I have toughened up a lot over the past 6 years. Being a farm girl does that to you. You see up-close-and-personal how brutal and unyielding nature can be. However, you also feel profound beauty and see what a mysterious miracle that life is.Learning To Let Go: Lessons from Nature — Produce with Amy
This year marks my 20th year teaching English at Gwinn High School. I have been creating content on this blog for nine. Over the years I have shared various blog posts with my students and discussed how blogging is a modern platform to publish our writing.
My final hour of the day I teach creative writing. This year my students are truly a hoot. They are as silly as they are creative and they are equally kind and exuberant. We truly are a community of writers in 7th hour and it’s a joy to end my day with such a unique and creative group of students.
Teaching during a pandemic has come with its challenges. I have been teaching both face-to-face and online since September. I had to teach 100% remotely when we were shut down for 6 weeks in November.
My goal for creative writing is to give my students the opportunity to try different genres, to be creative, and to understand that their words and voices matter. Since many of my students take creative writing multiple years (some every year) I try not to do the same assignments each year. I embrace the challenge of coming up with new curriculum.
The other day in class I asked them if they had ever seen the popular vlogger Emmymade. A couple of the students had and others had not, so we watched a few of her videos. On Emmy’s blog she shares the following statement, “Whether it’s trying to figure out if it’s really worth it to wait a hundred hours for a batch of brownies, finding out what Ranch gummies or giant centipedes taste like, making mayonnaise from a vintage gadget, or tasting desserts and dishes from around the world, I want to learn about our world through food.”
My students, just like myself, were inspired by Emmy’s relaxed delivery, her vast vocabulary, and her culinary knowledge. My students were especially intrigued by her ramen posts.
Watching Emmy’s videos with my students and learning that quite a few of them like to create gourmet meals out of instant ramen was a lightbulb moment for me. I came up with the idea that we could create a “ramen bar” in class and my students could create their own recipes. We could research Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cuisine and they could write about their own food experiences and share their ramen recipes on my blog.
However, this is where I need a little help. I posted a project on Donors Choose to buy ramen making supplies. I tried to include some ingredients that many of my students have not been exposed to in our rural area. In addition to these ingredients I will bring in fresh spinach and greens, vegetables, and boiled eggs (from our farm) to include in their ramen meals. These supplies would create quite a few batches of ramen, so it will be a special treat for my students who have worked so hard this year.
If you are interesting in donating, here is the project –> Using Our Noodles to Write. Every dollar helps and is tax deductible. Donors Choose has been a huge source of light for my classroom practice and I am so thankful to the generosity of friends, family, and even strangers who have helped so many of our projects come to fruition.
As we head off to spring break in a couple of days, our fingers are crossed that this project will be funded. I am excited to see what my creative students come up with and I cannot wait to share their ramen recipes with you.
Do you have a favorite ramen recipe? What tips of tricks do you have for perking up packets of instant ramen? I would love to learn from you and share your ideas with my students.
We may not always do things the easy way, but we do them our way! That is what drives us and makes our hearts and souls happy. I am thankful to have found a partner who works so hard for our family. I think that we make a wonderful team and I am excited to see what 2021 brings. I promise to keep you updated on our construction project.Happy Holidays from Our Homestead. Welcome 2021! — Produce with Amy
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” ― Edith Sitwell Back in 2014 when I was a vegetarian, I shared a recipe for a plant based French Onion Soup. Since […]French Onion Soup: Stave Away the Winter’s Chill — Produce with Amy
These windows are more than panes of glass. They are portals for sunshine. The light that has seeped into our lives and taken us out of the darkness.The Season of Light on Our Homestead — Produce with Amy
“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
― William Faulkner
There is never a dull moment when you work around, and with, teenagers. After teaching high school for two decades, I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else.
A few years ago I learned an important lesson. Never underestimate the power of stickers when it comes to teenagers. One day my 9th grade students were addressing envelopes to mail letters and I offered them stickers to attach to their envelopes. They were delighted and even the unruliest of students became quiet as they intently selected the perfect sticker combination to decorate their correspondence.
