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WRITING IDEAS FROM THE ENGLISH JOURNAL
THE BASIC ELEMENTS OF STORIES
They say there aren’t many new things under the sun. It’s most certainly true in story-telling. What follows here are some of the absolute basics of story-telling. Knowing these should make you a better reader, writer, moviegoer, thinker and liver.
The Seven Basic Conflicts Used In Narrative Forms
[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. [wo]man
[wo]man vs. society/community
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. god/religion
[wo]man vs. self
The Seven Necessary Elements of Narrative Form
1. A Hero—The protagonist, who is the focus of the narrative’s action and conflict, and who must experience a catharsis, or contribute to catharsis in others, in the story’s resolution,
2. The Hero’s Character Flaw—A weakness or defense mechanism in the hero that renders him/her incomplete.
3. Enabling Circumstances—The circumstance that the hero is in at the beginning of the story, which enables him/her to maintain his/her character flaw.
4. An Opponent—A protagonist who opposes the hero, though is not always a villain. For example, in romantic comedy the opponent could be the person with whom the hero seeks romance. The opponent instigates a life-changing event.
5. The Hero’s Ally—The person who spends the most time with the hero, and who helps the hero overcome his/her character flaw.
6. The Life-Changing Event—A challenge, threat or opportunity usually instigated by the opponent, which forces the hero to respond in some way that is related to the hero’s character flaw.
7. Jeopardy—The high stakes that the hero must risk in overcoming his/her flaw. These are the dramatic events that lend excitement and challenge to the quest.
The Seven Basic Plots.
Christopher Booker (ã2004)
1. Overcoming the Monster—hero(es) defeats a force that threatens...
e.g. Star Wars, James Bond, Lord of the Rings, The Odyssey, War of the Worlds, Beowulf
2. The Quest—a group or individual sets off in search of something or some goal, and (usually) finds it or attains it.
e.g. Don Quixote, The Odyssey, Watership Down, Pilgrim's Progress, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, As I Lay Dying, Moby Dick, To Kill a Mockingbird, Canterbury Tales
3. Journey and Return—the hero journeys away from home and finally returns having experienced changes either for better or worse.
e.g. The Wizard of Oz, The Odyssey, Gulliver’s Travels, Huckleberry Finn. The Catcher in the Rye, Moby Dick. The Things They Carried
4. Comedy—some kind of misunderstanding or ignorance that keeps parties apart is resolved toward the narrative’s end, bringing them together in a (usually) mutually-happy ending.
e.g. Meet The Fockers, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Annie Hall, City Lights.
5. Tragedy—tragic hero is tempted in some way (vanity, greed, love…) and becomes increasingly desperate or trapped by their actions, until something horrible happens and their life is ruined or lost.
e.g. Fargo, Death of a Salesman, Hamlet, Macbeth, Of Mice and Men, The Crucible
6. Rebirth—hero is captured or oppressed and seems to be in a state of living death until it seems all is lost when miraculously (s)he is freed.
e.g. Snow White, O’Brother! Where Art Thou?
7. Rags to Riches—poor person gains riches, lives happily-ever-after.
e.g. Cinderella & derivatives (all 926,789+ of them!!!).
Each of these plots goes through five (5) main phases, which are (almost) universally used: Exposition; Rising Action; Turning Point (climax); Falling Action and Resolution.
The Seven Deadly Sins
The Seven Deadly Sins are transgressions that are fatal to spiritual progress.
You probably commit some of them every day without thinking about the rich tradition of eternal damnation in which you're participating.
What it is: Envy is the desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situation.
Why you do it: Other people are much luckier, smarter, more attractive, and better than you.
Your punishment in Hell will be: You'll be put in freezing water.
Associated symbols & such: Envy is linked with the dog and the color green.
What it is: Sloth is the avoidance of physical, intellectual or spiritual work.
Why you do it: You’re shiftless, lazy, and good fer nuthin'.
Your punishment in Hell will be: You'll be thrown into snake pits.
Associated symbols & such: Sloth is linked with the goat and the color light blue.
What it is: Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.
Why you do it: Because you were weaned improperly as an infant.
Your punishment in Hell will be: You'll be force-fed rats, toads, and snakes.
Associated symbols & such: Gluttony is linked with the pig and the color orange.
What it is: Violent emotions, manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury.
Why you do it: You're wired for it. Also, the people around you are pretty damned irritating.
