March 31st has arrived. It is my sister’s birthday, my sister-in-law’s birthday, and Clare Landrigan’s birthday (my almost-sister!). So, it is already a very special day. It marks 31 days of posting and connecting to an incredible writing community on twowritingteachers with so many interesting, delightful, and heartfelt posts. I only wish I had more time here…but wait a minute…I can reconnect with many writers from this community every Tuesday! I’m going to do this on as many Tuesdays as possible. No, wait a minute. I am not going to make a promise to myself and leave room for excuses. I am going to write every Tuesday. If I am away from my laptop, I can write and post from my phone. Yes, no excuses. I am going to write and post every Tuesday. See you there!
Arthur is a wonderful three-year-old Welsh Corgi, and he adds lots of adventure and love into out daily lives. He loves my husband Ralph and makes sure to spend time with me, too. He adored our Corgi Rhonda who we lost a month ago. She was just shy of sixteen, and her feisty personality drew Artie to her.
Sunday was a bad day for Arthur. The dogs had breakfast and we sent Merri and Arthur out in the backyard while Ralph filled the bird feeders. Then Ralph and Artie went for their morning walk, but the rain made it a fairly short walk. I left for a manicure and Ralph went upstairs to his office for a Zoom church session.
When I came home, I had a bag of blueberry muffins in my hand, but Arthur wasn’t interested in the food. I should have known he had to go out. He went to the front door, but I ignored his fairly plain request to go outside again. I came into the den and settled at my laptop to begin some unfinished work. Before I opened Word to begin writing, my husband came into the room. “I lost the Internet connection.” I checked mine, and sure enough, no Internet. “The router is dead,” Ralph told me. Then I heard. “ARTIE!”
To my chagrin and my husband’s anger, I saw a small puddle on the floor next to the router. I couldn’t believe it. Artie had lifted his leg on the router. It could not have been purposeful, right? Ralph cleaned up the mess and thoroughly washed the router. After that he used a hair dryer to dry the workings, inside and out. Amazingly, the router worked again! Ralph ignored Arthur for several hours. The poor dog followed him around with his head down and his ears back. He was finally forgiven. (We moved the router off the floor to a new location that was Arthur-proof.)
Fast forward to Monday. I was writing and snacking on a few marshmallows. I gave half a marshmallow to Arthur and made a trip to the dentist for an appointment at 6:30. Ralph had left for ham radio testing. I returned home and let the dogs out. When they came in, Arthur jumped up on the couch beside me. He seemed to have acquired a large burr that was tangled in his ruff. I went to pull it out. Oh, no! It was the marshmallow! Artie sometimes plays with his food before eating it. He’ll toss it in the air and often roll on it, usually with his head first. It took a lot of snips to cut the marshmallow out of his hair. I think he was relieved.
Bad things come in threes – so far, so good for today. But I wonder….
“If you are using dialogue — say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” – John Steinbeck
Most of the time, good monologue and dialogue is all about show not tell. Occasionally, they can be used to offer directions or an explanation. Often, monologue and dialogue can be used to help the writer reveal her characters to the reader. They sometimes reveal characters by what other characters say about them; or sometimes, character reveals his true colors just by what the character says (or doesn’t say!).
Often, teachers begin by trying to teach students how to use writing conventions to properly punctuate conversations. Students learn about quotation marks, the use of commas and other end punctuation, how to place explanatory words before or after the words that are directly spoken, and to begin on a brand new line every time the speaker changes. Of course, it is helpful to learn this since it makes it easier for a reader to follow along. But is it the best place to start?
I believe the journey begins with teaching students why an author chooses to use dialogue – determining the purpose it serves and how it changes a piece of writing. In Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 (2017), Rose and I have added a section called “Dipping Into Dialogue” (p.80-81). We talk about the things that dialogue can do such as how a character solves a problem. Dialogue can also be a powerful tool for a way to end a story, showing readers what the main character is thinking and feeling. In Widget by Lyn Rossiter McFarland, neighbors arrive to visit Mrs. Diggs after her fall, surprised to discover that the “cat” lady has a dog. In answer to a neighbor’s query, Mrs. Diggs replies.
