Real Language at Work

Becoming Real Writers
Lori Jackson

One day as part of our discussion of the role of observation in becoming a Real Writer, I taught a lesson that went so well, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't in a Ralph Fletcher video! I brought in lots of stuff collected while hiking in the Big Horns this weekend, bark, rocks, pine tufts, different kind of pine cones. I used an unusual pine cone to model for the students how to practice our observation skills by playing "I spy with my little eye..." on paper. this game is played frequently by our counselor, so the kids are very familiar with the game. I wrote a page long description, thinking aloud the while, and then invited kids to take their notebooks to assigned stations where they could select an object to write about. I encouraged them to keep it a secret and sent them off to write. I got great stuff from these guys. The talk around the writing was incredible. I saw them heads together trying to find just the right word or phrase to describe their objects. One little girl just astounded me as she wrote about a rock. She said, "It smells good, like a horse in a barn full of hay." The amazing thing was this rock came from the rocky pasture where my sister summers her horse! I promise there was no obvious evidence of this and I had nearly forgotten it until she began to read to me. She went on to say, 'It is shaped like a nose on one end and it is flat on the bottom. It fits in my hand. It looks kind of like the rock in Lion King." When we gathered to share, children quickly placed their objects on a tarp in the middle of the room. Each of them would stand, read their peice and watch the hands fly up as each student tried to identify what the author was describing. My class of 22 generally tolerates five or six sharing. Every child had their turn and I was able to take furious notes without stopping to redirect or restate my expectations. After a few more explorations in observation, I want to talk about how to use observation and the kind of descriptive language it inspires to enrich our writing.

Lori Jackson has been teaching for nine years in Todd County, South Dakota. She is currently teaching as part of a 1-2 looping partnership. Her undergraduate work was complete at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, having accumulated too many credits not to, she is currently pursuing her master's degree in reading at Sinte Gleske University in South Dakota. She is a CGI trainer/mentor teacher and uses the philosophy of Whole Language to guide her classroom practice.


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