Your punishment in Hell will be: You'll be dismembered alive.
Associated symbols & such: Anger is linked with the bear and the color red.
What it is: An excessive belief in one's own abilities or worth, that interferes with the individual's recognition of the grace of God. Pride is said to be the sin from which all others arise.
Why you do it: Your parents and well-meaning teachers told you to "believe in yourself."
Your punishment in Hell will be: You'll be broken on the wheel.
Associated symbols & such: Pride is linked with the horse and the color violet.
What it is: Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
Why you do it: Oh, please! If you don’t know…
Your punishment in Hell will be: You'll be smothered in fire and brimstone, not kisses.
Associated symbols & such: Lust is linked with the cow and the color blue.
What it is: Desiring material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual.
Why you do it: You live in the most pampered, consumerist society since the Roman Empire.
Your punishment in Hell will be: You'll be boiled alive in oil (provided by Satanic Texans).
Associated symbols & such: Covetousness is linked with the frog and the color yellow.
Find out which of The Seven Deadly Sins you are guilty of at: http://quizilla.com/users/trulydippy/quizzes
VOCABULARY PLAN FOR ALL CLASSES CONCERNED
The following 200 words are the vocabulary words for the year. I will introduce them on a Monday, give a little history of the word, use them in class during the week and then give you cloze reading/synonym test on a Friday. Each test will be worth 20 points, and you can throw out your two lowest test scores. NOTE: There will be no make-up tests. If you’re absent on a Friday, that’s a test you would have to throw out.
I’m giving you all the words now so you can get a head-start and learn them. This means being able to understand what part of speech they are and being able to use them correctly in speaking and writing.
VOCABULARY SEMESTER ONE / RYCHLEWSKI
VOCABULARY SEMESTER TWO / RYCHLEWSKI
WRITING IDEAS FROM THE ENGLISH JOURNAL
DO. With a partner commit a short poem to memory. OBJ: to know a poem by breathing it through the body, to create a sense of ownership and accomplishment.
DO. Copy famous poems, by line and by sentence. OBJ: to inhabit in a tactile from the inside how a writer writers. Sort of like yoga repetition.
- I want to create a class that humanizes and liberates, which doesn’t oppress and homogenize.
- Give “Composition for the Twenty-First Century” as an overhead or individually to the class. Or have it as a pick-up-and-read from a tool box.
- Literacy learning is self-generated. It should be forever flowering.
- DEMONSTRATION. Write down the 5-paragrpah formula and then rip it too pieces.
Tell them at the beginning. The research, conference workshop atmosphere can only exists if people don’t clown around.
**** Give them something to do, not something to learn.
DO. Read a passage and pick out the ten most important words. Could be “but.”
OBJ: To introduce students to the value of each word and the importance of diction. To discover that not each word has equal weight.
DO. Put a whole picture in three sentences. OBJ: To learn objective description,
To use and experiment with complex compound sentences.
- Create lots of stimulus for pre-writing and brainstorming ideas
- **** Pre-writing means talking out loud too.
- Create a sheet with several graphic organizers on it.
- Write drafts on days you have students in the computer room.
- Use buckets of student models of all sorts. Always ask: what was the exigency, who was the audience, what was the purpose, where is it not clear, where does it succeed. Is it a rehab or a tear-down? Where would you start with a plan to improve this piece of writing?
- No practiced writer adheres to the 5-paragraph nonsense.
- Don’t edit until there is something worth editing. Edit for the big ideas, not commas and capitalization.
- **** An essential element of teaching (and learning) writing is patience.
- Generating a purpose for a writing assignment is one of the most important things a writing teacher can do.
- **** Writing is re-writing. A first draft should not even be graded.
- DO Write on quotes. Famous quotes, fill in the blanks or famous opening lines of novels. OBJ: To stimulate writing, create choice, inhabit great works by walking just a little in their shoes.
Set up conferences while others have head phones and are listening to music or are working on the Internet.
Keep a chart of the work done. Rate every day, have them chart as well. How effective was this class? What did you learn from doing? Show ups and downs.
Have them read whatever they want. But ask them these questions, which they must answer thoughtfully: why are you reading this and to what purpose are you reading it and what can you create from it.
Spend two weeks generating ideas. Use this quote: “The more complex a world we live in the more simplistic our attempts to explain it.”
- Ask this question: how can you use your knowledge effectively?
- Don’t read the riot act at the beginning; create a positive situation and deal with people who abuse it, quickly.
