Margin Notes

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.

CRAFT STUDIO: MY HEART FILLS WITH HAPPINESS BY MONIQUE GRAY SMITH

May
09

What I Was Reading:My-Heart-Fills-With-Happiness.jpeg

Monique Gray Smith wrote the picture book My Heart Fills With Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families and to encourage readers to reflect on the moments in life that bring them joy. This beautiful book, with illustrations by Julie Flett, is written in both Plains Cree and English, with the words on each page printed in both languages in some versions.

My Heart Fills With Happiness

My heart fills with happiness when…

I see the face of someone I love

I smell bannock baking in the oven

I sing

My heart fills with happiness when…

I feel the sun dancing on my cheeks

I walk barefoot on the grass

I dance

My heart fills with happiness when…

I hold the hand of someone I love

I listen to stories

I drum

What fills YOUR heart with happiness?

You can also view and listen to the author read the book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBCNFMzvyl4

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • There are three stanzas, each with four lines
  • Each stanza begins with the same repeated line
  • The second line of each of the stanzas follows a similar rhythm with nine syllables
  • The second, third, and fourth lines all begin with “I”
  • Each stanza ends with two words and a total of two syllables
  • The last line invites readers to reflect and write their own poem

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Writing their own poem about what makes them happy
  • Trying out rhythms that are similar throughout the poem
  • Translating their poem into another language
  • Illustrating their poem
  • Sharing their poem with others and maybe even children at a nearby school

CRAFT STUDIO: SHOUT BY LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON

May
02

ShoutWhat I Was Reading:

Shout, Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest book, written in verse, is both a memoir and a call to action against censorship, sexual assault, and the silencing of victims.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • In this section the author uses a numbered list to write short narratives to help the reader understand her year in grade 9.
  • Some of the numbered items recount events and some reveal her internal thinking and struggles.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • This piece could be used to help students reflect on a year in their life.
  • Use the title “ninth grade: my year of living stupidly” to create your own title “____ grade: my year of living_______”
  • Students can then use a numbered list to include short pieces of writing that reveal why this was their year of living ______”

CRAFT STUDIO: VOX BY CHRISTINA DALCHER

Apr
18

What I Was Reading:vox.jpg

Vox by Christina Dalcher was a two-sitting read for me. Once I started this suspenseful, fast-paced thriller I didn’t want to put it down. Vox depicts a United States where women have been silenced by the President’s decision to limit them to only 100 words per day. Every woman and girl is forced to wear a word counter that provides a shock when the daily quota has been reached.

Early in the novel, the narrator, Dr. Jean McLellan, reflects on how things are for her now compared to how they used to be before the word allotment:

This is how things are now: We have allotments of one hundred words a day. My books, even the old copies of Julia Child and—here’s irony—the tattered red-and-white-checked Better Homes and Gardens a friend decided would be a cute joke for a wedding gift, are locked in a cupboard so Sonia can’t get at them. Which means I can’t get at them either. Patrick carries the keys around like a weight, and sometimes I think it’s the heaviness of this burden that makes him look older.

It’s the little stuff I miss most: jars of pens tucked into the corners of every room, notepads wedged in between cookbooks, the dry-erase shopping list on the wall next to the spice cabinet. Even my old refrigerator magnets, the ones Steven used to concoct ridiculous Italo-English sentences with, laughing himself to pieces. Gone, gone, gone. Like my email account.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

• This progression of the paragraphs contrasts how things are now from how they used to be. The descriptions of the “little things” Jean misses paint a picture of the impact of the word allotment.
• The first paragraph matter-of-factly introduces Jean’s current reality with the statement “This is how things are now” followed by a colon. With no build-up or mincing of words, the horrifying situation is laid out in one simple statement of fact: “We have allotments of one hundred words a day.” This is followed by a personal detail that illustrates just what these mean for a woman. Something as commonplace as a cookbook must be kept under lock and key.
• The second paragraph follows the same format to introduce a second list. This time she shares the things she misses in order to contrast her life before the allotment to her life now. Jean makes her current reality clear to us by telling us what it isn’t. The “little stuff” includes the tools for reading and writing—for consuming words—she was once surrounded by but are now forbidden. It is easy to recognize how quickly one could use up an allotment of 100 words.

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 this format to show a contrast between before and after. For example, writers might show the difference between elementary school and middle school or between Grade 9 to Grade 12 by using the same structure: “This is how things are now” and “It’s the little stuff I miss most.”
• Writers can describe what something is by describing what it is no longer, using specific images to illustrate the point.