This year I had a Donors Choose project funded that included, you guessed it, stickers. A few weeks ago creative writing students were overjoyed when I offered them stickers to adorn their Chromebooks and/or journals. However, first I made them write.
The following was their prompt on Google Classroom:
Attached you will find an assortment of images. Choose one of the collections of vinyl stickers and imagine that the stickers are attached to someone’s: computer, water bottle, locker, or another personal belonging. Allow these collection of stickers to tell a story. Imagine what these images say about identity and personality.
I then posted the following images:
This prompt works well with students who are visual learners. It provides them with a place to start writing and helps them flesh out a character.
For other teachers reading this, I hope your students enjoy this writing prompt and that it inspires them to be creative. I would love to hear from you in the comment section. As I always tell my students, our words matter.
“Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Today is Thursday, which means it is Focused Free-Write day in my high school creative writing course. Yesterday I posted about how I created a schedule this year to keep our class organized and on-track. With all the challenges we are facing this year due to Covid-19, it feels good to have a little structure – but still have the creative spontaneity that I crave. You can read my post here.
I read Kurt Vonnegut’s quote a few days ago and I thought it would make a wonderful prompt to get a story started. So today my students will use it as a springboard to generate a story – or an episode from a story. After all, not everything we write becomes a masterpiece. Much of what we write is practice. When we write each day we naturally become better writers.
I cannot wait to see where this prompt takes my students. I wonder what their characters will want, or yearn for? Will it be something grand or will it be something as simple as a glass of water?
Write for 20-30 minutes (or longer) and see what happens.
Make sure you follow my Facebook Page and follow me here for more writing prompts.
“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
― Ray Bradbury
I genuinely enjoy teaching all of the classes on my workload. This year I am teaching 9th and 11th grade English and in previous years I have also taught 8th, 10th, and 12th grade sections too.
Teachers are not supposed to have favorites, but I have a confession to make. I do.
While I celebrate all of my student writers, there is something about a group of teenagers that choose to take creative writing as an elective. While there are often a few students who may be taking creative writing because of credit requirements, or because it fits best with their schedule, most of my students in 7th hour are prodigious wordsmiths.
This year I am thrilled to have a positive, creative, and quirky group. They cheer each other up and on, they openly share their writing, and when I ask them to write – they do not take shortcuts, but instead write, write, write their hearts out.
Many of my CW students take my course more than once (some all four years of high school) and for the fall semester we focus on fiction and in the spring our focus is on poetry (though I am flexible with the genre they choose to respond to a prompt. After all, I understand deeply the sudden urge to break into verse or how some things can only be said in narrative form). Since many students take my class multiple times, I try to switch things up for them so they are not doing the exact same assignments year after year. While this may sound like a chore, I love the creativity that this affords me.
My philosophy about creative writing class is that it carves out precious time every day for my students to write. Therefore, we write daily. Not every assignment is graded (most graded assignments are credit or no credit) and students are encouraged to share with each other what they are writing. While I make sure to read everything that my students turn in, because they are generating such a large volume of work I cannot give feedback on everything they write (especially with my workload of 4 other f2f classes and 2 other online). Therefore, I ask students to let me know which particular pieces they would like me to look at closely so I can give constructive advice.
Ultimately, my priority is to create a creative writing class and environment that I would have thrived in as a teenager. I have always loved to write and it is what truly makes me feel alive. I want to share this passion with my students and help them find their voice and understand what a special and rare gift self-expression through our own writing is.
We do not have textbooks in creative writing and often the assignments I give come into being spontaneously. Honestly, some of the best ideas and assignments are developed on my thirty minute commute to work. There are several books on writing that I do draw on for lessons (I will share titles and ideas in future blog posts).
This year, due to Covid-19, I am teaching one face-to-face section of creative writing and one online. Therefore, I decided to come up with a weekly schedule to keep us organized.
Creative Writing Weekly Schedule (this is the basic framework I work around).
