WriteSpa #15 – Sense of Wonder

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WriteSpa – An Oasis for Writers

An intense, although short-lived, flurry of snow fell dramatically during class this week. The seventh graders were entranced. Their exclamations were awed.  At recess they hurried outside to run in it, to jump in it, to catch snowflakes on their tongue.

We had begun the week with a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

We’re using a three-week language arts block to tap into the rich emotional life of these seventh graders and teach them to experience and to write with clarity and precise observation. The practice pulls them out of their self-absorption without deadening their innate passion and interest in themselves, their classmates, and the world around them. We write because we think; we also think because we write.

Thinking is not limited to the important aspects of writing such as parts of speech, correct punctuation, thesis statement. Thinking is also imagination and being open to the possibility. Training the powers of observation – including fragrances, sounds, tastes – is the foundation of science and art. And, in my opinion, of education.

For some reason, during one of our discussions, we got onto the topic of Albert Einstein. Einstein happened to be related to my uncle-by-marriage, Konrad Kellen. When Konrad was thirteen – the same age as the seventh graders before me – he was taking a walk with Albert Einstein in the woods on his estate outside of Berlin. Konrad, a brilliant and philosophical boy, decided to take on his relative and argued with him about his theory of relativity, pointing out why it did not make sense to him. They walked on for a long time, in absolute silence, while Konrad felt smaller and smaller at having dared to argue with the great man.

At last Einstein turned to him and said slowly, “You may be right. And if you find out that you are right, I want you to come and tell me before you tell anyone else, because I will be very interested.”

This story captivated the seventh graders, who understood on a deep level that openness and possibility are the essence of life.

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Writing Practice: The First Snowfall

There’s something wondrous about the first snowfall. There’s something gentle, and promising, and utterly beautiful. It’s like magic, the way it curls around branches, and lightly captures and blanches small objects that were previously dull and drab. Describe the first snow from the point of view of a person who is returning home after a long time away and is happy to be back. Do not mention home or being away or being happy. Show us the mood through the description of the snowfall. How do you do it? Engage metaphors, alliteration, assonance – create a mood using the sound of our language and stretching your imagination to include images not normally connected with snow.

Or is the first snowfall really wondrous? Perhaps it evokes the memory of the time your car slid on black ice or the relentless chopping of wood to keep the house warm? Does the harbinger of sleet and frigid temperatures supersede its beauty? Now describe the exact same first snowfall through the eyes of a person who dreads going home. Don’t tell us why they dread it, or anything about the person’s feelings. Just describe the first snowfall and the same landscape around with meticulous detail, using metaphors and rich vocabulary and imagery.

This writing practice is excellent for practicing the familiar but difficult adage: ‘show, don’t tell.’ Don’t make the mistake some seventh graders did of saying “I feel happy” or “I felt miserable.” Show it, in your description of the falling snow and the journey home.

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Seven Happinesses

  • warm winds in a dark evening
  • diving into crystal clear warm ocean water with smooth white sand beneath
  • singing to a crowd
  • dried pampas grass silhouetted in the setting sun
  • wintry mix outside while you’re in bed
  • a treehouse
  • sorting books on your bookshelves

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