Margin Notes

CRAFT STUDIO: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME BY MARK HADDON

May
26

What I was Reading:

curiousThe curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon has many craft moves for writers to try. The narration and the way the novel is written is so unique and serves as a great mentor text for personal or instructional writing. The story is told from the perspective of Christopher, a neuro-diverse narrator who finds himself in the middle of a mystery he is determined to solve. While he brings the reader along on his quest, he spends a lot of time describing his unique feelings, beliefs, and quirks to us. In one section, he explains how he determines whether or not he will have a good day, while using a variety of techniques.

curious1

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • He writes his labels for his days in bolded type, so when he references them again it’s easier for the reader to remember his definition.
  • He integrates his definitions into a paragraph in an organized way.
  • He writes dialogue without using any quotation marks.
  • He uses longer sentences with minimal commas so that his writing sounds like how the narrator would speak.
  • He creates a comparison between his own superstitions and others’/his own father’s superstitions.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Think about what constitutes a Good Day, Black Day, etc. in your own life and write about it, using this text and Haddon’s labels as inspiration.
  • Use the technique of bolding labels in your own writing.
  • Describe superstitions you have encountered in your own life and consider why you believe in them (or why you do not).

Guest writer Kristin Estabrooks is a Mount Allison University graduate, and is currently a student teacher studying for her Bachelor of Education at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She is an avid reader who is now learning to read like a teacher of writing, and is looking forward to passing what she has learned on to her students.

CRAFT STUDIO: THE TRIALS OF APOLLO BY RICK RIORDAN

Apr
14

What I Was Reading:

apolloNow more than ever there are a plethora of great YA novels to get our students reading. One such series that also has the benefit of enjoying a movie adaptation is Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. His spin off series The Trials of Apollo centers around the god Apollo losing his memories and becoming human. A strong recommendation for any students who like fantasy.

One of the things I really enjoyed was how every chapter begins with a haiku. These haikus, often humorously, foreshadow what is going to happen in the coming chapter. Not only is this a great writing move but it also pays homage to the source material. Many of the Greek myths and tales are either told through or prominently feature poetry in a number of ways: look back to Homer, Aeneid, and many of the Greek philosophers. So, given this is a story centered around gods and demi gods from the Greek pantheon, this is very fitting.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • The haiku always foreshadows something that will happen in the chapter.
  • The haikus vary in tone and subject matter for every chapter.
  • They operate as an epiphany, a comment or a thought on the story.
  • They often use metatextual references or break the fourth wall.
  • They always follow the 5-7-5 convention.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Provide students with a chapter of a book, short story, or video clip and have them write a haiku summarizing the content.
  • Provide the opposite: Provide them a haiku and have them write a narrative inspired by the content.
  • Have students provide haikus and/or writing to each other and for each others’ work.
  • Experiment with other poem structures to summarize a piece of writing or to function as an aside to what is happening (rhyming couplet, limerick, etc).
  • Encourage students to look into the genres they enjoy and employ something relevant to that genre, culture or tone. For example, introducing a science formula or a captain’s log entry at the beginning of a chapter of science fiction, a historical quote for a historical piece, or a text message exchange for a YA drama.

Guest writer Mitch Caissie is a nerd with a heart of gold and a head of hair, currently working through his Bachelor of Education and eagerly waiting to finish and begin his journey into teaching. He enjoys his wife, his pup, his video games, and his ability to speak in the third person.

CRAFT STUDIO: SISSY: A COMING OF GENDER STORY BY JACOB TOBIAS

Apr
02

What I Was Reading:

SissyI used to have a rainbow flag accessory on my phone, but it broke. My quick fix for making sure my students continue to be sure that I’m an ally of the LGBTQ++ community is to openly read very obviously queer novels. One of my favourites so far has been Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story by Jacob Tobias. It’s a hilarious and hard-hitting autobiography that discusses gender, sexuality, sex education, religion and all kinds of social issues that come along with growing up as a non-binary person within a society that upholds a restrictive gender binary.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

Jacob Tobias’ voice comes through so clearly in their writing. One of the moves I see Jacob making to emphasize their voice in the book are the little faux-footnotes they sprinkle in. Instead of elaborating within the text, Jacob sometimes just inserts an asterix and explains or elaborates points in a little footnote at the bottom of the page. These footnotes range from explanations of words that the reader may not be familiar with to little additions to stories they tell in the text. These little additions are usually more informally written than the core text, which makes it feel like the author is adding in these details just for you, and makes the text feel even more authentic and personal than it already is.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • I mostly see this craft move as a way to insert additional ideas into a text without interrupting the flow of the main piece of writing.
  • When writers are writing about something they are an expert in, a faux-footnote would be a great way to throw in “fun facts” that might otherwise throw off the flow of a piece.
  • When writers are writing a more serious piece and are struggling to have their voice come through, this craft move could allow them to add in some humour/personality without interrupting the decorum of their writing.
  • When writers want to make sure readers understand the point they are making, a reiteration as a faux-footnote is a creative way to ensure readers understand the idea they’re trying to convey.
  • As Jacob uses them, faux-footnotes are also a great way to define a word that is necessary to use but may not be known to the piece’s audience.

