Write Beside Them

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could…tomorrow is a new day.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said that, and I’m doing my best! Wednesday is our “Wild about Words” day, devoted to the primary building blocks of communication: WORDS. I know vocabulary study carries many mixed emotions, not only the words of themselves, but how to incorporate word study practically, usefully into a curriculum. It encounters yet another obstacle when I realize that the students are not reading with the enthusiasm that they used to before. (Ah, the bane of a veteran teacher with almost 40 years of classroom history: BEFORE.)

This is delicate time of year, and striking the right note to leave my 100%-online students with a desire to return in 2021 is on my mind. That said, I do not want to give up goals I have for them in the here and now. And the habit of learning and using words well matters. It remains a daily challenge to leave them happy, my preference, and to feel like we’ve accomplished something—emphasis on the “we.”

So Wednesdays, above all, we CELEBRATE words! Naturally I give them a list each Wednesday taken from the academic words appropriate to each grade level. And Quizlet practice is the staple for review. But the joy comes with the two additional words each student chooses from life—reading, listening, any source that presents an intriguing collection of syllables—to add to their personal digital dictionaries.

Their vibrant selections posted on a class Jamboard, “Our Words,” attest to the joy of this strategy as they add their personal selections: glib, malice, spirometer, beveled, malarkey…words far richer the circumscribed list. They have performed introductions of their words, written haikus (thanks to Corbett Harrison), written opinions about why their word should be chosen above all the others. In short, they have used their words in context, their nimble minds on display.

Last Wednesday I asked them to pick any three words from the current list and to use them cohesively in a story, not an original assignment by any means, but because this was not a “throw-away,” not a “time-filler” but one with devoted notebook and class time, and the opportunity to share, they brought their best writer-selves to the task.

Kelly Gallagher says we must write with our kids. Before we began the assignment, I did the next best thing. I selected three words from their list, told them how they seemed connected, planned what I would write aloud—and wrote with them as they composed. When the 10 minute timer chimed, cries of “Just a couple more minutes…” won the day. When we finally stopped, I showed them my notebook pages—they’re seventh graders and couldn’t care less what I actually wrote (the sixth graders wanted me to read, too, though)—and had kids clamoring to share, with the magic words, “I still have more to write,” floating in the Meet space.

More than half the class shared in my seventh grade, a rarity. Stories elicited sincere peer appreciation, some chuckles, an “Aw” or two. Did we get to everything I had planned? Of course not. We delayed due dates on independent work, closed with our daily chuckle and left happy.

Tomorrow is a new day.

9 thoughts on “Write Beside Them”

  1. Kids clamoring to share — such music to my ears! The energy around writing here is palpable and I love it. Reminds me of Donald Graves and that teachers “create the conditions for good writing to occur.” We are the force that charges that writing atmosphere, positively or negatively… both he and Gallagher (hose work I also love) are emphatic about teachers modeling the authentic process. We must write for and with the kids. It’s a shared adventure. I savored the moments of magic here… they never really lose their power. I celebrate your wisdom with the approach and the writing passion it sparks, along with a safe and restful winter break.

  2. That is wonderful. I love reading and words used correctly are such a joy and the different ways a word can be used is fascinating. We wish you and your family a Happy Christmas.

    1. Same to you. I read your post, but yesterday escaped me. I so enjoy reading about your life, the days spent in a different place but often so connected to mine.

  3. I love talking with kids about being a word nerd. I think the enthusiasm we bring to the kids around vocabulary encourages them to embrace – and celebrate – their inner word nerd.

    1. Me, too. Words are what we’ve got…if we’re lucky. I usually hold up the dictionary at some point and tell them that everything ever written is in here; you just have to find them and put them in the right order.😀

  4. Please, a few more minutes to finish…what great words to hear at the end of writing time. I like how the students get to add their own words to the word list. This makes it more personal and meaningful. The cohesive story might be old, but your approach to it isn’t. Great idea.

    1. I know school-related stories must get tedious, but they dominate my life right now. Thanks for the kind words.

  5. You insert an element of choice in this weekly assignment, and that makes all the difference! When we approach writing as writers ourselves, with joy and passion, that vibration is carried through to our students, even via Meets. You have set a great example and are reaping the benefits–kudos!

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