Writing samples

18 March 2009

Sometimes, I make up teaching exercises almost purely to provide me with keepsakes & amusement. That was the case this week, which I devoted to storytelling in 2º and 3º de ESO – characters, description, madlibs.

(2º & 3º are equivalent to 8th and 9th grade, though the ages, because of kids who repeat, range from 13 to 17. Though I highlight my favorites here, it’s worth mentioning that a third to half of the kids in each section didn’t do the assignment at all.)

There’s no better feeling than when your kids surprise you. (The phrase I keep wanting to use in Spanish is Me hace gracia – literally, It gives me grace, but gracia here is a complicated word – something between amusement [a good joke at the right moment tiene gracia] and charm, a fittedness.)

Below, first, are two entries from the madlibs I gave to 3º B after the St. Patrick’s day lesson & before the slices of carrot cake with green frosting.

Francisco – I like this because he went out of his way to find the oddest words he knew in English, and because normally he’s not one of the better students, though engaged & willing & funny – writes:

It was a normal cold spring day, just like any other. The griffins were writing. Bruce had just eaten a breakfast of macarronis and watermelon and was taking a speedboat to his job as a neurologist. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a skeleton went out of London Tower. The monster was strong, sad, and black, with horrible happy feet. Bruce had never been so scared in his life. He didn’t know what to do. Then, the monster said, “James is horrible.

Mágina, who sits with the three other smart girls in the back of my 3ºB classroom, blew me away by continuing the story, unprompted, and making into something that made sense. I have preserved minor grammatical errors (“to” in the last sentence is an artifact of the Spanish personal “a”):

It was a normal sunny spring day. The dogs were playing. James had just eaten a breakfast of toasts and oranges and was taking a motorbike to his job as a police. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a skeleton ran out of the bank. The monster was tall, thing, and white, with a horrible big nose. James had never been so scared in his life. He didn’t know what to do. Then the monster said, “I wan’t all your money.

James started to think and what he thought about the “skeleton” was robber. James arrested to the skeleton. THE END.


In 3ºA, I asked the students to create a character for a story from scratch – what does the character look like, what are their emotions, their favorite things, what do they want? (This, I explained, was important – characters have to want something. Who knew fiction workshops would come in handy in an English lesson?) I’d done a little exercise previously on metaphor & simile, and told them that this could be used in personal description, too.

Enrique, also not one of the best students, but also still engaged & curious, writes:

My character is small, green, with one eye, he has no friends, he lives in a cave, he is a vegetarian. He wants to have friends. Is from Greece.

Isabel María writes:

A big English named Sam work in the sea with the animals. He is very nice and he’s a pink hair, a yelow legs and he always is smiling. When he is in the sea, playing with the animals, he is very crazy.

Cristina, who is better at French than English and rarely talks in class, writes:

She is friendly, her eyes are green like the grass, her hair is blonde and short. She likes riding a horse. She needs a new black horse for a race. She lives in a stable with her animals.

Maria Jóse, whose family runs the Paraiso, the bar-restaurant where I eat on Tuesday afternoons (I see her after school taking care of her little sisters & nieces, & working behind bar), is one of my smartest kids. She uses the opportunity to tell a story. Note the past simple:

She was a princess that lived in a scrappyard with wheels and chairs. One day, she woke and found a magic cat in(to) the car. She took it and went into the scrappyard. When she touched the cat softly it became a man. It’s incredible ! ! ! Then they got married.

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One Response to “Writing samples”

  1. Dave Says:

    It fascinates me, how non-native speakers often use a second language to reconstruct an image. In my own language studies, we’re to write an essay every other week, and I find myself frustrated within the confines of elementary fluency. With stories, I feel that rudimentary skills must first be mastered, enough for an evocation of an underlying something; an honest gauge of the (assumed) complexity of your own writing. And too often, we create a shell of nothingness with words that are only words. Maybe that’s just me.

    On another note, in my experience, every language holds a word or phrase of specificity for a person. Something that can hardly be translated. Your mention of “me hace gracia” makes for my recollection of Korean words, recently learned Chinese, bits of French or German that I come across in stories.

    *Jim, I’ve gotten some inspiration for stories this past week. I’ll flesh one out and mail it out within a month’s time.


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