My name is Caroline Wilson and I’m a student in the UNB faculty of Education. I love to be able to recommend all sorts of books to my students so I have been trying to fill my Non-Fiction book gap with memoirs like this one. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about first-hand experiences in the queer community or about the gender binary.

CRAFT STUDIO: HUMANS OF NEW YORK BY BRANDON STANTON

Mar
26

What I Was Reading:

Humans of NYThis book brings a whole new meaning to the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Using photographs and short pieces of text, Brandon Stanton captures the stories of diverse New Yorkers who catch his eye on the city streets. Short texts that vary in length from a sentence to a page sized paragraph accompany the photographs, making for a casual but captivating read. As a reader, you immediately connect with the humans in the photographs and are greatly moved by their stories.

You can read many of the stories on the Humans of New York website.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • The photographer/writer is giving others a voice.
  • Using images to tell powerful stories.
  • Organized in a way that the stories can be read in any order.
  • Using different ways to tell stories. Some photographs are accompanied with short dialogues; some are the stories they share; and some are simple observations made by the photographer/writer.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Choose a picture that you feel tells a story of you. What do you think this picture says about you?
  • Caption a picture that you once took of somebody else, either with an observation, some dialogue, or a short story that explains the picture.
  • Ask your friends/family to send you some photos they have taken of you and choose one that you feel tells a story. What does it say?

Guest writer Rebecca Landry is a Bachelor of Education Student at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and has an undergraduate degree from the Université of Moncton with a major in French and a minor in English. She hopes to become a Language Arts teacher at the Middle/Secondary school level.

CRAFT STUDIO: THE PRINCESS SAVES HERSELF IN THIS ONE BY AMANDA LOVELACE

Mar
19

What I Was Reading:

princess saves herselfMy co-operating teacher recommended I read this poem from The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace when she was using it with her creative writing class for students to read and imitate with any topic relevant to them. I like this poem because it’s a poem about facing the world and learning to stand on your own two feet. I think this poem is a great fit for high school students because of the message it sends (it refutes the fairytale idea of the prince saving the day when what we need to understand is that we can save ourselves) and because of the writing moves it shows writers.

Warning I:

this is not a
Fairy tale.

there is no
princess.

there is no
damsel.

there is no
queen.

there is no
tower.

there are no
dragons.

there is simply
a girl

faced with the
difficult task

of learning to
believe in

herself.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Using parallel structure to create the idea of what this poem is not about.
  • Using periods as an emphasis as to what this poem is not about.
  • The author titles this poem Warning I to alert the reader that this poem will connect with other poems in the collection.
  • The author has organized the short stanzas in order to emphasize each point.
  • The writer organizes her writing in a way that invites students to emulate the writing.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Writers can brainstorm events in their own lives that have not had a “fairytale” ending and choose one in order to write their own “Warning” poem.
  • Writers can follow the organization of the poem to allow for emphasis on each point they make leading up to the final point.
  • Writers can play with punctuation to create the emphasis they want and impact the message sent to the reader.

My name is Katie Morgan and I am a pre-service teacher at UNB. I am from Newfoundland and am currently obsessing over Instagram poetry!

CRAFT STUDIO: INTRODUCTION TO POETRY BY BILLY COLLINS

Mar
12

What I Was Reading:

