Writing Prompt: The Kitchen Table

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
–Joy Harjo

As a writing teacher, I often use food as a prompt to help my students capture their stories. Food is universal and we have an intimate connection to the food that surrounds us.

Not only am I a food blogger, but I think that food helps a writer tap into their senses. Food is smell, taste, sounds, and texture. Food is comfort, culture, community, family, and a way to celebrate and nurture others. It even has historical connections and socio-economic implications.

While there are many emotional associations with food – the places where we congregate to eat also hold the power of stories. Joy Harjo’s poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here, is a powerful companion piece and testament to the importance of the kitchen table.

This is the prompt that I gave my creative writing students this fall (right around Thanksgiving):

The Kitchen Table

Our kitchen tables are a sacred space. A hub where we can gather with loved ones and celebrate in our abundance. In our home, the kitchen table is a verb and not a noun. In our house the kitchen table is a place where our children learn responsibility, and manners; they learn and grow by engaging in conversation, helping prepare meals, setting the table, and helping clean up after. It is also the place where homework is mulled over, canvases are covered with paint, Legos are stacked, manicures are glossed, and dinosaurs are sketched. It is a place where our cell phones and tablets are put away and we give each other our undivided attention. Our table is where we pass the seasons, celebrate in the harvest of our summer garden, and hold family meetings.

Growing up my family embraced visitors at our kitchen table with bottomless cups of strong coffee, homemade baked goods, and as a child it is where I learned to value of the power of stories. At times I was excused, if the conversation was not fit for small ears, but the majority of the time I was a welcome participant in a glorious mix of laughter and a legacy of tales from the past.

The kitchen table is where we mourned the loss of my grandparents, welcomed the hearty appetites of friends who helped my father raise the trusses on our new home, and where my mom fed my teenage friends after the Homecoming dance. It was the where we sustained life.

The center of our families, our homes, and our most treasured conversations occur at the kitchen table. We discuss the vibrant color of sautéed asparagus, the deep laugh of a deceased grandfather; or sit quietly, alone, worrying about our children at 3:00 am.

Write a poem, or narrative, about the metaphorical significance of a kitchen table (or another household object or piece of furniture) using Joy Harjo’s poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here, as inspiration.

Since many of my students have shared that due to busy schedules (sports practice, extra curricular activities, parents working shift work, or family members simply preparing their own food  separately and taking to their rooms or other living areas to eat) that they rarely eat together at the kitchen table (though that in itself would make a powerful piece of writing). However, I tell the students they could also write about another piece of furniture or household object: a grandfather clock, a piano, a Mason jar, or a rocking chair.

If you found inspiration from this prompt for yourself or your students, please let me know!

Don’t forget to check out my sister blog for healthy food recipes and lifestyle tips; http://www.producewithamy.com

No dining experience is complete without flowers. These wildflowers foraged from our backyard are on-top of my Great Grandmother’s handmade lace doilies. Like our writing, it’s the details that matter. 

Homemade Pizza Night several years ago.

When my step daughter was younger, she always made place cards for family members.

Candles with roses and blooms from my garden.

My Fiestaware dishes haven’t been used enough recently.

Virtual Scavenger Hunt Poem: Word Bank Poetry Prompt

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
-Steve Jobs

As a high school writing teacher, I am constantly looking for new ways to help my students find inspiration. While my creative writing students come to class prepared to create, sometimes encouraging my 9th grade English students to tap into their creativity is a challenge. This is especially true when I ask them to write poetry.

To help free up writer’s block and self-doubt, I tell my students that for their first draft I will not assign a letter grade for a poem but will give credit or no credit. If they turn it in, they get a certain number of points and if they do not turn in a poem they get a zero. The only stipulation is that the poem must be approximately twenty lines long.  Over the years I have found that this method helps immensely because my reluctant writers do not feel the pressure of completing the “perfect poem”. To my delight, by the end of our poetry unit, many of my students who did not see themselves as writers (or poets) become confident in their ability to experiment with language and record the world with a new genre.

In addition to taking away the pressure of letter grades until they turn in a revised poetry portfolio, I have fashioned a wide array of writing prompts to keep in my teacher toolbox. These prompts serve as a springboard to help generate creative and critical thinking. Many students dislike being assigned a specific subject to write about so I like to keep my poetry assignments wide open and full of potential. I tell my teenage writers that they have poetic license to alter the prompt in any way that they deem fit.

