Archive | October, 2012

How a 30-second exercise can save you 15 minutes or more

31 Oct

English: I am the author and the source of the...


Imagine that you have a choice of running in one of two races. In one race, the ref tells you, “It’s a 100-yard dash. See that finish line down there? Run until you pass it.”


In the other race, the ref says, “Run until I tell you to stop.”


Which race would you rather run in?


If you’re like most people, you’d prefer the first race because having a clear finish line makes the race seem exciting and achievable. Having no finish line makes the race seem daunting and annoying. It also makes you hate the referee.


Likewise, your students will be excited to work if they see the finish line clearly. If they know exactly what the class is about and precisely what they will learn by the end of the day, then they will be chomping at the bit to get started. If they don’t know what they are going to learn or how they are going to demonstrate that learning, then they are going to feel confused, aimless, and annoyed.


Try this 30-second exercise at the beginning of class each day, and I can guarantee you that it will save you up to 15 minutes of lost time in questions, foot-dragging, and misbehavior:


Write the day’s “finish line” up on the board before the students enter the room. (Make sure it’s a clear action that you expect the students to complete–“We will define topic sentence and write at least four topic sentences” is much better than “We will learn about topic sentences.”) Have a kid read the goal aloud and run a 30-second discussion on what the goal means.


It’s that simple. I guarantee that if you do it every day, kids will start coming into your class automatically excited, purposeful, and curious. And if you ever forget to write the finish line up on the board, your kids will definitely remind you.


After all, we all love the rush of crossing a finish line.





The Biggest Mistake New Writing Teachers Make

10 Oct


When someone is new to teaching creative writing, you’ll often hear them say things like this:

“I want my students to be free in their writing.”

“I don’t want to limit them.”

“I want them to express themselves creatively, without rules or constraints.”

These are all admirable goals from great new teachers–and I said all of these things myself not very long ago–but I still cringe when I hear them. New writing teachers often misunderstand how freedom and creativity are best encouraged, and our desire to let our students be “free” is usually more of a hindrance than a help.

Most people assume–understandably so–that broad, open-ended prompts are the best way to give kids freedom. By asking kids to “write about a memory” or “express something that is important to you” they believe that they are giving kids room to flex their creative muscles.

In reality, though, open-ended prompts encourage kids to rely on clich├ęs and “safe” answers, rather than pushing them to dig deeper for unique, creative ideas.

Imagine watching an improv comedy show. In one scene, the actors are told, “Okay, make up a scene.”

In another scene, they are told, “You are in a doctor’s office. One of you is holding a pineapple. The other one has to say ‘My monkey is missing!’ at some point. Neither one of you is allowed to use the word ‘the.'”

Which scene do you think will end up being more creative? More artistically free and interesting? More rewarding to the actors when they pull it off?

The same goes for writing–if you want your kids to be free and creative, try giving them a bunch of interesting rules to follow. This will push them to abandon the “safe” answers and explore what makes their brains really unique. Here are some examples of rules that have worked well for my kids:

– Include at least one smell, two sounds, and a description of a texture

– Include at least one simile, one metaphor, and a symbolic object

– At some point, one of your characters has to say. “That’s a terrible idea.”

What rules would you give your kids to help them be creative? I’d love to hear them!