Writing Workshop: Our "Slice of Life Project."

     We are now three weeks into our “Slice of Life Project” and I already see so much good work among my sixth graders.  It gives us all an interactive writing exercise, and my kids are learning about each other even as they create their own slices and respond to others’.  Apart from the opportunity it provides for writing,  the community building aspect is one I had not given all that much thought to – until I was able to see it in action on the blog (through the comments) and in the classroom (when my kids would talk to each other about what they had read).  This is definitely an added bonus.
I had not thought of what to do with these slices once they were posted and commented upon, but now I think that I will have each student revise their slice in their writing notebooks this week.  In other words, we slice one week and revise the next – so that each slice becomes a tool to teach something about writing.

     For some students, especially those who struggle to find topics to write about in writing workshop and to write with stamina already, the going is a bit slow.  Here is an example from just such a student, Tyler.  This is an energetic student, well – hyperactive, really – who can’t sit still and stay on topic under the best of circumstances.  His first two slices were no more than three sentences long, and lacked any narrative focus. This is last weeks’ slice, followed by his classmates’ comments (all errors left – these will be teaching points this week), showing a better understanding of the task:

  st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }

Tyler:  Joe and I annually Ice Walk on his frozen lake. In the winter we sometimes break ice chunks and we keep them cold in his freezer. It’s behind his house and it’s big. When it’s 3 inches thick we walk across the ice. I love to glide on the ice and play ice hockey with chunks of ice. We can barely reach the other side of the lake because there are giant holes. It gives us a challenge every time and it’s risky but we have made it across safely so far. <<<
  • N: The thought of walking on ice like that is creepy… I liked how you discribed everything. I could realy tell you have a great relashionship with Joe.
  • T: I love to ice skate outdoors, as well as indoors.
  • That is a great topic to write about.
  • Mrs. Smith: This is a great topic to write about – doing something adventurous with a good friend. I wish you had written some more – about an actual adventure you had had on the ice, or what it feels like/looks like as you skate about.

When we confer this week, I will ask Tyler to slow down the moment” on the ice, visualize the experience and re-write that part. 

     Here is Drew’s slice.  He, too, had some difficulty figuring out how to write a good slice, we conferred a bit and he really spent time reading over other slices – this weeks’ contribution was a big improvement:

Drew: I watch T.V. in the basement when I smell bacon and eggs fill the air. My mouth starts watering as I slowly stand up, I walk like I’m hypnotized upstairs. I get to the top of the stairs and I see the greasy bacon on the stove. Toast pops out of the toaster and the eggs sizzle. My whole family smells it and they all wake up. We sit at the table staring at my dad waiting for him to turn around and bring the food over. He picks up a cooked piece of bacon and tortures us by eating slowly and chewing loudly.
Then, he turns the stove off takes everything off the pans, puts them on seperate plates and brings the food over. Our stomachs grumble as our eyes follow the plates. He puts them on the table and we all dig in like we haven’t eaten in days. Our food is gone in about two minutes as the greasy bacon and egg sandwich slowly goes away in out mouths.
  • N: Nice job! You were very descriptive. Now I want bacon.
  • W: I like the descriptive words you used. When you said my mouth starts watering you really pulled me in.
  •  T: mmm…i can smell the bacon!
  • L: Nice job! Very descriptive.
  • Mrs. Smith: Alright…now you’ve got everyone wanting bacon and eggs and someone kind enough to wake up early to prepare it for us. This was a good piece of writing – especially the way you described everyone drawn like magnets to the kitchen…and bacon. My only advice – I would change “greasy” to something more like “crispy” or “delicious” or “golden” – it just makes the bacon more sound appetizing (which it is!).

      Drew’s conference might include the insertion of dialogue and sensory details – although he was pretty inventive already in describing his family’s hypnotic response to bacon.

Finally, there’s Nick – who wrote a slice that was the real deal.  We had spent a lot of class time discussing slice-worthy moments, and Nick was obviously on the hunt: 

  st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }

Nick: There I was sitting at my desk when I heard my mother ask me to come onto the living room.

I walked into to the living room to find my mom standing by the front door with her shoes on.
“Are you going somewhere?” I asked.

After she went over the list I said wouldn’t do any of those things. Then I walked back to my desk.
About ½ hour later I was just finishing up my homework when the phone rang as I always do I reached for the phone on my desk and waited for The Caller ID Name to appear. When it finally showed up it read: “Unknown Caller.”
Just imagine what I was feeling at that very moment. I was about to answer the call when my mother’s voice rang in my head saying “don’t answer the phone if it is an unknown caller” so I decided I shouldn’t answer the phone. Even though I decided not to answer the phone I still was very curious to find out whose name was being hidden by “Unknown Caller.”
So I ran to the answering machine and waited as frozen as an ice cube for the answering machine to say something exciting like “Hello, this is The F.B.I. calling to see if you have seen any suspicious looking people walk by your house” or “Hello my name is ___ and you have just won the lottery!” But after waiting 5 seconds, (which felt like 5 minutes) the whole moment was ruined by “Hello this is your Local Congressman Bill calling to tell you that by having me alongside Governor Christie will help lower you taxes in New Jersey…”

  • R: Ha ha! All that waiting for nothing. I liked how you listed the possibilities of who could be calling.

    J: I like how you decribed how you felt while waitng for the answering machine.

  • L: I really can’t stand that I never know who is calling! Great job!

  • Mrs. Smith: I loved this slice! You used emotions, humor and dialogue to really bring it alive. Nicely done!

  • G: this is really funny. i liked how you said “frozen like an ice cube”

  • Emma Ebeling: what the heck?i love your slice alot!why did you answer the phone though?

      Apart from the punctuation errors, this was a slice that needed little else.  So our conference can just focus on going over conventions…the writing part is all Nick, and can stand as it is. I think this conferring/revising will make our “Slice of Life Project” another useful tool with which to practice and improve writing…and the blogging format (as everyone who participates in the Tuesday Slice of Life challenge on Two Writing Teachers knows) is just perfect for it.


2 thoughts on “Writing Workshop: Our "Slice of Life Project."

  1. Thanks especially for the examples. I like 'looking in' on another teacher's way of evaluating and their follow up help. It adds to my knowledge of what to do, how to do, etc. It seems like a good idea to slice one week, revise the next. They have many other things on their plates too, so focusing on just this one piece should be helpful. Focus, focus is a key!

  2. Last year I did a TWT Slice of Life Challenge inspired "blog" with my students. I know just what you mean about the sense of community. That cannot be manufactured by any other means than the true connections this type of sharing builds. The student examples, complete with responses (including yours) are really helpful in showing exactly what you are talking about. I agree with Linda that it is helpful to 'look-in' on someone else's thought process like this. It easy even more helpful when it is someone like-minded and I feel validated as a result!

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