Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Inside-Outside--Discovering New Ideas

Tuesday Slice of Life, August 2, 2011

Collecting words and phrases that help writers imagine stories and pictures from their lives can be another way to help writers discover ideas and start writing.  When I give this lesson, I actually just begin with a few phrases, and then let the chart fill with ideas from the group.  At the same time, I’ve suggested to students that they find a place toward the end of their notebooks for lists and seed ideas.  We add to it every now and then just as a way for me to show students the breadth of what can go into their notebooks.   Here are some starters used in the past:  first-lasts, inside out, upside down, left out, after dinner, found, lost, it’s the name of the game, night-day, expectations, out the window. . .   Please add your own. 

            After our brainstorming session, it’s time to write, and as I’ve said before, the ideas are still personal choice.  I just ask that they record these ideas as described above in case they need a new idea sometime.

Here is my choice for today:  a poem from the words, Inside-Outside

Inside, at 60 beats a minute,
my heart is resting,
accumulating layers
of life on the outside.
These layers, like tree rings,
remain hidden inside,
and show only a peek to the outside
of the sometimes sweet
and occasionally bitter
when we add a pinch of salt
and then a lot of sugar.
Inside, my heart is racing
but you might not know
until I tell you, on the outside.

            I’d like to add that I’m not really satisfied with this poem.  I feel it needs something that I can’t yet figure out.  I’ve worked on it for quite a while, and messed with different lines, frustrated that it just won’t go right!  As I worked in the classroom with students, I would have shown them my process, all the cross-outs and changes, demonstrating that sometimes things don’t always go so well, and that’s what happens with writers.  As the French poet Paul Valery said, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”


  1. I like this idea! Putting it into my notebook. There are some great lines in your poem. I really like the last three together--especially "until I tell you on the outside." I also like the quote and may use it on my web site...

  2. I like that you aren't satisfied with the poem. I feel that way at times, and then I put it aside - sometimes for ages. Then when I bring it out again, it may suddenly feel like it is right after all, or else I see what was missing or too much. Funny process, isn't it? The quote about not finishing, just abandoning is often true.
    I also like the poem though.
    My fav: "accumulating layers of life on the outside"

  3. I used to ... but now I ... is a phrase I've used. The book Someday (Eileen Spinelli) has someday ... but today ...
    I will be saving your ideas too. Don't be so hard on yourself with your poem. I love "accumulating layers of life."

  4. I love the examples of story starters. The push and pull of ideas. I love the final quote...it's probably why I struggle with poetry so much. That feeling of it not being polished and complete. I enjoyed your poem very much!

  5. Wonderful phrases to jump-start the writing process. I especially like the obscure 'out the window' and 'expectations' because they can be taken in so many different directions. I think your poem is beautiful. The image of the layers of the heart as the rings of a tree give me the sense of time and those experiences over time that inevitably shape our hearts. A profound image, in my view.

  6. I liked your simile (These layers, like tree rings,
    remain hidden inside) and the line that says "...when we add a pinch of salt." I'm sure you'll revise it 'til it's perfect for you.

  7. I like the idea of collecting words and phrases as jump starts. (I put yours in your notebook). I know your aren't happy with the poem but I also enjoyed it.

  8. It would be interesting to see the poem after you have figured out what is missing. Thank you for some inspiration and ideas for my own and classroom use. Thank you also for your comments on my writing.

  9. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful teaching idea, and your beautiful poem.

    Thank you, also, for your lovely comment on my post. It feels good to know that someone is reading what I write. I hope I make my students feel as good when I read their writing.

    Being part of this Slice of Life exercise has taught me to be really careful about what I say to my students about their writing. I have learned that negative comments do not help at all, but positive ones are a gift - like your rainbow. They fill us with joy, and encourage us to continue.



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