MONDAY: Student Generated Prompt
Each student at the beginning of the year submitted a writing prompt and I select one each Monday. Their prompt can be a photograph (visual image), a song and/or song lyrics, a passage from a novel or short story, a YouTube video, a piece of writing that they wrote, a comic strip, a news article, or anything that provides inspiration. They must include any information and/or instructions that they want to provide to the class. I feel that this
TUESDAY: Independent Project Work Day or Writing Contest Work Time. This is one day a week where they can work on a writing project that I have assigned or that they are working on as a personal journey. We also enter several writing contests and this gives them time to write. If a writing contest deadline is near, Tuesday gives us the opportunity to conduct writing workshops and give small or large group feedback on writing.
WEDNESDAY: Character Journal.
Many fiction authors discuss the “background work” they do to create realistic, colorful, and meaningful characters. They put a lot of work and attention into fleshing-out these characters and “getting to know them”. These characters become as “real” to them as you and I. Some authors experiment with their characters by writing about them in various scenarios and even going so far as to sketch out how they would look. For my students’ character journal I ask them to choose a character to develop. They can start simply by choosing a gender, an age, and some basic information about how they look etc.
After several entries, if students want to switch and work on another character that words as well. In the past when I had students develop character journals they had great success with them and some of their prompts they were able to turn them into stories and some even started turning them into novels.
I tell my students that they are not to worry about perfection. They should experiment with language, dialogue, and challenge themselves as a writer. The point of a character journal is to PRACTICE their craft.
THURSDAY: Focused Free-Write.
I assign a prompt.
FRIDAY: Flipped Day.
Our Covid-19 school year plan has a Flipped Friday each week. That means that only teachers report to school on Fridays and our face-to-face students learn online. This helps give teachers time to contact students and guardians, grants time for grading and creating online content for distance learning assignments (create Google Slideshows and videos etc.) It also is teaching our face to face students how to learn online in the event that our district gets shut down again.
My ultimate goal for Flipped Fridays would merge my Face-to-Face and Online classes for a group Read Around. Each class member would share something they wrote that week. They could share an excerpt or an entire piece – 2 to 5 minutes each)
Flipped Fridays would also be a great day for a writing workshop. Students could be assigned groups or partners to give each other constructive feedback digitally using Google docs.
Like most teachers I have a wide and varied community of teachers that I network with (both locally and nationally). I often am contacted by other teachers when they have the opportunity to teach creative writing and they ask me for advice.
One day my goal is to publish my own book (I suppose I would call it a text book of sorts) on teaching creative writing with the various prompts I have developed over the past two decades. That idea helped me create this blog. I thought until I have time to flesh out a manuscript, I could ruminate on the idea here and stimulate my own creativity and hopefully give other educators some ideas for their own classroom.
So stay tuned for more creative writing classroom tips. My plan in the next several weeks is to share some of my writing prompts that are tried and true in my classroom.
Please leave a comment if you have any questions and most importantly carve out some time for your own creativity. What are you going to write today? ❤
Make sure you follow my blog and like my Facebook page for more ideas about teaching writing.
“Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
― Mary Oliver
The beginning of the school year always hits me with a wave of exhaustion. I try to be gentle on myself, after all, it is a shock to the system after several months of being out of the classroom. As I near turning fifty, I am noticing that it takes a little longer for me to bounce back. This year, even more so, because of the Coronavirus pandemic. In our district, we closed up our buildings mid-March and returned in September. I have never been so happy to return to work!
It has been quite an adjustment for me wearing a mask all day while teaching. While we try to build in short mask breaks outside for our students, we have been presented with many extra challenges that has altered our teaching routine. However, I have reminded myself many times that going back to work is always a big adjustment in contrast to my summer routine. Yet, teaching is my calling. I cannot imagine doing anything else.
Last Monday was definitely a Monday. Even though this is my 20th year of teaching, each Sunday night I still get that anxious feeling. I didn’t get enough accomplished at home. I didn’t get enough school work accomplished. I am sure I am not alone.
At the end of the school day Monday, when my stepson Lukas came into my classroom, I let out a huge sigh. He too looked tired. So we both sat down and I told him a story.