- What should a competent writer be able to do? Make a list together with the kids. Or have each of them make one and form groups to present.
- The writing teacher should be equally interested in the act of producing and the products themselves.
- The key to good teaching should be based on knowledge, not rules.
- You may not like the 5-paragraph but other disciplines do and it appears in standardized tests.
- Try mixing genres in the 5-paragraph essay. Put a letter in, a poem, a speech, a list. Infuse it with some energy.
- The 5-paragraph will not go away no matter how much we hate it.
- Focus on cause/effect essays to break up the 5-paragraph plan. EX: Intro, P on cause, P on effect, conclusion.
- When discussion literature have the students free-write a comparison/contrast and in that process they may discover a thesis.
- **** The teachers should stop setting the discourse, the topic, the audience and the organizational format.
- Practice audience continually. For my Dead Mother, to the Dead at 9/11, to an old man in a nursing home, to the President, the posterity.
- Discuss the 4-paragraph technique of Schaffer. Mock it concretely in a satiric piece. How dust collects, how gum collect under desks, hoew to write a 5-paragraph. (In Scahffers world, every detail (fact) should have twice as much commentary. Rxplain Schaffer in some detail.
- **** The enormous difficulty of writing is that every piece of writing is shaped in it own peculiar way.
- If you submit your writing to a specific form all the time then you will eliminate the possibilities of discovering new insights through the writing process. Experimenting with form is absolutely necessary to learning about yourself and the world.
- The writer can use a pre-fab form, but they’re on your own for inventing content. It’s the reader’s job to some up with details, interpretations, reactions.
- Ask students what they absolutely believe and what they are willing to challenge.
- How about reversing Schaffer’s format. Write anyway you want in the first few drafts and then use Schaffer.
Writng should be about exploring horizons of possibilities
Each writing problem is different. The problem with formulas are that they imply that writing problems can be reduced and solved via a formula.
Students need to be taught how (procedure) to accomplish a task and when (conditional) to make a choice.
The famous 1:2 Scaffer ratio (1 = proportion of detail or fact to 2 = the commentary about the detail or fact) is only a rule of thumb for how a paragraph might look. It would be useless for instance, in an autobiographical essay in a college application; nor would it help much help with a reflective, speculative or argumentative writing.
- Find strategies that students can fit into their current framework, strategies they can use to build on current knowledge and extend their abilities.
- DO. Pick a letter in a blind draw and write on it by making a list of words that begin with that word or by going go to a dictionary and writing down words that seem relevant,. (p. 69 EJ) Then pick a single word that you like from your list, a word that says you, or a word that is most important word. Then write non-stop on it. Emphasize that what we want here is “writer’s cramp,” not “writer’s block.” Then find synonyms and antonyms. Metaphors, if possible. Draw pictures even. Finally, take any and all of the above and do a presentation of your word. OBJ: to build vocabulary in a personal way, extend learning into the real world, learn via a style that’s comfortable for you.
- Look up the many lessons in Writing Down the Bones.
- When a student reads her piece aloud the class can hear how the piece was meant to be interpreted. Reading aloud creates a bond.
- Publishing creates an incentive to write. Put the stuff on my web site.
- Poor student writing comes from a lack of audience, (find another class in the school to be the audience) (or imagine you are an audience—an executive, a little old lady). Could this carry into the community? Call it “The Audience Project” Write for the gas station, the Blockbusters, the bank, the nursing home, the people who live down the street, the new people on the block. Like baking a cake and bringing it to the new neighbors.
- Avoid peer editing. Too often it is pooled ignorance. The best they can manage usually is some proof-reading, circling interesting sections, making question marks where it is confusing.
- Note for students the fact that tone, mood and voice are very closely related. Tone = the writer’s attitude towards the reader, the subject and himself. Mood = a feeling the writer creates for the reader. Voice = total presence of the individual inside the piece. Who you are on the page.
- Are style, tone, mood and persona driven by voice?
- Students with the strongest voices are those who have learned that their experiences and perceptions are valuable.
- Students have more voice in 4th grade than in high school. They’re not sanded down by the 5-paragraph albatross, research papers, book reports and all the rest that destroy the individual voice and replace with this flat academic discourse.
DO. Write a fifteen-minute tribute to someone important in their lives, then spend two minutes telling a classmate (was anything mentioned that wasn’t written) Ask questions. Go back and add. Think audience. Don’t write it for that person by for
another person who knows that person. OBJ: Understanding voice and audience,
legitimizing their experience.