“Oh, yes,” said Mrs. Diggs. “it’s nice to have a dog. Right, girls?” The girls (six cats) are shown in the final illustration gathered around Widget. Clearly, we understand that Widget will have a home forever. That’s the only conversation in the book.
Dialogue can also be used to show conflict, suggest a setting, advance the plot, and reveal character traits and motives. Dialogue is used to offer an explanation, give a direction, show strong emotion, and drive a story’s plot forward. In Toad Weather by Sandra Markle, the author uses dialogue to offer important explanations. The rainy day story is about a real event in Roxborough, a neighborhood in the Northwest section of the city of Philadelphia, and how the community helps toads safely cross a busy road to get to their destination. Dialogue is often used to reveal emotions, draw the reader into the characters’ lives, and show the reader how the character reacts to different situations, such as pressure, hate, love or fear.
When using dialogue, consider these tips:
Scatter dialogue where it is most useful and effective (for example, to give variety after several paragraphs of description or exposition).
Long conversations may be broken up with some action.
Use region, group, or profession-specific language, or hobby/activity-specific language.
Use dialogue within descriptive narration for a purpose.
Avoid myriad alternatives to he said and she said. It starts to sound phony.
Avoid using too much direct address.
Listen to the way people talk – in your writer’s notebook, note speech patterns.
Use the three-sentence rule: give no character more than three uninterrupted sentences at once.
Don’t have your characters tell each other things they already know.
For older students, try to achieve the tone you want without using stereotypes, slang, or profanity. Keep it to a bare minimum. It’s distracting!
Read widely. Find mentor texts that will help you take risks and try out dialogue for a specific purpose(s).
Be sure to read like a writer, noticing when the dialogue made the character real – almost like she was jumping off the page!
Remove filler words and unessential dialogue that doesn’t contribute to the plot in some way.
Do not ramble on without the characters learning anything knew or achieving something.
Avoid using dialogue to summarize action that could otherwise be exciting.
Use dialogue to add humor or pick up the pace of the story (usually after long descriptions).
It’s important to trust your audience to make some inferences as they read: in fact, part of the enjoyment of reading a story that leads to real engagement is to be a good detective and piece the puzzle together. Dialogue has many uses. Let’s begin with an inquiry approach to discover the whys and then teach our kids the hows.
When I was twelve, my grandmother suffered a stroke. We were so worried, but Mom assured us that Grandma would be alright. Before my grandparents came to Philadelphia for their first visit after the stroke, we walked to Wadsworth Avenue. My sisters and I wanted to use our savings to buy her a present. We opened our piggy banks and combined our nickels, pennies, dimes, and quarters. Even a few silver dollars!
Sandy thought we should buy her socks at Artie’s where we always bought our underwear. Diane said we should go to Cakemasters Bakery for sweet treats. We finally decided that the Cameo Shop might be the perfect place to find the perfect gift. Even then, I loved black and white clothing and immediately found a soft, beautiful scarf – white background and large black flowers with broad leaves. Mom had exchanged all our savings into dollar bills. She handed the money to us, and we paid the clerk. The smiles on our faces couldn’t have been bigger!
When Grandma arrived with our grandfather, she seemed quiet and different. Mom had cautioned us to give her some time to be more like herself. We handed her the gift wrapped in silver paper with silky, white ribbon. She slowly opened it and brought out the scarf. We waited for words, but we got something better. She lifted the scarf out of the box and draped it around her neck. Then she opened her arms wide, and we fell into them. As she kissed the tops of our heads, we felt our grandma was back. I think I may have brushed away some tears.
After dinner, they headed back to Coopersburg. We stood at the curbside to wave and blow kisses. Grandma waved from the car and GaGa (our name for our grandfather) tooted the horn. Grandma had invited us for Sunday dinner the next week. Mom thought it was too soon, but Grandma insisted it was what she wanted. Things were returning to normal. We were relieved. We gave Grandma a scarf, but our gift was Grandma.
Are you ready? April is National Poetry Month, so why not try reading a poem each day? We all love Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. What about some new poets? Here are some suggestions for great poetry selections:
Alexander, Kwame. 2019. The Undefeated. Versify.
