Reading Response Exercise #26: Comprehension: Setting and Plot

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

What would it be like if you were to experience what the main character is experiencing in your reading? What would have to change about the way your life is now for this to be possible? How would these events impact the way you think and behave?

Write or discuss your response. Question the responses of your reading partner. Challenge yourself to dig deeper into what you think and believe and how it relates to the text.

For Pre-readers:


Play With Your Words Prompt #25: Fiction/Imaginative Prompt

Write a short story or scene that includes the words, “going down the drain.” Write in any genre you want—contemporary, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, or anything else you might choose.

When done, share your story or scene with your writing partners. Compliment each other on the strengths in their writing and any particular lines or ideas you like.

Share your story or scene as comment. I’d love to see what you came up with!

Beauty and Fragility: The Intersection of Life and Literature

The following post was written as I was traveling home from California earlier this month:

I am on a train, zipping north to Sacramento. I have just attended the funeral of my mom’s best friend (who I had always considered my “spare mother”), and I have just finished reading Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, a novel narrated by Death and set in Nazi Germany. I am haunted by the last words of Death, which close the novel—“I am haunted by humans” (550).


I am haunted by the beauty of loving hearts, the laughter of those who believe life is to be lived and their fragility and strength in the face of a world that can contain lover’s kisses, baby’s smiles, Nazi Germany, and terminal cancer.

It is deep night, and lights like shooting stars, streak past my window.

I thank God for blessing Mom and me, and all our family with the loving, exuberant, encouraging, and life affirming friendship of Marie Hebel Gonzales.

And I thank Him for the gift of words and for writers like Zusak who in the midst of being real while depicting a country in the grip of war and a hate-filled madman, can also report with remarkable beauty the depth of familial love, the joy of friendship, and the courage of those who refuse to heed the words of power and hate.

Marie was that kind of person. She loved her husband, she loved her kids, and she loved everyone who came into contact with her so that each believed him or herself to be her favorite person. Marie loved, and when faced with a choice, always chose the way of “we.”

Our family and all her friends were blessed to have known her. In the words of my stepfather, “She will be sorely missed.”

Reading Response Exercise #25: “News Writing” Style Summary–Plot/Reading Comprehension

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read. Use the 5 W’s and an H newspaper writing strategy to write a summary of your reading.


  • Who was active in the passage you read?
  • What happened?
  • When did it happen?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • And how did it happen?

Combine the information you collected and write a short paragraph about your reading.

Write, and then discuss your response.

For Pre-readers: Ask your listener each of the pre-write questions above. Discuss what he or she thinks in response to each question.

Play With Your Words Prompt #24 Which Would You Rather Be? Persuasive Writing

Which would you rather be a fish or a bird? Breakfast or dinner? A novel or a film?

Pick one of the above questions or create your own combination of items to compare.

Prewrite:  List the pros and cons of either option.

Choose which of the two options you would rather be.

Write a three paragraph persuasive essay explaining which of the two options you would rather be and the reasons for your choice. Try to convince your reader that the option you have championed is the best.

When you’re done, share your writing with each other. Point out the strengths of each other’s writing. Post your response as a comment here on the site.

If you are working with a preschooler, ask the child which he or she would rather be and discuss why. Think up some pairings that would appeal to a small child’s interests. Have a real conversation together. Share your thoughts and ideas in response to the child’s.

Have fun!

P.S. Another comment option: share our own pairs of things to consider for this writing question.

Reading Response Exercise #24: Character Valentines–Characterization

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

Pick two characters from your story.

Get out your colored paper, felt pens, glitter glue, stickers, whatever “crafty” materials you might have on hand. Make a valentine that you believe one of these characters might send to the other.

Share your valentine creation or write a written explanation describing why this valentine suits the character it is from and why it is the sort of valentine this character might send to the intended recipient.

For Pre-readers: let your little listener choose two characters and make a valentine as explained above. When he or she is done, ask the child to tell you about what he or she has made.

Play With Your Words Prompt #23—Description/Point of View/Characterization

Write a description of yourself from the point of view of someone you dislike or with whom you feel uncomfortable. What would this person notice about you? What is it about their personality that would guide what they would observe to write about in a description of you? Consider how they would view your appearance, behavior, attitude, manner of speaking, etc.

Share your description with your writing partner or partners. Compliment each other on the strengths in the other’s writing and the things you like, enjoy, or with which you were impressed.

