Tessa Clarke, a very enthusiastic teacher of literacy, teaches a delightful Year 7-8 class at Drury School on the outskirts of Auckland.
A few months back, Tessa came across a picture book that she loved (Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez) and decided to develop a writing activity from it. This is what she did.
She began by reading and discussing the picture book (which is available on YouTube) with her students. It could be a place that the students connected with rather than lived in.
They were all very excited by this and immediately thought of and talked about special places that they connected with. Some were close by; some were on the other side of the world. Most had family connections to them.
They decided, from this discussion, that their learning goal would be To describe a place you connect with and identify with and that they would need To use verbs and adjectives to paint a picture of the place in the reader’s head.
Tessa had told the students about her special place (the Coromandel) and she subsequently shared a text with them about it that she had written at home:
Where am I from you ask?
I come from a place where the vast landscape reminds you that the world is large and the opportunities are endless. High mountains and rolling hills are covered with long, green grass and gigantic, beautiful natives trees. The cows and the sheep graze all day under the rays of sun that peer through the long white clouds. When you take a breath to soak it all in, the fresh clean air clears your mind. Breathe and reset.
I come from a place that gives you strength. White foaming waves crash on to the beach and carve away at the sand. Sprinkles of glitter dot across the turquoise blue ocean, bringing peace and harmony. A picture frame of large pohutukawa trees carve out the landscape. The squawking of seagulls fills your ears, reminding you of the hot chips you still have not yet eaten. The warm sand gently grabs at your feet, grounding you. Connecting you.
The place I come from makes me feel empowered and connected.
My home: Coromandel, Aotearoa.
The students not only loved seeing, hearing and reading Tessa’s text, but they were able to use it as an exemplar for their own writing (e.g., beginning with a question; finishing with the answer; the repetition of ‘I come from….’; the poetic tone of the writing). They were also able to develop success criteria for their task from it:
- I have used my senses to describe the setting.
- I have included how the place makes me feel.
- I have used rich adjectives and verbs.
- I have written in the present tense.
- I have written in second person.
Each student then had a go at writing about their own special place, just as the teacher had done. As they wrote, they continually shared with each other and gave each other feedback/feedforward. Many students made many changes to their writing. As Tessa says, A lot of sharing happened that week, the kids were so excited to tell their classmates about the special place they get to call home.
Here are three of Tessa’s students proudly reading their texts aloud:
Brooke reading her writing
Cael reading his writing
Jack reading his writing
Here are samples of writing from another four of her students.
Sarah’s Writing – click to enlarge
Skyla’s Writing – click to enlarge
Celeste’s Writing (link to original)
Tanush’s Writing (link to original)
Having written and published their texts, the students also got an opportunity to bring their writing alive through art. This is an opportunity that they relished and here are some examples of their work (writing and art) hanging proudly in the classroom. When I visited the classroom they were incredibly excited to share and talk about their work with me.
Tessa and her students were very pleased with the writing outputs that came from this activity. When Tessa and I discussed what had made the activity so successful, we decided on three factors:
- That the motivation had engaged the students, particularly the book that Tessa had read aloud to them at the start.
- That everyone had something to say and share with others as part of the activity.
- That Tessa had not only written her own (very good) example but had used it strategically to help the students work out what they could do. This inspired the students and made them realise that they too could be successful.