Coombs, Kate. 2012. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Elliott, Zetta, 2020. A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart.Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Florian, Douglas. 2012. UnBEElievables: honeybee poems and paintings. NY: Beach Lane Books.
Harley, Avis. 2008. The Monarch’s Progress: Poems with Wings. Honesdale, PA: WordSong.
Heard, Georgia. 1998. Awakening the Heart. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, K-6
Holbrook, Sara. 2003. By Definition. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
Heard, Georgia and Lester Laminack. 2008. Reading and Writing Across the Year. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, K-2
Janeczko, Paul B. 2019. The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems. Candlewick.
Mateer, Trista. 2020. When the Stars Wrote Back: Poems. Random House Books for Young Readers.
Miller, Rhett. 2019. No More Poems!: A Book in Verse That Just Gets Worse. Little. Brown Books for Young Readers.
Newton, Vanessa Brantley. 2020. Just Like Me. NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Singer, Marilyn. 2020. Follow the Recipe: Poems About Imagination, Celebration, and Cake. Dial Books.
Steinglass, Elizabeth. 2019. Soccerverse: Poems about Soccer. Wordsong.
Worth, Valerie.1996. All the Small Poems and Fourteen More. NY: Farrar, Straus.
Vardell, Sylvia. 2020. A World Full of Poems. NY: DK Publishers.
Vardell, Sylvia and Janet Wong. 2020. HOP TO IT: Poems to Get You Moving. NJ: Pomelo Books.
Wong, Janet. 2007. Twist: Yoga Poems. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Young, Judy. 2006. R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.
So many poetry books, so little time. And yet, you can read several poems each day – to begin the day, during transition times, after lunch/recess, to end the day. There’s always time for a poem. I kept four to six poetry books handy to carry one with me as I walked my class to specials. I read to my class while they were waiting to enter the art and music rooms, the gym, the library, and the computer lab. We created a habit of reading and listening to poems throughout our day. Many students started writing poems on their own. We even formed our own “Poets’ Society” and visited each other’s home once a month to read, write, and share our poetry. I still own a collection of poetry books that fill an entire shelf. I like returning to them and reading them. They fill me with wonder and joy. Happy Poetry Month, Slicers!
Although tulips do not fully bloom in southeastern Pennsylvania until mid-April, I decided to write a poem about them. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to plant tulips for years. Squirrels dig them up and even nip the blooms off. Perhaps the bunnies and groundhog are also to blame. I finally gave up on planting more about three years ago. Daffodils and hyacinths survive. The photos below show the tulips at Longwood Gardens. In less then a month, we’ll go there to stroll the tulip gardens and take lots of pictures.
Large, showy, and brightly colored,
Red, pink, yellow, or white.
Double or single, fringed or twisted,
Perfumed or unscented.
Often in flower beds, fields, gardens,
Table arrangements and bouquets.
Name originating from the Persian word meaning turban.
Almost perfectly symmetrical,
150 various species, and more than 3,000 naturally occurring…
But not in my gardens.
Tulips, intriguing flowers with a rich history,
Do not grow in my garden
Even though they are planted each spring.
Where have all my tulips gone?
To the bushy-tailed, rascally squirrels.
Birdseed and gifts from the neighbor’s walnut trees
Do not discourage these treasure seekers.
Diggers of bulbs, cruel executioners who
Behead these glorious plants as soon as they flower…
COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world for good. Denial, confusion, and frustration has given way to gradual acceptance that the coronavirus is here to stay. Communities will need to find ways of living with it by minimizing risk to the greatest extent, in terms of health as well as social and economic life. Okay. So, we all have accepted the present COVID-19 pandemic context and uncertainties that the future entails. What now? What will be the ‘new normal’ and how will we need to adapt to a new way of life? How will we survive the covid 19 pandemic?
Mental Health – We need to destigmatize groups such as elderly people and healthcare workers, and stress on the importance of basic care such as eating and sleeping. Helplines and deploying mental health professionals can help people deal with anxiety, resentment, depression, and trauma induced by lockdowns. Setting routines, meditation, expression of gratitude, and adaptability are useful practices in helping individuals cope.
