Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout from Alexis O'Neill--and a Thanku!

Howdy, Campers!
Teaching Authors are in the middle of our annual Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving.  It began in 2011 with Esther’s post which launched her new form, the Thanku (with the same syllable count as a haiku--5-7-5, it thanks someone).  As JoAnn so nicely wrote, it "charted the path to Thanksgiving through poetry".

This year we’re each posting about someone who makes a difference in ensuring others receive a quality education. We invite you to join us by posting your own poems, which can take the form of a Thanku. We’ll include a round-up of links to participating blog posts on November 29.

It's my turn, and I'd like to thank the amazing teachers whose classes I've taken through UCLA Extension's Writers Program, where I now teach.  This is "the largest open-enrollment creative writing and screenwriting program in the nation." I appreciate all those TeachingAuthors who set aside their own work and made time to teach me in my writing infancy. Those teachers include Ruth Lercher Bornstein, Susan Rubin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Sonia Levitin, and many, many others.

Actually, I'd like to include all the TeachingAuthors who visit our blog, too--each of them takes more time then you may realize to answer our interview questions and offer writing exercises. Thank you to

Authors who hold a
light and slow their pace so we
may walk beside you.
And speaking of authors who light the way, it's time for our TeachingAuthors'...

Today's exercise is from author and energizer bunny Alexis O'Neill (whose newest book, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations was just launched to wide acclaim) and who sat down with me here for an interview recently.  Take it away, Alexis!

The Writer’s Edge--Wondering and Finding Evidence
© AlexisO’Neill. All rights reserved 

BACKGROUND: Writers begin as observers. Writers are curious about the world around them, both past and present. Photographs and paintings are gateways to information and emotion, two powerful tools in a writer’s toolbox for writing either fiction or nonfiction or creating other works of art.

GOAL: To give students practice in supporting their conclusions with evidence.

OBJECTIVE: Using a photograph or painting as a stimulus, students will generate a list of “wonder questions” (“I wonder who . . . what, when, where, why, how, if”) related to the image, express those questions to the group, and then attempt to answer as many of those questions using evidence found in the image. They will also express how the image makes them feel.

  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • A projected photo or painting of a wild mammal, reptile or bird, or children from another era or culture in a setting (not just a portrait)
  • Timer

  • Ask the students for a list of words that can follow the phrase, “I wonder . . .” (i.e. who, what when where why, how, if) Have them write these words on paper as a guide.
  • Ask students to put their pens down and look at an image for exactly one one minute.  Tell them that the only thing they have to do during that one minute is look at the image and “wonder” about it. Use a timer to keep this accurate.
  • Make the image go dark. Tell the students to pick up their pens. Give them one minute to write at least one, but as many as possible, “wonder” questions that came to them when they looked at the image. Tell them that what they write is just for themselves and will not be collected.
  • Bring the image back to the screen and begin timing.
  • At the end of one minute, have them put pens down and share their wonder questions. When they share, they must begin with the phrase, “I wonder . . .”
  • As each student expresses their “wonder” question out loud, just repeat it, but do not comment on it.
  • After collecting “wonder” questions, begin having them find answers in the image itself.  For example, you might say, “Jamie said, ‘I wonder where this is?’” Then you might invite Jamie to take a guess, but say, “Be sure to tell me what you see that makes you say that.” Each time a student guesses an answer to his or her “wonder” question, say, “What do you see that makes you say that?”
  • It might be helpful to make a Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, If chart and put their guesses and the evidence they see under appropriate columns.
  • Give students a chance to express any feelings the image might generate.
Not all questions will be answered by the visual evidence alone. But the chart will provide an outline for questions that students can answer through further research.
I wonder what's up there...
EXTENSION: Writing begins with observations of real life and curiosity about unanswered questions. Students will use unanswered questions about the image in this exercise as a springboard for further research. After a period of research students can pool their answers and identify where they found the information. Discuss the kinds of writing decisions they can make to express what they have learned and what connection they make to it. They can do this through, for example, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, a persuasive letter, or a work of art or music.

Thank you, Alexis!  Readers, I wonder...what you and/or your students will write? And I wonder...will some of you send us your Thankus

We TeachingAuthors hope your Thanksgiving--large or small, formal or in flip-flops--is yummy and loving.
Posted by April Halprin Wayland


Carmela Martino said...

LOVE this exercise and definitely plan to use it in my next Young Authors camp. Thanks so much to both you, April, and Alexis!

Michelle Markel said...

Thx for sharing, Alexis. This is an interesting variation of an exercise I do in my classes at UCLA Extension (in which I give students a copy of a portrait, and ask them to answer questions like "What was he thinking when the photographer took this picture?" etc).

And I'm giving thanks to April, who gave me generous advice when I was starting at UCLA.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Oh, Michelle...thanku!!

Susan B James said...

I was busy with NaNoWriMo last month and didn't do any blog visiting. Thank you for this wonderful exercise and for the pictures. They set me wondering.

Susan B James said...

Oh Did you ever read Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey?
In it, a detective, laid up in bed is given some pictures to look at, He's always prided himself on his ability to read character in a face. When his friend informs him that the picture he thought was a wise and kind judge was actually Richard the Third, Detective Grant starts searching through history for the real story on Richard. I loved this book.