Monday, August 25, 2008

Spare the Gun and Spoil the Child
for the Universal Press Syndicate in July of this year, Chuck Shepherd reported that in May a 30-year-old man was arrested “…after his 8-year-old son told police that his dad routinely shoots him and his brother in the leg with a BB gun if they misbehave.” And in Medford, Oregon a 46-year-old man was arrested in June because he allegedly hit his teenage daughter in the ankle to feign a skating injury. After a doctor prescribed pain medication for the girl, this paragon of fatherhood used it to feed his habit.
Don’t you wonder if there will ever be an end to the ways in which some parents mistreat their children?

Using a Significant Photograph To Inspire Writing
Writing Project Director James Davis asks his students to recall a photograph of some significance to them. Then he asks them to describe the photograph as they remember it. “Who is in the photograph?” he asks. “What are their expressions and stances? What are the important details of the setting?” Davis then asks the students to find the photograph they described and study it carefully before writing about any discrepancies between the photograph as it exists and their memory of it. “Why might these discrepancies exist?” he concludes. “Which version has more to do with truth?”

Hogs Rally To Get Split
You just read another headline to an article that appeared in my hometown newspaper. As you probably know, there are many barbeque restaurants here in my adopted state of North Carolina. Even so, when I read the headline, I wondered why a group of pigs would want to get together to be split. But as I read the article, I discovered that Hogs is a nickname for Warthogs— which is the name of Winston-Salem’s minor league baseball team—and that the Hogs had split a double header with the Kinston Indians. It’s a good thing, I thought, that the Indians hadn’t won, because then I might have read an article that shouted “Indians Scalp Hogs.”

“Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.”
W.C. Fields, American comedian and actor.
A photograph of a smiling person can inspire students to write an almost unlimited number of compositions ranging from poems to expository pieces. In this photograph, for example, one can’t help wondering what the girl is thinking as she looks into the camera’s lens. And what about the photographer? What has he or she done to initiate the smile? What does the photograph reveal about the relationship between the girl and the photographer?

Monday, August 18, 2008

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter…”
T. S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
If, as the poet wrote, it’s difficult to name cats, then it must be even more difficult to name cars. I say this because sometimes I think that today’s automakers must be banging their heads against a wall. Otherwise, why would they come up with names like Borrego, Miata, Versa, Impreza, Elantra, Element and Passat?
I suppose I’ve turned into an ancient fuddy duddy when it comes to the naming of cars. Maybe that’s because I can remember the old Roadmaster, the stately Seville, the perky Escort, the elegant Malibu, the no-frills Biscayne, the speedy Firebird, the crowd-pleasing Grand Prix, and the legendary Beetle.
Well, I learned long ago that a name is, after all, just a name. If you call an airplane an air machine, it’ll still get you where you’re going. And if you call a strawberry a rawberry, it’ll still taste sweet. That’s why I guess I’ll have to be happy riding around in my beat-up, old Sentra. What’s more, I should be even happier because it’s not called an Impredoodia, or something like that.

A Written Feast for the Senses
After having students respond to several photos in terms of the five senses, Lehigh Valley Writing Project Co-Director Kristy M. Weidner-Gonzalez encouraged the students to write short poems in which each line revealed one of the senses. Then the students took a walking tour of the school and surrounding neighborhood during which they photographed their favorite places. Using the images they produced, the students revisited the idea of senses as they wrote what they had experienced when they created the photos. “The second time around had much more meaning for the students,” writes Weidner-Gonzalez, “because the places they photographed were much more personal and held certain memories for them.”

Plant Asks City’s Help
Yes! You just read the headline to an article that appeared in my hometown newspaper last month. When I read it, I thought it strange that a rose, an aspidistra, a coreopsis, or any of hundreds of other plants would ask for help—especially since they can’t talk. But as I read the article, I realized that a global manufacturing company here in Winston-Salem had applied to the city for $54,000 in incentives to upgrade its plant. The mystery solved, I couldn’t help thinking that the newspaper’s editors must have been talking on their cell phones or playing games on their computers when they wrote that headline.

What Is This Man Thinking?
In this photograph a lonely man stands against a background of rugs, a for sale sign, an American flag, and several other objects. Who is this man? Why are there no other people around him? What is he thinking as he stands and waits? Has he arrived in the United States from another country?
Combined with the photograph, these and other questions can inspire students to write poems, stories, dramatic monologues, expository pieces and other compositions to share with their classmates.