The ability to reflect on what is being written seems to be the essence of the difference between able and not so able writers.
Weekly writing logs that think about the writing that was done that week. Perhaps a list on the board of lessons taught. They should identify a problem and have a plan of action. These logs could be used in conference as well.
- ALL drafts should be handed in accompanied by a reflective letter. I could model,
”Bush Bans Dark Ages.”
- It’s not enough that they learn to grade their own writing. They must grade their thinking about their writing.
- The logs should promote and habit of reflective thinking, letters should promote clarity and a depth of thought.
- Extend all this out to a portfolio letter. The quality of the portfolio letter should be for keeps. (They can practice this on overheads. DO. Show a piece of writing, then verbally think about it. The teacher should model this) OBJ: students should understand the value of meta-cognition
- DO. “Break up the line of the poem” for AP Kids too.
- In the Writer’s Log, Draft Letter and Portfolio Letter the common currency of Lit Crit usage should be present: pre-writing, revision, development, thesis, unity and coherence
- Use student meta essays like above from article on p. 88 and their own.
- Research has shown that students prefer specific comments on their paper rather than general observations.
- Set up a system where you write general comments in the margin—effective, awkward, clear and then set up further time to discuss it in a private conference. This save time in correcting/commenting.
- Students, unfortunately, prefer smaller changes (commas, verb tense) to bigger ones.
- Don’t praise unless you explain why.
- In conference let the students direct the dialogue.
- Do the students understand your commentary on the papers? Ask them.
- Ask the students: “What did you learn from this piece of writing?” Again let the students direct the dialogue.
- Studies have shown that 90% of what teachers write on papers is negative.
- See “different types of comments” p 96.
- 9 times out of 10 students don’t read or think about comments.
- How is it possible for students to see their teacher as a coach?
- Use the “talk back” technique to get students to actively respond to your comments: EX: 1) what did the teacher like about your paper? 2) What did the teacher not like? 3) What questions do you have regarding the comments. This would be most efficient one-on-one.
- The game in NOT find out what the teacher wants and give it to her? With that in mind you should begin at the very beginning of class to find out what the students think they need to do and learn in the class. They should articulate it.
- Give everybody and “A” to start? Promise everyone a D as long as they show up, are not tardy and do the work in class?
- Ask: Who was your teacher last year and what dod you learn? Then: Pick something you say you learned and then show. Go back to your notes and papers from last year.
- Have students tell you what kind of comments they’d like on their papers.
- Students do not like to be ordered to make changes in their writing. Watach the tone when you make suggestions.
- Make sure the understand marginal comments or proof-editing marks. Explain to class up front.
- Give them more than one chance to improve their essays.
- Model a student essay to show what needs to be improved.
- Students should constantly ask themselves: Where am I go in writing? Where am I bad?
- Offer “check in” where students ask the teacher about responses to their papers. Where they need clarification.
- Write comments legibly. If it seems to take too long to write the comments then create some sort of short hand that you can explain in length orally when you meet with the student.
- Students don’t read comments if you’ve put the final grade in.
- DO. Go find an element from the periodic table and tell me what it says to you, (See p. 105; see Primo Levi The Periodic Table)
- Rather than write comments have students write letters to each other. It dignifies the writing.
- At least give a check mark for writing because students want credit. You may consider only check marks, that way the most amount of work recorded merits the highest grade regardless of the ability. Taking the student prom their own point A to their own point B.
- Learning the content is not enough. You have to be able to communicate that understanding.
- Learning self-evaluation and self-critique is more important than any grade in terms of helping students learn and holding them accountable.
- NEVER grade the first draft.
- What can be do “in” school that has a value “outside” of school.
- Some students will not be able to break down a broad question into components. For these students you have to suggest components.
A clearly focused prompt challenges students to build thinking skills, from analysis, to synthesis, to evaluation.
“Not to transmit an experience is to betray it” Elie Wiesel
DO. Unscramble sentences and explain the rules of grammar implied therein OBJECTIVE: Demonstrate to the students that they have a innate understanding of grammar and all them to explain those rules.
- Buy Frank O’Hares The Modern Writer’s Handbook
- Create a clear metaphor for the relationship between product and process. EX: learning how to play a sport, painting. The process is just as interesting, if nor more so, than the final product.
