceler’s perspective. That seed…that last little vestige of hope…

Sometimes, you have kids who are aware of history and how it plays into so very much. Just like these kiddos who read Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle.

A kid and I got into a back-and-forth conversation as we “talked” about Seuss’s The Sneetches. What a cool opportunity!

*Yes, I know that Dr. Seuss can be…somewhat problematic. Don’t worry. We’ll be having a conversation about what we do when an author or artist we love comes with…a little extra to think about…

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers, for sponsoring the weekly Slice of Life Challenge!

Slice of Life: One BIG Little Word

Each new year, members of the Slice of Life teaching and writing community traditionally write a post focusing on “One Little Word.” I enjoy the process of sifting through, taking stock, and figuring out where I might land. I enjoy it almost as much as I like to read other folks’ OLW posts. It’s fascinating to get a front-row seat to another writer’s thought process.

Sometimes, my One Little Word is powerful and resonant enough to last me the whole year. More often than not, it changes as life shifts around and through me. This, I think, will be one of those years.

First of all, let me just say how grateful I am to have friends who will ask me how I’m doing, and who know when I’m giving a pat answer or blowing smoke. For the love of all that’s right and good, if you have a person in your life who sees past your fluff, KEEP THEM.

I had three such interactions in the last week or so, and each time, I was asked, “How are you?” Meaning: “How are you…for REAL?”

Hmm.

Honestly, friends, I wasn’t sure how to answer. I’m still not.

That says something.

Right now, there’s a lot of noise, both in my personal life and in my professional life. There’s always something to do, something to worry about, something to take care of. And that’s not new to me. I’m used to it, quite frankly. It’s become my standard operating mode. So what’s the difference right now?

Thing is, my brain and I haven’t spent much quiet time together lately, and I’m feeling those ripples. Perhaps what I need, right now, is the time and the opportunity for focus. That’s completely separate from the time I need to set aside to just get. stuff. DONE. I’m talking about taking moments for introspection, time to just…THINK.

So my One Little Word for now, for however long I might need it?

Quiet.

One of the best gifts I can give myself right now is time to listen to that busy brain of mine. Let it tell me what it needs to say. Let it run through the litany of stuff it’s cycling through. Let it wear itself out a little bit. That way, when it’s time to respond with a little self-talk, it has the space to feel more at ease, to quiet itself down, just a touch.

Life itself might not be quieting down. At least, I don’t expect it to. But I can claim moments of peace and reflection for myself. And when I do, another One Little Word will be waiting in the wings and ready to take its turn.

Slice of Life Tuesday: A Little of This…

You know that show, “Chopped?” It’s the one where four professional chefs compete against each other using mystery ingredients from a basket. It’s a test of skill and creativity.

It ALSO happened to be the source of one of my most genius moments in parenting. You see, my boys watched that show and loved it as much as I did.

Lo and behold, our family “Chopped” was born. Just like the game show, we would host a three-round competition spanning appetizers, main courses and desserts. Each course involved a “mystery basket” of 3-4 ingredients that everyone would have to synthesize into their own dish. My sons and I would take turns pulling mystery ingredients out of the fridge and pantry.* We’d give ourselves 20 minutes to prepare our dish, and we’d taste and judge our handiwork after each course. Each round would have its own winner, and we’d crown a champion of the day. It was, in my own humble estimation, a pretty crafty way to get rid of a bunch of leftovers from the fridge.

It’s also a pretty crafty metaphor for writing:
1. You’ve got to work with what you have.
2. People can work with the same prompt and be wildly different.
3. Sometimes you have a bunch of fun.
4. Sometimes it’s a flaming mess.
5. It’s a LOT of pressure.
6. But pretty satisfying nonetheless.

*My husband wisely recused himself from the game, most likely because he would have beaten the pants off us every time. That, and the fact that he has standards for what he will put into his mouth-hole.


One of the more successful desserts we’ve had. I believe we were working with graham crackers, almonds and jam.

