Seventh grade students in Deb Smith’s English classes could choose their own writing adventure during December.
Students who had just finished reading All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely were given the choice of two different writing assignments. One option was to take a secondary character from the book and write a chapter from their perspective. All American Boys is written as a dueling narrative between two characters: Rashad, a young black man who is a victim of police brutality, and Quinn, a white classmate who witnesses the beating. Students had to choose a particular point in the book where it would make sense to have their secondary character’s perspective added. If they preferred to try their hand at poetry, students could choose to write five poems that touch on key topics from the book, such as white privilege, police brutality, racism, or basketball. Each poem had to address the school year theme of moral courage in some way.
This December, Deb also had students joining from another class. Their assignment was to take their knowledge of poetic devices and poetry from the fall term and write five poems, each of which had to incorporate the themes of moral courage and identity. Deb challenged her students to expand their use of similes, metaphors, personification, alliteration, symbolism, or rhyming by requiring that each poem include at least three of these devices. Each poem also had to evoke at least two senses: visual, olfactory, tactile, auditory, kinesthetic, or gustatory.
These projects challenged the students’ creative writing skills, and they were excellent opportunities to practice the elements of the writing process. From brainstorming and outlining ideas to drafting, revising, and editing, seventh graders were given the time to focus on each essential step in the process. The seventh grade students produced chapters and poems that showed an authentic connection to the subject material. Whether students were exploring uncomfortable aspects of their own identity, their feelings of responsibility in responding to racial inequality, or examining the inner monologue of a character from the book, students were thoughtful and creative in crafting their writing.
Deb’s classes spent several days sharing their writing at the end of the process as each student chose either a poem to share or a paragraph from their chapter to read. This was an opportunity for students to celebrate each other’s work while reinforcing key themes and lessons from the writing experience. Students identified and applauded each other’s excellent use of poetic devices, sensory imagery, and sharply written dialogue. “I thoroughly enjoyed reading their writing, all of which gave me more insight into them and/or the novel we read this fall,” says Deb. “I am hopeful that they all learned more about some essential qualities in good writing, whether prose or verse: word choice, concise language, descriptive writing, and figurative language.”