I was first introduced to Billy Collins during a time in my life when I had no desire to enjoy poetry, and I was a little disappointed to discover that there was a poet out there – a Poet Laureate out there – whose poems I couldn’t help but love. Since then, I have gone through several cycles of forgetting he exists, then rediscovering him, and being equally excited by his poems each time. There’s something irresistible about the way he defies all the pretentious and irritating “rules” that turn so many people off of poetry. Many of Billy Collins’ poems are laced with cynicism, but somehow make me feel light-hearted and optimistic. “Introduction to Poetry” is probably one of his poems that does this the most explicitly. While re-discovering it recently, I was struck by how effective his use of simple and original metaphors is.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Collins uses vivid and intriguing imagery to engage many of his readers’ senses (sight, sound, and feeling) in a way that leads us to understand and feel the unsettling truth in his message.
  • He uses line breaks (sometimes multiple) in the middle of sentences to control the flow of his ideas.
  • He uses metaphors to express an idea/opinion – in this case a criticism of how students approach, and are taught to approach, the analysis of poetry.
  • He uses very simple language to convey his ideas.
  • He uses contrasting metaphors to depict the way something is vs. the way it ought to be (two different metaphors to depict two different approaches/perspectives on analyzing poetry: i.e. stanzas 1-5 contrast with stanzas 6 and 7).
  • He also uses these contrasting metaphors to create a shift in tone at the end of the poem (i.e. between stanzas 5 to 6).

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Try to use original imagery to engage as many of the five senses as you can.
  • Try creating a shift in tone by using contrasting imagery.
  • Use contrasting metaphors to describe two different perspectives on the same idea.
  • Communicate an idea using metaphors and similes.
  • Experiment with breaking up sentences onto multiple lines and see how that changes the cadence and flow of your writing. Does this enhance the delivery of your message?
  • Billy Collins’ writing shows us that there is beauty in the simple. Try expressing an idea in one sentence. Revise your sentence using simple language. Does this revision make a greater impact?
Thea Froehlich is a pre-service teacher pursuing her B.Ed at the University of New Brunswick.  She loves spending time outside and staying active, especially in the form of whitewater kayaking.

CRAFT STUDIO: “AN OPEN LETTER TO THOSE WHO WANT TO LIBERATE ME FROM WEARING MY HIJAB” BY AMIRA B. KUNBARGI

Feb
20

What I Was Reading:

“An Open Letter To Those Who Want To Liberate Me From Wearing My Hijab” by Amira B. Kunbargi is a bold, honest, and witty letter to people who make false and harmful assumptions about women and girls who choose to wear Hijab. There are many beautifully written parts in this letter. Here is one section that stands out with moves writers may want to try:

I don’t need your life jacket. I am not drowning in dogmatism or ideological idiocy. Nor am I prisoner to a patriarchal rampart. I am not brainwashed, backward, or bound. You don’t need to rescue me so stop trying to save me.

I don’t need saving. What I need is respect.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • She begins claiming authority and control over her identity.
  • She uses words that others may have used to define her and strips them of their power.
  • She uses short, simple sentences, each with its own claim.
  • She shows her mature understanding of the world by using complex words within her short sentences.
  • She repeatedly uses the word “I”, which centers her as the one reclaiming the power others have tried to take away.
  • She ends with a clear statement of what she desires, what she needs.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Using a similar format, confront a stereotype or a label others have used to define you.
  • Be bold and specific with your word choice – using words in your writing that others have used to define you.
  • Address the possible political or cultural ideas of thought that have lead to you being labeled or stereotyped.
  • End with a demand of what you need from people around you in order to feel safe and valued.

CRAFT STUDIO: ALL OF ME BY CHRIS BARON

Jan
23

As teachers, most of us have probably read our students’ writing accounts of events in their lives, such as “What I did this summer…”, “Over Christmas I…”, “On my trip to…”, “When we were in Florida…”, “At Cadet Camp…” etc. How often have these writing pieces been dry? Taken over with monotonous details? Lacking creativity in the writing?

All of Me Photo.jpgWhat I Was Reading:
As I was reading Chris Baron’s debut middle school novel in verse, All of Me, I was mesmerized by how beautifully and succinctly the main character, Ari, describes the night of his cousin’s bat mitzvah. All of Me follows Ari, a young boy who struggles with being overweight and being a victim of bullying, on his journey to self-discovery and finding a sense of belonging.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:
• The details of the event are brief and pinpointed to specific memories of his experience
• The sentences vary in length: some verses are an entire sentence on their own while some are made up of a series of short sentences
• The punctuation is grammatically correct even though the structure is unconventional
• The commas allow for pause and flow
• The feeling of being loved is expressed through describing the actions of the family, without directly stating the feeling
• Dialogue is written in italics to set it apart as what was spoken aloud
• The sensory details coming together – sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell – allow readers to experience the event for themselves

