Orange you glad I didn’t say “banana” again?

No more writing prompts (at least not today). No begging and pleading for someone, anyone, to go over and vote for Caitlyn Young’s novel on textnovel. No mentions of the economic downturn and how it is All THEIR fault.

Instead, in honor of school’s imminent starting, here are some ideas from when I was at UT/Dallas taking my teaching certificate. (Thanks to Dr. Jim Wohlgehagen for the math puzzles thing.)

Tell your writing students to get a Composition Book (not a spiral, for it’s too easy to rip out pages and discard them, ruining your record) for the class. Every time they enter class, there is a writing prompt on the board or overhead. When a student comes in, she may start freewriting on this prompt or any other thing she has ready (unless it’s REALLY EARLY). When you the instructor come in, you will set the timer for three minutes. Everyone who’s in class will now spend those three minutes writing to the prompt. Say, “If you can’t think of anything, write “banana” and practice yoru penmanship. Use different fonts that you invent. Write vertically across the lined pages if you want to. Diagonally. Add doodles as moved to. Whatever.” It’s good to have them date the top of that first page, but whatever.

At the end of that three minutes, everyone draws a line to indicate the end of this freeburst.

Then we close those books and start the regular class–do our crits or peer reviews, talk about the reading, take lecture notes, and the like. The lecture notes and any notes on crits done for you can go in this same book.

When the bell rings or class ends, everyone draws another line to indicate the end of this class.

Between classes, as desired, we use this same journal to take notes as we observe the world around us or think of things to add to the novel in progress or just find quotes to copy–commonplace book stuff. We also work on our little essay/assignment that we’re given at the end of each class. It’s homework–such as three pages analyzing the essay or chapter we all read for class, or writing a short scene from two different points of view as an exercise, or summarizing the event we went to such as a book signing. This gets us off the computer and into writing with a direct channel, working a different way.

Every few classes, the instructor (you) calls for journals to be passed forward at the end of class and turned in to you. You take a look before the next class meeting. Students get points for how much they actually did and whether they have followed instructions.

I feel this works a lot better than traditional e-mailed homework. It also gives the student a record of the class to keep if he or she desires, for later reference.

In the math courses I student-taught in an elementary school, we kept interest and participation high by having students do hand signals that indicated they understood the material under discussion. For example, if someone went to the board and did a problem, then if everyone agreed with the way it was worked and the answer, they’d do the Kum Ba Ya hand motion (yes, you DO know–it’s kind of a rolling of the hands around each other in front of your chest). If a student thought a mistake was being made, he or she would do a Jazz Hands-sort of flat-palm “erase” motion instead. People who were completely lost held their hands up as in “this is a stickup,” perfectly still. I as teacher could glance out over the classroom and see how many were getting it and answer any questions.

We also had a math puzzle on the overhead projector screen ready for when students walked in, similar to that writing prompt, but it was interesting artithmetic or geometry puzzles. Sometimes I’d write a message in a simple substitution cipher (A=5, B=6, etc.) or as a rebus with numbers, and they’d decipher it. That was always fun. We gave them three minutes. Students who got it right passed their papers forward and got a point of extra credit.

Students in our middle school math classes collected potential word problems, and when we had time, we’d all try to figure out how to set them up. (“My dad was going to build a brick wall, and the bricks are such-and-such size, and. . . .) That was always raucous fun. And they’d bring in examples of DUMBTH math errors (typically presented confidently by some ignoramii) that they’d seen on TV and in movies. There were lots of those.

Anyway, this is just to let you know that I haven’t ALWAYS been a completely worthless dissolute bum of a writer. I’ve actually done a bit of teaching and other world-improving activities. Though the world didn’t cooperate and get improved much, did it?

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Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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