Mini Lesson with Margaret Powell

Today’s Monday Mini Lesson is thanks to Margaret Powell.

Here is my writing as a result of the research I did on Olympian James Carter using YouTube, Wikipedia and the USATF website.

Ms. R. asked for one more person to share their biography report before recess.

Bailey raised his hand. “I chose to do a bio poem about James Carter,” said Bailey with smooth confidence. “Shall I read it now, Ms. R?”

“Yes, Bailey, that will be great,” she said.

“OK, here it is…

Strong, quick, determined, overcoming
Father of Taleya and Tamere
Whose friends call him Slash
Who loves sprints, hurdles, jumps, relays
Who feels lucky to have conquered Myasthenia Gravis at age 12
Who fears MG could come back
Who is a three time U.S. Champion and two time Olympic finalist
Who wants to help others win the gold in track and field
Born in Baltimore, lives in Durham, NC

After he finished, he asked his classmates, “Any questions?”
Hands raised around the room. Bailey called on the children one at a time.
Do you like track and field?
“Kind of.”
Is his nickname Slash?
Why did you want to study James Carter?
“Because he has MG and he’s Lisa’s dad’s cousin.”
What is MG?
“Myasthenia gravis”
What is your sathinny gravies?
“It’s myasthenia gravis. It’s an autoimmune disease that makes people have weak muscles and other stuff.”
Why did you want to do your bio poem about that disease?
“Actually, I have MG and I don’t really know if James is afraid it will come back.”

Bailey was enjoying explaining all about MG to his captive audience, and it seemed that Ms. R. let her usual three-question limit come and go. “Some other famous people who have myasthenia gravis are Sir Laurence Olivier, Karl Malden, Christopher Robin Milne, and Aristotle Onassis.”

Who are they?

“I don’t know all of them, but they are famous for something or another–acting or being rich. Do you remember Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh. Yeah, that’s him; he had it too. Did you notice all those names are guys?” explained Bailey. “Women and girls can get MG, but I don’t know any.”

“Hey, Slash, good report,” said Debra on her way out the door. Bailey smiled.

Reflection, Week 2

I love the cartonera project Jennifer Laffin writes about at today’s reflection post at Jen Vincent‘s Teach Mentor Text blog. I will definitely bring it to my colleagues in Bahrain. In June I pulled off a last minute author’s day just with my grade 5 students who had written novels this year. However, every minute of the experience, I knew we had to do something bigger and broader next year. This may be it. Thank you again to Jennifer for the inspiration.

Here’s how I did this week regarding my goals: I wrote 3000/4000 words. One thing I did that was not a stated goal was to tackle the first step in developing my characters and scenes. I organized what I had written so far into a sort of outline. I made a table of contents of probable chapters and I just cut and pasted all the short scenes I have been writing into the proper chapters. That helped me know where to start writing.

The pit of the week was I skipped half the days of writing. Sad!

The peak was Mike Jung’s comment on my short snippet I left on his quick write assignment this week. He asked me a lot of questions that I didn’t know the answers to. It reminded me that I have to get out of my head and onto the paper who these characters are and what they are doing. Another peak is I ordered Mike’s book Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities.

Those questions Mike asked lead me to my goal for this week, which will be the same as last week. A few thousand words developing characters and scenes and answering Mike’s and others’ questions. I need to stop writing random 3 paragraph passages and do the work of writing whole chapters for this very rough first draft.

Quick Write with Mike Jung

Today’s quick write is from Mike Jung. He’s challenged us to create scene in a health care waiting room.

Bailey sat on his hands, with his feet jiggling rapidly on the tile floor. The red stiff chairs in the waiting room were formed to some large generic body type, not Bailey’s. The back of his fingers were in pain where they were pinched between him and the red plastic. Bailey stared straight ahead, out the door, past the peaceful paintings, down the corridor toward the nurse’s station. Where is Mom? he thought. She should have been here by now.

That morning he was sure everything would be all right. Mom said, “Hey, Mo, don’t worry, OK? Remember what the doctor said–he saw signs of improvement yesterday. Let’s just go with that.”

But after school Mom called him at home and told him to meet her here at the hospital. The nurse in the suit told him to wait here until his mom came. Where is she? Bailey pulled the dry skin off his lower lip, flinched, then licked the droplet of blood that formed. He bit his lower lip and looked up at the ceiling, willing away the tears.



Interviewing My Expert for Today’s Assignment

Yesterday I was considering doing some research about how to make a Mars Curiosity model for my Teachers Write Monday assignment. The assignment, by Sarah Albee, was to do nonfiction research, particularly to talk to an expert. However, I am spending my writing time this summer working on a children’s fiction story. Plus, since I’m hanging out at home with my husband after his eye surgery, he became my “expert.”

My Mr. Fix-it husband would know what kind of motor I needed and how to make the Mars model. I wanted it to be made of cardboard for a shout out of sorts to making, to Caine Monroe, Nirvan Mullick, and the subsequent Cardboard Challenge and Imagination Foundation.

