Monday, August 20, 2012

Gathering Ideas For Writing


 Tuesday Slice of Life is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers.  Come visit to see what everyone is up to, here as a new school year arrives.




A very old cemetery in Missouri where some of my ancestors lie.  My mother's maiden name is Coleman.



       I love talking about different kinds of writing with students, and offering different experiences.  No matter what kind of writing we discuss, we seem to end up ‘telling stories.

        My school is near a beautiful cemetery.  Many visit there for various reasons.  Groups may have a tree tour to learn about and visit the numerous examples of tall, mature trees that grow there.  The place is very old, and they can study history there, visit some of the tombstones of famous people who have lived in this area and marvel at their monuments, their places of rest.  There is a tour dedicated to distinguished Colorado women.  People bike on the numerous paths through the grounds.


        I have taken my class there to write, to be inspired by the stories that close examination of dates and names show.  For example, there is a part of the cemetery showing quite a few deaths with whole families buried together.  When we researched the dates, we realized it was during a major flu epidemic of long ago.
         There we might find beautiful poetry carved into the stones in memory of a mother and child who didn’t survive the child’s birth.  We have learned that there are many kinds of symbols that are meaningful.  Birds mean eternal life, while butterflies signify short life.  A full-blown rose means the deceased died in the prime of life and a morning glory means the beginning of life.  We were given a handout that showed many of these symbols.  There is a quote on the handout that says “Remember Me As You Pass By”.  With those words, the class learned to treat the place with respect, as a place of peace and one of history.  With permission, we were able to make gravestone rubbings.  
         The trip is a full day of learning, and the goal is to start students thinking about people in the past, people who have led full lives just as we do, only in different times.  We brainstorm and share both our imaginings and our questions.  We take notes, and then write.  Mostly this is a free-writing session, an experience of capturing observations and imagining the people, perhaps even creating a fictional character. 
        I realize there can be mixed feelings about a cemetery, but with conversation before the trip, and talking through those feelings, we are able to have a fine day in a beautiful place, a day that removes some of the scary (to some) aspects that students think about cemeteries.  Visiting also brings up memories, and then conversation, of some of the students of their own experiences of death and visiting gravesites.  It’s a good day trip that adds to students’ writing from varied ideas and memories.



33 comments:

  1. Wow, Linda! I am impressed all over again with what a great teacher you are!

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    1. Thank you Tabatha. This is truly a great trip!

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  2. Last year, I urged my colleagues to add a cemetery stop on our tour of an old historical town with our gifted students. We did gravestone rubbings, researched the person on a cemetery website, and wrote historical fiction stories. I felt it added a dimension to our field trip. Cemeteries can be fascinating places, full of stories and poems. I wish we had one closer to school. What a great idea!

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    1. This one is just about a mile away. We are lucky. Thanks Margaret!

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  3. What a special trip, rich with meaning and story. Wonderful that it is so close for you. And it will change your students' perspective forever. Some may take up genealogy after this
    experience. Thanks for doing that with them!
    I enjoy visiting cemeteries so much. My mother used to love to look for relatives, and we'd read and wonder at all those beautiful engravings. I love to imagine what the person was like, or where they lived, who their family was, and sometimes envision the circumstances of their passing...was it a sinking ship, mother in labor, epidemic? So many stories in a cemetery.

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    1. Another connection, Donna! We visit our family members as often as we can. I agree that they are fascinating.

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  4. Thanks for the reminder to try this, Linda. One of our oldest is right next to our small historical society. I wonder what it would be like to be near a civil war battlefield. I had no idea about the symbolism...thanks for sharing.

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    1. One thing I forgot to share was that there is a gravestone creator next to the cemetery. Some students interested in the art have visited there too. Thanks!

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  5. Linda, what a great experience. Not sure why, but I've always felt at peace in a cemetery. Hospitals freak me out, but cemeteries calm me. Who knows. And I've taken my students to one before and they found exactly what your students did - evidence of the flu epidemic. They were shocked to see the amount of people who died as a result.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that you've done this too, Katherine. I put the part in about making sure that students know it isn't scary because some haven't had the experience. It's great to hear that you discovered the same thing too. Thanks!

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  6. LIke many others, I find cemeteries such beautiful, peaceful places. I wish I had one closer to take my students to. I'll bet it would bring up a lot of writing ideas.

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    1. It is an inspirational day for writing. Maybe there's a virtual tour in your future? Thanks, Deb.

