Writing the Vignette: A Lesson Plan for Generating Sharp and Vivid Images

This lesson takes about 45-60 minutes to complete, and it has three parts: listening, listing, and writing.  The objective is to generate the first draft of a sharp and vivid vignette.

Writing about parents can be difficult for teenagers.  Students don’t know whether they should mythologize mom and dad with sugary platitudes or murder them in their sleep.  Whether or not a writer delivers saccharine tributes or murderous plots, student writers can benefit from avoiding clichés and thinking about their parents in vivid images and sharp, sensory details.  I offer the advice given to me by my favorite farmer-poet-activist-madman Wendell Berry: See clichés as an opportunity to work.

Listen: To start this lesson, I played Boston slam poet CD Collin’s 12-minute vignette about her mother, “The Vigilantes of Vance,” from her wonderful spoken word collection Kentucky Stories.  I asked students to listen actively by jotting down phrases and words Collins used to describe her mother.  They listed lines like Collins’ description of her mother dropping her Derringer in her purse “like a roll of mints” and the image of her mother’s cat who had been run over by a car, his little eyes poked out like “diced potatoes.”

List: Next, I asked students to draw a three-column graph in their writing notebooks, listing the five senses in the first column and jotting down phrases that would describe their mother both positively and negatively by each sense.  As an example to get them started, I drew a graph on the board and walked through the senses that I associated with my own mother

Sensory Image Positive Negative
Sight
Sound
Smell
Taste
Touch
Sensory Image Positive Negative
Tulips Red, flashy, waxy sharp, first up in the spring, color against a dead winter The hanging lips of petals, the yellowed stalks, ringed in a dirty car tire
Buzz saw The motion of work, never resting, always moving, working, industry The spitting, cutting buzzing, ringing, slicing sound of her voice
Sunshine Smell of sweat and sun on her skin, the clean, just washed, line-dried sunshine smell of her hands Burning heat, the intensity, the relentlessness of sunshine, glaring, blaring, jangling nerves of a relentless heat
Salt Pure, honest, clean smell of salt, preserving, conserving, familiar Bitter, salty, brackish, briny, too much salt can make you sick,
Cold Cold hands on a fevered forehead, holding my head while I puked, smooth, clean, cold, calm Withdrawn, cold, nimble, sharp and slapping, hands that cut cold onions, and shredded cold meat

Write:  The assignment was to write a snapshot of their mother using vivid language and one or all or none of the images generated in their graph. In my class, all writing assignments come with a caveat. If you want to write about this, you can; the activity may present you with a gift you would not have received otherwise. If you don’t want to write about this, you don’t have to. Write about something else.  If you don’t understand what we’re doing, fantastic; as the Mad Farmer says, “The mind that is not baffled is not employed.”

Here are two students’ rough drafts from this exercise:

Haley’s piece was bittersweet – a once close relationship with her mother drowned out by female competiveness.

When I was little, I thought I would be a singer. I’d walk around the house humming tunes all day long. “You have your mother’s voice,” they’d tell me.  That used to be a compliment.My mother was a songbird. Beautiful melodies would spring from her throat. But like the annoying birds of spring, she was loud, drowning out peace in the early hours. She was the reason I stopped singing. We’d stand in church following along to joyous tunes. My mother and I used to work together, combining our voices. I don’t know when it became a competition. Soon her goal became to sing louder than me, to drown out my voice, to douse my fire. I can’t hear my melody, only my mother’s overbearing one. Her voice, which used to be sweet as honey, turned sour like bad apples in my ears. Now, in church, I stand as stoic as my dad, mouthing words to lyrics as my mother joyously chirps her victory.

Serena’s poetic piece weighed on the reader with her vivid images and sharp details.

Her skin tastes different than mine, not like ashes and spice and wind, not like cares with broken mufflers and flickering streetlamps. She tastes like baggage, like the heaviness of mildewed cardboard boxes with rotting bottoms full of haggard scrapbooks that haven’t seen the light in decades. She tastes like the dust that gathers on the windowsills and in corners, like formaldehyde slathered upon freckles and dimples and creases that burns the tip of the tongue and soaks her wind-beaten epidermis until it becomes a soggy piece of paper, a wet map with the names of cities blurred by the moisture and a compass with the arrows snapped off.  She tasted like a plucked eyelashes that flutter to the ground with the lightest butterfly kiss and wiry hair. 