Possibilities for Writers:
• Choose an event in your life to write about. Start with writing down the brief details you remember
• Think about each of the five senses and write down any additional details that some to mind from the experience – Be brief!
• Consider which parts of the experience you most strongly remember – What did you feel?
• Attempt to describe the details of what influenced those feelings
• Use commas to create pause and to separate the details
• Use a colon to introduce a list (of food, of games, of people, etc.)
• Imagine a fictional event and follow the same steps, creating a character’s memory of the experience

CRAFT STUDIO: WINTERGIRLS BY LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON

Oct
10

What I Was Reading:220px-Wintergirls.jpg

When I was reading Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, I was reminded of a technique I had seen this author use in Wintergirls, the story of two girls with two different eating disorders who compete with each other to be the thinnest, which turns out to be a deadlier competition than either of them could ever have known.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Throughout Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson uses the technique of strikethrough. Occasionally, words, phrases, or whole lines are written with a line through the middle. The words that are crossed through are the ones Lia believes to be the real truth, but they are never the details that she shares with anyone.

WinterGirls1.jpeg

  • There are other places where strikethrough is used to express her hunger and desire to enjoy food again. The strikethrough in those situations represents Lia literally striking these thoughts from her mind. She does not let herself even fully realize these thoughts or desires she has; they must be crossed out as soon as they even briefly flit across her mind.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Think about a conversation you have had where what you said and what you were actually thinking were quite different. Use the technique of strikethrough to recount this experience.
  • Think about an internal conversation you have had in which you try to push certain thoughts out of your head. Use strikethrough to show this internal struggle.
  • Dig into previous writing or your writer’s notebook for places where the technique of strikethrough could be used.

CRAFT STUDIO: UNDERRATED BY STEPHEN CURRY

Jun
06

What I Was Reading:5658a7b4-underrated-social-card.jpg

In Underrated, his most recent essay published on The Players’ Tribune, Stephen Curry introduces a new venture he is calling The Underrated Tour, “a camp for kids who love to hoop, and are looking for a chance to show scouts that their perceived weaknesses might actually be their secret strengths.”

Stephen Curry opens this essay with a memory of being 13 and playing poorly at a tournament. At the hotel later, as he was questioning whether he was good enough or if basketball might be over for him, his mom “gave me what I’d call probably the most important talks of my life.” His mother’s words became a mantra for him: This is no one’s story to write but mine. It’s no one’s story but mine. He goes on to share experiences when he has drawn on his mother’s words of advice, including the time he thought Virginia Tech was interested in him, only to discover they were meeting with him as a courtesy to his father.

I’ve used other examples of Stephen Curry’s writing with students, including The Noise. I enjoy the way he infuses his writing with energy and voice. He incorporates punctuation and text features—italics, capitals, commas, dashes, ellipses, italics—to create pauses and add emphasis. What results is writing that reads as though Steph Curry is speaking directly to us.

The section that stands out most to me is Curry’s description of playing basketball at Davidson College:

I remember how……humble our whole experience was at Davidson.

Which, first of all, is funny—because it’s really nice now. Like, for real: if you’re reading this, go to Davidson. It’s an amazing school with an amazing hoops program. But back when I got there, what I mostly remember is just how loud and clear we all got the message that, you know—we were not playing Big-Time College Hoops. Man, like, we were STUDENT athletes. Size 100 font STUDENT, size 12 font athlete. We were “cool, how you hoop and everything…but I’m going to need that Philosophy paper” athletes. We shared a practice court with the volleyball team.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

The progression of the last four sentences creates an image of what it meant to be a student athlete at Davidson. This combination of sentences makes the point in four different ways, each one layering on to the next:

  1. “Man, like, we were STUDENT athletes.” I can hear the emphasis on STUDENT in this sentence.
  2. “Size 100 font STUDENT, size 12 font athlete.” The way Curry uses font size as an adjective here creates a visual image and paints a picture how much more emphasis was placed on being a student than on being an athlete.
  3. “We were ‘cool, how you hoop and everything…but I’m going to need that Philosophy paper’ athletes.” Curry turns a quote, presumably from a professor, into an adjective to replace the word student. Again, the effect is to show that academics took priority over athletics.
  4. “We shared a practice court with the volleyball team.” Here, the emphasis shifts from describing student to telling us about the state of athletics. What kind of athletes were they? The kind who didn’t even have their own practice court.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves, and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Use a four-sentence progression like Curry’s to demonstrate the relationship between two words commonly paired (school vacation, long weekend, loyal fan, etc).
  • Describe how words might be written in font sizes or styles to signify their meaning.
  • Use a quotation as an adjective to create a specific image for your reader.
  • End a paragraph with a simple concrete detail that underscores your point and requires no explanation for the reader.