Keith suggested I would need a base to hold the motor. He said you’d want to make a base out of plastic or something.

I argued. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m not really making it. No one who reads it is going to know if it’s really feasible,” I said.

He acted like he didn’t hear me.

He found a rubber band car on YouTube. After watching the first minute, he said, “OK, here’s what Bailey needs to do. Make the base with straws and toothpicks, like in the video. You can use the bottle caps for wheels. This will be strong enough to hold the motor from the broken RC car he’s going to find abandoned at the thrift shop.”

“OK, maybe,” I said when I woke up this morning.

It was also after the part last night, when I snatched my Chromebook from him and gave the I-said-I’m-not-really-going-to-make-it-!-don’t-you-get-that-? speech.

So here’s a short scene from my story after my “expert” interview:

“Hey, Bailey, look what I found at work today!” Dad came bolting into the kitchen through the back door, the wooden-framed screen door bouncing behind him. Bailey was sitting at the round yellow Formica table–what Bailey used to call “our sunshine table”–munching Oreos dipped in milk. “Some gals ordered smoothies for lunch and they came with these jumbo straws. Perfect, right?” He held up two shiny straws, one peachy cream color and one lavender.

“Perfect?” Bailey said. “Dad, the Curiosity is like white, gray and black. How can these be perfect?”

“Oh, but look how strong they are. You can’t even bend ‘em. They must be close to a half inch in diameter. And heck, we can spray paint them black.”

“Black would be good. Won’t we need more?”

“I asked the women to save more for us. They said they order a few times a week. I had never even noticed them until I saw them in the garbage today. You know, after we watched that YouTube video yesterday.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think that was going to work,” Bailey was still suspicious about it.

“Let’s give ‘er a try after supper. What do you think? And, hey, why are you eating Oreos now?”

This post was originally posted for today’s Slice of Life at my Dare to Care blog.

Bailey Filling in Some Blanks – Character Development, I Hope!

Today’s warm-up exercise came from Jo Knowles. I loved this quote: “As you know, the plot of a story is basically all about what the character wants, and how they overcome whatever obstacle is in the way that keeps them from getting it.” (Jo, you should know, I really don’t know much at all! Though I love to read and even teach reading, I don’t know much about crafting a story! Thanks for helping me!)

Anyway, I have a lot to learn about my character named Bailey. I need to know what he really wants. What is his quest?  I tried writing this about what he wants, based on a sentence starter from an exercise Jo gave last year: “On Making Characters Real

This is a story about a boy, Bailey, who wants time with his dad making models and building things and to not go to school where people bother him, but underneath that, it’s a story about a boy who just wants peace and later hope in a brighter future.

Here is Bailey talking:

I wish I could just be home schooled. I hate going on the bus, especially when I have to be the first person picked up. My life would be so calm if I didn’t have to see her on the bus. I wonder if Mom would let me stay home and learn with Dad now that he’s home.

I have never told anyone this, but sometimes I dream I am watching my own dark and rainy funeral.

If I had the guts to tell Debra she’s a thug, I just know that she’d deck me.

The only one who really understands me is Dad and that’s because he listens to me. I sometimes can’t think of what to say next because there is so much listening on his side. When I feel like we’re stuck in the middle of an awkward silence, I look up and he’s looking at me. I can’t believe he’s still listening. I say things to him that I would never be able to say to any other person.

Week 1 Reflection on Teachers Write

I did have an awesome week during Week 1 of Teachers Write! I had one loose goal when I began. I wanted to do the writing exercises not as stand-alone exercises, but I wanted to tie them into a long story. (I’m calling my children’s chapter book a long story  so as not to paralyze me.)

The first day of Teachers Write was 10 July. That was the day I sat in the blistering heat and thought of a short scene about a boy named Bailey. I don’t think I really managed to write it from his perspective yet, which was the assignment.

The next day I continued the idea of making Bailey a part of my story. Four days this week, I was able to think about one character or aspect of my not-that-developed story. That was better than I had anticipated, and the story is starting to come to me.

I wrote just 1400 words, pretty much all in the exercises I did with the various authors.

The pit of my week was that I wasn’t really motivated to write unless there was a prompt. I didn’t really sit down and just write a lot of words to reach a word count goal, which I guess I hadn’t really articulated as a goal. Sometimes during the week though, I tried to, wanted to, but couldn’t do it.

The peak of the week was getting to join some conversations in the comment sections. People are so kind and good and responsive. It was motivating to post and see that people actually read and gave feedback. Very special .

Next week I’d like to add more scenes and character building to my story, even when it doesn’t fit into the exercises. Maybe my word count goal will be 4000 words for next week. Yeah, I think I can do that.

Reflection based on Jen’s post here at Teach Mentor Texts.

My Name

Today’s Quick Write is thanks to Hena Khan. It’s about names.

If I could go back in time and name myself, I would choose Lisa Lorraine. Why? That was the name I was going to be called, but the last minute my mom switched and named me Denise Joanne.

