Reading Response Exercise #9—Practice a Reading Strategy

This week’s reading activity is more an exercise than a question, and you will need to read the full prompt before you do your reading for the exercise.

For this exercise, you need the book you are reading, a pen or pencil, and (if you don’t want to/or can’t write in your book) some small sticky notes. You may even want an index card or piece of paper on which to write down the code.

Code? you say.

Yes, this exercise involves the coded recording of margin notes as you read.

You can create your own code if you want, but here’s the code I like to use (If you create your own code, remember each symbol should be simple to make and easy to remember):

  • * (a star): this indicates that what I am reading is important for me to remember.
  • ! (an exclamation point): this means “Wow!” and is used for things that either are really interesting or exciting.
  • ? (question mark): I use this to show where I don’t quite understand what the author is saying. I can go back to it later and figure it out if further reading didn’t clarify it for me.
  • :) (a smiley face): This means I like what I read or I think it’s funny.
  • :( (a sad face): I use this for things that are troubling or sad.
  • // (two parallel lines): I use this symbol alongside passages that remind me of something I can relate to in my own life.
  • (a triangle): I borrowed this symbol from math and science to use in passages where it seems some change is taking place.
  • (an eyeball): My students enjoyed using this to point out things they have observed in the text.

As you read, either write in pencil in your book or write on sticky notes to attach these notes in the margin alongside the passages that inspire them.

For example:

  • Diddle, diddle dumpling,        :) I love the way these words bounce
  • My son John,
  • Went to bed
  • With his stockings on.              ? Why?
  • One shoe off,
  • One shoe on…
  • Diddle, diddle dumpling,
  • My son John.                             // reminds me of when my one-year-old daughter fell asleep with her face in her plate!

Using margin notes is a great strategy for nonfiction and assigned readings. It helps you to stay focussed, to relate to the text, and to highlight and remember what seems important in the text.

I use margin notes most often when reading my critique group friends’ manuscripts, and when reading informative articles relating to writing and other areas in which I’m interested. I have found the practice to improve my interaction with and comprehension of the text.

I hope it can prove both fun and useful for you!


Play with Your Words #14—Sentence Fluency/Pacing

Pacing and flow are important in writing, particularly in fiction writing.

For this week’s Play with Your Words exercise, you will need to look at a work of fiction you have recently read.

Find a passage in the story where there was lots of excitement and action. Select one half to one full-page from this section and do a sentence length analysis. Count up the number of words in each sentence and list them.

For example:

  • Sentence 1: ___ words
  • Sentence 2: ___ words
  • Sentence 3: ___ words
  • Sentence 4: ___ words
  • Sentence 5: ___ words
  • Sentence 6: ___ words
  • Sentence 7; ___ words
  • Sentence 8: ___ words

Add up the total number of words. Then divide the total number of words by the number of sentences you analyzed. In my example, that would be: total number of words divided by 8.

On average, how many words per sentence did the author use in this active, exciting part of the story?

Now select a peaceful, calm part of the story and count up the sentence lengths for about one half or one page. Total the number of words and divide by the number of sentences for the average number of words per sentence.

What kind of scene used the shorter length sentences?

What kind of scene used longer sentences?

Write two scenes, at least ten sentences in length, using what you now know to create one active and exciting scene and one peaceful scene.

Share your results with your writing friends or family. Remember to let each other know what you liked in their work.

I’d love to see some of your scenes as comments here! Happy Writing!

The Best Books of October

Incredible! October is nearly over. Much of it has been a pretty, golden month, and way too much of it I have spent reading and playing. (Sometimes being sick is not such a bad thing!)

Now, it is time for me and you, my readers, to share your favorite, or your child’s favorite, read from this month.

The book I enjoyed most this October was Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Crossing to Paradise. Gatty, who has worked in the fields of Sir John’s manor all her life, is given the opportunity to serve as lady’s maid to Lady Gwyneth of Ewloe, and soon finds herself leaving all she has ever known to accompany her lady on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Gatty, Lady Gwyneth, and seven companions traverse Europe learning to navigate not only the difficult and unfamiliar cultures and terrain, but also the experiences and relationships that develop along the way. I really enjoyed this book and I think middle school, high school, and adult readers will as well.

What reading journey meant the most to you this month?

Reviser’s Block

I have never had to deal with writer’s block. My problem usually is too many ideas and not enough time. So imagine my surprise when it finally occurred to me I’ve been wallowing in reviser’s block for almost a month and a half!

I finally had to face this unpleasant fact square in the eye when I nearly committed to doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Written in a Month—held annually in November.)

At the retreat I attended earlier this month, a friend commented that the novel she’s finishing revisions on was written last November during NaNoWriMo. She loved the experience. She found the procedure freeing—just write and write fast—and is considering doing it again this year.

