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by Elizabeth Falcón
As we were planning out our week-long middle school summer camp, "What's in the Box: Creative Writing in 3D", at the Poetry Center, my co-teacher Erin and I were trying to anticipate what we would do during the first half hour of every morning. We didn't want to start a lesson while waiting for the campers who might be straggling in late, but we didn't want our campers just sitting around waiting to start.
I remembered reading somewhere (I think it might have been in David Morice's The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet) about some kind of collaborative furniture project, where students were allowed to write poems on a chair. And it gave me an idea. What if we had a week-long collaborative project we were working on every morning before camp?
We looked for a piece of furniture and, as luck would have it, a friend was giving away a nice old cabinet with drawers and doors and nice little nooks and crannies. We decided that during a lesson on character creation the first day, the class, as an example, would create a collaborative character first, who would become the basis for the collaborative cabinet project during the week. (Erin and I prematurely called the cabinet "Sam.")
We planned out short activities day by day that the students could do to elaborate on Sam, such as cover a drawer with the place(s) Sam lives, fill a drawer with objects from Sam's pockets, write a secret Sam has and fold it so no one can see it. We even had an exquisite corpse activity where students would take turns writing on the cabinet one line at a time to create a story about Sam.
As we developed these activities revolving around Sam, we realized that Sam was not simply a filler activity; we were using him to reinforce our world-building daily themes--setting, character, plot, biography, etc. The activities around Sam became so integral to our days that when, at the last minute, our furniture donation fell through, I grabbed my children's dresser to use instead.
And that's how Sam, er, Felix, as the class named him during that first day, was born.
Felix is 2 feet tall with an abnormally large head. He can shrink or grow once per day, but only for two hours. He has special lungs to breathe on Mount Everest and in outer space, he can fly and teleport, and he has two pet shrimp. Oh yes, he can also talk to animals.
Here is a day by day breakdown of what we did:
Collaborative 3D project, Day by Day/Drawer by Drawer
**Note: Because we only had 4 days, since the first day we had to create Felix, we combined Days 3 and 4, which worked out well, since the exquisite corpse exercise is really a one person at a time activity.
Day 1: Place Collage
Students cut out and glue pictures of place inside a drawer in the furniture, places where our collaborative character has traveled...or wants to travel (they can write the story if they wish, too)
supplies: magazines pictures (National Geographics are great), scissors, glue
Day 2: What's In My Pocketses?
Collage objects from this character's pocket. Ask students to write a riddle about their object (from Bilbo and Gollum's exchange in The Hobbit).
supplies: students bring an object, have extra objects, glue, paper, writing utensils
Day 3: Origami Secrets
Students write a secret the character has on the inside of a paper and fold it so no one can see. If they know oragami or other folding tricks, encourage that. Encourage students not to tell anyone the secret. (If they do, it isn't a secret anymore.)
supplies: Paper, writing utensils, folding instructions
Day 4: Pass the Drawer Exquisite Corpse
Write a prompt in the drawer. Everyone passes the drawer around, writing one line and only looking at the line preceeding theirs...
supplies: permanent markers
Day 5: Author Drawer: Who are you?
Bring an object representation of yourself to collage (and a photo if they want)...also write a few words about you and add to the drawer
supplies: paper, glue, writing utensils, scrapbook scissors