| Jun 20, 2012
BEYOND THE NOTEBOOK
BY TONY VARRATO
Jun 20, 2012
Creative writing isn’t always about writing a story. When I’m wearing my teacher hat, I try to get my students to show creativity in their essays and make their voice really shine. A dry essay topic with a creative twist makes the reader take notice and shows the writer has internalized the subject.
Think of your favorite book. Chances are that it had a good story, but the thing that knocked your socks off is the way
that it was told. That’s why character-driven novels get all the attention they do. The audience latches onto an interesting character and experiences the events with
that person, instead of detachedly watching the events unfold. Likewise, the writer of that interesting character must get closer to the subject in order to relay the information as only that character could.
Therefore, in order to get those creative vibes going, shake up the point of view in your writing assignment. Get your students to change roles and explain the topic the way another person would. This way the student has to show that she not only understands the material but can see it from another person’s vantage point. The explanations will necessarily be more detailed because there is more to explain.
Let’s take the driest of dry assignments: the process paper.
Whether you are a science teacher, automotive technology teacher, or an ELA teacher like me, you’ve likely had a reason to assign a how-to paper, but you probably didn’t want to because they can be tedious. However, since you read educational blog posts on sites like Engage
, you know that higher order thinking skills like summarization elevate students’ understanding when they have to explain a process.
So I propose this: give the essay assignment, but give the kids a choice of characters to narrate the essay. Sort of a “How to ________ like a _________” format.
As a ninth-grade literature teacher, I would maybe assign “How to Make New Friends like Tybalt or Mercutio.” Friendship is an issue in ROMEO AND JULIET, and since Tybalt is angry and Mercutio is borderline bipolar, the students would be forced to understand the character in order to do the assignment.
Or if I were a history teacher, I would assign “How to Change the World like Alexander Flemming or Copernicus.” That would probably take some research, but research isn’t a bad thing.
And if I were a geography teacher, I might go with “How to Survive in the Gobi Desert like Bear Grylls or Aaron Ralston.” Et cetera. Click here to see a model of what I would like to see from my students in response to a creative process paper assignment.
I would use this as a model in my instruction, to explain the expected level of detail and other requirements. (Please note that the model, “How to Clean a Bathroom like a Manly Man,” stars neither Tybalt nor Mercutio. I wrote as a persona instead of a person for yet another example of what you can do.)
Whatever your subject, you can adapt this idea to fit your needs. The idea is to increase creativity which will increase interest which will increase learning. And reading the essays will be a lot more fun for you also. Tony Varrato teaches English at Sussex Technical High School, in Georgetown, Delaware. He serves as Membership Chair on the Sussex Council Board for the Diamond State Reading Association and helps plan local literacy events. In addition, Tony is the author of several novels for teens, including FAKIE and OUTRAGE, both of which were selected for YALSA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers lists. ONE LAST SCAR has been nominated for the 2011 Quick Picks list as well.
© 2012 Tony Varrato. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. Sorting out the Details