Golden Lines From My Students’ Work

Last week when I was reading student blogs, I started collecting lines that jumped out at me so that I could share them with you.  With permission, here are a few bits of the great stuff I get to read:

The subway poles are a germaphobe’s worst nightmare. Sometimes I think that I would rather fall on my behind than grab on to those filthy things. One time, I saw a man take his hand off the pole, sneeze into it and then resume holding the pole. When I saw that, I felt my stomach drop. He probably wasn’t the first person to do this.

-by Tahyna Hernandez

Is there a child today in any part of the world who has not learned of or heard of the gas chambers in Auschwitz or read the diary of Anne Frank? Indeed. But ask any child in American modern society about what the rape of Nanking was and you will find that 99% of the population would be ignorant of such crimes. 

-by Ada Lee


My parents blamed the black people in my community for the violence and M——‘s parents blamed the Latinos.

by B.A. writing about strain in a cross cultural friendship

As the documentary went on, I was shocked to see that there was discrimination and segregation between black and white deaf people also. I thought to myself, if deaf people were already discriminated against, why would they further the discrimination, especially when both races shared the deaf commonality? 

by Jenyca St. Surin

Titles are like a person’s physical appearance in that they might not reflect how the person really is but they have the power to draw you in.

-also by Tahyna Hernandez

I’ve resisted offering more context at the moment.  If there are comments, I might say a little more about the sorts of texts these lines come from.

Hey English Teachers and Writers, any suggestions for a class that looks like this?

When I begin to write a syllabus for an upcoming class, I usually first think about the course’s goals and what the assignments should be.  Once that’s decided, I try to plan a schedule that will help us reach the objectives.  As I began this process for my upcoming summer courses, I was feeling kind of bummed out thinking about diving back into that same old work.  Class never ends up much like my ideal writing day, and so I’ve decided to mix up the structure for how I think about planning a course.  I’m starting with what is closer to an ideal writing day for me, and using that routine to give the class structure.  Here’s what I’ve got so far.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Daily Course Structure for Prof. Torg’s Composition Class

For me, to be a writer and thinker means to live within a mass of habits. I believe there might be as many ways to write and think as there are people engaged the acts.  By living in this routine three days a week for six weeks, I hope you’ll begin to think about how to craft your own routine for thinking, or it might be that you’re more of a person who will create an anti-routine.

(20 minutes)    Writing Studies / Annotating a Text

Let’s see what other people have to say about writing.  When I say annotate, I mean that I want you to try and have a conversation with the writer on a copy of their text.  After that, let’s practice using MLA guidelines to integrate the thoughts of others into our own texts.

(5 min)           Warm Up with Rich Language (I provide or you choose?)

Read something that will challenge your intellect, the sort of text that might introduce you to a new word.   Log the word, the context, the title of the work and the author into your daybook.  I think I’ll start you with Poetry magazine.

(10 min)          Teacher as Text.

This is like the first twenty minutes, but you’ll do this on your own with a text of your choosing.  Read something that you’d say is among the best of the sort of text you are trying to write.  I recently adapted my novel and so early each morning I tried to challenge/inspire myself by reading from Alan Ball’s American Beauty and Diablo Cody’s Juno. Look for one writerly observation of which you might make use.  Log the example in your daybook.  Make sure you take good enough notes that you could quote from this text and cite it in a works cited entry for your Writer on Writing Paper.

(20 minutes)    Write a Draft of Something you Need to Write.

Most, if not all of us, write on a computer screen with lots of distractions.  Here, we’re going to try something different:  we’ll write on paper ignoring our cell phone, instant messages, and the latest email to come dinging into our inbox.

(20 minutes)    Small Group Workshop.

Here’s something you might not be used to:  a real audience.  You can share what you just wrote or something that you’ve written and brought in.  It’s best that we all have a copy, but it is also fine if we don’t.  Readers should annotate the text:  underline phrases that get your attention, challenge the thinking, explain what you learn, and ask questions of each other and the writer.

(10 minutes)    A Lesson From Prof. Torg. Usually, there’s something coming up that I need to explain.

(10 minutes)    Work on Your Group Technology Project.

Your group is to make a movie and write a paper that focuses on one aspect of writing studies.

(5 minutes)      What happened worth mentioning today?

Let’s hear from a couple of the writers in the room.  What happened today that you can share?  Is there something you’ve written or read that you are willing to read to us?

(10 minutes)    Prof. Torg on a Text for Grade.

For this portion of the class, I want to show you the best I can what goes on in my head as I read a text written by someone I’m going to have to give a grade.

(10 minutes)    Research at Work.

I’m going to show you clips from a variety of documentaries and/or the work of previous students.  I see these films/texts as examples of those who are asking meaningful questions and pursuing answers.

How can you get students interested in writing or research? Establish writing territories.

Writing Floats on a Sea of Conversation

—Dr. Samuel Watson

It used to be that I would often ask the writers who entered my classroom, “What do you want to write?”  Their most common response was, “I don’t know.”  The following prompts are meant to plant intellectual seeds that each writer might choose to grow.  During one of our first class sessions together, we make lists and talk about them.  Our conversation helps us add to our lists and we are all able to begin to think about what we might write.  I call our responses to these prompts “writing territories,” a phrase I first encountered in Nancie Atwell’s book In the Middle. She explains her own territories as “subjects I’ve written about or might like to, genres I’ve written in or would like to try, and audiences for whom I write….”(120).

Respond to these prompts and pause to discuss your answers.  What my fellow writer says might allow me to add to my list.

1. Make a list of topics you know something about.

2. List the main parts and/or roles in your life.  For example, I’m a teacher, a husband, a father, a runner, and much more.

3. Make a list of places you know well.

4. What is your major?  What do you hope to use it for?

5. Make a list of topics that you wish you knew more about.  Or, what are some classes you wish were offered and that you could take?

6. Do a sample schedule of your life.  Try out a school day, the weekend, summer, and a holiday.  At 8:00 a.m. you….  And then you…

7. List some political/social issues relevant to your life.

Following the creation of these lists, we can all choose to start writing:  tell us about one of these, use this list to begin a research project, or can you tell us a story that comes from one of these territories?

You can check out my You Tube channel for related videos:

You can get a PDF handout for this activity in the blue box on the lower right of my blog page.