When I was in college, I worked as a waitress at Marc’s Big Boy in the Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two sweet little old ladies used to come in and order “dessert first”. They’d gossip, cackle, and enjoy their hot fudge sundaes. Then they would order dinner (usually meatloaf or liver and onions). I knew to deliver their dinner to their table in a to-go container.
“Amy,” they’d tell me, “when you are our age, you get to eat dessert first! Life’s short. If we ate our dinner we wouldn’t have room for dessert.”
I loved waiting on them and always looked forward to their sage advice.
I remember this job fondly, and all my shifts were not as positive as my weekly chats with these two sweet women. Yet, it was a formative and eye-opening experience for this small town girl. I was learning about life up close by serving the public. When I truly paid attention, people were serving me wisdom. At times, more so than my brilliant professors at Marquette University (that I didn’t nearly appreciate enough at my young age).
As a teacher I often sprinkle my lessons with stories like the one I told Lukas on Monday. I remind my students to pay attention to the world around them and the people they meet. To listen to the stories of their grandparents tell and to talk to their parents. To not just answer questions with a shrug and single word response. To be engaged, alive, and connected.
To pick their heads up out of their digital devices and to listen more.
To pay attention to the wisdom glittering all around us.
Not everything we learn comes out of the classroom.
Truth-be-told, some of the most vital life lessons happen outside of an educational institution. Yet, the key is finding ways to connect these nuggets of wisdom with our own passions and curiosity about the world. School gives us an opportunity to explore our strengths and weaknesses, it allows us to network, and build our knowledge and skill base.
Monday was a long day. Like my colleagues, I had a list of things “to do” that was a mile long. I could have stayed at school for several more hours and I still would not have been finished. But sometimes you have to take care of yourself, and your family, first.
I told Lukas him that I was cashing in my dessert first before dinner card.
So we did!
He happily obliged. 😉
Monday I made time for something sweet and time for play.
What could be better than frozen custard, a boy and his dog(s), and a gorgeous place than we can call home? We all need a sacred place where we can unwind and recharge.
When you get to be my age, you learn to appreciate it all.
What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. – Henry David Thoreau
As I sit at my computer to type, I am sure that I join many fellow educators across the world (and all education stakeholders) with thoughts whirling with wonderment at the challenging times we are facing, and continue to face, in 2020 due to the Covid-19 virus.
If you would have told me back in the middle of March, when we closed up our school buildings due to a rising pandemic, that our lives would still not be back to normal by October, I would not have believed you. Though, what does normal mean anymore? While I admit that I am growing tired of the phrase, “The new normal” – doing things differently than we did before may be a reality that we are facing. Also, because I try to be a glass half full sort of person, maybe adapting and changing some aspects of our lives is not necessarily a bad thing.
When I think back to the spring, I never imagined that “Zoom Meetings” and “Google Meet-Ups” would become a new way I participate in professional development and communicate with my high school students, fellow educators, and administrators.
As a teacher, a writer, and a blogger one of my guiding philosophies is that our writing is a time capsule. As uncomfortable as it is at times, we are currently experiencing history and whatever medium we choose to record the Covid-19 pandemic will become a primary source document for future generations.
I am thankful to live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we have not been heavily impacted by Covid-19 and that we were able to go back to school face-to-face. However, we also are providing an online option for students that the teachers in our district are instructing. Our union and Board of Education were adamant about not outsourcing these services. While it does create multiple layers of extra work for our staff, it is putting our students first by making sure if they decide to change their learning platform (to either f2f or online) their transition will be relatively seamless since what our students are learning f2f is exactly what our students are learning online.
Our weekly school schedule includes a Flipped Friday where our f2f learners stay home on Fridays to also learn online. This prepares our f2f learners for online instruction, in case we get shut-down again. This preparation should help us transition a lot easier to distance learning. While we did not feel prepared last March when our buildings were suddenly closed for the rest of the school year, we feel confident that we have a solid plan in place for the 2020-2021 school year.
In addition, our learning plan includes the wearing of masks at all times, hand sanitizers at the entrance of all classrooms and multiple areas in our buildings, all desks facing the same way, smaller class sizes, and each student is given a Chromebook to take home and use for the school year.
