EMC Let them Loose – National Writing Day 2018

June 27, 2018

Today, my students took part in EMC’s Let them Loose – an idea for National Writing Day in which students are given some stimuli and then allowed 30-40 minutes to just write without fear of marking or being judged. Mine found it really difficult. They constantly wanted to check spellings with me or show it to me to see if it was good. I had to stop the class about ten minutes in and say: “Look, this is not about being right or wrong – that is the whole point – write what you like, what you feel, what you want.”

Some amazing pieces of writing came out of it of which they are proud. A few kept them to themselves which I said was fine. This was about writing just for you.

The best ones we have shared with the English and Media Centre on twitter and hope to be chosen to be part of their massive gallery of works by young people created this morning.

I also joined in, of course. It is filled with a sense of End of Term blues, that’s for sure. I used the stimulus phrase “yes, I did cry, watching the”

**

yes, I did cry, watching the

cry, yes, I did – the watching

watching, the cry, yes

I did.

Let me start again.

Listen.

Yes. I did. Cry, that is. My eyes began to feel that build up of water in their gutters – the first glistening drops of rain before a flash flood covers everything.

Yes, I did, I cry

I cry out sometimes when I see something that reminds me of

Ahem. Pardon me.

And then it all comes rushing out – the skies open; all their undulating sagging sadness erupts over the earth – a catharsis, of sorts. My therapist uses that word. Catharsis – a natural unloading of all the things that have become too much to bear. I guess that’s what I use her for… But what about the rumble of thunder I feel? Or those sharp, bright flashes of overwhelming light? Blinding and yet invigorating; momentary yet all encompassing. She can’t explain those. Maybe God is angry, she says. Maybe the clouds are protesting against their endless against their endless repetitive jobs – a constant cycle of impending grief. Is it worth it for the

Catharsis.

Is it all worthwhile after all?

*

Yes, I did cry, watching the rain.

It seemed the only logical thing to do.

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Stories with Holes

April 26, 2018

I was teaching a lesson today on critical thinking based on a riddle I was given at the PAIS teachers’ conference. The riddle is as follows:

A man lives on the twelfth floor of a building. Each morning he gets up, showers, gets dressed, takes the elevator to the first floor and goes to work. Each evening, he comes home, takes the elevator to the sixth floor, runs up to the twelfth floor and he’s home. Why doesn’t he take the elevator to the twelfth floor when he comes home?

Answer? He is too short to reach the button.

My class got this about 15 minutes quicker than I did, so I created a choice of bridging activities in case we had finished all other tasks related.

  • Imagine you are the man, getting into the lift for the first time and realising that the 12 button is too high. Write the introduction to a story with this as the idea.
  • Try to create your own logic/critical thinking conundrum to challenge the rest of the class.
  • Essay question: How does using critical thinking support all subject areas?

Most of the students picked option 2. However, I picked option 1 and modelled my good behaviour by getting on with it in the allocated 10 minutes. Here is my result:

**

When looking up and down the heavily wallpapered hallway, a sense of times gone by pervaded. The art on the walls was kooky and mundane at the same time – if that’s at all possible – fruits in pastels of unusual colours; the slightly off-centre stare of a big busted Monalisa; a few old cigarette adverts of the 1970s without our more modern health warnings. He stepped into the elevator. The light around the button for number 17 flickered high above his head. Gilded mirrors flourished in a garden of faux-leather padding.

Floor 12. He could see it clearly.

One bead of sweat slowly trickled over his enlarged balding brow. There was no way. He’d been in elevators like this one before but always squashed against someone, and a bulbous giant of a woman or a wannabe aggressive Teddy Boy type would reach over and, after looking down at him (with possible pity) would politely inquire – “Which floor?”

However, on re-opening the door with it’s vibrato ping, the padded silence of the lobby trudged back at him through overly thick carpet with a slow and steady monotonousness. There was nobody to help now.

He took a shot at it. Fingers stretched and extended as far as was possible. Legs squatted and feet bounced against the metal casing. Shudders in the lift shaft like bursts of static being released into the evening.

On the roof, a pigeon took flight.

By the entrance, the concierge thought for a moment that maybe he had heard something, but soon decided against it and went back to his book.