Personal Protection – While governments are actively taking steps for prevention and containment, protection is largely the individual’s responsibility. Mask wearing, frequent hand washing, and maintaining about six feet physical distance are becoming ingrained in our social behaviors. Mask wearing, in fact, has long been a tradition in many countries such as Japan as a precautionary step against respiratory diseases. Getting vaccinated is so important to protect ourselves and others. It is likely we will continue to need to be vaccinated each year, but we can do it!
Travel – The delayed closing of international flights and borders was not only the primary cause for global transmission of the virus that deemed it a pandemic, but it is also the most alarming aspect that sets it apart from other epidemics of the past. As borders gradually open and flight routes resume, we will most likely approach travel with some caution for some time to come. While airlines are enforcing strong protection measures, International travel for vacation purposes will probably be limited for some time to come.
Work from Home – We are transitioning not just in terms of how we work, but also in the very nature of work itself. Occupations which demand close contact, such as in restaurants, hospitality, malls, gyms, and salons are the most impacted. However, the economy is fast adapting to a new way of doing business. The work from home model is now largely accepted as the way of the future.
Spring brings hope. Anxiety was natural. It is natural to have this anxiety and even understandable. We do know that there is an uncertainty about the future. What we can do is exercise all precautions. Exercising precautions gives a sense of comfort that we are doing everything that we can in our control to avoid the virus, builds our confidence, and encourages positivity. Lockdowns have increased our digital time since everything we do from work, entertainment to socialization is related to the digital sphere. Figure out activities that are non-digital and space out your digital time. Take long walks. Read a book, Write some poems. Place some bird-feeders in your yard or right outside your window and become a bird watcher! An important part of staying positive is to be productive. We cannot view productivity in the pre-COVID productive definition. Teachers are hard on themselves. A teacher who has to manage virtual and hybrid classes may think she is not doing her best, but the fact is that she manages to do it and help her students connect with each other is something! Even household management is productive, and we should count it as such in our measurement of productivity. We must redefine productivity and make it realistic.
Humans have achieved many remarkable things — we have voyaged to the moon, developed technology to communicate over vast distances, and created wonderful art, music, literature and philosophy — all because our unique human brain allows us to delicately balance prospective gains with immediate needs. We need to harness this capability to continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic on our everyday life. We’ll continue to do great things, but perhaps it will take on a new look after covid. We are the most adaptable creatures on this planet. Stay positive and know that we are going to be okay. Some things may be different, but our determination, creativity, kindness, and compassion will be stronger and brighter than ever!
When it comes to finding ways to unwind, for some, there is nothing more cathartic and calming than recording your thoughts in a journal. Clearing your mind by putting your own thoughts on a page is freeing. For me, I can almost feel my stress lift and worries melt away when I am writing with a pen and journal I’ve especially chosen. Now, the question is, where am I unloading these feelings? The journal and pen are what make the experience so personal. I need a journal that is spiral bound and will lay flat. It had to have a pretty cover and the right size – smaller than the black-and-white marble notebooks but substantially larger than a notepad. I write in colors – pink, purple, turquoise blue, bright green. Choosing a color to write in is also part of the process.
Sometimes I keep a gratitude journal. I want to get back to that. Recording what I am grateful for daily makes my heart sing. I don’t know why I stopped. It helps me to start my day with something positive and beautiful. Today I would write:
Hyacinths decorate our rooms – kitchen, dining room, living room, and den. The hyacinth on my writing table is in full bloom. Two stalks – one tall and one half its size – are filled with tiny white blooms, each individual bloom containing six petals. The spring-flowering bulbs have long, narrow leaves that are folded lengthwise. The highly fragrant flowers are intoxicating. I am grateful for their presence in our house – reminders of spring, rebirth, and wonder.
Picture books often inspire entries. Right Outside My Window by Mary Ann Hoberman and Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins Bigelow are two examples that have spurred me on to write and reflect. Of course, I often take a journal when I walk at Longwood Gardens. I’ll sit on a bench at the end of the garden walk or near the topiary garden and write about the beauty and peace I am experiencing there.
I often encourage students to use journals. Reaction and process journals can be used by upper elementary students through high school. Below are some questions to help students get started with both kinds of journals.
If I were the teacher, what questions would I ask? Assignments? Projects?
Explain a theory, concept, vocabulary term to another person.
