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Thanksgiving Creative Writing Lesson Plan

George Thomas Open book test. Get the point? CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We have school Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Those two days can be tricky – on the one hand, the end of the semester is approaching, so it’s important to stay on track with pacing – on the other hand, many students may be absent or less focused than normal, so it makes sense to do something fun and festive.

With that in mind, here is my lesson plan for Creative Writing the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break:

Warm Up (10 min)

(These directions are projected on the board):

Write a brief description of your contest submission to the Walgreens Expressions Contest. This explanation will be included on the form with your submission. Remember to write your name on your description.

Collect warm-ups by passing them to two students at the front of the right and left sides of the room. Teacher counts back from 20 as students pass.

Instruct students to look at handout with independent work instructions and review the handout (15 min)

  1. Put the finishing touches on your submission to the Walgreens Expressions contest.
  • If you are doing a piece of creative writing, make sure your share your document with O’Donnell’s e-mail (on the board) by the end of class.
  • If you are doing a video, make sure you e-mail it to O’Donnell (e-mail address on the board) by the end of class.
  • If you are doing a piece of visual art, make sure you put it in the inbox (the lefthand bin on the front table) by the end of class.
  • Remember that your Walgreens Expressions entry is a summative assessment, worth 100 points of your grade toward the 60 percent category.
  1. Option 1: in the spirit of Thanksgiving, write a poem thanking someone in your life for something.
  • Make your poem chock full of images.
  • Show, don’t tell your thanks
  • Here is an example from The Poetry Foundation 

Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons
by Diane Wakoski

The relief of putting your fingers on the keyboard,
as if you were walking on the beach
and found a diamond
as big as a shoe;

as if
you had just built a wooden table
and the smell of sawdust was in the air,
your hands dry and woody;

as if
you had eluded
the man in the dark hat who had been following you
all week;

the relief
of putting your fingers on the keyboard,
playing the chords of
Beethoven,
Bach,
Chopin
in an afternoon when I had no one to talk to,
when the magazine advertisement forms of soft sweaters
and clean shining Republican middle-class hair
walked into carpeted houses
and left me alone
with bare floors and a few books

I want to thank my mother
for working every day
in a drab office
in garages and water companies
cutting the cream out of her coffee at 40
to lose weight, her heavy body
writing its delicate bookkeeper’s ledgers
alone, with no man to look at her face,
her body, her prematurely white hair
in love
I want to thank
my mother for working and always paying for
my piano lessons
before she paid the Bank of America loan
or bought the groceries
or had our old rattling Ford repaired.

I was a quiet child,
afraid of walking into a store alone,
afraid of the water,
the sun,
the dirty weeds in back yards,
afraid of my mother’s bad breath,
and afraid of my father’s occasional visits home,
knowing he would leave again;
afraid of not having any money,
afraid of my clumsy body,
that I knew

no one would ever love

But I played my way
on the old upright piano
obtained for $10,
played my way through fear,
through ugliness,
through growing up in a world of dime-store purchases,
and a desire to love
a loveless world.

I played my way through an ugly face
and lonely afternoons, days, evenings, nights,
mornings even, empty
as a rusty coffee can,
played my way through the rustles of spring
and wanted everything around me to shimmer like the narrow tide
on a flat beach at sunset in Southern California,
I played my way through
an empty father’s hat in my mother’s closet
and a bed she slept on only one side of,
never wrinkling an inch of
the other side,
waiting,
waiting,

I played my way through honors in school,
The only place I could
talk

the classroom,
or at my piano lessons, Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary always
singing the most for my talents,
as if I had thrown some part of my body away upon entering
her house
and was no searching every ivory case
of the keyboard, slipping my fingers over black
ridges and around smooth rocks,
wondering where I had lost my bloody organs,

or my mouth which sometimes opened
like a California poppy,
wide and with contrasts
beautiful in sweeping fields,
entirely closed morning and night,

I played my way from age to age,
but they all seemed ageless
or perhaps always
old and lonely,
wanting only one thing, surrounded by the dusty bitter-smelling
leaves of orange trees,
wanting only to be touched by a man who loved me,
who would be there every night
to put his large strong hand over my shoulder,
whose hips I would wake up against in the morning,
whose mustaches might brush a face asleep,
dreaming of pianos that made the sound of Mozart
and Schubert without demanding
that life suck everything
out of you each day,
without demanding the emptiness
of a timid little life.

