|Teacher man impression|
|Paul as "Maul"|
A few days ago, I was invited by my good friend Corey S. to come and talk to the group he mentors, the Young Willamette Writers. (Background: Willamette Writers is our local writers' organization, named after the Willamette River that wends through Portland, Oregon.) During the group's monthly meeting, students in grades 5 through 10 are invited to come and write together. This month, 6 intrepid souls slogged through a wet Oregon evening to listen to me talk about dialogue in fiction.
We started off with some real-life dialogue, as I am incredibly nosey about kids' reading habits. In our introductions, I asked them to tell me what they were reading. Here are the results:
The Boys (both 5th graders): Percy Jackson
The Girls (all 7th graders): Scott Westerfeld's Uglies; Sarah Dessen's Dreamland; Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak; and Twilight.
Then I blabbed a bit about dialogue and told them to write a scene--any scene--as long as it incorporated some dialogue.
The results? MINDBLOWING. First of all, these kids didn't sit around staring at the wall and moaning about writer's block. Their pencils moved at warp speed. Occasionally, they made small sounds of satisfaction, gave quick bursts of laughter, or just plain muttered. I was on my second paragraph when I heard pages flip over. Yikes!
Now, I must admit I expected no great things from these speed writers, but when it came to sharing their writing (and let me tell you, these kids were eager to share), what they'd written actually was pretty good. Sorry, I misspoke. It was AMAZING. It had narrative arc, conflict, and imagined conversations full of sarcasm and bite. Hmm, no way was I going to share my own plodding prose.
The sweetest thing about this little exercise, though, was the change in attitude of one of the boys. He'd tagged along with his older sister and had told me at least a half-dozen times "I'm not here to participate, okay?" I don't know if the kid thought I was going to have them all diagraming sentences or something, but when I said "you can write whatever you want. Free rein," it didn't take but a second or two before he was scribbling away and calling me over to ask how to spell 'bazooka.' (He never did share, so I'm not sure whether the bazooka did any talking, but the kid did leave with a smile on his face.)
This was admittedly a small sampling of kid writers, and ones who are particularly motivated. But my experience with them mirrored the times I had several years ago when I taught a weekly creative writing class in my son's 5th grade classroom. Kids--before we drum it out of them with timed essays--love to write creatively. They write fast. They write fearlessly. And they write with breathtaking exuberance. I need to bottle me some of that.
Parents: Do your kids like to write? What kinds of stories excite them? Is there a young writers' group where you live, like the Young Willamette Writers, that they can join?
Teachers: What have you found when you let your students have "free rein" in their writing?
(Oh, and Rose Cooper, what d'ya think about joining Team M? You can be "Mose!" Got kind of a ring to it, wouldn't you say?)