Why Farts, Zits, and Slobber Are Good for Your Classroom

2 Apr
Acne vulgaris ill artlibre jn

Acne vulgaris ill artlibre jn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never understood why so many writing teachers tell their students they can only write “nice” things, like poems about sunsets or florid thank you notes. I don’t mind these assignments, exactly (and I certainly think there is value in thank you notes), but I can’t tell you how many times my students have almost ruined a truthful and hilarious essay by saying something like, “But I can’t write that! It isn’t nice.”

Well, news flash: life isn’t nice. In fact, life is kind of gross. Especially when you’re in middle school, and you haven’t yet figured out what to do with body hair or deodorant. As teachers, I think we have to embrace that grossness and give our students a safe place to talk about it.

My favorite lesson in the Cure for IDK repertoire is the love poems lesson–precisely because we encourage students to write about exactly the things that aren’t nice about their loved one. Encouraging students to look at the people they love from an unflattering angle consistently results in the most vibrant, truthful, specific, and detailed writing my students have ever done. In case you don’t believe me, here’s an example from 4th-grader Diamond Sledge about her older brother:

Crusty Love

Your pimples rub against my face so roughly,
It feels like they are going to pop on my face,
And your stubble chin hairs feel like little ants biting me.
When will it stop?
When we sit on the couch together,
You have toenails that are 10 feet long
with bunions on them,
And enough dirt to fertilize a garden.
They scratch me so deep, it makes me want to scream.
Your big fat head gets in the way at the movies,
When you are in front of me,
Your stinking feet are always in the way when I am sleeping,
Your garbage-smelling breath always in my face when you talk
to me,
Your big frog-like eyes always staring me down in the face,
Your big fat crusted lips trying to kiss me all the time,
All you do when you talk is spit a pool in my face,
Even though I know you love me,
You have got to stop not taking showers!

Try giving your students an equally gross writing assignment, and let me know how it goes!

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7 Responses to “Why Farts, Zits, and Slobber Are Good for Your Classroom”

  1. alundeberg April 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    I have had my students write “Not Love” poems. I tell them I am so tired of reading such tripe as “Hey, babe, it’s just you and me,
    together, forever, baby.”

    It is a challenge to get them to write the good stuff.

    • thatwritinglady April 2, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

      I know! I’d love to read what your students wrote for their “not love” poems.

  2. Jacqui Murray April 9, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    Oh this is brave. I’m not sure I have the courage–not to mention I’d have to get the Admin’s support first. I have ditched more than one good lesson because the parents might not get it (now that’s disgusting. I think I’ll write about that)

    • thatwritinglady April 10, 2012 at 9:49 am #

      I understand–I do have the liberty of being part of an independent nonprofit, and that gives me a little more leeway in matters like this. I’ve found, though, that parents usually have much more of a sense of humor than I would expect them too (after all, they’re the ones who have to buy their kids that first stick of deodorant–they appreciate the stinkiness of adolescence.) You can also pitch it to your administration in terms of the important writing skills that your students will develop; this is a great opportunity for them to practice descriptive language and specificity.

      Let me know if you ever decide to try it! I’d love to see what your students come up with.

  3. Jacquelyn Zipperer September 23, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    I have a friend who wanted to write a story last year in 7th grade. (We’re both in 8th grade now.) She wrote her story about a girl who was very depressed and wanted to commit suicide. The girl in the story did commit suicide, but she went to a different world. Her own world. I can’t remember if the girl dreamt it before she died or if that was where she went once she died. (Like an afterlife of some sort.) My friend turned in the story to our 7th grade ELA teacher but she rejected it. My friend couldn’t ever find her story again and although she’s tried to recreate the story, it will never be the same. It was a great story of hers but it’s gone now. She and I plan/hope to be in the Deep Writing Program this year and I’m glad that we’ll finally be able to write as we wish to write.

    • thatwritinglady September 23, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

      Jacquelyn,
      Thank you for writing to me! I am so sorry about what happened to your friend’s story; that’s sad. I promise that if you are in Deep this year, your Deep teachers are going to care a lot about what you have to say, and they will definitely help you write the things that you want to write. I can’t wait to read your work!

      Thanks again,
      Catherine

      PS–I think this is very important story–would you mind if I re-posted your note on Deep’s website?

      • Jacquelyn Zipperer September 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

        Yes, you may post it.

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