It’s always a miracle to begin a story with a simple prompt and within one short week the classes complete an entire, entirely whimsical story.
Teachers and three classes of third graders accompanied me on this writing journey. We were led by a prompt invented in one class—an animal who wears a mini-moon on its collar. Gradually we teased out the story of Lily, a captured tiger who wears a magical miniature moon on a collar composed of stars.
Writing Miracle #1
Early one morning I realized we were all caught in a miracle. We were practicing the essence of Common Core State Standards, higher order thinking. But it wasn’t forced, or directed by a previously developed plan made in accordance with a curriculum goal. We were meeting many goals all of them at the same time and these were all occurring in the context of work that we’d come to care about. The process of inventing characters and a story by asking and answering questions had delivered us to a place where we wanted to think deeply and logically because we’d become devoted to Lily, our heroine.
Writing Miracle #2
Our ideas blossomed into a rough plot that we then enriched with supporting detail. The specific who’s, what’s,where’s, when’s and why’s of every scene made the story more real and meaningful. I readied the students to immerse ourselves in the descriptive writing that would really make our narrative sparkle.
We kicked off this part of our adventure as a young student entered the contest to explain description using the senses. She was a bit nervous in the spotlight, but found calm when I asked “What might I smell if I went into your bedroom?”
Her eyes got a dreamy look as she described her collection of fifteen or more candles, telling us that she’d loved them since she was tiny. It was if she was seeing them before her, those encased in glass, the tall ones, all of them treasured. Her eyes lit as brightly as any flame. Easily she slipped into her writer self, transformed by seeing them in her mind’s eye. They were so real that when I asked her to tell about her favorite, she seemed to be standing before them trying to capture the vivid splendor of just one when all had strong meaning for her.
“The cinnamon apple candle,” she said finally. The name coupled with her fondness sent me remembering long-ago candy apples and that was before she described their smell as “cozy and warm.” I melted and so did her teacher at the way she paired smell and feeling so eloquently. “You are one fine writer!” I told her.
Writing Miracle #3
She had contributed in terms of sound, but a short time later, I saw another side of this thoughtful child when she saved the sense of our story. As writers, we faced the challenge of blending the science curriculum of moon/earth study to writing fiction. Because our story featured a tiger, we also had to stay mindful of their habits. We were merrily developing our story when this young writer questioned our main character being a tiger from the Amazon. “I don’t think that’s where tigers live,” she said quietly and respectfully. Her teacher swung into research mode discovered she was absolutely right.
“You,” I pronounced, “are our MVW!”
She looked at me in obvious confusion.
“In sports they have MVPs, most valuable players, but you are our most valuable writer today to be sure,” I told her.
I prepared for more miracles. After all, I was only 1/2 hour into my morning and had already seen three.