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If we want our students to write, it is helpful to teach them some ideas of how to observe when they are in the world, riding home with parents as chauffeurs, riding home on the city bus, walking home with or without friends, riding the bike home. We can travel with a small group to a park, a small shopping area, down the block from school to give them a chance to write in a different setting. In class, we talk and talk and list ideas in our writer's notebooks that are good, actually, but nothing holds interest like sitting on a bench in a small town setting and watching people go by.
Every few minutes one can put down a word or two, and in between those minutes, one can imagine: Where is that woman going dressed as if she stepped onto a modeling runway at Saks? Who is that group of three, two older, one younger--lunch for three from the office, the younger tagging along because she just had a fight with-her husband, her girlfriend, her mother-and needs some advice. What is that young boy doing on the side with his scooter? Isn't it school time, shouldn't he be somewhere? Do you see the trash under the bench? Did you notice the cupcakes in the window? Who is the band playing on the loud speakers? Did you see that woman with the dog in her handbag? Did you hear...? Did you smell?
Imagination can take us exactly where we'd like to travel, where we'd like our characters to travel. Perhaps if we took students out to practice writing with imagination they would learn to carry on observing without us?
Here's from my latest trip:
I found an empty Brookstone bag
At the bench-yet-I see no nearby Brookstone store.
Was it to impress—packing the chicken salad,
apple, and Dasani into the bag—with
thoughts of a friend lured into the net of
“look where I’ve been”?
Are there any who noticed?
Lunch is over; sack’s adrift, like
its owner. It’s tragic to be abandoned by a date
who went downtown instead,
the idea of a Brookstone man
dulling the senses.