Do I have your attention?

It is that time again, narrative writing season in my classroom. So far, the students have shown some sparks and I mean that is a good thing. I, on the other hand, have fallen down a hole.

It has been a great year so far; the first quarter is history and I am not. I am enjoying my students and I think they are enjoying me, at least some of them are. Teaching seventh graders to write is a delicate balance – getting them to think and getting them to write more than the minimum requirements. A few years ago, I learned the hard way when I was asked how long the paragraph needed to be and the conversation went something like this:

“How long does the paragraph need to be?” Asked the student.

“Long enough to address the prompt.” I replied.

“What do you mean? What prompt?” He persisted.

“The question, what I am asking you to write about.” I responded.

“I mean, how many sentences does the paragraph HAVE TO BE?” He asked, again.

“A paragraph should have a minimum of four to five sentences, beginning with a ……blah, blah, blah” I replied, worn down by the exchange.

I added in blah, blah because the student had his answer and wasn’t listen to ‘a topic sentence, with supporting details, and a concluding sentence.’ They wanted to know how little they had to do to get the assignment done and finished. I have read far too many paragraphs that consist of 20-30 words and look like freckles on the page. That I have since converted to word counts for how long an assignment should be. It forces students to be much better writers than the sentence counters.

We are beginning to write our personal narratives and I laid down the law this year – no animal stories, no sports stories, and no amusement rides as a test of your bravery – I have had my fill. The prompt asks students to:

Write a personal narrative essay about a time in your life when you experienced conflict and learned something valuable about yourself or others as a result of dealing with this conflict.

Last year I wrote and blogged and I plan to this year. Last year, my topic was my summer vacation between seventh and eighth grade when I went to visit my dad in Saudi Arabia. I didn’t want to go and realized on the drive there (across the dessert) it would be all right. This year, I have chosen Christmas vacation of 1974 when I was sad about how my family was struggling and I returned to school in January to learn that one of my classmates and her entire family had been killed in a private plane crash. I learned or realized that as long as long as you have your family – those that are close to you – you will always have something to hold you together. Looking back at the event, thirty-seven years later, it is easier to come to grips with it. At the time, it was a struggle.

So, I have begun and here is what I have so far including notes – for your enjoyment.

Introduction – Mr. Watkins Narrative

Possible leads

Which one works the best?

  1. Christmas time is supposed to be a happy time, so why was I so sad?
  2. “…. and we will have a moment of silence,” blared the loudspeaker. It was homeroom and our first day back from Christmas vacation and those were the only words that I could remember. I remember hearing Coleen, family, dead, tragic accident; but it did not make sense. None of it made sense.
  3. Seventh grade so far had been a disaster: grades, sports, family, and friends, all of it. Like all seventh graders, I had been looking forward to Christmas break for two reasons: one because it meant no school for two whole weeks and it meant Christmas presents under the tree.

I prefer #3, because it is easiest to set the tone, but #2 is going to suck you in, really. Flashbacks are hard to make work for developing writers and even older ones, like me. So, I am sticking to #3. I’ll probably have to snazz it up a bit to make it work.

Introduction….

Seventh grade so far had been a disaster: grades, sports, family, and friends, all of it. Like all seventh graders, I had been looking forward to Christmas break for two reasons: one because it meant no school for two whole weeks and it meant Christmas presents under the tree. Christmas wouldn’t be the same, dad was gone living in Saudi Arabia and I was alone with my two brothers and mom in Sugar Land where we had lived since I was in kindergarten. It was Christmas and I was supposed to be happy, but I wasn’t.

NOTE to STUDENT: I have 96 words – fits in the range of 75-150 words for my introduction – but it still needs work. A good start. Look back later for the Rising Action – I’ll need to build my conflict and be ready for the climax, before wrapping up the falling action and conclusion.

Really, it needs work but I am going to plug away and move on to the rising action, then the remaining bits before I go back and fix it. Tomorrow’s class is about the rising action, so I will post again later in the day. I hope you enjoy a trip back into a seventh grade classroom, I find myself discovering a new perspective on who I am and where I am going when I go back. It has been a great day in class and I know that tomorrow is gonna be a million an six times better, I know it, and I can feel it. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one seventh grader at a time.

Is there an event in your adolescence when you experienced conflict and learned an important lesson?

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