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When Memoirs are Terrifying, Vignettes Save the Day

While all writing draws on the imagination and memory of the writer, the personal narrative and memoir are considered by my students to be exclusively “true” stories.  Whatever. I’m from the “all stories are true” camp and try to discourage dogmatic adherence to genre rules.

However, from their self-reflections, I discovered that most of my students loath the idea of writing stories, either true or false, about themselves.

Here are some of their thoughts:

  • I do not like writing about myself in a mode that directly references myself as the person I am writing about.  – Jacob
  • I struggled with writing the memoir. I felt as if I didn’t have really anything interesting to write about. – Cynthia
  • I have always had trouble talking about my life. Perhaps this is due to my problems with actually remembering my life.  It’s an uncomfortable position to be in and quite honestly it [the memoir unit] consisted mainly of frustration and stress. – Harrison
  • The only things I can remember are hurtful, so I guess memoirs for me are just painful. – Boise

After reading these reflections, I decided to forgo the memoir and personal narrative for the vignette.  Students typically have written one or two memoirs for the “narratives, real or imagined” requirement in ELA Common Core standards, but very few of them are familiar with vignettes.

Vignettes are less about epiphany than about representation.  With vignettes, my students didn’t feel like they had to have figured out what grandma’s death meant or why their parents got a divorce.   Memoir requires the writer to have worked through all the pain of the memory and to have come out on the other side, bearing witness of the journey.  Most of the time, high school students are still in the journey and have no idea how to identify or testify about how events have impacted their lives. Vignettes allow them to remember something as visually and sensually as possible without unpacking and examing all the baggage.

Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street is a great model for this kind of writing. Her chapters are short, often plotless, slice-of-life moments which form a loose narrative about her childhood written in rich, poetic prose. The subjects range from hair to sex to violence to mothers to neighbors. Her language is lush and figurative, offering us a glimpse into her world without much editorial exposition.

First we read several of Cisnero’s vignettes from House and then wrote a few entries of our own, using Cisnero’s form as a model. After we’d written a dozen or so starts, we formed a list of characteristics that good vignettes share. Here is a list my students came up with:

v  Vignettes are short.  Some of the vignettes my students wrote were less than 100 words, but most pieces weighed in around 300-800 words.  The tighter and sharper the image, the better.  As one of my students observed, vignettes are kind of like the flash fiction of the memoir world.

v  Vignettes blend memory and poetry.  While the vignette comes from the subconscious as a memory, the prose of a vignette tends more toward image and lyricism than character, plot and setting.  Even though a story may emerge, the rich imagistic description of the memory is the key to the vignette. By employing synesthetic imageries and visual sensations, the writer transports her reader.

v  Vignettes are always about two things.  I often reference Vivian Gornick’s wonderful book The Situation and the Story in class and ask students to identify the “little S” and the “big S” of a piece or writing.  The “little S” is just the situation, the plot, what happens in the story. For example, in Cisnero’s vignette about shoes, the piece is ostensibly about shoes.  But, of course, nothing is ever just about shoes.  The “Big S” of the vignette, or the real story of the shoe chapter, is about the eroding innocence of her childhood as a lurid, sexualized world envelops her.

How To Grade Creative Writing in a High School Classroom

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I am not a fan of grades. 

“But we are,” my students whine, asking me daily to separate the sheep from the goats on a 100 point scale.  “So are our parents and those colleges out there.” In a world of standardized testing, college admission requirements, and GPA wars, I am stuck with awarding grades.

However, a difficult question for most creative writing teachers is: How do I “grade” a creative product? While the mechanics of the English language can be scored for correctness, creativity can’t be graded in any quantitative way. I can, however, use the necessary evil of grades to develop the discipline and habits of master writers in my students while they are a captive audience in my class.