- In the shift from product to process grammar was the casualty because it was believed that like style and arrangement grammar was a feature of the product.
- Students are put off by the vocabulary of grammar because it meta-language and because of its association with fixed rules. If you get it right, you win. Wrong, you loose. The embarrassment is too much for most students.
- DO. Letters for a situation with art work. A famous bank must choose between two Rembrandts. You’re on the committee to select and give you recommendation. OBJ: Learning to write for an audience.
- DO. Team descriptive writing. In pairs. Two teams look at a famous photo of Cartier-Bresson and they must describe it. Other classes judge. OBJ: Learning to write for an audience, working in teams and sharing language.
- DO. 4 weeks of charting the various “DO” writing activities. Why was this the best? OBJ: To monitor interest in writing lessons and create a sense of meaning in the class..
- DO. Write about a meal you love. OBJ: To get kids writing. It’s almost a guarantee they’ll write on this.
- DO. Bring objects and have students write on them, imagining the world of this object were their’s: an old shoe, a hat, a particular book. OBJ: Develop the imagination by inhabiting another reality.
- One reason students regress into a simple childlike writing style is because they want to protect themselves from the criticism of a bloody red paper.
- see p. 124 Grammar was thought to be the foundation of all knowledge.
- Give students examples of good writing and bad writing see they can see.
- The Alphabet 1900 BC, the Printing Press 1543 AD, the Internet 1984 AD. In interesting piece of writing might be how did these events change the world.
- Have students teach you the grammar of voice messaging. LOL = laugh out loud.
- Buy Image Grammar by Harry Noden. It takes famous passages from literature and diagrams them.
- DO. Vocab energizers. OBJ: The understand vocabulary in context and be able to explain it. Why should this word be used? Think aloud.
RULE 1: Laugh, joke, chat, think, observe, write, draw, sing and doodle but make sure you’re learning something YOU CAN EXPRESS to me and others while all this is happening. RULE 2: If while you’re doing this you interfere with
others chances to learn or purposely attempt to destroy other students’ changes to
learn by doing this, I will….
- DO. Divide a painting or photo to four quadrants and have the students write on one quadrant. Don’t show them the other three quadrants. Use an interesting painting like La Meninas or a Matthew Brady photo. Then have the other groups draw the painting/photo based on the descriptions. OBJ: Good questions. Thinking part to the whole. Inventing and inferring a whole from a part. It happened in stories too.
- Form is determined by ideas nut by adherence to some pattern.
- DO. Free writing on a famous piece of music: Chopin’s Piano Sonata (Funeral march), Carnival of the Animals. OBJ: Free the mind and learn to write with less fear and more pleasure.
- Check out Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.
- Close Range Wyoming by Annie Proulx, especially “Job History.”
- Divide and classify a list. Justly the list
- DO. List and then divide and classify (objects in the room) problems in writing. Justify the list. Use the list when writing. Create a surprise list. things that make a tinkling sound, things that change form, …etc
- DO. Sentence Combining exercises that Jordon Wankoff created. OBJ: Understand the logic and order of thinking.
- Can you explain with deep knowledge what it means to be who ou are: a catholic, gay, Hispanic, a man, a southerner, a democrat, a soccer player, a human being, an aunt?
- DO: Stretch time. Write two short reunions, one where you haven’t seen someone in several year and they act like it was a couple hours, and the reverse. OBJ: Expand the mind.
- DO: Everybody writes for five minutes and then everybody reads their work aloud to the others in the group. No comments are made: good, bad, I didn’t understand, nothing. Then everyone begins writing again. OBJ: The learn how to accept other world views and be non-judgmental. To support and encourage and empower.
- W. C. Williams said if only one line of the poem has energy, keep that line, and get rid of the rest. Each line should be alive.
- Explain to the kids that a bad piece of writing happens to everyone, all the time. It’s not the end of the world if you write junk. Let it die and go on. It’s not worth the time to try to resuscitate it. Ask Mark Van Doren once said to Alan Ginsburg: “Why bother talking about something you don’t like.” You miss a basket? So what. Shoot again. You try a wild reverse lay-up. Doesn’t work. Try again. Expect to fail a lot.
- DO the Reading test with Carlos’s day going to Rychlewski’s class.
- DO. Combine four words you don’t know into a story. “To happy him”
- DO. Directions ofr Geometrical Figures.
- Emphasize: Inquiry. P, 52-56 Teaching with Your Mouth Shut.