Writing and reading came to me about as naturally as breathing. Even as a child I read books the way other people eat popcorn, and when I was about 8 a family friend had a tee-shirt made for me that said "I'd rather be writing my novel" (actually, I had the plots for THREE different novels going before I was 10).
Therefore, I sometimes struggle to teach writing BECAUSE it came so natural to me. Want me to write somethin'? Sure! Like Ishmael I cry "Get me a condor's quill! Get me Vesuvius' crater for an inkwell! Friends, hold my arms!"
Until I remember that there are a great deal of students at every level of education who struggle with writing for various reasons: it's boring, it's too tedious and confusing to create and then animate characters, English grammar is boring and difficult, or--as Ms. DiPrince and Ms. Thurston point out in the introduction to "UnJournaling"--it's too personal.
Actually, I hadn't thought about that last one. Not everyone is comfortable sharing details about their lives with classmates or teachers, and yet that's one of the most popular writing genres out there: "tell me a story about a time when..."
That's where UnJournaling comes in. With 200 different prompts, excercises and story starters, none of which are personal, even the most reluctant writers can be drawn out of their shell.
What's more, these aren't all just some story starter ideas, most are downright challenging, starting right off with #1: "write a paragraph about a girl named Dot, but use no letters with dots (i, j)" and moving right into #49 "you can use 25 words--no more--for a billboard advertising a product called `Zebra Wink'. Sell your product with those 25 words."
The authors are clever. Slipped in prompts teaching metaphor and simile (describe a car by comparing it to food), generating topics, finishing starters, language use (use the word "crumpled" in three different sentences and create a completely different feeling in each sentence) and describing things in great detail both by using and by NOT using certain words. Of course, there is the distinct possibility that any of the 200 excercises in this book could lead to a full-blown piece of polished writing; many schools here in FLA require students to have at least 5 polished pieces of writing in 4 different genres, and to have at least 10 published/polished pieces of writing by the end of the year.
These really are interesting, un-boring topics and I found myself highlighting many of them right off as I plan for the beginning of the 07-08 school year. "ooh! I could USE that!" I think, especially considering our School Improvement Plan heavily emphasizes writing this year, and I'm excited about sharing this book with other teachers in my school. In fact, I'm SO excited, I can hardly wait for the year to begin just SO I can use some of these prompts!!
...well... maybe not THAT excited...
Highly recommended for anyone who teaches any child of any age anything about the process of writing. Get this book, and it will quickly both have a place of honour on your bookshelf. In fact, you might need two copies--the first will probably get dog-eared and worn out right away.