Friday, February 26, 2010

What's in a Name?

The recent snow days out of school gave my students some fresh memoir material. There are many tales of igloos, snow forts, and shoveling misadventures. As they've been working toward a final draft, we've done some mini-lessons on the qualities of an effective memoir. First, they worked in small groups to brainstorm improvements for a rough draft that was in obvious need of expansion. Then we turned that list around. So, if the title of the first piece was boring, then we agreed that a memoir needs a great title. Since the lead didn't grab them, they understood that for a successful piece, the lead should be strong, and so on. I'll use this same checklist for both their self-evaluation and my own assessment of their final drafts.

We're getting close to finishing, and a student who wants the best grade for the minimum effort approached me today waving her two page memoir. She's a talented writer who always takes pains to let me know she hates the assignment, whatever it might be. "Is this good enough for an A?" she asked me.

"Do you think it's good?" I replied.

"I don't know. I can never tell about my own writing," she told me.

"That's a shame," I said, "since you're the only one you can always count on to read what you've written. Let's work on that. How about this title? The Igloo? Does it grab you?"

"Not really," she said, "but why does it have to? JK Rowling's books have boring titles. They're always Harry Potter and the something." She thought a moment. 'Like Deathly Hallows. That's boring. But the books are the best."

"Deathly Hallows is not boring," I argued. "Far from it. Both death and hallow are very engaging ideas." She shrugged. "Go brainstorm three more titles for your piece," I directed her. "Then come back."

A few minutes later, she returned with these titles: The Great Igloo, The Snowy Night, and The First Night of Snow. I rolled my eyes and told her to keep working. Meanwhile, the author of another igloo story had been listening intently to our exchange. He handed me his piece with some concern and asked for ideas. I mentioned that the verb "dug" and his comparison to a foxhole stood out for me. A few minutes later he had these: Frozen Foxhole and I Know What You Dug Last Winter.

Now that's the spirit!

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