 


Mosquito Quarantine

March 30, 2018

León, Nicaragua.DSC_2254.jpg

Enmeshed in a mosquito quarantine,
The fan circles.
The honeycomb bars
Hide dusty squat streets
Of dusty squat houses
Painted in faded colours of the revolution:
“It’s the same as it was before.”

Left or right or torture or pain
Shown in childlike drawings
On her empassioned face;
Left or right
Are not important
When the desire for power is so strong.

A clatter of chairlegs on concrete,
Chattering lips and chastised tongues:
Art on facades martyr the fallen –
What lies beyond the facade?
We are falling.

All of us?
The fan circles.

Swilling around her mouth
Are stories of subordination –
Nothing changes;
It is impossible;
Nothing has ever changed…
The deadbeat resignation of the post revolutionary rings throughout these poverty stricken streets as the fan circles.

The fan circles.

We lie in our enclaves of lace
Protected by power of money and birth and I didn’t choose to be born here and yet I was and here I am and here she is.

Encircled by a lace freedom which separates me and keeps me safe:

Mosquito quarantine.


New Shoes

February 14, 2018

This was written as an example of how specific details can make stories more realistic and hold more weight with your reader.

This was the first lesson, in which I asked students to consider and then writer about a pair of shoes which had been important for some reason to them. Maybe they had been particularly special or maybe they had been horrendously ugly. Why did they stand out to you? What can they tell us about you or your life?

In the next lesson, we looked at perspective and had to write as the shoes. The kids came out with some exceptional pieces in the end.

Here is my example using a pair of trainers I got when I was a teenager which I remember still as being the flashiest pair of shoes I’d ever owned.

**

They smelled like cool. All the students at school had talked about these – now I finally had a pair. The pink tick sparkled at me as if they had a mischievous glint in their eye; the laces twirled and danced upon the tongue; the air bubbles in the base seemed to pulsate to an inert beat which my footsteps were ready to join. I remember when I first put them on: “ha,” I thought, “it’s like walking on a cloud.” I’d never really been cool at school – I wasn’t unpopular, just not popular with the right people, if you know what I mean. However, these shoes were going to change that. I could feel it.


Character Description

February 5, 2018

This is an example I modelled for students for Character Description. I had to meet the Success Criteria that we had made which was:

  • Describe how they look
  • Describe how they act/react
  • Use direct speech
  • Describe how other characters react to them
  • Describe their clothes

This was written in front of them in full flow… with some input from the students!

*

His grey hoodie was too big for him and fell over his hands like a willow tree over a lake, gently brushing the surface of his fingertips. He couldn’t help but fiddle with the sleeves, nervously scraping his nails across the stitching. His hair was shaved close to his head but he had long eyelashes which shadowed his dark grey eyes.  He saw her coming before she saw him.

“Hey!” he shouted, clearing his chest of sandwich crumbs and rising from the brick wall. She smiled at him, but then looked away, awkwardly acting as if she didn’t know him. She was like a mouse skittering across the kitchen floor so as not to be seen. Flailing madly, he ran across to her – shoving his body in front of her and glaring.

“Am I not worth one little hello, Andrea?!”


When teaching Pathetic Fallacy

February 3, 2018

I often think to myself – I don’t write enough! My blog has lain dormant for over a year now and notepads lie empty and un-scribbled in.

But I’ve realised, of course, that I write all the time! I write examples for students almost every day which we analyse or use as models for techniques.

So, I thought that I’d start to post some here – starting with this extract which I wrote during a lesson on Pathetic Fallacy. The task was that I gave them timed writing tasks with different weather examples in different orders. We were to see how much the weather changes and order affected the story we wrote. Here’s one I wrote where every picture was of a kind of vague drizzle. The time limit was 5 minutes.

*

Outside the window, the pitter patter of rain trundled on, endlessly. It wasn’t that powerful rain which knocks you back and soaks you through instantly, or that light rain which seems to caress your face like a mother to a child – but a pathetic weak rain which insipidly creeps up on you, gradually corroding the outer layers of skin, until there you are – stripped of all protective layers, wrinkled finger tips and shrivelled heart – ready to sit on a park bench and simply give up.

The clouds weren’t a violent purple grey of surging anger, no, they were a tepid light grey like the suit trousers of an insurance salesman or the skin of someone who is not quite dead… Yet.