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  7. THis post is such as clear reminder that there are SO many other kinds of writing beyone the 3 paragraph essay and the constructed response! This post reminds me to take my students to write under trees and on the playground while the weather permits!

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    1. And sometimes even in a snowstorm! You are right, there is so much more to share in writing. Thanks Anita!

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  8. Linda,
    We used to do this with the 4th grade students who went to Hale Farm and Village...visiting the cemetary attached to it...the students did grave stone rubbings and studied more about the history related to the birth and death dates on the headstones. I think it's really neat that you are able to show the students these kinds of experiences.
    Amy

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    1. I'm so glad to hear of others of you who visit and explore cemeteries. That sounds great, Amy. Thanks.

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  9. I can imagine students - of a certain age anyway - creating their own headstone of symbols and writing an obituary. Some parents might not like that idea, oh well, fun to think about for myself.

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    1. Amelia, I didn't include that, but I have done obituaries with students before, couched in a kind of timeline of their future lives. I didn't have any parents complain & the students liked the future prediction aspect. They also worked with symbols in an art project. It was lovely. Thanks!

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  10. How fascinating! It is incredible the way your school's beliefs about young learners comes across through the posts you share. What you describe honors your students as learners, and as humans. I especially appreciate all the shared discovery you've experienced alongside students. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Christy. I think you've got it right, it's so much about the discovery as learners. From what I hear from you, you do much of that in the classroom. Kittle will help us too!

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  11. I love exploring old cemeteries! (I thought I was weird but I'm glad to know others like them too!) Our town has several, and it's incredible to read the names of our town founders (many of our school and street names!) and let my mind wander back to what our town was like when it was just starting out! I also love to discover random things about regular people, like couples that were married for a really long time, people that died on their birthday, military veterans, families with generation after generation buried together, etc. Once you get past the "creepy", it can be an exciting exploration -- so glad you opened your students' minds to this!

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    1. Hi Jennifer. From the comments, I guess more than a few like to visit cemeteries. I like all the things you do. When we visit those in the small towns we know, we do wander around, looking & talking about those we knew. It's nice visiting & noticing the different stones. Thanks!

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  12. Such rich experiences you are able to offer your students! I think the symbols are fascinating. I had no idea, so I wonder, are they universal or particular to that cemetery?

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    1. I looked for a link, but there are many. This handout I have came from this particular cemetery. They have a person just devoted to education, so guess the basics are universal, but even so, subject to interpretation. Thanks Elsie.

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  13. Wow - that is just super cool. At first, I admit, I was thinking, "Hmm.. I'd creep out." However, as you explained the place and the symbols, my respect for the location and the activity grew even more (I would imagine for the students who are there the impact is 1,000x that of mine.) Really neat learning experience. I want to be in this lesson.

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    1. I'm glad you changed your mind, Dana. It really is a lovely place to see. Thanks.

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  14. Your post reminded me of something I need to do here in NJ before I head home to PA on Thursday. I need to take my daughter to my grandparents' graves for the first time. I haven't taken her yet and it's time. She's named after my grandmother AND this month, the month of Elul, is a time when Jews often visit their loved ones who have passed.
    Thanks for the reminder, Linda. I know you didn't intend for your post to be taken in this way, but I needed that gentle reminder.

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    1. I'm glad it reminded you, Stacey and that you told about this month's tradition. My daughter was named after my grandmother too!

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  15. I love visiting the cemetery in my home town. Parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents along with numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins are all buried there. Your class trip is an interesting experience. I like that the focus is on getting students to think about people from the past. We brainstorm, share, imagine, question, take notes, and write. What a fabulous process for the day.

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    1. Thank you Ramona. When we do visit our hometowns, it feels nice to see all those behind us, doesn't it? And their names bring up happy memories.

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  16. Amazing. I think cemeteries are a wealth of historical data, and inspiring for writing as well. What a great trip!

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    1. Thanks Maria. We could return often & never be in the same place. It's quite a wonderful places.

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  17. How I wish you could see one of our cemeteries here in Singapore - would be a good writing exercise, although it is a tad creepy and quite haunting. We visited one part of the cemetery with our guest from the Philippines (singer-songwriter Cynthia Alexander whose music we shared in Finland this week), and we chanced upon a graveyard for young children and infants. It was heartbreaking.

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Having a conversation is a good thing!