Share your description as a comment. I would love to see the ways you found for your viewpoint character to describe you.

The Long Train Ride

I am writing from my Mom’s kitchen table. I should be en route home when this post appears. I’ll be taking the train overnight, leaving from Modesto, CA at 11:00 P.M. and arriving home Wednesday at 4:00 P.M. There will be a two-hour layover in Sacramento from 12:30 until 2:30 AM.

Sound grueling? Yeah, I know. But do you know what? I’m looking forward to it.

I adore family vacations, and a road trip with my husband can’t be beat. But there is a certain alure to traveling alone. All that time, all to oneself.  It’s just not convenient, or expected that I should work, so I feel free to do whatever quiet activity I’d like. I’m a quiet person. I love quiet activities. I’m looking forward to my long train ride.

So what will I do? I’m bringing three books (one I’m nearly done with, one short one that comes next on my reading rotation, and a longer book that’s next  just in case I finish the first two). I’ve also got magazines: a news magazine, a women’s magazine, and two writing magazines. In addition I’ve packed a spiral notebook and pen. While here at Mom’s I finally found the story to go with a scene I came up with during a free-write at a writer’s conference. The scene just wouldn’t go away but finding a setting and story that works to go with it has long eluded me. So I’ll probably jot some notes on the trip. Maybe I’ll even start writing the story. There’s so many possibilities for enjoying activities I love!

And then, I’ll be home!

What would you do on a seventeen hour train ride?

Better yet, what kind of short story can you launch from a seventeen hour train ride? The working title for mine is The Magic Tea Bag. Hmm. Now what kind of story could you write that combines a train trip and a magic tea bag? Tell me about it. I’d love to hear from you.

Reading Response Exercise #23: Character Breadcrumbs

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

What has your character had to leave behind in the journey of his or her story? What real, tangible things, what relationships, what emotional experiences? Which ones were they sorry to leave? Which ones were they glad to leave behind? Why would the character feel this way?

Write or discuss your response.

For Pre-readers: While reading together, stop at an appropriate part of the story and ask what the character has to let go of in order to proceed with the story.  At the end, ask how things have changed for the main character. Discuss the child’s answers.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt #8—Farewell Poem

I am in California, staying with my mom. Her best friend, whom she has known since childhood and whom I considered my extra mom, is at home in hospice care. The doctors and her family do not expect her to be with us for long.

And so, far from home and my files, grieving with my mom and Marie’s children (who feel like my own cousins) and grandchildren over the final good-byes that are soon to be said, I could not help but think of the Farewell poem to present to you this first Friday of a new month.

What is a Farewell poem? It is a “poem of address,” a poem addressed to someone or something specific. When I taught Language Arts, I shared a poem I’d written on the last day of a trip to Yellowstone National Park. It was a farewell to Yellowstone and chronicled all the wonders I had encountered there and would bring back in my heart to remember.

A Farewell poem can be written as a formal ,metered and rhyming poem, a free verse poem, or any other form of poetry you desire. What make it a Farewell poem are two factors:

  1. It is written as though its audience is the person, place, or thing the author is saying good-bye to.
  2. It is written as a means of saying good-bye, be it permanently or only for a time to the subject about whom it is written.

As with all poetry, the more specific the incidents included and the more precise the word choice and imagery, the more powerful the finished piece will be.

To prepare to write your poem, think about the subject. Jot down the qualities and memories you want to capture in your good-bye. Rank them in the order you want to present them. You might organize your poem in chronological order, from least to most important, or in clusters of relevant topics.

When you feel you’ve captured what you want to say, write your poem.

Go back over it and revise to highlight what you wish to be highlighted, to pare down what might feel too long-winded, to work in various techniques of poetry, which can be especially helpful in the highlighting process. And of course, don’t forget to do a final check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Share your poems with your writing partners. Identify and praise the strengths in each other’s poems. If your poem is for a person, consider making a nice final copy and giving it to them.

As these days of caring for Marie and her family pass, I feel a Farewell poem welling up inside me. It is not ready to emerge just yet, however I know when it does it will include how much I valued Marie’s loving heart, her eyes that could see the good in everyone, her passion for life, her concern for others, her loyal friendship to my mom, and the blessing and encouragement she has always been to me.

What would you like to capture forever in a farewell?