My friend Hannah shared an experience she had with her sixth grade students while honing their writing skills. She received a cartoon via e-mail that dealt with a snow man’s funeral. The pall bearers carried a plank on which there was a pail of water. Hannah told her students that they were going to write “Sno-bits?—snow man obituaries. One of her fellow teachers scoured the local paper for obituaries that were written well so that the kids had a model. Hannah’s only requirement was that there be no violence in the snowman’s demise.

She got some cute responses. One that stands out to me is the one where the snowman was done in by his maker, a six-year old girl. She turned on him with a blow dryer. Another is the sad melting of the comedian snowman that was on his way to share some jokes on the Dave Letterman Show. Someone messed with the controls on his car’s heater, and all that was found of him were black buttons and a fresh carrot.

When you teach kids, it is rewarding if they respond as kids, so one of Hannah’s rewards for this assignment was the way the kids responded. The other reward was something she could not have anticipated. Hannah’s school uses the Collins Writing Method, which requires student writers to read what they have written out loud at the same time in order to edit. Hannah says this reading is hard to achieve in the classroom. HOWEVER…she had the Sno-bits hanging in the hall, and when the kids went to read them, she was astonished to find them reading at the same time and finding mistakes just as the Collins Writing Method says they should. She had several ask for pencils to correct small errors.

Writing is a hard subject to teach. Most kids seem convinced that they cannot write, and some of those who think they can tend to ignore the conventions of the English language. This writing seems to have refreshed both Hannah and her students. It is a bit of success the students can relish, and it is something for Hannah to hold on to when she gets to teaching the stuff like research.


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February 2006
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