Unfortunately, our area has recently seen a spike in cases of Covid-19 and many school districts are closing up their f2f learning for two weeks (some more). So we are being extra diligent to make sure our students and staff are safe.
In September I began my 20th year in the classroom. While I have many tried-and-true lessons, I always like to introduce a fresh lesson to my teaching tool box. So this year I took inspiration from a friend of mine who is a teacher in a neighboring district, Paula Diedrich.
Not only is Paula a dear friend of mine and teaching mentor, she is also a fellow blogger at https://hatofmanycolors.wordpress.com/
Paula blogged about a 50-4-50 challenge that she undertook to celebrate turning 50. She came up with a list of fifty things she wanted to accomplish. Check out Paula’s List.
Since I am going to be 50 this coming June, I have been thinking about Paula’s list and wanted to design my own. So I invited my students to join me in coming up with their own goals.
In a nutshell, this is what I told them:
2020 has been a challenging year, and depending on how you look at it, Covid-19 may have taken many things from us: The end of the school year, time with family/friends with health problems/compromised immune systems, opportunities to travel, income/jobs, spectators at sporting events (our students are only allowed 2 fans at sports contests) etc.
However, maybe Covid-19 presented you with opportunities: More time with immediate family members, an organized house and living space, time to exercise, time to read books for pleasure, home cooked meals etc. Regardless of how you view the pandemic we are experiencing, 2020 taught us to appreciate the moment we are in because things can change suddenly.
Since I teach sections of both 9th and 11th grade English I gave my students a couple of different options:
1. If you have just had a birthday, or have one coming up you can choose that number (since you have the whole year to accomplish your goal). For example: 14-4-14 or 16-4-16.
2. If you don’t have a birthday until several months and want to start right away, you can create a list of 9-4-9 (9 for 9th grade) or 11-4-11 (11 for 11th grade). This gives you the entire school year to accomplish your goal.
3. If you don’t celebrate birthdays, or are feeling extra ambitious, you can choose 21-4-21 for for 21 Things You Want to Accomplish for 2021.
Have fun with your list and make sure your goals are realistic, but also creative! They should be measurable goals (we discussed what a “measurable goal”looks like…)
My students were encouraged to create a presentation with a variety of multi-media approaches (video, photo rich slideshow, audio/podcast, music/rap or lyric based, or a visual piece of art (example: vision board).
My students and I discussed that we are never too old to learn new things about ourselves, others, or the world around us.
Many of the 9th grade students are brand new to me, so it helped me learn something about them and helped make a human connection. (In fact, I learned about a lot of things during their presentations. My 9th grade boys taught me all about weight lifting! 🙂 ) Throughout the year we will revisit our goals and it may include adjustments and plenty of reflection.
I loved that Paula’s blog gave me something to show them and it provided them with evidence that humans are in a constant state of learning.
I thought the discussions that I had with my students about Paula’s reflection were especially beneficial. Paula did not beat herself up because she didn’t accomplish everything on her list, nor did she make excuses. She ruminated over her successes and challenges and found patterns which revealed important aspects of her life, and even her relationships. We discussed how these revelations could help Paula set future goals.
As writers we know that reflecting on our writing is essential, and I believe that by teaching our students to do this, we are helping them to be reflective about other aspects of our life.
I want to thank Paula for helping me make a vital human connection with my students this year – and in the days ahead.
As we journey through our role of teachers during these challenging times, I think it is important to show our students and ourselves some grace. As I approach my 50th birthday, it gives me wings to think of all that I have yet to discover in life. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with my students both face-to-face and online this year and I hope they feel they same way about the physical and digital classroom that we share. We have so many lessons to learn together.
In case that other teachers want to use this idea in your class, I’m sharing a few student examples. These three students dazzled me with the Vision Boards that they created. I hope they inspire you as much as they did me.
I wish all of my fellow educators a safe school year. The most important thing to remember in a time of uncertainty is that we are in this together. Wash your hands, check in on each other, and do not forget to do something each day that brings you joy. ❤