I do use traditional elements in my creative writing classes, such as reading quizzes and grammar exercises. However, because a student’s creativity is complex and ever-evolving, I rely mostly on multidimensional grading tools, such as student self-reflection, self-and peer-rating scales, and occasional tests of other skills that support creativity such as task, time and stress management.

One of the tools I use to engender writerly habits is a writer’s notebook.  The notebook becomes a depository for all the scrawled and tortured starts, flights of fancy and dry heaves that will eventually become drafts of something.  Their notebook also becomes their textbook, an active chronicle of the information gleaned within the walls of this classroom: poetry transcriptions, daily craft lessons, reader responses, grammar exercises, and writing exercises, etc. I score these notebooks based on completion and by the degree to which the student engages in the writing.  The requirement is 30 full pages each six weeks.

Another tool I use is the writing proposal and timeline. All writers must learn how to set personal goals for the completion of projects. To develop this skill in students, I require they propose writing projects with an accompanying timeline that outlines daily goals.  I meet with students periodically during the six-weeks term to make sure they are on track with the goals they have established. The proposals must be typed, a minimum of 300 words and must outline the project completely. I grade these on a pass/fail basis, but if a proposal is too ambitious or too lax, I allow students to re-submit proposals as many times as they would like.

Another tool I use is a self-reflection that must accompany all final drafts. Students award themselves a grade on all final projects and reflect on several questions, such as: What was my original vision for this piece of writing?  How did I change my vision as the writing processed? Am I satisfied with the final project? Why or why not? What did I learn about myself as a writer as a result of this project? Where am I going to publish, present, produce or perform this piece?

And finally, another assessment tool I use is an activity I call a “community score.”  Since students present a first draft to the class for critique, they then judge the final draft based on how the piece has evolved or been transformed from the first draft.  Students award their peers grades on a scale from 1-20 using the below rubric. I add all the scores together and they receive the average as a grade.  I also use this rubric to score their final drafts as well.

Community Score Rubric

Reading List for High School Creative Writing Teachers

Read This

I will post my theory and process of grading in a high school creative writing classroom this week, but tonight I thought I would post a list of books that have been helpful to me in this journey.  Some of them I use weekly for generating ideas or exercises; some I have just read for inspiration and others I keep in the classroom (Best American Short Stories, Best American Poetry, etc.) for students to use for modeling and enjoyment.  Hope this list is helpful!

Books for Great Writing Exercises

Barrington, Judith. Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art

Behn, Robin and Chase Twichell. The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach

Bernays, Anne and Pamela Painter.  What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

Boisseau, Michelle, and Robert Wallace, Randall Mann. Writing Poems

Browne, Renni and Dave King.  Self Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

Burroway, Janet,and Elizabeth Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft

Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft

Clark, Kevin.  The Mind’s Eye: A Guide to Writing Poetry

Edgar, Christopher and Ron Padgett.  Old Faithful: 18 Writers Present their Favorite Writing Assignments

Fletcher, Ralph.  Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide

Heard, Georgia. Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way.

Maisel, Eric.  Fearless Creating: A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting and Completing Your Work of Art

Neubach, Bonnie.  The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate your Writing

Rabiner, Susan and Alfred Fortunato. Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Non-Fiction and Get It Published

Schneider, Pat. Writing Alone and With Others

Smith, Michael, and Suzanne Greenberg.  Everyday Creative Writing: Pawing for Gold in the Kitchen Sink.

Stoddard, David. 200 Writing Prompts

Strand, Mark and Eavan Boland. The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms.

Theil, Diane. Winding Roads: Exercises in Writing Creative Non-Fiction

Thomas, Frank P. How To Write the Story of your Life.

Wisniewski, Mark.  Writing and Revising Your Fiction.

Books for Great Grammar Lessons

Benjamin, Amy with Tom Oliva. Engaging Grammar: Practical Advice for Real Classrooms.

Elster, Charles Harrington.  The Accidents of Style: Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly

Joseph, Sister Miriam. The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric: Understanding the Nature and Function of Language.

