Writing Out Loud
Elizabeth Matlick
By Elizabeth Matlick
Middle School Writing Teacher
 
March 29, 2019
 
“Let’s stand up for the next activity,” I tell my seventh graders. It’s almost 3:15, and I can sense a little restlessness. We’ve been knee-deep in a research process for more than three weeks now, in which the kids have been reading and note-taking to prep for giving an informative TED talk on a topic of their choosing.
 
“What are some ways you might begin your TED talk?” I ask them. As I click through some video snippets from our list of TED samples, the kids name a few:
 
“A personal story.”
 
“A definition!”
 
“A question.”
 
We chat for a few minutes about how, even though this form of writing is different than an essay, some elements stay the same. Engaging readers on our main ideas, right from the start, is key.
 
I need to engage my own audience, too, since the afternoon is heating up and heads are starting to droop.
 
“How many of you have done improv before?” I ask.
 
Many of them nod. Someone says, “We all have. In Explore!”
 
“Alright, let’s give it a try then. Turn to the person standing next to you, and improvise an opening to your TED talk. It could be a personal story, a definition, or a question. Go!”
 
The room is instantly energized as kids stumble, try, and stumble again. Many are laughing and some are encouraging others to keep going.
 
“It’s okay! You’ve got this!” I hear one student coach another.
 
I also see some thoughtful “a-ha” expressions as kids turn away from the mayhem to type out or write out an idea they’ve tried and liked. Oftentimes, improvisation yields an idea worth keeping.
 
TED talk consultants in the real world speak to this method. Consultant Jezra Kaye, for example, suggests that writers “use sound” at all stages of the writing process in order to lose the stiffness or formal tone that can seep in when composing slowly and quietly. Kaye says we should ask ourselves, “Does it sound right if I tell this story first, then share this fact? How about if I give the fact first, and then the story?” And so on.
 
I love this idea and find it so fitting for our students.
 
Time for experimentation, camaraderie, and even noise in writing classrooms present great opportunities for growth. And while improv and writing don’t seem like a winning combination at first, clearly there is a place for this type of trial-and-error-fun in the learning process.
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