Family Isn’t Always Blood: A Visualization Exercise for Personal Writing About Friends

Most high school students identify more deeply with their peer group than with their family.  They value those people who are in their life by choice, not by blood, but students are often self-conscious about writing about how much they cherish someone in their peer group.  This activity is designed to place them in a hypothetical situation that is both safe and secure where they interact with one of their friends.  The writing that is produced in this sequence rarely becomes a draft of an essay, but often students discover something about themselves or about the other person that leads to an thoughtful and meditative piece of descriptive writing.

To start this activity, I ask students to answer the following 20 questions that will generate a list of people.


  1. Who are you most likely to confide in?
  2. Who are you most likely to get fashion advice from?
  3. Who is your teacher?
  4. Who knows where all the bodies are buried?
  5. Who makes you feel alone when you are with them?
  6. Who has betrayed you?
  7. Have you been Friendzone? And if so, by who?
  8. Who was your best friend in elementary school?
  9. Who was your best friend in middle school?
  10. Who is your best friend now?
  11. Which one of your friends will not make it to thirty?
  12. Who is the clown in your circle of friends?
  13. Who is your Frenemy?
  14. Who is the rule maker in your circle of friends?
  15. Who’s the most irritating person in your friend circle?
  16. Who’s the last person you shared a secret with?
  17. Who makes you laugh the most?
  18. Who truly gets you?
  19. Who would not be happy for you if you won $43 million in the lottery tonight?
  20. Who would you gladly die for?


After students answer all 20 questions, I ask them to add five more friends’ names and imagine it is a guest list for a party in their honor.At this point in the lesson, I ask them to sit up straight, place their hands neutrally on their desk or in their laps, close their eyes, take a few deep breathes to clear their minds and listen to my voice as they imagine this scene. My script:

“Okay, let’s get started.  Close your eyes and imagine it’s a beautiful day outside. You’re walking up a long drive way to a very large house.  You can hear lots of people inside, and you hear music.  As you walk onto the porch, the door swings open and someone beckons you inside.  You are led to a giant dining hall where an enormous table is laden with bread, meats, fruit, cheese, and drinks of all kinds. Seated around the table are all your friends who are happy you have arrived. This party is in your honor. You are seated at the head of the table.  Everyone is eating and laughing and having a good time.   You feel completely happy, safe and whole.  Look around the table again.  Take a few minutes to look around the table, and now let your gaze naturally fall on someone.  Focus on this one person and look at them closely. How do they talk? How do they laugh? How do they chew, eat their food, hold their fork?  What are they wearing?  Really observe them, listen to them.  Now open your eyes and describe this person.”


Students then write for about five minutes, describing this person.


“Okay, close your eyes and return to this scene.  As you observe this person, he or she gets up from the table and comes to stand next to you.  “Is there something you want to say?” he or she says, and you say, ‘Yes, there is something I want to say to you, but it’s too noisy in here.’  And this person says, ‘Follow me.’  He or she walks out of the room, motioning for you to follow.  You walk out of the dining hall into a long hall. At the very end of the hall, you see a plain wooden bench under a big window.  The person motions for the two of you to sit on the bench. You do.  You are very close to this person. Your knees are almost touching. ‘Now,’ this person says to you. ‘What is it that you want to say to me?’  Open your eyes, and write down what you would like to say to this person.”


Students then write for about five minutes, describing in first person what they would like to say.


“Okay, close your eyes again and return to this scene.  This person has listened thoughtfully to everything you’ve said to them.  He or she says, ‘There’s something I’d like to tell you also, but let’s go outside. It’s such a beautiful day.’  The person motions that you should follow, and you both walk out of the house and down the driveway and into a beautiful field full of tall grass and wildflowers.  Then you and this person face each other. The wind is blowing gently. You can feel the sun on your arms, and this person says, ‘There’s something I want to tell you also.’ Slowly open your eyes, tune into what this person wants to tell and write.”


Students then write for five minutes, describing what they believe this person would say to them.  This is often the hardest part of the writing. Sometimes the information they hear is buoyant; sometimes it is damning.


After this activity, I have students put away the writing they generated and write a brief vignette or personal essay about the person they focused on. The writing is always deeper, more complex and rich after the visualization because they’ve spent time with this person in the unguarded, mutually beneficial and communicative environment of their own brain on the page.

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