Morenberg, Max. Doing Grammar

Schusters, Edgar. Breaking the Rules: Liberating Writers Through Innovative Grammar Instruction

Struck and White. Elements of Style

Trimble, John R. Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing

Truss, Lynne.  Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Weaver, Constance. Teaching Grammar In Context

 

 Books That Should Be on Your Christmas List ANNUALLY

Best Teen Writing

Best American Short Stories

Best American Essays

Best American Poetry

Best American Sports Writing (Mystery Writing, Spiritual Writing, etc.)

Poetry 180

Great Books on Writing You should Read and Ponder During the Summer

Agee, James.  Agee on Film

Atwood, Margaret.  Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing

Baxter, Charles. Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction

Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life

Forster, E. M. Aspects of the Novel

Goldberg, Natalie.  Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Goldberg, Natalie. The True Secret of Writing

Gornick, Vivian. The Story and the Situation

Gutkind, Lee. The Art of Creative Nonfiction: Writing and Selling Literature of Reality

Hampl, Patricia. I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory

Keyes, Ralph.  The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of Craft

Klinkenborg, Verlyn. Several Short Sentences about Writing

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life

Oates, Joyce Carol. The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art.

Pressfield, Steven.  The War of Art: Breakthrough the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Prose, Francine. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

Roorbach, Bill. Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs

See, Carolyn. Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers

Ueland, Brenda. If You Want To Write: A Book about Independent and Spirit

Welty, Eudora.  The Eye of the Story

Woolf, Virgina. Women and Writing

Zinsser, William. Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past

 

Great How-To Books on Specific Forms & Anthologies of Specific Forms 

Blythe, Will, editor.  On Being a Writer: Advice and Inspiration

Cassill, R.V. Writing Fiction

Dilliard, Annie and Cort Conley, editors. Modern American Memoirs

Dowst, Robert Saunders. The Technique of Fiction Writing

Field, Syd. The Screenwriter’s Workbook

Igelesias, Karl. The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters

King, Viki. How to Write a Movie in 21 Days

Kitchen, Judith and Mary Paumier Jones, editors.  In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Non-Fiction

Lehman, David, editor.  Great American Prose Poems

Shapard, Robert and James Thomas. Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories

Shapard, Robert and James Thomas. Sudden Fiction: International Short-Short Stories

Shapard, Robertand James Thomas.  New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond

Slate, Barbara. You Can Do a Graphic Novel

Spencer, Stuart. The Playwright’s Guidebook: An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing

Synder, Blake. Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need

Trotter, David. Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script

Winokur, Jon., editor.   Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom from a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights

Zinsser, Williams, editor.  Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir

Poetry Transcription: Work It, Own It

Poetry Transcription

One of the mainstays of my creative writing classroom is poetry transcription, a writing exercise I learned from Rob Lockhart, a teacher with the Boyd County school system.  I learned PT from Rob in 2004 during the Morehead Writing Project Summer Institute and have used it with every grade, class, and ability level since.

In linguistics, transcription is the act of rendering spoken language into written language. Similarly, in medical transcription, a transcriptionist listens to a doctor’s abbreviated verbal recordings and writes down the information in a patient’s files.

With poetry transcription, I read a poem out loud to my students, word by word, line by line, break by break. As I reach each word and line, I give students information on capitalization, punctuation, spelling of homonyms or odd non-words (I’m looking at you, ee Cummings), line and stanza breaks.  They listen intently to my cues and write what they hear.  At the end, a student reads the whole poem from start to finish out loud. We may or may not discuss it. Or the poem  might just hang there like an unbroken piñata or a mushroom cloud, depending on how our meta-moods are swinging that day.

The guidelines are simple:

1)      Choose a short poem. Transcribing The Raven will lead directly to your death. I look for a poem under 20 lines.

2)      Speak slowly and distinctly, especially when you first start teaching the process to your students.  Repeat each line twice.

3)      Tell students if words are capitalized or lower case. Tell students what punctuation is used, and spell out foreign or complex words and homonyms that could be confusing.

