Writing Tips For the Back-to-School Essay
Oct 4, 2009 Writing 2003 Views
Summer days are melting away as school bells prepare to chime. Three months of festivities have quickly vanished, but more fun and learning are about to unfold. A favorite back-to-school topic for writing is "What I Did This Summer". I admit, with chagrin, that I often assigned this odious task to my eighth graders. I wanted to learn more about them and vacation tales helped develop a picture of student interests, experiences, and of course, writing skills.
The problem is that the subject is enormous. Just think: three months, 90 days, 24 hours per day... That adds up to a whole lot of adventures. My students generally reacted to this assignment in one of two ways. The less than eager writers said, "I didn't do anything", as if that excuse would release them from responsibility; the second group, having done hundreds of things over the summer proceeded to list every single one. "My Trip to Disneyland" became: we got up, ate breakfast, packed our suitcases, climbed in the car, bought gas, drove to Reno. I am sure you have the idea. There were no details, nothing to reveal the excitement and/or family trip agony of this event. Instead I read an inventory of every single dull moment of the excursion right up to Splash Mountain followed by the return home. Splash Mountain - I love this Disney ride. I enjoy reliving the breath-sucking thrill of shooting off the waterfalls and crashing into the shimmering pond below.
Students rarely describe the most magnificent aspect of their trip since tedious lists have filled the page with no room remaining for the real point of action. The core of the adventure, the electrifying jolt I long to read about and visualize in my mind, are abandoned and I am left to wonder if life is just a list rather than a jam-packed adventure. To focus thoughts try this technique called Zoom Lens. Going back to Disneyland story, ask the writer, "What was the best part of the trip?" With a reply of Splash Mountain, take out an imaginary camera and begin to zoom: past the mile-long, winding line (a fine story for another day especially if Sister Sal has a broken leg and the entire family is escorted by Goofy to the front of the line), past the tumbling travel logs, past the raucous serenade of silly pirates. Begin by describing the glimpse of dazzling blue sky just ahead, the roar of thundering water, and the butterfly feeling whirling inside as you drop off a sparkling cliff and rocket into the watery unknown. Writing has moved from the general (list) to the very specific (swooshing out of Splash Mountain). Your child can most likely relate twelve more exhilarating details of just this portion of the ride, things to add when creating this paper.
With the Zoom ideas in mind, now design a UNiversal Organizer (UNO) for the key points to be included in this masterpiece. Take a blank piece of paper and a compass if you have one and draw a 2-inch circle in the center. You can free-hand this as well but I know that many writers are perfectionists and prefer concentric circles. In this circle write the title or key focus of the paper. Now draw a second circle 1-inch around the first, and then a third and a fourth. Divide the circle-figure by drawing lines that bisect the circle, creating six, equal pie-shaped segments. Starting at the center, move out to the first sections and jot in key areas for writing: who, what, when, where, why/how, and results/conclusion. In the next ring write the details that correspond to each area, i.e. who: Dad, Brother Bob, an unknown stranger, and me. Complete each section around the circle and then move out to the next ring to add details like the growl of the rapids (what) or the gagging reflex noise of...(the stranger). Continue to add ideas and information around the ring.
Your child may have used brainstorms in the past where ideas were dashed and dotted everywhere around the page and when time came to actually write the essay, frustration rampaged as she searched for organization in the jumbled mess. Now she can simply follow her notes to compose a well-formatted, easy to read story. For more information on the UNiversal Organizer check out www.metrostate.edu/writing/uno Let me know how the UNO and Zoom Lens tools work for you.