Monthly Archives: November 2014

Playful writing 4: painting a word picture

This is the fourth blog post in the playful writing series stolen from inspired by Chuck Sandy’s iTDi blog post.

Today’s topic is: ‘Paint a word picture of an elementary school teacher you had. Use this person’s name. Start with “I remember” as in “I remember that Mr. Denz smelled like a campfire and I yet I never understood why until …”’

I can already see a few potential issues in introducing this to my classes who free-write. First of all, I’ll need to explain what is meant by a word-picture. They may not have the skills to do this. Secondly, they are all still very close to elementary school and some could actually use their current teachers. I wonder how the nearness of the memory will affect the writing. Then again, who knows (yet) whether I can do it either with elementary school being so far back in the past.

So here goes nothing: 10 minutes of writing about an elementary school teacher from a time in my memory that is mostly blank.

I remember Ms. Kranz was all small. Short with short black hair, short arms, short legs, short hands and short fingers. She taught us using little sayings like “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” I never forgot them.

She was adamant about us calling her Ms. Kranz. Not Mrs., not miss. It had to be miz. I never understood why. And then when we did call her, she invariably responded with PeeWee Herman’s classic line: “That’s my name. Don’t wear it out!”

We used to have nap time in class. She would have us put our heads down for ten minutes in the middle of the day. I never slept, but some students did. Back then I sucked my thumb. It was the only way I could relax. But it was hard to put my head down on the desk in a way that I could still suck my thumb.

Ms. Kranz used to give us manila paper to do our art projects. I used to think it was called ‘vanilla paper’ because I didn’t know the word Manila and I thought the color was supposed to be like vanilla ice cream (which I hated). I wondered if the paper got discolored the longer it was lying around. Maybe fresh vanilla paper was closer to white.

One day Ms. Kranz asked us to draw a nature picture. I don’t know why. I have never been a good artist (or particularly good at observation). I drew a line of blue for the sky and a line of green for the grass and I put in some flowers and trees. She looked at me with her face tight with frustration (I realize now that I’m a teacher that it must have been because I finished much too quickly and had done a shoddy job) and said ‘Anne, get up. Come here.’ She guided me to the window and waved her hand towards the landscape outside. ‘What do you see?’ I didn’t answer her. She was more specific: ‘Is there any space between the sky and the ground? Does the sky just stop?’ And that was the moment I realized that I had never cared to notice. Of course there wasn’t. I didn’t want to change my picture, though.

I also remember lining up on the day before Christmas vacation. She asked people who had already put up their Christmas trees to line up first. Then people who were going to put their trees up that weekend. Then people who put up their trees on Christmas eve. I was still sitting. My family had never had a Christmas tree. For my father, Christmas wasn’t about trees. It was about Jesus.

Ms. Kranz also arranged us in reading groups, pairing stronger readers with weaker ones. My partner was a girl named Carrie. I don’t know how much of this memory is real and how much is dream, but I remember sitting on a hill outside the school with Carrie and helping her read. The grass was green and the sky went all the way down to the fields. It was that kind of day.

We only did that once.

Ms. Kranz made a big impression on me in a lot of ways.


Well gosh. Ten minutes, 543 words, and I don’t know how much any of this counts as a word picture. A critical look back doesn’t show enough depth of description to let a stranger picture anything, I guess. I got caught up in the ‘I remember’ part – Ms. Kranz was my first grade teacher at St. Paul’s Lutheran school. I must remember when my students do this to be lenient on the topic because if I can’t stick to the topic, I can hardly expect them to either. I wonder if I should let them read a bit of mine as an example, but I hesitate now because I don’t want to prejudice their writing and if some of them can write on-topic I’d rather they do that.


If you’re still reading, thanks. Have a wonderful week.

Playful writing: I remember/ I don’t remember

Playful Writing 3: I remember/ I don’t remember

This is the third writing prompt suggestion from Chuck Sandy’s iTDi blog post. I have been trying these as ten-minute free-writing activities before I give them as topics for my students, just to see what comes out of it and to make sure I can do what I am about to ask my students to do and to see where it might need to be adapted for them. The results among my students have been quite interesting – for the most part, they have said that the time limit is too short. I’m hesitant to make it longer, though. I’d rather they manage their time and I’ll increase time slowly as I originally planned. They have been sharing a lot of themselves, sometimes quite seriously, under the promise of privacy. I am getting to know them a lot better.

So without further ado, setting the timer for 10 minutes of continuous writing, let’s go!

I remember when I was a university student. I worked in the physics department office as an administrative assistant. I worked 20 hours a week – a decent part time job for whenever I didn’t have classes to attend. My boss was a wonderful woman named Lalla. She knew me better than I thought, in retrospect, and was always looking out for me. I also worked with another group of students – Adam, Nabeel, and Dennis. We used to do the New York Times crossword puzzles every day. They were free back then and we’d have no problem with the Monday puzzles. The Tuesday and Wednesday puzzles were usually okay, too if a bit more challenging. By Wednesday, there were questions that nearly stumped all of us but eventually we figured them out. Thursdays were even more difficult and I don’t think we ever finished a Friday puzzle. We never tried the Saturdays.

