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Teacher to Teacher: Revision, the Heart of the Matter

by Lynne R. Dorfman

We all want our students to revise but in order for them to be willing to do the work, they must first understand its value. After you have a writerly discussion about why we should revise, then we can start to talk about how to engage in the revision process. When I talk with writers about revision,

I always suggest that they begin by looking at the content to see if they have developed their ideas. Elaboration is key to good writing. Ask students to work with partners. As each writer shares her piece, ask the partner to listen for places where more details/information can be added. Mark these places with small sticky dots or a light pencil mark. Try for two different kinds of elaboration. Here are some suggestions:

Character: Flesh out the individuals in your piece of writing. Select a key feature of the character and develop him/her like a cartoonist or portrait artist would. How do her hands look? How does her mouth work when she smiles or talks? In The Witches Roald Dahl writes: With each word she (The Grand High Witch) spoke, flecks of pale-blue phlegm shot from her mouth like tiny bullets. (1983, p. 72-73) What about the character’s hair, eyes, clothing?  Close your eyes and try to picture the character in a specific location

Dialogue: In a narrative, dialogue is a key element. Readers expect that talk will be scattered throughout a story. Let the characters talk instead of telling what they say. Show the character’s personality – what he is thinking and feeling. If your writers are not sure how to punctuate conversation, forget about that for the moment. Ask them to skip a space or indent every time a different character speaks, and concentrate on creating a voice for each character. From The Witches: “You may rreee-moof your vigs!” snarled The Grand High Witch. (1983, p. 69)

Setting: Look for places in the narrative where places are mentioned but there are no specifics about what those places look like. Add details – use your senses – to develop them in greater detail. Try to create a picture in the reader’s mind. From The Witches by Roald Dahl: At the back of the room there was a large folding screen with Chinese dragons painted on it… I tiptoe to the back of the room and settled myself on the thick green carpet behind the big screen. (1983, p.57)

Center of Gravity: (For older writers) Find the best part of your story – the place where you believe everything is working well. Begin writing right at this place. Forget about the other parts.  Spill your words here as quickly as possible. See if your piece wants to continue in that direction. See where your writing takes you, and then decide if it works for you – if you are happy with it.

Write More: What else do you know about this character? Place? Particular story?  Is there a sequel to this story?  Is this piece really two stories?

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Teacher-to-Teacher: Clearing Space By Janice Ewing

“Is this the Marie Kondo thing?” my husband asked, as he saw the grocery bags

filled with recycled paper, the clothes packed for Goodwill, the books en route to possible

sale at the local used bookstore.

“Not really,” was my response. It’s more of a refocusing.”

He looked uncertain, but moved on to more practical matters. “Those bags

won’t all fit in the recycling can, and it’s going to be too windy to put them out like that.”

I paused, calm in my Zen-like decluttering trance. “We’ll work it out. We can put a couple of bags out each week.” Letting go of things, after all, is not to be rushed.


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Live This Day: A Teacher to Teacher Post

by Lynne R. Dorfman

Watch the stars and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

When you surround yourself with positive people, do you feel more positive yourself?  Who are the positive people in your life?  I know that one of the reasons I get up early on a Saturday morning  and travel the 50 minutes to the Writing Project for Continuity Days is to feel the energy and be surrounded by “rays of light.”  It sounds like I am exaggerating, but really – I assure you I am not. These Writing Project fellows are my support group – always encouraging, challenging, validating my accomplishments and my goals. They love coming together and sharing. There is an easiness, a feeling of home.

As I walk into Room 200 in Main Hall on the West Chester University campus, I think about my good intentions and my commitment to the Project and our goals. As I participate through writing and talking and listening and sharing, I nurture my mind with great thoughts. I am reminded of all the wonderful PAWLP gatherings for spring and summer and look forward to PAWLP events like the unbook club – where you can participate without reading the book first and then consider if you want to read it. How cool is that!  Or the March 2nd PAWLPDAY that will feature Matthew Kay, Writing Project fellows, and an author panel. Taking turns to tweet for PAWLP, attending courses, or teaching for the Young Writers and Readers summer program for students – there are always possibilities!

It’s good to wish for and look forward to the wondrous things in life. ~Mary Smart

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Tools of the Trade: Using Objects to Spark Memory Writing

by Kelly Virgin

In Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas a little boy literally interprets explanations of memories and brings a collection of objects to his aging neighbor. At first the neighbor, Miss Nancy Allison Delacort Cooper, thinks the boy is strange, but then as she handles each object she begins to remember…

This story of friendship proves how powerful objects can be in provoking strong and vivid memories. With this in mind, my students and I spent a week observing the tangible in hopes of triggering the intangible.

My life is like…

Students spent some time twisting and bending a piece of wire into a shape that is representative of them or significant to them in some way. Once everyone had shaped their wire, we studied a quick mentor text titled “My Life has Been like a Basketball Game.” Finally, students wrote about how their life has been like their shape. Students conjured up memories to explain and make connections to musical instruments, game controllers, pets, vehicles, etc.

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Tools of the Trade: Creating Student Bloggers in 5 Easy-To-Follow Steps

By Kelly Virgin

It is estimated that 2 million blog posts are written everyday. That is over 10 million per week.

The sheer amount of content makes learning about and teaching this writing task daunting. Nevertheless, my students and I faced this challenge head on as we worked together to craft and publish the first of what will hopefully be many posts on our new blog – The following is the step-by-step approach we used to get comfortable and confident with blogging.

Step 1: Write!

Before I introduced the blogging writing task, I wanted students to have a wealth of ideas to pull from for their first posts. So, we spent a few class periods writing to gather ideas. First, we curated expert lists. Students had five minutes to list as many topics they considered themselves “experts” on. After we listed and discussed some of our expertise, we returned to the items and brainstormed types of writing we could do on the different topics. For example, one student who considers himself an expert on backpacking realized he could write a how-to guide or keep a journal of his backpacking trips.

Another list we created Read more

Teacher-to-Teacher: Transition By Janice Ewing

“Write down three words that come into your mind when you hear the word ‘transition’.” This is how we opened our first PAWLP Continuity session of the fall season. (You might want to list your three words now.) The follow-up suggestion was to simply share the three words with a partner. What naturally emerged, though, were extended and rich conversations about the reasons and feelings behind the words that were listed. We then asked participants to highlight the one word from their list they would be most likely to write more about. This encouraged everyone to reflect on which of the words held the most energy, significance, or tension for them. (If you have written down your three words, you might want to highlight one now.)


In our whole group sharing, people thoughtfully shared a variety of reactions to the idea of transition. One way of looking at the responses is that they could be categorized according to a binary of positive, e.g. exciting, new, opportunities, and negative, e.g. uncertain, overwhelming, scary. I’m wondering how else we might organize them, though.

Some people highlighted the word that seemed to encompass the others on their list. Others chose the one that stood out for one of the reasons mentioned above. Each of the words that was shared, whether it was the highlighted one or not, represented a story, or multiple stories, waiting to be revealed. Within the layers of those stories are questions waiting to be explored. (Look at your highlighted word again. What is the story behind it? What question or questions does it raise?)

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