Summarize, analyze, synthesize, compare and contrast, evaluate an idea, topic, person, event.
Reread a journal entry from last week. Write a reaction to what was written.
Reread a journal entry from a classmate from last week. Write a reaction to what was written.
Connections with prior knowledge and/or experience.
Doodles, words, and pictures that reflect feelings and/or thoughts about a topic.
Response to higher order questions posed by the teacher or a group member or a self-question.
Free-writing (quick write) for five to ten minutes about a specific topic or whatever comes into your mind related to the unit of study.
What did I understand about the work we did in class today?
What didn’t I understand? What was confusing?
At what point did I become confused?
What did I like or dislike today?
What problems did I have with a text assignment?
Notes, jotting, lists relevant to my upcoming assignments.
My reflections on cooperative/collaborative learning group processes.
My predictions & expectations about a new topic.
What was the most difficult part of the homework assignment and why?
Writing is a great joy in my life. This writing community offers so many opportunities to connect with other writers, some who are good friends, and others who are new friends. I am thankful for every day in March when I usually begin writing a post for Slice of Life at six a.m., just after I open the back door to let the dogs out in our backyard. The coffee is perking, the sky is slowly filling with light. I am ready for an hour or more of writing before breakfast with my husband. What could be a better way to start each day?
Although I am usually brave, when it comes to bugs, I am faint hearted. I am not a fan of creepy crawlers. Bees, grasshoppers, praying mantis, and butterflies do not bother me at all. I find them to be quite amazing and plant perennials to attract bees and butterflies. But centipedes and lantern bugs and stink bugs and termites and earwigs turn my blood to ice – especially if I discover one crawling on me or I discover them in our home.
Mosquitoes do not arrive here until late May/early June. They find me immediately if I am outside. I am a mosquito magnet, and mosquito bites cause large welts. I am miserable and itchy!
Yesterday, I planted pansies in the backyard, and little insects were flying by. They are waking up and are here to stay until winter returns. Today, I woke up thinking about bugs, so I sat down and wrote this poem.
After a winter with February snow after snow after snow,
Spring’s arrival has come at a crawling pace.
March, the unofficial launch of pest season.
Temperatures warm up and moisture peaks,
And insects come creeping into our yards and homes.
There is a seasonality to bugs,
Different species at certain times of the year.
Goodness gracious! Bugs!
The brown marmorated stink bug that wintered in your home
Emerges to feast on vegetables, fruits, and leaves.
Beware their foul smell if they are frightened or squashed!
If termites choose your home as a food source,
Get professional help immediately – do not hesitate!
My oh my! BUGS!
What about cockroaches in bathrooms, kitchens, and cellars?
Most active at night and living in groups….DISGUSTING!
Carpenter ants found in water-damaged spaces
In and near window and door frames, dishwashers, chimneys,
While staring at the keyboard for five whole minutes,
The keyboard that definitely needs a good cleaning.
When was the last time she had used alcohol and
Cue tips to gently massage each key after she had
Unplugged it and turned the keyboard upside down,
Gently shaking it as she changed the angle several times.
“Don’t get your keyboard dirty to begin with!”
Her husband’s stern warning, but she never listened.
Snacks while writing and responding – yes snacks,
And maybe not enough vacuum runs in the den.
After all, three Welsh Corgis and the shedding problem.
Did she know Corgis were on the top ten list for
Shedding and barking? (Of course, she knew!)
Shake, shake, shake…a cascade of crumbs, hair,
And other forms of crud amid her tainted QWERTY layout.
Then she runs the toothbrush through the space between her keys
and—voila—her keyboard is as clean as the day she bought it.
“But what about a poem for my blog?” she queries.
It’s almost eight and she still has not posted.
Staring at her sparkling keyboard,
She grapples with words that run away from her,
Wild horses on this Tuesday, impossible to tame.
*Author’s Note: I was too ashamed to take a picture of my keyboard and post here. My writing this morning has inspired me to take the time to clean my keyboard today. Once my keyboard is out of the way, it probably is time to move on to other electronics that may have become dirty after regular use, including my phone, tablet, TV, smart speaker, smartwatch, and fitness tracker. That’s a lot of cleaning!