One of the problems with having 150 or so students, aside from learning the names, is having to read 150 essays on the same topic. It has its purpose, that is assigning one topic to the lot of them, like teaching Show not Tell and suchlike. But then, the variety of “showing” makes the reading of 150 “messy rooms” or “soooo funs” at least bearable. But 150 takes on “the theme of…” or “persuasive essay on…”? I can’t cope.
So many moons ago, I decided to change that, for at least half the year. I guess the best way to explain it is to try to reproduce the speech I give the kids when I introduce… 600 words per week. (scream)
“In the second semester, which begins week after next, this class is going to have more of an emphasis on writing. In the first half, a lot of our focus has been on vocabulary and reading and the like; academic words, vocabulary, KBARR, reading checks, etc. We’ve been trying to build vocabulary and understanding. In the second half, we’re going to try to put that learning to use…writing.
“But the problem with assigning you guys more essays is that if I assign one essay, I have to read 150 of the same thing. And by number 75 or 80, I start to fade, and…well, you get my drift.
“So, pretty soon, when I start asking for 600 word essay rough drafts that we will work through the process and turn into graded essays, I’m not going to give you any specific topic to write about. I’m just going to say, ‘In a week, bring me a 600-word rough draft that fits into one of the seven genres of writing on your handout.’ You’ll have to do at least four essays, each in a different category, before we start our research paper in May. I don’t care what you write about, as long as it fits into one of the genres and follows its guidelines.
“Now some writers, faced with this situation, often face the dreaded blank sheet of paper (computer screen), and sit there thinking, ‘OMGwhatamigonnawriteaboutomg…’ But the smarter, real writers go to their notebooks or folders, and look through all their scraps of writing and lists of ideas and unfinished pieces and etc. and go, ‘Look, here’s something I started a couple of months ago, that looks promising; I could easily expand this to a 600 word essay…’ How many of you have faced down the blank screen of doom?
“But you guys don’t have those folders or notebooks yet. So I’m going to do you a favor (greaser). I’m going to help you build that bank of ideas.
“You are going to write 600 words per week…every week. Tuesday to Tuesday, 600 or more words every week. And there are at least two beautiful things about this: you can write about anything you want, because… I’m not even going to read it.”
“Wha? 600 what? Every week? OMG NOOOOOOOOOO!”
“Ray Bradbury –we’re going to read several of his stories later in the year– writes 1000 words a day! And he’s pushing 85 years old! You guys can muster up 600 a week.”
“I bet he doesn’t have a life.”
“He even does it old school, on a typewriter. Do any of you still have a typewriter at home?”
(About 1/4 of the hands go up. Some don’t even know what a typewriter is, and still raise their hands, because that’s what they do when I ask, “How many of you…?” It doesn’t matter what I’m asking; some of them would raise their hands if I asked, “How many of you have a pet squid?”)
Guess what? That was 600 words exactly, so I’m going to stop now (like most seventh graders would, since I only asked for 600 words), and continue tomorrow with the hows and whys, and the grooviness of making them write all the time without you having to read it.