Some kind of cherry-chocolate thing that was so sweet it nearly melted my teeth off.

This tasted…pretty much how it looked. But behold! Someone broke out the fancy china!
(The judges were unmoved.)

Just like in writing, you can TRY to be all super-fancy, but remember it can backfire on ya.

I once had a coach who said, “In order to have GOOD ideas, you have to have a LOT of ideas.” This…was an idea. I’ll just leave that there.

Thanks, as always, to the folks at Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life.
Give ’em a peek!

Prompt and Reliable

Oh, WordPress. There you are again, with a prompt for the day. This time, it’s “Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited? Where is it?”

So let’s get real. As a teacher of writing, I find it very clear that WordPress’s prompt people know that adults are the ones pondering this theme. Were I a third grader with this question, this blog post would read:

Yes. The Beach.

But since I’m a grown human who very well knows that the subtext of the prompt is, “and please do tell the world about it,” I suppose I’ll add a touch of elaboration.

But just a touch.

Picking a favorite place to be is like picking a favorite book. Or a favorite song. Or a favorite student. There are too many to name, and giving voice to a single one isn’t fair to the rest of them.

Still, there’s probably a theme to the places I feel happiest. There’s sun, and sand, and air, and water, and a feeling that the heaviness of life is buoyed somewhat. It’s the sand between my toes, the breath-stealing shock of a cold wave that takes me by surprise, the feeling of the sun’s warmth and the ambient noise soaking in as I lie facedown on a towel, and the recognition that I’m in this particular space because I was able to achieve some degree of separation between Life and Moments to Breathe.

There are worse things.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Hidden Inspiration

Did you know that WordPress gives you a prompt when you start a new post? I certainly didn’t. I just kind of glossed over whatever print was under “add title” and took it from there without ever actually reading the text. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’ll leave that up to you and your ever-so-active imagination.

So…does that prompt change every day? Every week? Is it a set of prompts that rotates every so often? Will AI recognize if I actually post on that subject and try to get me to write on other stuff? If I drafted another post today, would it give me the same prompt or a different one? Do other people get the same prompts I do?

Well, friends, there’s only one reason why I noticed and read the prompt today. It’s because between all of the avenues and corners of my life, I have been swimming in words, in wordcraft, in wordsmithing, in articulation of all manners of things. Some of you followers may have noticed that I’ve been a little…spotty in my posting. Yeah. Don’t think I haven’t noticed, either.

Anyway, the reason I noticed and read the prompt today was because I had spent a solid two minutes staring at a blank screen, wondering what on earth I was going to post about today. Nothing seemed…worthy. Or, at least, nothing seemed like it was worth going INTO for just one post. I’ve got everything I can write about, but I’ve digested none of it so far. Who knows? Maybe that’s the purpose of writing more often…so that I CAN articulate it more.

But the prompt (and yes, I’ll have to check on it tomorrow) from today is…”Give five things you are good at.”

Only five? I could have more fun with this than FIVE. So here goes. I’m good at:

Making granola.
Leaving cabinet doors open in the kitchen.
Scratching my dogs where they like it best.
Achieving a perfectly-sharp pencil.
Quoting from my favorite movie.
Doing handstands.
Making my students stand on their own two feet.
Removing shoes without untying them.
Falling asleep.
Getting my husband to pick the restaurant we go to.
Telling people why I’m a member of their fan club.
Punning around.
Hugs.
Messing around with numbers in my head.
Getting to the heart of things.
Picking the right Flair pen for the job.
Making lists.





Gratuitous pic of this week’s birthday girl

Slice of Life Tuesday: Priorities

Today’s post comes as part of Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Tuesday. Give them a peek!


I can’t lie. I’m…a little under water right now. There are lots of moles to whack in my personal and professional life and don’t get me wrong. I’m doing it. I’m doing the thing! Still, I couldn’t help but think of this poem I wrote a while back. I think it holds true in its insistence on grace and self-forgiveness. Enjoy.


