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Mystery Object

Level: Any Level

I am teaching my Level 1 writing students how to describe things by means of process (First second then), extended definition (for instance/compare-contrast), and directions (N.S.E.W./right, left, etc). We have done these things one at a time but my students are continually making learning leaps beyond the simple assignments and I want to reward them for their abilities while making sure they have the basics down. Also, we will soon be studying the correct form for personal letters and I think they are ready to move on. We did these two fun assignments:

Imagine a terrible disaster has befallen our class here at the University (Monsoon, earthquake, rainstorm, snowstorm, tornado, flood, etc.) Write me a letter in which you describe this event and tell me exactly how you responded (I ran out the door and turned left! I ran straight ahead to the end of the hall and looked right and left. etc.).

We had such fun with this assignment! Everyone got into the drama! Exciting assignments like this really test the basic understanding of sentence construction as well as show them how all these forms work together in a paragraph. It was clear when they began to put all of the various forms together that some of them had not completely understood directions when they were not directly connected with the book example of street directions (North, South, and Right, Left). After this adventure in creative writing, however, they all felt that every sort of description was easy. So, we went on to another adventure that was even more fun!

Assignment 2: Write me a letter in which you tell me a wild story or an outrageous lie about yourself! (Everyone looks up outrageous in their dictionary). I provided them with stamped envelopes and these letters were actually mailed to me -- so I had the additional fun of getting personal letters in the mail. These letters were the best writing they had done so far and were, in addition, hysterically funny (one of my Turkish students warned me that he was a space alien and that the information he was about to tell me was "specific and secret!"). The following week, I helped each student with grammer mistakes and then read the corrected letters aloud in class. Everyone enjoyed this (particularly the public praise and appreciative applause) and they also saw that there were many ways to tell a story and still use correct English writing style. Two of my students had difficulty with sentence construction when they let their imaginations run in this way so they were provided with a topic sentence/supporting sentence review tool and they then wrote me a third letter while constantly referring to their topic/supporting sentence diagram. The improvement in their writing was astonishing.

I always encourage imaginations running wild; the greatest portion of my student's training tends to be incredibly focused and detail-oriented and an occasional stretch is important. Also, my father, who was an orchestra conductor, told me that when you are about to begin a new piece with the orchestra you do not start by practicing each section and then, when the sections are perfect, putting them together. You start by playing the entire piece through! You tell everyone not to be concerned about their mistakes, but just to try and keep up. Naturally this first "stagger through" sounds terrible! But the psychological result is that when you are done every musician says to himself, "I can do this!" Obviously, they do not want to look bad in the group, so they will self-discipline themselves to improve.

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