The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Let’s write

Rachael Conlin Levy
Amelia, Lets Write 2009
One of five participants in my writing workshop. Photo by Dance in the Kitchen.

Five kids met regularly at my kitchen table to write this summer. It was a skill swap with a friend: She gave my kids art lessons, I taught hers writing. I seized on this arrangement because she’s an excellent art teacher, and I’d never given a writing lesson.

Plunging into uncharted territory, I researched the broad subject of writing with children, and the particular topics of poetry and comic writing. Among the arsenal of books to guide me in developing a workshop, I relied most heavily on Don’t Forget to Write: 54 Enthralling and Effective Writing Lessons for Students 6-18.” Armed with this excellent book, I developed a syllabus. Here it is, along with my class notes:

Message in a Bottle For years, desert island poets have sent their deepest thoughts out to sea in bottles. In this workshop, students create postcards and send them out into the world to find their way back.

Kids left their postcards in grocery aisles, tucked into library books, launched them with balloons and dropped them on sidewalks. One postcard made its way home, and, oh, how we cheered when it arrived in the mail!

Tiny Tales — Celebrate in a small way. Eat tiny cakes, drink tea from tiny cups and write tiny stories that consist of just a few paragraphs. Learn the basics of story-writing on a small, manageable scale.

The most-anticipated class by the students, who gobbled up the petits fours and drank copious amounts of sweet tea. In the future, I’d divide this into two classes: The first focused on story craft, the second spent creating the book. The free tutorial I used is at Making Books with Children.

Weird Science — Facts take a backseat to fiction in this inventive workshop. Students compose their own wacky faux-science journals.

This class was a hit with my active and younger kids because it involved shorter, directed pieces of writing.

Everyone’s a Comedian — Introduction to joke writing and puns encourages word play. Leave with your very own riddle book!

The final class was the most challenging. Having never succeeded at retelling a joke myself, I was nervous and relied on the examples of how to write baseball jokes featured in “Don’t Forget to Write.” But my group of kids (all soccer players) didn’t know baseball. Their lack of knowledge about the game made it difficult for them to manipulate language and come up with jokes like this one:

Why is a catcher a good dinner guest?
Because he is always cleaning the plate.

So I quickly moved on to the “How’s business?” joke model found in
Joanne E. Bernstein’s Fiddle with a Riddle” and met success. Example:

I’m in the diaper business.
How’s business?
It stinks.

In addition to these topics, each class introduced a new vocabulary word (all fabulous insults such as popinjay and stinkard) and poetry form (such as couplet and haiku). Two great books I used were Poetry from A to Z: A guide for young writers” by Paul B. Janeczko and “Poem-Making: Ways to begin writing poetry” by Myra Cohn Livingston. The Shakespearean Insulter was the source of the vocabulary list.

My students will read their poems and short stories at a poetry slam and art exhibition in my backyard this weekend; I’ll share sights and sounds from the event in a future post. I believe the energy, time and money spent teaching kids what I love to do was a wise investment. Their art hangs on my wall. Their stories inspire me.

Quid pro quo.

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