“Can I use the?”

Posted on March 14, 2011Filed Under Writing | 2 Comments

OK, I am officially buried. Behind. Lagging. Flaking? Behind the eight ball? Freaking out? Well maybe things aren’t that bad. I still have (a little) time for my homies here at this blog.

I’m finally giving back shtuff my eighth graders gave me on February 9.

Hello, my name is mrC, and I am a procrastinator.

Anyway, this ain’t the place for whining; I gotta get my groove back.

When last we talked, my students were flipping out at the writing exercise I had given them: one page about anything, you can’t use any form of be, do, go, get, or have. Go! D’oh!

The whole point is to get them away from boring VERBS that don’t show any action and to force them into thinking of new ways to phrase their sentences. It’s a great exercise, and it drives them batty, but I would never make them write an entire real essay in this way. As I said before, I used to assign this one early in the year–during the first week, sometimes even on the first day–but then a whole lot of them thought they had to write that way all year, that those words were banned from any essays. I swear, some of them came to me in tears when the first real essay rough drafts were due. “I reallllllly tried, but I HAD to use a few of those words.”

By assigning it later in the year this year, I had also hoped to avoid the other common issue that always crops up when I first bust this on them.

It’s not about SHORT words. It’s about VERBS!

“Can we use at?

“What?”

“At. Can we use at?”

“Is at a verb? Can you at down the street? Do you sit around all day atting?”

“Ok. I get it. What about it?”

“IS THE WORD IT A VERB?”

“I guess not.”

So now it’s on. I start cruising the aisles and looking for anyone who’s past about three or four lines. I catch lots of contractions.

“Wait, you can’t use that’s?”

“That’s is short for…?”

“That is…d’oh. That counts?”

“Duh.”

“Can we use the?”

sigh.

Some enterprising individuals get the bright idea of simply erasing/crossing out most of the words I catch and circle, thereby turning their writing into ad copy:

“Going to Farmers’ Market ┬áis my favorite thing to do,”

gets transformed into…

“Cruising Farmers’ Market: my favorite thing.”

“That’s OK once or twice for effect, but you can’t write the whole thing like that.”

Their eyes are bulging, and we’re only about 5 minutes in.

Then we get to the challenge phase.

“OK, somebody give me sentence where you just HAVE to use one of those words, where you just can’t cope.”

Hands are waving all over.

“I was born in San Luis Obispo.”

“Why don’t you give me something hard? My mother bore me…or better yet… Sunny San Luis Obispo saw the birth of a bouncing baby girl named… next!”

“OK. I have three sisters.”

“Pshaw! My three sisters and I share a special bond… next!”

So I give them an extra day or two to stew over it (or–more likely for seventh graders, forget it) and collect the pages. For many of them it will be the best piece of writing they give me all year. Or at least the most entertaining.

Many of them realize that if they pad the page with description, they don’t have to use as many verbs. So I finally get lots of “showing.” Some of them actually do manage to liven things up with some groovy verbs. And most all of them sound a little bit different than the usual, which is always a good thing.

Next year I gotta close the “can/could” loophole.

Comments

2 Responses to ““Can I use the?””

  1. Meg on March 17th, 2011 4:52 pm

    I am frequently in awe at the clever assignments and activities your students must complete. I run into the same issues of boring verbs with my students; I may borrow this activity.

    The assignment that throws my sixies for a loop, though, is the first formal thrid person paper.

    “What do you mean we can’t use (insert first person pronoun here)?!” sigh….

  2. mrC on March 18th, 2011 11:43 pm

    You are too kind. I think I actually stole and mutated this one years ago when I was a rookie. And I know how they are whenever you throw a curveball at them. What? I can’t what?

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