Monday, August 11, 2008

And You Thought That Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 Was Just a Novel!
This is a true story. If you don’t believe me, please visit Cheryl Thurston’s blog at
Cheryl operates a publishing house that specializes in interesting and exciting books and other learning materials for students. Recently, she and one of her employees met with a teacher who made some interesting comments about the Colorado Student Assessment Program Tests, which are required statewide.
This employee,” writes Thurston, “has never been a teacher. She did not grow up in Colorado. Her children are not in the school system yet. She really didn’t know anything about CSAP.”
At the meeting, the teacher indicated that even though a large number of students in her school cannot speak English, and even though 12 of the students have serious mental and physical disabilities, “all of them, no matter what, are required to take the state tests.”
"What’s more, if the students can’t answer any of the questions, all of them receive zeroes, which are averaged with all the other students’ grades to determine the school’s 'grade.'"
Well, we’ll never know how Joseph Heller would have responded to that educational catch-22, but we do know that Thurston’s companion was shocked. “That’s crazy,” she said.
Isn’t it interesting that someone who claims no expertise in a specific field can be so perceptive? If you know of a catch-22 situation related to public or private education, we’d love to hear from you.

Welcome to the Digital Age
Now that we are in the digital age,” writes Coastal Georgia Writing Director Pat West, “I have students in my college freshman composition course take photographs to support an observational writing essay. Then we conduct campus writing marathons to get students familiar with the process.” West also uses family photos to help generate writings about heritage. In another exercise, West sparks critical thinking by showing students Henry O. Tanner’s painting The Banjo Lesson and asking the question, “Who is teaching whom?”
If you have used photographs to stimulate writing in your classroom and would like to share your experiences, we’d love to hear from you.

Hello! 911! I Wanna Report a Problem with a Sandwich!
I learned about the 911 sandwich phone call on the Bill O’Reilly Show. It seems that a man called 911 to report that he’d bought two sandwiches at a Subway outlet, taken them home, and discovered that one of the sandwiches wasn’t what he ordered. That’s right! He called 911 to report a mistake in an order for two sandwiches. Duh? Why am I not surprised?

"Let onions lurk within the bowl,
And scarce suspected, animate the whole."
Sydney Smith, British Clergyman
Even the humble and often maligned onion can provide inspiration for students who are seeking ideas for their compositions. Perhaps they could reveal an onion-related experience they found humorous or maybe even annoying or disturbing. Maybe they could "lurk within the bowl" and describe what it feels like to swim in a sea of salad dressing.
In one actual classroom exercise, several students chose to describe their surroundings from the point of view of an onion. This approach allowed them to utilize many sense impressions in their writing.
Here's the opening line from one of their compositions. "Oh, no," I shouted as a hand wielding a sharp knife began to descend on me.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Iraqi a Day Keeps Good Grammar Away

Writing in the Winston-Salem Journal, retired Journal editor Richard Creed notes that four years ago President Bush referred to “a Iraqi government.” Then he indicates that last year a news report called Iraqi President Talabani’s visit to Beijing “the first China visit by a Iraqi president since the two countries forged diplomatic ties in 1958.”
After citing several other examples of the use of “a” in place of “an,” Creed points out that even a careful, deliberate speaker like Sen. Barack Obama stumbled when he said that the country needs: “a effort to shore up the housing industry.”
All this raises a question in my mind,” concludes Creed. “If members of the news media, the president, and a man who might become president persist in saying such things as “a Iraqi” and “a effort,” will the useful article an fall into disuse?”
I hope not. Somehow I’m just not comfortable with the sound of a apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Here’s an Interesting Use for Photographs of Bridges

At the University of Alabama Diane Sekeres used photographs of bridges as prompts in a workshop she conducted at the Longleaf Writing Summer Institute for Teachers. “I found about about twenty pictures of different kinds of bridges: rope, draw, suspension, destroyed, over gorges, over highways, or over water,” she writes. “Then I asked the teachers to study the photos and select one that was a metaphor for their teaching.” At the conclusion to the exercise, the teacher-students wrote about their choices and their reasons for making them.

Documentary Wins Kellner’s Own Highly Coveted Golden Pen Award

Located on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp, Corapeake, North Carolina appears to be just another small town stuck out in the middle of nowhere. But when New York photographer Kendall Messick and his best friend Brenda Parker Hunt visited Corapeake to take pictures of Brenda’s aging relatives, they discovered a treasure trove of fascinating stories and outstanding visual images. The result was a stunning documentary based on the reminiscences of the town’s elders presented on tape and in black and white photographs. You can find out more about the documentary Corapeake at

"Memory: a child walking along a seashore. You can never tell what small pebbles it may pick up and store among its treasured things." Pierce Harris, American Clergyman

Three boys walk along the shore as the sun lingers on the horizon. What if an offshore swimmer called for help? What if one of the boys found a message in a bottle? What if a tsunami appeared on the horizon? What if one of the boys found a diamond ring? What if a dead body washed ashore?
Authors have always asked themselves "What if?" when they sought inspiration. Well, if that technique works for the pros, there's no reason it can't work for students--especially when they ask "What if?" while they're viewing a photograph that can help to stimulate their imaginations