I was always disappointed that I didn’t get the lilting and lovely name of Lisa Lorraine.

Lisa meant oath of God.

I got Denise.

I was named for a deity, though. Dionysus, god of wine and ritual madness.

I always wonder what became of Lisa-from-my-mom’s-girl-scout-troop. She was the reason I couldn’t be called Lisa. When my mom was expecting me, she was also putting up with Lisa in her troop. It must have been a stressful nine months, for my mom couldn’t bring herself to give Lisa a namesake.

I thought of  being Lisa over the years. I even wondered if I would have been a different person–more poetic, more graceful, more musical. (The only problem would have been my good friend Lisa in elementary school. We would have become Lisa S. and Lisa R.)

Yes, Lisa Lorraine, that’s me for a moment.

Lisa Lorraine – lithe and lyrical, softball all-star, auntie to her many sweet nephews, confident, singer, poet, and all-around not mean girl.


Today’s Quick Write prompt came from Phil Bildner, author of the Rip and Red series, among others.

Debra left the classroom, thinking to herself. Well, I don’t want to be remembered as a bully. Who would? I hope that book is finished soon. Mrs. R. has been reading it so long. Hashtag Choose Kind, blah, blah, blah. Enough, already.

Debra dropped her literature class junk into her bag as she walked passed the row of 6C backpacks. “I wish this day was over,” she said aloud, but to no one in particular.

“Pardon me?” asked Samantha.

“Pardon me?” Debra mimicked. “Dork, I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Oh, sorry. I thought you were,” Samantha replied, shyly. Samantha continued to load her literature anthology, notebook, and free reading book into her pink and teal paisley backpack, trying to ignore Debra.

Her mom had told her Debra probably was hurting inside herself from some thing or another. “Maybe you can get to know her and help her see the bright side of life,” Mom had suggested, with her typical sing songy voice.

“You just don’t understand, Mom. She’s bad,” Sam had explained.

“You know her name means ‘bee.’ I guess she’s living up to her name–stinging people who get in her way,” said Mom.

Bee. Who would name their kid after an insect?” asked Samantha, who knew her name means The Listener, and knew that Dakota means friend, Mahala means woman of power, and Theodore means gift of God. She knew many more too; her mom was really into names.

Samantha finished at her backpack and managed to muster up enough courage to say, “Have a nice day, Debra.” Then she raced off to geography class.

Bailey’s World

Jo Knowles, young adult author, offers a Monday morning warm-up for the Teachers Write group. Here is today’s, where she challenged us to think about our character’s world. I’m attempting to answer her questions about my brand new character, Bailey.

Bailey’s bully has the power when he’s at school. He is easy to tease. His mom often accuses him of being a target. “Don’t let the bad boys get your goat,” she has been known to tell him. At home, he has a lot of independence and feels more powerful. He feels confused by his two roles in his life. His mother trusts him, and she is often at work, so she’s a little distant. Dad has been unemployed for several months. He works in his wood shop and tries to make projects to sell to help the family. Bailey loves his father and sometimes helps him in his shop.

Bailey’s economic status is lower middle class. His father had been out of work for six months when he had a heart attack. There is health insurance, because his mother is employed, and he was always on insurance through her work. The deductible is $8,000, though, and the family most years have not had to pay it all and haven’t needed expensive medical bills, until this year.

Social status: they are members of a middle-sized community in central Iowa. They do not go to church, which is unusual in their community. Mom works in a manufacturing company that makes parts from carbon fiber for the aerospace and medical industries. It pays fairly well for a job on a manufacturing line.

Bailey is an only child. He was adopted, and his parents were in their late 40’s when he was adopted.

Bailey is introverted, loves reading, and shuns technology for some reason, I don’t know why yet. He’s in grade 6 at the public school.

Some questions I need more information about:

  • What is Bailey’s quest?
  • What makes Bailey’s world unique?
  • What makes Bailey’s world dangerous/safe?
  • How does the setting help or hinder Bailey’s quest?

Thank you, Jo!

In the Hospital

Bailey sat on the dirty cement bench. He quickly wiped away the tear in his eye before it ran down his cheek. His shallow breaths came not so much from fear of his father’s illness, but more from the sweltering heat and humidity.

“Honey, come into the waiting area. It’s too hot out here,” Mom said, as she opened the door and started inside.

“It’s OK, Mom. I’ll stay out here for a while.”

“When I hear from the doctor, I’ll come.”

Bailey took the small sunflower he had picked and began pulling off the petals a few at a time. He flicked them onto the ground, then threw the broken flower. He ground the stem and sepal under his once-black Converse All-Stars. The high tops were folded over, and the rubber tips were split away from the gray and dirty shoe fabric. The broken shoe laces were long enough to make it through every other grommet, the aglets long ago split and broken off. Bailey kicked the flower remains away, as his feet swung under the bench.

“Bailey, come quick,” Mom called from the hospital door.

Here is the Teachers Write prompt from Kate Messner today.