The following assignment is one that I have been employing for at least ten years and it is one that my students have found a lot of writing success. The concept is simple – I supply a word bank and the students use a computer as a tool to help draft a poem. I tell them to choose at least ten words from the provided word bank that they find intriguing (they can change their mind later).

Students who prefer to compose their poems on paper can simply use the computer to look up the words and use a notebook or journal to transcribe their verse.

I then instruct them to use their favorite search engine to look up the chosen words. They may decide to browse a number of sites and add in more search terms to narrow the results (for example: the word pearl may render up the term: cultured pearl.  They may then enter cultured pearl into a search engine to conduct some research).

I recommend that they also search images on the computer. This method words well for students who tend to be more visual learners.

The goal is to write a line or two of poetry from each word. As they continue to work their way down the list of words the poem may assemble naturally or they may have to rearrange the lines after. I usually give them two days to work on the poem in class. The first day I encourage them to focus on coming up with a line or two inspired from each word and on the second day to try to string together their lines.

The connections that they make between the words, research, and their experiences is compelling. It is exciting to have the students share their poems with each other and discover that while they were all given the same list of words, they each have their own unique piece of writing.

When I make my word banks I simply use words that I think sound poetic and have promise. An alternative would be to pluck words from a body of work that you are using in class (think Shakespeare, Greek mythology, a novel you are reading) and let the students research and create poetry at the same time. After all, don’t you agree that some of the most productive lessons are ones where we trick our students into learning? I love to hear the phrase, “I really had fun today!” as students trickle out into the hallway when the bell rings.

Since many of my creative writing students take my course multiple times throughout their high school career, I have four different versions of the word bank that I rotate between. Today I will share one of the word banks with you. I will post a printable version below.

Virtual Scavenger Hunt Poem: Word Bank Poetry Prompt

  1. umbrella
  2. lark
  3. cake
  4. mutiny
  5. moss
  6. phosphorescence
  7. carbon
  8. migrant
  9. hiss
  10. salt
  11. constitution
  12. torque
  13. prairie
  14. messenger
  15. ashes
  16. parlor
  17. propagation
  18. stem
  19. brocade
  20. forge
  21. pearl
  22. Hamlet
  23. lentil
  24. fennel
  25. calibrate
  26. cobalt
  27. grim
  28. velvet
  29. coniferous
  30. reel
  31. ore
  32. slug
  33. Circe
  34. current
  35. rural
  36. flora
  37. dogma
  38. Caesar
  39. pillar
  40. font
  41. amber
  42. turnip
  43. luxury
  44. dragonfly
  45. clutch
  46. plunder
  47. lotus
  48. squall
  49. ember
  50. ringlet
  51. Tiresias
  52. blanch
  53. cauldron
  54. grain
  55. Strait of Gibraltar
  56. pigeon
  57. reed
  58. imperialist
  59. calcium
  60. Michelangelo
  61. artifact
  62. lyric
  63. cargo
  64. landscape
  65. braid
  66. Ovid
  67. steel
  68. cashew
  69. gold
  70. lure
  71. root
  72. lake
  73. Venus
  74. Picasso
  75. April
  76. kingdom
  77. cuticle
  78. branch
  79. filter
  80. plastic
  81. vibrate
  82. crescendo
  83. valley
  84. tremulous
  85. charcoal
  86. frieze
  87. sculpture
  88. dash
  89. fracture
  90. teal

Printable version —> Virtual Scavenger Hunt via glitteranddoghair

I hope that this post helps inspire your students – or your own writing. I would love to hear back how this activity worked and if you made any modifications.