Anyway, when we couldn’t finish a puzzle – a Thursday one or a Friday – we would fill in the remaining letters with 7s and ‘silent Q’s. I remember how much we laughed over it. I had complained that you can’t put a ‘Q’ there. It has its own sound and completely changes the word. And Adam explained to me that it was a ‘silent Q’ and it could go there. The conversation usually dissolved into giggles and a group trip to the lunch truck for chicken fried rice.

I remember a couple years ago when I was just getting into professional development and thinking about teaching and how to become a better teacher. Oh, my thoughts are so different now from what they were then. But I was shy and couldn’t find my voice. I was uncertain – who was I, among all these people who knew what they were talking about and had been doing it forever? What if I said stupid things? What if my opinions then stuck to me and I couldn’t change them? How would I protect myself from the world and from myself. I needed a way to speak. And I remembered silent Q.

I remember the day I started using Q as an identity – it was on Twitter in a free informal webinar that probably had something to do with iTDi. I logged in and the room asked for an identity – so I typed in Q. And I met a lot of interesting people that day. But I guess they didn’t really meet me.

Time’s up. 416 words – fewer than last time.

I’m afraid that’s the not-very-interesting story of the origin of Q, now retired because I can use my own voice thanks to the friends who value it and helped me build my self-confidence.

Reading back, I wonder if I am giving my students the chance to know me as I know them through their writing, and if I should do that or need to do that. Would I be willing to share my writing with them? That’s a question worth thinking about, I guess.

This writing task took ten minutes and was pretty easy, mainly because I already knew what story I wanted to tell. I think when I do this with my students, I will give them a few minutes to think before writing about a story they might want to tell. I will also give them the option of writing a series of disconnected memories if they wish.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading.




This one’s for you, friend. Because you asked.


Playful writing: I’m looking at…

Last week I decided to try the playful writing tasks that Chuck Sandy suggested in his iTDi blog post. I want to do this for myself to maintain my love of writing, and also to see what sort of adaptations I will need to use these as free writing tasks with my students. This week’s playful writing task is about observation.

Chuck Sandy writes: “Begin like this: “I’m looking at …” and then have a look around where ever it is you are. What captures your attention? Focus on that.  Look some more. Then, start writing. 10 minutes. Go!”

I am looking at my computer. It is about five years old. Well, it’s five years old to me. I bought it used in 2009. It’s held up really well, considering it was second hand to begin with. I’ve reformatted it once, when I thought I was going to give it away. I changed my mind, though, because my laptop wasn’t a good replacement for it. My computer is white with a large screen. It is great for watching movies and high resolution youtube videos. The background on the desktop is an archaic map. The countries are all shaped wrong because back then no one really knew what most of the world looked like. There are a lot of folders on my desktop as well. They are separated into photos, articles, writings, videos, and other things. The thing I use most is Chrome. I use it to connect to the internet, to prepare for classes, to work, to contact people, to do proofreading work, and just to play with my friends. I also use Skype all the time. I use it to stay in touch with people who are far away. I like seeing people’s faces when I talk to them. I have a weekly meeting with my mom and my brother. Lately it’s been nice because my little brother is at home too so I get to talk to him more than I normally would (which used to be once a year or so!).

Next to my computer is a pencil case. It contains pens, pencils, scissors, erasers, and a box cutter. Oh, and about five paint brushes. I don’t paint, and I don’t know why I keep them there. Maybe one day they will be useful. One of the pens in my pencil case has a giant pink rose on the end of it. It was a gift. Next to the pencil case is another gift – a small booklet of poems. Written on the outside is “with love for Q”. I treasure this and read it once in a while.

On the other side of the computer is my printer. It’s an all-in-one type of machine. It scans, prints, photocopies, and faxes. I mostly use it to print and scan. On top of that are the books that I have been using in my proofreading. There are four of them, but I’ve only needed the first two so far. They’re big and colorful and I think kids will really like them. I grew to like the characters in the books. But I noticed that all textbooks in the universe must use the same voice actors for their characters. I recognized the voices as soon as I played the cd.

Beside the printer is a small book. It’s written in Korean and it’s all about Dokdo, the island to the east that Korea is very **. Anyway, this book was a gift from a student. I promised him I would try to learn to read it.

And there’s the timer. I realized that I surround myself with gifts that I treasure, dreams, and things that make me happy while I’m on my computer.

The things I am looking at

The things I am looking at

Once again, ten minutes continuous writing seemed long. I’ll have to also remind my students that it is okay to switch over to other things. I notice that I didn’t actually describe the appearance of much of anything. Most of the things around me are important because of their emotional attachment, I guess. And I know that physical appearance is the last thing I notice when it come to observing scenes. I wonder how that affects how I observe my classes. I guess I have to allow my students the freedom to get off topic and to describe in whatever ways suit them.

Now it’s time to go to work. Thank you for reading if you got this far. Sorry for being boring if you didn’t.

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