And the air hung like a meat carcass in the butcher’s shop – dead – but not yet of any discernable use. Awaiting eventual consumption.

It was cold.

But not too cold.

He longed to be frozen – for his fingers to ache with frost-bite; for icicles to pop from his nose like stalactites – just so that he could say:

“Ooh, it’s a bit chilly out, Margaret”

Or

“We’ll need to get a fresh pair of gloves for you if this continues.”

But, no.

It was not too cold and neither was it warm.

Life was a luke-warm cup of tea for Nigel, and he wanted out.


Koh Phi Phi

August 31, 2016

Stepping off the boat

the waves of sales

men crash over us

following the scent

of our currency.

The current flows

 

Into the land of lads and ladettes –

To large linoleum dance floors,

And listless signs proclaiming

“You know what goes well with beer?

 

Sex.”

And everyone has it dripping in the sweat

That circulates through the square;

The throbbing beat of nineties classics

And the traffic of hungover teens

 

Living the Thailand dream.

And I feel like Philip Larkin

Watching them

on the long slide.

To happiness. Endlessly.

 

He accepts his own impending mortality, however.

 

I’m 28.

And this is torture.


Nighttime Flight over Bangkok

August 12, 2016

On a large rickety table
He places a black cloth –
It hangs over the table like the night over the city.

From inside his long dark jacket
Glittering objects appear
And he arranges them in sprawling lines
And empty squares and unbroken rows
In the darkness.

Glittering gridlocks;
Shimmering miniature streetlamps;
Christmassy quadrants;
The small square glass window through which a family eats and argues and loves and screams.

Everything is for sale.

Everything is for sale.

Look at the shining lights, my friend,
And what lies in the dark can remain in the dark.

As if it didn’t exist at all.


Ohrid – Sofia through the Macedonian countryside

July 25, 2016

The paper land is ripped to reveal the sky –

A hand-torn collage of crete-paper trees,

Orange sugar paper rock faces and

Harsh lines drawn through the green.

Houses cut from old travel brochures

Dot fuzzy felt valleys or peep out

From behind make-shift leaves.

 

Later, as mum cleared the mess and put away the glue,

She could have sworn she saw my little rickety bus

Travelling through.


Porto Montenegro and the fall of Tivat

August 27, 2014

Montenegro is still up-and-coming as a tourist destination: we are staying very near to Tivat airport and I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly busy airport. But it shouldn’t be, yet: Tivat is not ready.

From the Tourist Centre, if you walk to the beach you find a concrete coast, half-tiled, half dirt-path. There are many cafés and shops but not enough people to warrent them really: a few leather-skinned families waltz past; young people hang about in packs by the henna-tattoo hippy; and the even-younger jump into the water from a two-foot concrete diving board while their parents bake on the beach. To the left is a huge construction site – three skeletons of buildings sit beneath their corresponding crane – and you can see these will be luxury hotels or even more luxurious apartments.

You can follow a small stream of people to these half-completed complexes and around to the other side, through a small alley past a metal fence, where large numbers of taxis sit in a line waiting for prey.

And the prey are here. Coming out of the half-constructed alley, suddenly you’re in a well-lit, palm-tree lined, white-walled, miniature-fountain-laden marina complete with smart restaurants, organic food store and row upon row of pristine super-yachts. At this point, you could be anywhere – in this playground for the filthy rich all character is edited out – any unkempt nook destroyed or replaced. It is not the real world.

Walking along one of the piers with the many yachts tethered to it, it’s difficult not to want to stand in the centre of it all and scream “You all have too much money!”. This is a town surrounded by beautiful wooded mountains with perfectly clear water in the bay coming in from the Adriatic and seriously hot summers and yet it is being turned into a faceless nowhere-land where people with yachts throw money around before going to the next faceless nowhere-land (Puerto Banus or the like). You can see that this whole coastline will eventually be encroached upon by this concrete imaginary-land. All the surrounding big roads signs in Russian and English proclaim ‘Quality Real-Estate Available’ so you know this is not somewhere aimed at locals. As the prices continue to be hiked up, they will eventually be pushed out. No, this new faceless nowhere-land is a party for the super-rich and I, for one, am glad not to be invited.