I want to thank my mother
for letting me wake her up sometimes at 6 in the morning
when I practiced my lessons
and for making sure I had a piano
to lay my school books down on, every afternoon.
I haven’t touched the piano in 10 years,
perhaps in fear that what little love I’ve been able to
pick, like lint, out of the corners of pockets,
will get lost,
slide away,
into the terribly empty cavern of me
if I ever open it all the way up again.
Love is a man
With a mustache
gently holding me every night,
always being there when I need to touch him;
he could not know the painfully loud
music from the past that
his loving stops from pounding, banging,
battering through my brain,
which does its best to destroy the precarious gray matter when I
am alone;
he does not hear Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary singing for me,
liking the sound of my lesson this week,
telling me,
confirming what my teacher says,
that I have a gift for the piano
few of her other pupils had.
When I touch the man
I love,
I want to thank my mother for giving me
piano lessons
all those years,
keeping the memory of Beethoven,
a deaf tortured man,
in mind;

of the beauty that can come

from even an ugly
past.

To briefly analyze “Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons,” come up with five different similes for what the piano means to the speaker in this poem. Be prepared to defend your similes.

  • The piano is like ______________________________________
  • The piano is like ______________________________________
  • The piano is like ______________________________________
  • The piano is like ______________________________________
  • The piano is like ______________________________________
  1. Option 2: in the spirit of Thanksgiving, write a poem that uses the imagery from Thanksgiving foods to write about something other than Thanksgiving. For example, you might use “stuffing” imagery as a metaphor for how busy your life is. You might use sweet potato pie imagery to contrast your hard-edged attitude when someone crosses you. Be creative. Here’s an example that I wrote in about 10 minutes. Be playful:

I Sing Anyway

How I long to hold a note
that is smooth and decadent
as melted butter.

To dissect a melody with the swift precision
of my mother’s hands
dicing an onion.

Instead my voice is
crumbled cornbread.
Sticky, cloying,
pumpkin pie,
with a crack down the middle.

I want to lay out a table
with a white linen cloth
and be the centerpiece,
performing an aria
that is as complete and rounded
as one spoonful
of perfectly salted mashed potatoes.

I want to lay out a table
with a white linen cloth
and lull my company
with a trembling lullaby
that makes every spinach leaf
in my grandmother’s heirloom china
gently
wilt.

I want to lay out a table
with a white linen cloth
and belt out some Beyoncé
that is bright and poppin
as some simmered cranberries.

Instead I’ll have to make do
with my dry turkey
of a throat
and sing anyway,
because I’m happy…
and his eyes are on the sparrow…
and I know he’s watching over me.

And because I sing,
anyway,
I am happy,
feeling simple as a green bean.

  1. You are welcome to do both options 1 & 2, receiving extra credit for your second poem. Both poems are worth up to 20 points toward your class work grade.

Independent work time as the teacher circulates and works with students one-on-one (65 min)

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To Teach “Like A Champion…”

Brian Angell Summer's Almost Over CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hello Friends,

Happy early Thanksgiving! You’d think on a food blog inspired by the act of melting butter in a pan, I’d be posting food-oriented thoughts around this time of year, but instead I’m going to throw you a curveball and process my thoughts about the book – I want to call it a cult classic in the charter world — Teach Like a Champion.

As a matter of fact, I am about to grocery shop for my family’s beloved (to me) stuffing recipe, involving mirepoix, bacon, cornbread, spiced pecans, chicken stock, butter…

Anyway. I’m a bit of a crossroads with my writing: in a fit of renewed enthusiasm for freelancing, I renewed my subscription to Writer’s Market and Media Bistro and I wrote a short story earlier this semester that I’ve submitted to a few publications as well as a query about gifted education.

