Diggin’ on the Details with Joseph’s 5th & 6th Graders

Good news, folks:

The new issue of Calyx hit the stands this week and it includes my short story, “My Father Calls me Pequeña.” This Oregon-based, nationally known publication has been around for over 34 years (a near epoch in lit mag time) and, as Utne Reader puts it, “Calyx stands out from the crowd.” You can buy it at Powell’s Books or, once they update their website, through Calyx themselves.
Also, Fishtrap posted my bio this week, along with info for all you writers out there who’d like to be a part of this fine organization by serving as a Writer-in-Residence in this neck of the woods. I highly recommend it! More info right here.
Back to the important stuff—the best students on earth, a.k.a Wallowa County kids, as seen here, writing their little 6th grade hearts out:
I continued my fiction workshop with the JHS seniors, and started a 2-week session with the 5th and 6th grade classrooms at the same location. Today we talked about their favorite stories and what made them memorable. Their first guess was always spot-on: “The action!” they told me. Hands down, these kids remembered the stories that kept them wondering what was going to happen next.
“But there’s something else that writers do,” I told them. “…something else that helps you make a movie in your mind’s eye as you’re reading along…”
We talked about the idea of the “mental movie”—how it’s different for each individual person even though some things look the same, how it’s amazing that something made of paper and ink can paint a vivid picture in the mind’s eye. Then one student raised her hand:
“But last night I saw The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Becky’s hair was red,” she said.
“Yeah,” a chorus of others responded.
They were talking about THE BIG READ, which is seriously big news in Wallowa County, and last night our local OK Theatre and Fishtrap sponsored a showing of Mark Twain’s classic.
“In the book, her hair is blonde,” said another student.
“Yeah,” even more chimed in.
“That’s right!” I told them. “And how did Mark Twain do that? I mean how did he paint that picture in your mind’s eye so that you would remember it?”
“DETAIL!” they answered.
Perfect, I thought. Here I was trying to sneak in a lesson about detail and description and they had a shared experience of just how powerful such details could be. The author says that his character’s hair is blonde. Even though each student had his/her own “mental movie” as they read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, they all envisioned a blonde-haired Becky and they were all surprised to see the movie star show up with red hair on last night’s screen.
It wasn’t difficult to convince them of the power of detail after that conversation. We moved on to similes and then a writing prompt. By the end of the class period, more than a dozen students had shared the opening lines of their new short stories—similes and details and all—and were jazzed about our next meeting.
After seeing how lit up they were, I have to say I’m pretty jazzed, too!
  • Kyle Lang

    Katey, What a great lesson. I love the enthusiasm, both from the teacher and the students. I wish I could bottle it and let it loose in my class.

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