4)      Give students cues for all formatting, so they can transcribe the poem as accurately as possible. For example, if I were to transcribe Ezra Pounds’ short poem “In the Station of the Metro,” I would say something like the following: “Okay, folks, the poem we are transcribing today is ‘In the Station of the Metro’ by Ezra Pound. The title is capital I-In, lower-case t-the, capital S-Station, lower-case o-of, lower-case t-the, capital M-Metro.  The title is In the Station of the Metro. Below the title, you write the byline. The byline is lower-case b-by spelled b-y, capital e-Ezra, spelled e-z-r-a, capital p-Pound, spelled p-o-u-n-d.  Okay, is everyone ready? Here we go: The first line, first word, first letter is capital T-The, apparition, spelled a-p-p-a-r-i-t-i-o-n, of these faces in the crowd, punctuation semi-colon. That line should read: The apparition of these faces in the crowd semi-colon. Next line, this is the second line, first word, first letter is capital p-Petals spelled p-e-t-a-l-s, on a wet, punctuation comma, black bough, spelled b-o-u-g-h, punctuation period. That line should read: Petals on a wet comma black bough period. Okay, who would like to read this poem?

5)      Make sure a student, not you, reads the poem at the end.  You’ve just been talking for five straight minutes.  Let another voice reveal the whole poem. It’s a wonder and a joy when they hear the whole thing as a unit.

Each year, I ask students to give me feedback on the effectiveness of my instructional strategies.  Every year, the feedback on poetry transcription runs about 75% to 80% positive. One big fan stated:  I loved the poetry transcriptions. They not only exposed me to lots of different poetry, but I also learned so much about word choice and line breaks. As the poem slowly unveiled itself, I would find myself holding my breath to find out what word or line would come next, and those experiences defiantly(sic maybe? sic maybe not?) influenced my own writing.

For the 25% or so of students who said they didn’t like poetry transcriptions, all of them also stated they never understood the purpose of the exercise in the first place. Get it together, Teach! This is the kind of feedback teachers need and love. With an activity such as this, stating the objectives clearly and frequently is paramount to its successful use in your classroom.

Poetry transcription serves four purposes:

  • Poetry transcription is a listening activity. I use it as a bell-ringer because there must be complete silence in the room for students to hear you. After introducing poetry transcription to a class and doing two or three practice transcriptions, I explain to students that I will not repeat a line after I’ve delivered it twice.  A student fan who recognized the value of the listening component stated:  I learned to hear and listen for certain things, especially punctuation. I also got to see the difference of seeing poetry as a whole and seeing it delivered word by word.
  • Poetry transcription is an awareness exercise. The transcription requires awareness and observation of every jot and tittle. Writing poetry from the inside out leads students to recognize the value of the smallest dash. The awareness gives rise to great craft questions like “Why do you think the poet capitalized these common nouns?” or “Why do you think the poem broke the line here and not there?”  One student wrote:  Poetry transcriptions helped me pay attention to the importance of line breaks, punctuation, and spacing. Another wrote:  The process forces you to notice every individual line and word of a poem, which causes one to consider why the author chose it. By result, I considered my own word choice and sentence composure more than I had before.

 

  • Poetry transcription is a writing activity. Even though students are not writing their own poems, they are getting inside the mind of a great poet and learning the nuances of rhythm, diction, imagery, and line breaks.  Low performing students can be successful at writing poetry through transcription just by listening and writing without the added pressure of being creative or original. A student wrote:  It taught me how to value every single letter that is placed in a poem.

 

  • Poetry transcription is a low-stakes poetry-exposure activity. We can luxuriate in the words, the pauses, the units of language, the lines, the clauses, the stanzas, without having to “tie the poem to a chair with rope/ and torture a confession out of it,” as Billy Collins said. I like an activity where analysis and explication are never mentioned. After the poem is read, we can have a discussion about the sounds and tones and mood and diction if we want, or we can just savor it for a moment and move on. Plus, over the course of an academic year, students amass an anthology of more than 150 wildly diverse poems.  One student wrote: When we got to the poetry unit, I went back and reread all of the poetry transcriptions. It mainly helped me get ideas. They’re kind of like daily inspiration, and they also showed me different structures, topics, and such. It’s like a smorgasbord of poems in my little black notebook that I can go and read any time I like. And from a kid who wasn’t a fan, but saw its merits: Poetry transcriptions allowed me to experience a different style of writing, and even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy them all, exposure is the best possible thing you can get when you are developing as a writer and searching for a style.
Even the sidewalks aren't safe from poetry.

