Monday, January 28, 2008

Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

And can you write better than a fifth grader?

I just finished up a month-long residency with fifth graders who wrote biographies of someone they interviewed: a parent, grandparent, neighbor, teacher, etc.

As many times as I've done this, you would think I would no longer be surprised by the quality of the writing.

But I still am.

I came away with pages and pages of examples of knock-your-socks-off writing produced by those kids.

Here are some examples of opening lines written by fifth graders:

1. This was a FIRST DRAFT, following a discussion about trying to show setting, particularly seasons:

Fiery leaves were blowing in the crisp cool wind. Smoke rose from fireplaces and the smell of turkey filled the air. While most people were putting the finishing touches on the table and drinking apple cider, a baby entered the world.

[Note: She even spelled "fiery" correctly without looking it up!]

[Second note: When I read this to a few people later in the residency, they thought she must have written that at home. But I saw her write it class right before my very eyes.]

2. Once again, showing seasons:

The snow was beginning to melt and the bears were waking up.

3. An opening line that shows setting and hooks the reader (i.e., why not the Johnson family? What are they doing?):

Cars honked, travelers wandered, and everyone was outside enjoying the summer in NYC, but not the Johnson family.

4. A great hook for a first sentence:

Jan had a little secret.

5. Showing setting - both time and place:

The leaves were just beginning to change and fall off the trees outside the White House.

6. We brainstormed ways to start a bio with action. One way was to find information in the interview about what the person liked to do - hobbies, interests, sports, etc. - and start with that. Here's a great example of that:

The small fingers of a second grader glided over the smooth white keys of a piano.

[Note: This also gives the reader information about the age of the subject - what I refer to in the workshop as a "time marker."

7. This kid wanted to show that his subject grew up in an apartment building:

The neighbors on the floors above came down to see their newest neighbor.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I followed you here from Art Words Life.
I loved you 5th grader's openings!
For many years I taught creative writing and Children's Literature on Long Island.
I'm now retired and living in Marrakech.
But I do miss the US.