Priorities

Sometimes when I shower, I
(full of distractions) grip the soap
Too tightly, and
It pops right out of my hand.

I used to
Reach for it blindly,
Block it with my elbow,
Slow it down with my knee,
All to keep it from
Hitting the shower floor;
A valiant effort
That many times worked. Until
One morning, my distracted self once again
Grabbed the soap.
As it slipped through my hands,
Time
Slowed
Down
And I thought
Well, maybe.
Maybe it would be okay this time
And no one would be hurt
And no one would get angry
And heroics look silly anyway
And I maybe could just

Let
It
Fall.

Slice of Life: Toying Around

Today’s post comes as part of Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Tuesday. Give them a peek!


As a teacher of gifted children, I’ve long used Frayer Models as a way of helping kids organize their thinking about topics. I’m all for ways to help kids visualize their thinking, develop generalizations, and synthesize their knowledge.

Image of the standard Frayer Model from the technotes blog

To be honest, though, I’ve never felt like they’ve gone…RIGHT. As in, my kids have struggled with them. Especially with the definition part. It’s like they’re starting right off the bat without much understanding or context. The definition quadrant is always a toughie, and their work has always fallen short.

This year, I decided to shake things up. My fifth graders are studying the development of human language over time (yes, it’s as cool as it sounds), and we’ve begun with the question of: What even IS language anyway? What counts?

I wanted to use a Frayer Model to have kids naturally explore the concept of language. This time, though, I decided to have us go from the concrete to the abstract. I completely left the “definition” quadrant unlabeled, and did a little re-arranging.

I started the lesson by modeling for the concept of “Recess.” I thought that starting with examples and non-examples would give them a smooth start and room to build.

After showing the first three quadrants, I divided the kids up and let them start their thinking about language.

Several minutes in, it was time to drop the markers and go “idea shopping.” It’s one of my favorite strategies. Kids walk around the room reading others’ work, gathering ideas they wish they thought of, and considering new thinking that gets sparked in the sharing.

After their “shopping trip,” kids added more to their three quadrants, and then it was time for me to model quadrant four: the DEFINITION. I really wanted this quadrant to be a synthesis of the other three. Here was my example:

Once I finished, I let the students have at it* with their own definitions of language. They did NOT disappoint.

One of the best parts of this lesson? Acknowledging how hard it was for the kids to put together this definition, and then telling them how very difficult and messy it was for even linguists to nail down. They felt validated in the struggle, and pleased to know they had done some solid academic work.

It was…a GOOD DAY.

*as I was walking around observing, I heard one of my students use the phrase “have at it” when talking about attempting the next quadrant. My teacher heart swelled, just a little.

Slice of Life: So How Are You?

Today’s post comes as part of Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Tuesday. Give them a peek!


How are you doing,
I asked my writers to say
(Only in haiku)

So of course you know
The questions rolled right on in
How much, and can I,

Is it okay if,
Am I maybe allowed to,
Do you think it’s right?

And what is so great
About taking these loveys
Under teacher-wing

Is the chance to say,
Eye to eye and heart to heart:
I trust your judgement.

Just write the stanzas
The paper’s asking of you
Just let the ink flow.

Satisfy yourself
And write something you just love
Or not. It’s all fine.

And sure enough, the
Magic began to happen
Once they discovered

How five-seven-five
Is really just our thinking,
However it comes

And five-seven-five
Is not a stumbling-block
But a stepping-stool

For thoughts, ideas. For
Frustrations, excitements. For
Silly strains of words.

All of it gathered,
Displayed for each other to
Read and just enjoy –

And enjoy we did,
Connecting our lives and our
Feelings, poem to poem

And leaving, I hope,
With a better sense of how
It feels to be seen.

Slice of Life: What If?

Today’s post comes as part of the Two Writing Teacher’s Slice of Life Tuesday. Check ’em out!


Today is a confluence of remarkable things.