Even the sidewalks aren’t safe from poetry.

If you are a teacher in Central Kentucky, I would be happy to come to your classroom and lead this activity with you and your students.

How My Class is Designed: Imposing Method to the Madness in a High School Creative Writing Classroom

Before I launch into specific creative writing assignments, I thought it might be informative to readers of this blog to understand how my class is designed.  Students who audition and gain placement in the Creative Writing program take classes with me for four years.

At SCAPA, I teach four courses in Advanced Creative Writing during two 90-minute blocks.  Creative Writing 1 and 2 (typically freshman and sophomores) are combined during first block, and Creative Writing 3 and 4 (typically juniors and seniors) meet during second block.  The curriculum is built around a two-year instructional rotation in Creative Writing 1 and 2, which provides them with a craft foundation for nine different genres of writing, followed by a two-year writing studio in Creative Writing 3 and 4.

Class 1 writes a memoir or personal essay, the first 30,000 words of a novel, the first 30 pages of a screenplay, and ten pieces of micro-, flash- or short fiction; Class 2 writes five vignettes, ten poems, a documentary script treatment, a one-act play, and a small graphic story.  We take these genres through the same pattern: we write every day about something, then we read or watch some models; we read a few essays on craft or have guest speakers come in and talk about their labors in this genre, and then each student produces a piece of her own. As a writing community, we then read everyone’s works and provide feedback, support, and love. Students are encouraged to submit their work for publication, but it’s not a requirement during the 1 and 2 levels.

Classes 3 and 4 are writing studios.  During each six-week grading period, students propose creative projects with an accompanying timeline for completion. Some are ambitious; some are lazy; some are just right, Goldilocks.  I am the gatekeeper of these proposals and make suggestions, additions, or subtractions. Then, for three weeks, we labor. I might make a few announcements or give an encouraging word or slap someone at the beginning of class, but mostly it’s just sheer, brute labor.  Ditch digging. Write and write and write. Some cursing and drinking coffee. And sometimes they park themselves outside in the hall to eat their KitKat bars.  During the fourth week, all 16 students gather at a long table and commence giving each other feedback.  I’ve been a veteran of the workshop scene for 30 years, and I can honestly say this is one of the most supportive, helpful, critical, no-bull-crap groups I’ve ever worked with. At the end of the six weeks, they submit a personal reflection, a semi-final draft of the project and plans for its publication.

Here’s my daily schedule for Class 1 and 2:

Time Possible Activities Description
15 minutes Poetry Transcription I read a short poem out loud to students, including all punctuation, line breaks, indentations, and capitalization, and they transcribe it. It’s a great listening activity that illuminates the power of diction, punctuation, and line break in such a small medium.
Freewriting From the influence of writing teachers Peter Elbow and Natalie Goldberg freewriting has been de rigueur in most English class since the late 80s.  Freewriting prompts can range from the finish-the-sentence type (When I opened up the door, I immediately saw….) to the question (What songs are on the soundtrack of your life story?) to the scene (Write this scene- two people are driving to a destination where neither of them wants to arrive). Freewriting is a great priming activity to generate text for later projects.
30 minutes Craft Lesson A craft lesson is an opportunity for students to concentrate on one particular element of a genre – how to write a flashback, how to punctuate dialogue, how to frame a scene, how to compress time, how to use direct and indirect characterization, etc.
Reader’s Response The class reads a story, poem, snippet of a script, an essay, then responds to it through a journal entry. After all students have read and responded to the work, we have a discussion about the piece.  The discussion is not about what the piece means, but about how the piece is built.
45 minutes Individual Studio Time Students have a sustained 45 minutes to write on their current project.  I turn off the lights, and students put their ear buds in and write into oblivion. I have three rules: no talking, no sleeping, and no working on homework from another class.
Community Studio Time Students engage in some kind of collaborative activity, such as viewing a longer movie clip followed by discussion or engaging in a whole class writing workshop on a piece of writing contributed by a peer.

I have a student who sits in this window occasionally. She hopes she will be mistakenly identified by someone on the other side of the courtyard as a ghost.