Thursday, October 25, 2012

Writing Club

{Reading the last pages of Harry Potter IV; up the stairs in the sunshine; jazz hands at a Saturday concert - pictures only vaguely related to post ;-}

"She’s a ballet dancer, twirling around?"
   "Wait, she looks guilty about something, see her smile?"
"I know, she’s about to grab those Oreos. She’s pretending to sneak a cookie!"
"You’ve guessed right, Caroline’s a cookie thief!"

This week in writing club, we’re working on expository paragraphs - the hard working support staff behind so many essays. I love digging into words and making them recognizable for kids, so we start by chopping "expository" up to find "expose" and "pose." Then I promise the class that if they can play charades (and expose a pose) they can also write an expository paragraph without even knowing it.

Prepped ahead of time, Caroline poses as a cookie thief while everyone else yells out their guesses. Afterwards, I write up the class’s first thoughts, the cues that clued them in, and finally, their winning guess. Once done, I introduce the girls to the first draft of their paragraph, complete with thesis, supporting sentences, and conclusion.


We’re not home schooling Caroline, and I haven’t decided to switch from the IT world to education. We are sending the children to Czech schools that teach ESL English though, so we supplement. Caroline goes to class with grammar and spelling workbooks from the States. She writes book reports in both English and Czech, and does assignments for her writing club, a mother-run after school class that meets twice a month.

Six weeks into the semester, C’s worked on poetry and creative writing, written a news story, and expanded her vocabulary of expressive adverbs, verbs and adjectives. Today, we’re talking about expository paragraphs and linking words. It’s the first time I’ve taught in front of Caroline’s friends, so she’s asked me to make it "fun and teachy too."

I try. The time disappears in a flash, but each girl gets to pose and have her charades skit turned into a paragraph that the class writes together. By the end of our hour, the paragraphs evolve from bullet lists into well linked sentences full of transition words and active verbs. I consider writing blog posts using a committee of fourth graders. (I’d at least write more!)

The only cloud descends when Caroline gets her feelings hurt; I haven’t called on her as much as I do at home. On our walk back to the house, she’s still upset. Looking into her ear I diagnose a case of "mami-ucitelkitis" or "mother/teacher syndrome" and explain that the only cure is repeat application. In the meantime though, we might bandage it up and do a little window shopping as we walk. We do. But that’s a story for another day.


Roderick Robinson said...

Do you do what were previously called correspondence courses? I'd pay for a series of lessons on expository paragraphs. I am at least aware of the final instruction. Having spent half an hour honing, revising, polishing, and rewriting the para (We used to call it the "intro" on the Telegraph and Argus), seeing it take on a marvellously sculpted shape and then a gemlike glow, the author recognises that perfection has been achieved and deletes the whole thing. And lo, the second para becomes the expository and the article's all the better for it.

And how about another correspondence course on how you fit all this lot in.

I note that Caroline is "expanding her vocabulary of expressive adverbs, verbs and adjectives". (No nouns?) As well she might. Equipped with this handy list she'll be able to cut them all out of her prose when she moves on from Full Baroque to Minimalism.

O lor. I thought I'd learned all the hard stuff but no one taught me "transition words". Are they conjunctions masquerading in drag? Never mind. I only asked to fill up the space in this little box.

Julia said...

Robbie, I'm just about capable of entertaining 9 year olds as they learn about writing. You don't need any help writing lead paragraphs!

I have wondered when she'll be old enough to head back towards minimalism. She's barely into Gothic though, so I'm giving it a few years.

Conjunctions in drag made me laugh out loud. Here's a handy note on transition words. I do think that most transition words are conjunctions, but only if you expand conjunctions to include adverbial phrases and transitional phrases such as "on the other hand". Hm...what do you think?

Roderick Robinson said...

Up at 6.25 am, have reached crucial stage in BR (141,000 words written), this is when my mind is sharpest, should be grinding away, and yet your comment to my comment contains a final question and I can't resist... the perfect diversion. I think "on the other hand" is only half of, let's call it, a transition. Somewhere up the pike is the first half: "On the one hand" or something similar.

I worry about these in-between things. Once upon a time I'd have taken a horribly rigorous view: see if you can cut'em out, I'd have said. That was fine when Quark told me I had a blank space equivalent to 127 words but was still lumbered with inserting 254 words. But not necessarily the best instruction for C.

At the moment I suspect what you're doing is encouraging C to love words and love expressing herself, with a dash of syntactical discipline thrown in. Too much discipline and you risk dulling her enthusiasm. So take no notice of my ridiculously specialised DTP struggles.

In any case (Hey, isn't that a transition?) writing BR in particular has taught me there are other ways to skin a cat. Faced with a totally intractable para which I've written and re-written and which is still isn't right I discover (often after a break for lunch) that the option I'm ignoring is expansion. Thus a para I've condensed until its bones are showing takes on its true meaning when words - often quite a lot - are added. And what I've been fighting against is a lifetime's tendency to cut and cut again without regard to the sensuousness of the prose.

C shouldn't be made a slave to this and should be allowed to bathe in words, to use new big ones with a sort of glee. She should only be discouraged from being dull which, from what I know of her, is probably a rare occurrence. So let the adverbial phrases roll.

There may just be some percentage in asking her for fifty or a hundred words without any other restrictions. An awareness of length is a useful asset (most amateurs have no idea) and needn't crimp her style.

Lucy said...

Lovely stuff. You're amazing the things you do, what rich childhoods your two are having.

Rouchswalwe said...

It's grand being able to grow up in two languages!