Thank you for stopping by and helping me create and appreciate a sometimes messy, but always beautiful life. ❤

 

Writer’s Block? Mine the Richness In Your Own Backyard

“Anyone can take an adventure even if it’s only in your own backyard. Let your imagination be your adventure and see where it takes you.” 
-Carmela Dutra

Waldo Homestead

I often tell my high school writing students that when I was their age, I was not well traveled. My dad was an Iron Worker, and due to the seasonal nature of construction, he either seemed to be working around the clock logging massive amounts of overtime or he would experience periods of being laid off.  Looking back, since my father is the most financially responsible person I know, we probably could have gone on elaborate family vacations. Yet, my dad is not one to be around hoards of people. He loves the quiet and peaceful beauty of home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Instead of Disney (though I did visit my aunt and uncle in California at the age of 10 where they took me to Disneyland) our getaways were often spent on the Way Dam backwaters. Since my childhood  was spent growing up in the wilds of Upper Michigan’s Crystal Falls, I hauled in lunker Walleye on the Paint River, I  learned how to identify the different varieties of pine trees by their cluster of needles, I got goosebumps whenever I heard the lonesome trill of the whippoorwill, I picked blueberries along the driveway on my way back from checking the mail, and I spent many July nights under a peppering of crystal stars and a crackling campfire.

As a grown woman I realize now how lucky I was for my rural upbringing. Yet, as a teenager reading Hemingway, Charles Dickins, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare — I often felt isolated and thought that I had to travel extensively to experience life and have important things to write about. How could I write about Paris if I had never strolled along the Champs-Elysees? How could I draw in a reader’s interest with stories about having the first day of white tail deer season off of school, swimming across Fortune Lake, or the winter we received close to three-hundred inches of snow?

Thankfully, as a writing teacher, I know better. While my students may see ice fishing on Big Shag Lake as common place and too dull to write about, I always explain that to people living in snowless climates the thought of drilling a hole in the ice and waiting in freezing weather for a fish to bite would be an exotic, thrilling, and unusual activity. I remind my students that while we may see the things we grew up doing and the places we were raised as boring or bland (because we are so close to them) it is what we know best and it is our job as writers to bring out the richness of these experiences. It is for these reasons that Place Conscious Writing has a strong command in my classroom practice and curriculum.

In adulthood I have been fortunate to travel quite extensively. I have walked the cobblestoned streets of Jerusalem, watched one of my students read her poetry at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and panned for gold on an active claim in the quirky settlement of Chicken, Alaska. Yet, to be honest, most of my creative impulses are still inspired from my own backyard.

This winter I have felt of rush of expressiveness channeling through my snowshoe adventures around our homestead. Last night was no exception. The Super Snow Moon was so brilliant  that I did not need my headlamp to snowshoe. It was bitter cold but worth every moment of beauty. I snapped photos as late as 9:00 pm (no flash – just the bright moonlight and my iPhone).

While I wish I could figure out how to use my fancy camera at night, a phone is much less cumbersome for snowshoeing. Besides, I think I enjoy the grainy roughness of these photos. It turns our pasture into a landscape that is moonlike itself.

Snowshoe Trail Bathed in Moon Glow

Shadowland

Moonshine

As writers, our work begins when we tap into what we know best. We are experts in our own memories and the smells, flavors, sounds, and textures of the places that we frequent. If you are looking for something to write about — mine your heart and work outward. Compile a list of places in your journal. Draw maps, list flora and fauna, name the trees and rivers, and even document the sky.

Let your readers smell the bruised  purple lilacs on the bushes that you played in as a child and show them the day you begged your mom if you could wash your hair in a rainstorm. Detail the way the iron rich soil ran red and how the sky ached a glowing green moments after the drops dissipated.

Describe an India ink dark sky, yet, at the same time so luminous with stars that it made you shiver and feel so small. That on humid summer nights you would spread out a homemade patchwork quilt on the lawn and lie inert for a couple of  hours to watch the constellations spread across the lush dome. A sky so magical that it became the fabric that you stitched your dreams.

Being a writer means being able to look in the face of every day experiences and record it in your unique way. When we chart the varied paths we have traveled, we deny the presence of Writer’s Block. It becomes an illusion.

Now tell me, what are you going to write about? Leave me a list, a poem, a description, or the snippet of a scenerio from your own backyard. Reach into your depository of memory and share. Let others find the universal in your musings. Comment here, on my Facebook page, or on Instagram. I will be waiting to hear from you!

Don’t forget to check out my sister blog where I share healthy recipes and lifestyle tips: Produce with Amy

 

Hoophouse Slumber – Where Gardens Dream

The Other Side of the Garden

Branching Out

Neon Glow of Sauna

Back to the Beginning