Tuesday, March 16, 2010


My students are taking a closer look at setting in their independent reading in order to apply some of what they notice to the fiction pieces they are writing and revising. The task they had today was deceptively simple... find a rich description of a setting in your book and copy it. Then they had to answer two questions in their small group discussion: Why is that setting important to the book? and Why did the author choose to describe it in those words?

To help them, we did a fishbowl in each class. Volunteers read and discussed the passages that they had selected, and I participated in their conversations, too. I did not expect how this activity would give my English major skills their chance to shine. One student read a description of a house whose hue was "eggish" when the sun shone on it. "Hmm," I wondered out loud. "Why eggish?"

"Um... It's probably white or yellow?" The kid looked at me with some concern. Had I lost my sense of the obvious?

"Yeah, but what happens inside an egg?"

His eyes widened. "Ooohhh-- something grows," he answered, "something hatches!"

"Does that fit in with the book at all?" I asked, and away he went with a really good analysis of that egg symbol.

This went on all day. Me: "Why does he describe the river like a snake?"

Kid: "Because it's twisty?"

Me: "What happens next in the book?"

Kid: "She's betrayed by her friends."

Me: "What do you think of when you think of a snake?"

Astonished Kid: "OOOhhh!"

And so on... Why is she walking through a gathering storm? Why is that golden? Why is that dirty? You get the picture.

Fun for me? Oh yeah. But more importantly, my students are right on the cognitive verge of getting symbolism, and they thought this stuff was pure magic. Which, of course, as any true English major knows, it is.


  1. The magic is why we become English majors - the ooooohs from our students is why we become English teachers.

    That was such an inspiring post and exactly what I needed right now to get me through this week.

    Thank you so much for sharing today!

    -Carrie F.

  2. The way you shifted from the use of quotations to mark the dialogue to the list-like script format is very effective. It helped create a shift from being in the moment to a montage effect. Nice!

  3. Okay. Confession: I was not an English Major, but I teach English. Why did I not major in English? Because I wanted to talk about texts and literature and symbolism and character and motivation. Our English Dept was into Post-Colonialsim, the Absurd, the study of the Grotesque, etc. etc. I couldn't handle it. It was either Comp Lit or Creative Writing, so I went for Creative Writing, and scramble a lot now to teach myself things to teach others, in the true Englishy way.

    I wish I had your facility with All Things English, but I must say, I'm pretty good with teaching them how to write!