Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Slice of Life: When you think they've got it, don't be so sure!

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

I was pretty proud of the lesson I planned for a small group of fourth-graders I've been working with. Like many emerging writers, these students have the inclination to start stories when their feet hit the floor. It really doesn't matter if the important moment happens when they trip on the way to turn off the alarm or when they're served dessert after dinner--the first sentence begins with "When I woke up." I'm guessing most of you are familiar with the trope. 

I had an example of a story I'm working on where I learn to dive through the waves. I showed them a beginning where I woke up excited because we were going to the beach. I showed them another beginning where we arrived at the beach and I got out of the car. And then I showed them the beginning where I was standing with my feet in the water. All four students agreed that it would be much easier for me to get to the important points of the story, and much more exciting for readers, if I started with my feet in the water. 

"So how does this relate to the stories you're working on?" I asked. I listened to them talk in pairs, and I was still feeling pretty proud of the breakthroughs I thought were happening. Yep. One boy was going to be getting on his bike, as opposed to waking up in the morning and having pancakes, for the story that was about conquering the big hill on two wheels. The other three students seemed to be on the same track. "Off you go," I said. I couldn't wait to see the revisions!

A few minutes later, I read over one of their shoulders. The story she had described was about  the fight between her cat and a bear. She was going to start with the cat right there looking up at the bear. Nope. That cat was still back at the house knocking Christmas ornaments off the tree before eating some of the sugar cookies, before begging to go outside, before playing in the snow, before spotting a bear. 

Sometimes writing is humbling. Sometimes teaching writing is really humbling. And the next lesson will be? I think for now we'll let that cat go through her motions, and maybe this child's next story will begin closer to the action. Stay tuned!

Happy writing,


  1. And we do think we're on the right track, but that girl also loves the part about her cat and the ornaments. Ha! Sometimes in conversation I find that I want to tell more, tell what I think of as the backstory, but really it's not. Best wishes, Melanie!

  2. This post makes me feel so much better! I thought it was just me and my third graders who had thsi issue!

  3. Definitely, teaching writing is humbling! It's always more comforting to know that it's not just me experiencing the same kinds of issues.

  4. Sometimes students' intentions are ahead of what they can accomplish. The lesson I learn over and over again is that we need to trust our students and have a lot of faith that the teaching we do will crystalize, maybe not right at the moment we teach it, but it will happen.

  5. One of my very wise teacher friends told me that students more often will revise across pieces rather than in one piece, so, yes, next time...

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