Fellow writers, this site is super helpful if you’re interested in publishing a short story:

Where To Submit Short Stories

When I introduced the idea of “braiding” short stories to my creative writing class, I got all pumped up and started writing a braided piece about August 2014, intertwining my grandfather’s death, Michael Brown’s death, and my own personal struggles in Chicago, removed from it all, a piece that has now stagnated for me that I’ve somewhat abandoned. I’ve been in touch with a freelance writer/family friend and he’s encouraged me not to blog, instead seeking “some” compensation and editorial feedback for my writing. But alas, I feel myself returning to this cluttered, messy, haphazard website that has at times served as a springboard for my freelance “career” (hah), other times as a personal form of documentation, marking the passage of time with my musings on recipes tested, books read, and trips traveled, and right now, much like the end of the summer when I posted a flurry of lesson plans, a way for me to process and publish my thoughts on my job – the teaching of teenagers. As with my students, the act of putting my thoughts about teaching into writing, and more importantly, sharing them with an audience, however small, is about writing to learn, and writing to better myself, and less about the quality of the words I put forth on the virtual page. So bear with me. Read ahead if you like.

One of my biggest dilemmas as a teacher is the balance between intentionality and authenticity… (This is a topic that I’d really like to pitch to a magazine, one that I feel I could write a long article about, but I mention it here as a segue way into Teach Like a Champion). This is my sixth year of teaching, and in my earliest years – like 1, 2, 3 – I placed more of an emphasis on intentionality to the point of writing down scenarios and scripting my responses in the beginning of the year, and even scripting my daily lesson plans to a certain extent. Granted, that’s probably appropriate as a beginning teacher, and now certain responses are engrained in me and I don’t need to really think much about certain responses – in other words, some of my reactions to students naturally fall into both categories, intentional and authentic. But I’ve found in years 5 and now 6, especially, that I lean increasingly towards responding to students in a spontaneous, human way, rather than in a scripted, “this is how a teacher responds” sort of way. And I’ve found that it has yielded very effective results, especially as a teacher of juniors and seniors, the oldest kids in the K-12 system, in building close and authentic relationships. When older students see your humanity, and feel that you interact with them comfortably as one person to another, I’ve found that it builds trust and respect. And avoids power struggles.

Then again… I feel that a classroom is always a performance space to a certain extent, and it’s crucial to run a tight ship. So as I sweep floors, and wipe countertops, empty trash, and otherwise prepare for my favorite holiday – Thanksgiving!!! – I’m delving into a little professional development at the same time, and summarizing what I’m reading for no other reason than to record and clarify for myself some strategies I want to try in my classroom. This post isn’t really about writing, or blogging, it’s for myself, honestly – but whether or not you’re a teacher, most of us have been in school at some point, so I find that most of us are interested in what goes on in schools and are invested on that level alone to make teachers better at their jobs. So, with no further adieu, Technique #1. As I do with my students when I ask them to summarize, this is Teach Like a Champion as I understand it, in my own words.

Technique #1: No Opt Out

So the basic idea behind “No Opt Out” is that you want to teach your students that you won’t let them off the hook when they either don’t know the right answer, or they don’t want to try for it. So the simple idea is, whenever you ask a student for an answer, and they can’t answer the question, you find a way to circle back to that student and have them answer the question. This does a variety of things: it builds individual students’ confidence, it expresses your high standards for all students and your emphasis on 100 percent participation, and it builds a spirit of collaboration, for starters.

It’s very easy to implement, and Teach Like a Champion identifies five different and simple formats for implementing this strategy:

  • Provide the answer yourself, then circle back to the student and have him/her simply repeat it.
  • Seek another student’s help in answering the question, then circle back to the original student and have him/her repeat the other student’s correct answer.
  • Depending the on the nature of the question, invite the whole class to call out/chant the correct answer, then circle back to the original student and have him/her repeat the correct answer.
  • Provide a cue with additional information that helps the student answer the question; then have the student answer the question correctly
  • Call on another student to provide a cue that helps the original student answer the question correctly

What I love about Teach Like a Champion is that the strategies are highly specific and very simple. With so much to think about, not to mention a long to-do list, it’s nice to write on my lesson plan, “No Opt Out” and just strive to hold students accountable more effectively when some of them want to opt out of thinking critically. There’s a part of me, heavily influenced by the charter world, that really believes that in education, the devil is in the details and it’s the small adjustments that count for a lot.

But then again, the struggle between intentionality and authenticity. The fact that we are adult human beings dealing with young human beings. The dichotomy between being told that teaching is “all about relationships” and yet about these draconian, yes, highly specific strategies. Here are some criticisms of Doug Lemov/Teach Like A Champion that get at that central dilemma, in my opinion – What do you think?

Peg Robertson Eviscerates Teach Like a Champion

This School Year Don’t Teach Like a Champion

Why I Stopped Teaching Like a Champion

 

 

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