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I spent that summer outrunning sunburns at a Carolina beach. My sister and I dug for crabs, gathered shipwrecked slivers and the pinkest shells from dunes. At night, my dad told us stories in the light of hurricane lamps because at seven, though I loved words, I still couldn’t read.
My parents tried everything--fairy books, a private tutor (those of you from the 80’s remember "Hooked on Phonics?") but after kindergarten, words were still loose packages of sound and rhythm for me. I couldn’t focus them onto pages where lettering slipped like black eels. To compensate, I “read” to my parents from stories I had memorized, embellishing here, skipping words there. I turned salty pages myself, marking the storyline in pictures. Then, I started to care about the order of my words, about how each picture came into play. Eventually, I noticed that there were fewer black squiggles below than I had imagined, and in trying to match my rhythms to theirs, the sound-image connection happened. The eels floated up and into focus one at a time.
the year when two high fives finally signify your age, a time of social reorganization, of jostling for individuality. During my teaching residency at Corbett Elementary last Spring, I was looking for a way to funnel my fourth grade students’ intense thirst for knowledge and competitive spirits into creative energy on the page. So I started hiding my lessons in guessing games. My writing groups turned into “teams.” Presentations of creative work happened during “finals.” This ekphrastic poetry lesson came from that time when I finally learned to use my students' need to engage with each other as a constructive structure for writing.
I called the lesson Poetry Riddles, and began it with a short discussion of rhyme in poetry. I asked the class to think of places in the world where they could find poetry outside of books. To their ideas, I added hip hop and riddles, which can both involve rhyme, but don’t do so as a rule (I generally veer away from teaching rhyme since I think it can constrict younger writers and leave their work feeling more basic and sing-songy than intended). I then asked the students if they wanted to play a riddle game, to which they responded with emphatic affirmatives.
Sarah Minor is a teaching artist at Corbett Elementary, and is pursuing her MFA in Nonfiction at The University of Arizona.
It seemed like I had just stepped into my classroom for that full first hour, my heart still aflutter, consistently surprised to look out and find 22 pairs of fourth grade eyes on me at all times. We had reached the heart of our first lesson, the crucial moment in which I transitioned from a partner activity to individual writing. If the students felt unprepared or uninspired at this point, I might find myself still the focal point of all those eyes rather than focusing their energy on the empty blue lines below their chins. “Okay class,” I said, “now you get to turn back to your own desks and write your own story about an imaginary city by yourselves!” To my left, David Jurkowitz’s eyes grew wide. He locked his elbows and raised his small fists in to the air and shouted, “THIS IS MY DREAM!!” And promptly fell over in his chair, having been balanced on two chair legs during my announcement. This, I thought, could be a good residency. Throughout our semester together, Ms. Pierson’s 4th grade class impressed me with their grasp of unique voices, their deep, dark tales and creatures, and the sharp honesty of their first nonfiction stories. They really were my dream, too.
Sarah Minor is an MFA candidate in non-fiction at the University of Arizona, and writer-in-residence at Corbett Elementary.
On a warm Saturday morning this September I headed to the Poetry Center to lead my first Family Day activity. The event fell during the Poetry Center's Speak Peace exhibit and we had planned peace themed activities combining visual art and writing for the families to participate in. Having only worked with high school and college-aged students before I was, of course, terrified of young children. Not young children exactly, but the idea of inspiring young children to sit down and write, to come up with a message about peace--a topic adults have a hard time discussing--all while overcoming the limits of spelling and handwriting. What if the activity was too simple? What if they grew bored quickly or couldn't sit still? And how old were third graders again?