Wow, I thought, I’d like to write something new.

I told her I wanted to do it and then came home…to my novel I need to do one more revision on before I send it back to an editor who was interested in a second look.

For another week or so I toyed with the idea of both writing a new novel and revising the other—ha, ha, ha! However, I did eventually come to my senses.

And then I felt SO GUILTY. How could I not do NaNoWriMo? How could I let my friend down?

And then, last week, the solution presented itself as I was praying. I will do my own NaNoReviseMo! I can still set and meet daily and weekly quotas, my friend and I can still encourage each other, and best of all, by December 1, I’ll have revised my novel.

Granted I won’t be able to work fast and free. However with discipline, making the revisions I need to make in a month is doable.

And then I’ll truly be free to invest myself in the next exciting project!

Reading Response #8: Extend and Connect with your Reading

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes.

When you are done, think about what you have read.

Does the experience of a character remind you of any experience you have had? If so, what was it? How was your experience similar to the character’s? How was it different? Based on your own experience, do you think the character responded well or poorly to his or her situation?

If none of the character’s experiences remind you of anything you’ve experienced, why do you think that might be? What is it about the character’s experiences that make them so extreme?

Write down or discuss your responses.

Play with Your Words Writing Prompt # 13 Pick a Name Matey!

Hi! Sorry for the long silence. I am functional at last, after sandwiching a cold between a writing retreat and one day conference, I am at last getting back into a weekly routine.

So, today is “Play with Your Words” day, Play with Your Words Writing Prompt # 13.

During the first year or so after I began teaching, my son and I planned for his October birthday and he chose a pirate theme.

At the party store we bought pirate plates, cups, cake decorations, and pirate napkins. Being a teacher of language arts, I could not resist incorporating these napkins in a writing exercise I did with my students, and so today I share it with you.

Observe: The pirate napkin (Copyrighted by Converting, Inc, 2001, and based on the book “Everything I know About Pirates, by Tom Lichtenheld , published by Simon and Schuster 2000.)

Following the directions on the napkin, select one word from each column to create a pirate name.

Now, describe this pirate. What does he or she look like? What’s his or her personality like? What does he or she love or hate? What are some of his or her quirks or mannerisms? What is his or her favorite food? Color? Activity? thing to do?

If you’re really feeling inspired, write a scene for your pirate.

Then, of course share. Enjoy each others’ pirate names and descriptions. Praise the strengths you see in each other’s writing, and help each other see how to learn and grow their writing skills.

Play with Your Words! Poetry Prompt #4: Six-Pack Poem

Six Pack Poem

This is a poetry exercise I adapted from Gloria Heard’s excellent book, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry

I used this exercise in a poetry workshop. The workshop had been one of a menu of options students could choose to attend. One of the students who came was our star varsity basketball player, who had been struggling in my American Literature class, and so I was surprised he’d chosen my workshop. But the depth and beauty of the poem he crafted with this exercise gave him a real boost of confidence in himself as a writer, which was a delight to my soul!

So, A Six Pack Poem—Here we go!

Get a piece of paper and fold it in half lengthwise, then fold it into thirds so that when you open it up it has six spaces resembling the slots in a six-pack of soda.

Number each section, 1-6.

For section 1, think of something you’ve seen outdoors that is amazing, beautiful, interesting, or that has just stuck in your mind. Close your eyes and “see” it as clearly as if you were standing in front of it once more. Notice all its details. In section 1 describe it as accurately as you can. Sections 1-5 are for pre-writing, so you can use words, phrases, or sentences, whatever helps you capture what you’ve seen.

For section 2, think about the quality of the light when you saw what you described in section 1. Consider the brightness or dimness and also its color. For example sunset light may be bright, with a rosy or gold tone. In section 2, describe the light.

For section 3, consider your image again and recall the sounds you heard when you saw it. Did it make any noise? What kinds of sound were being made around you? Describe them in section 3.

In section 4, list any questions you might have about the object or scene. Is there something about it or its presence where it was that might be puzzling? What might you wonder about it? What might you want to ask it? Write them all down in section 4.

In section 5, consider the feelings this object or scene inspires within you. Don’t settle with just your surface response. Think deeper. Are the feelings similar, contradictory, surprising? Describe the feelings you encounter in section 5.

In section 6, use words and phrases from the other five boxes as the raw material to write the rough draft of a poem about your scene or object. Feel free to add words, as well as free to be selective in the words and phrases you choose to include.

Revise your poem considering clarity and to work in meaningful sound effects of poetry.

Share your poems with each other. Post them as comments to the blog. Enjoy the sensory experience of the poems and praise what you like in each others’ work.

You can do this as an exercise with everyone viewing and then writing about the same thing, or with each individual visualizing his or her own subject for the exercise. Enjoy playing with your words.