Thursday, June 25, 2015

Play and Practice

Many of the activities we've done during the Writing from the Heart workshop at the Highlights Foundation  have enabled us to play. In my life as a teacher, with building and district do-now lists it's easy to forget to take time out for a good explore with students much less for ourselves. I am much more comfortable writing about teaching than I am writing fiction or poetry, so this week's play has been good for my creative spirit.

 Jillian Sullivan gave us many ways to play with words through "writing without stopping." She's gotten us talking with and to our characters in fresh, engaging ways.

Teachers may know this practice as quick writes (Graves, Kittle, Rief) or as free writing (Elbow).

The only rule, of course, is to keep your pen moving until time is called. Jillian's prompts have been fantastic. We've all gotten some good writing done when she says, "start your page with 'You must tell them...'" and pretend your character is talking to you."

Jillian led us in journey play, reviewing stages in the hero's journey.  Ellen Yeomans delighted us with a title share related to books' structures (more on that later). Playing with the structure of a piece reveals possibilities the writer may not have imagined.

Ellen was talking about picture book structure. Her ideas around structure play with fiction reminded me of Kelly Gallagher's topic's chart, a tool I use with young writers in school (13). When you play with structure, expect surprise.

Productive play, playing with words is good for writers.

Suzanne Bloom had us playing with sounds this morning. She gave us a word list a true sesquipedalian would love. The list included the likes of: dragoon, gallinaceous, tarboosh; and my father's favorite, puscilanimous.  We discarded meaning and dug into sound. We wrote lullabies and admonishments with these polysyllabic wonders, what fun on the tongue it was.

Play matters. Play strengths brains. Play encourages creativity. It matters as much for adults and high school students as it does for the very young.

One of my favorite play experiences this week was painting. We used crayon, chalk, post its, tempura, Suzanne Bloom had a quite a treasure trove of art supplies. She had us paint to the edges of a large sheet of eighty-pound drawing paper: lovely. Something about abstracts sets minds free.

Play more. When I get home, that is at the top of the list (well, just after reorganizing the studio-office and moving books onto the new shelves in the front room).

My week here at Highlights reminds me to keep fun in front. Let students play with words and language and sentences and structures.  There will be time enough for my teacher-self to connect that play to ideas and books and writing and art.

Play comes first.

Works Cited

Elbow, Peter. Writing without teachers. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Gallagher, Kelly. Write like this: Teaching real-world writing through modeling & mentor texts. Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.

Graves, Donald H., and Penny Kittle. My Quick Writes. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005.

Rief, Linda. Seeking diversity: Language arts with adolescents. Heinemann, 1992.


  1. Glad you are having an amazing time! Play matters in all areas of our life!

  2. It does, Beth. Aren't you still aboard ship? Thanks for taking time out from your own play time on the Caribbean seas to stop by and say hello!

  3. Thanks for this reminder to play with words and sounds! I'm trying to revise a picture book manuscript and I needed that reminder since it feels more like work than like play right now. (If only I were an artist...)

    1. The sound words exercise Suzanne did with us was so helpful. I'd say play with sound when as one way to revise. So good to see you here Stacey. Thank you again!