First, I should tell you that I’ve started a writing club at both of my schools. For eight weeks, I run a weekly group for 4th and 5th graders after school. I get the 2nd and 3rd graders this winter. Let it be known that we are having a BLAST! I’m not quite sure what (or if!) any final product will be, but boy oh boy are we having fun expanding our practice.

Next, I should make you aware that Katherine Applegate – yes, THE Katherine Applegate, of The One and Only Ivan / Bob / Ruby and Wishtree and Crenshaw and Home of the Brave a bunch of Animorphs books and the soon to be released Odder – yes, THE Katherine Applegate who has won a Golden Kite Award and a Newbery Medal – Katherine Applegate CAME TO OUR SCHOOLS and YES I AM SHOUTING because it was a truly amazing experience.

And what was so amazing for me? All of what she said to the students. It’s what I’ve been shouting from the rooftops for any kid, teacher or parent who will listen. Write! Write a bunch! Write what moves you! Write for yourself! Write stuff you love! Write stuff you’re not a fan of! Write! Write! Write!

She spoke. I beamed. I felt validated, seen, energized.

My writing club kids talked about what resonated with them: the need to write, the importance of doing research, and how critical it was to put our passion into a form of self-expression.

And there was one more thing. Katherine Applegate challenged the students to consider, any time they were stuck, the question: “What if?” and let their imagination run from there.

Of COURSE. What if?

So this week, our writing club played with the idea. What if? What if? What if? The kids came up with fantastic, insightful ideas. And throughout the next week, we’ll be posting them all around our schools for other kids to ponder about, to roll with, and – who knows? – maybe to write about.

Enjoy a sampling of sheer brilliance.

That’s a metaphor for untapped talent, if I’VE ever seen one!

Just wait until this writer starts in on composing allegory. Stand back, friends!

This could be QUITE the exploration.

It’s a veritable FEAST of thought…

Slice of Life: Ridiculousness

I’m running a couple of writing clubs right now, one for each of the schools that I teach at. This go-around, I’m working with 4th and 5th graders. This coming winter, I’ll work with 2nd and 3rd graders.

In my description of the class, I mentioned that we would have a mix of writing, creative games, and oral work on stories. And yes, there would be fun. Because otherwise, what’s even the point?

I’ve now met once with each group, and it was a blast! We started with a game of story ball, tossing the ball to learn one another’s names as we also worked to create a story. There I was, thinking that our activity would be just a mixer, a fun little thing that paved the way for what was to come next.

Lo and behold, it was a learning experience for me. At both schools, here’s what I noticed:
1. When kids are called on (by me or a classmate), they have a habit of addressing only me, looking at only me as they give an answer. We’re going to chip away at that one.
2. Some kids have stuff they like to put in every story they tell, whether or not it might make sense in the one that’s going on in front of them.
3. We have a lot to learn when it comes to expanding possibilities, and moving stories past disconnected events. Oh…so the duck dad and son were playing basketball? Let’s dig into what that game looks like. Hey…they were on a road trip to Dubai? That might go in a few directions.

Speaking of expanding possibilities, that was the focus for our first session. Many of them mentioned that they loved writing because it let them be creative in whatever direction they chose. I wanted my students to take that creativity and run with it. I wanted them to experiment with a story completely unbound from the constraints of reality.

So each class had an assignment: work together in partners or groups to develop the MOST ridiculous story possible. One class worked on why they didn’t eat breakfast, the other developed excuses for missing homework. After having time to work on stories orally together, groups told their stories to the whole class and voted on the one that was the most entertaining and utterly ridiculous.

What good came out of our first session? Well, the kids were able to see that we as creators can put together any set of circumstances and let it fly. I wanted students to realize that no matter HOW ridiculous and far-fetched their stories might be, a reader or listener will be right with them, as long as the events make sense together and the story is well-told.

And even more importantly? Judging by the smiles and giggles, they had FUN. I can’t wait to see where we go next!

As for who won each of the contests and will receive the much-anticipated dollar store prizes, well…I’m keeping my lips sealed til the group meets next time!