Give A Little Bit

In a stack of papers called Writing.

  • Sep
  • 26
  • 2008

I walk around the room and give one of two lines to struggling writers. We have five minutes to write each day (actually, ten minutes today) and some want to stall the whole time. Staring at the blank page that is even more intimidating than the actual assignment, “I’m thinking” being the excuse du jour for not writing, The Shrug meeting my questioning glance, these are the students who will show up empty handed next Friday.

Option One: “Just start with ‘The window broke’ and see where it takes you.”

Some would make like they were pouring over slim feedback from yesterday’s peer editing session, writing tiny notes in the margin that may or may not make it into their final draft. Still others were simply re-reading yesterday’s draft and not putting anything new on the page, executing the perfect thoughtful gaze used to make any teacher just walk on by. But today they couldn’t. I’d throw out one of the two sentences and they had to finish the thought. That was their one task for the next few minutes.

Option Two: “The challenge today is to use dialogue, so start with this: ‘Did you hear that?’ Now finish the story.”

Some students took off from that point, one writing more than I’d seen him write so far in class on anything. So that’s my challenge all year: for every writing assignment, always carry around in my head at least two beginning possibilities to give to a student. Any student not writing during our in-class writing time is given a sentence to use. That will be their first line and using it in the final draft will not affect the final grade.

We worked on First Sentences early on in the year and I’m starting to think that’s an activity to return to, creating a list of possibilities for each prompt we have. I could put together a list of those first sentences after the fact, after I’ve finished grading. I like the idea of starting with models from novels and moving quickly into models from student writing. I also like the idea of a wall covered with great first sentences. Throughout the year, I won’t charge plagiarism if one of the sentences posted in the room begins a paper.


All handouts today are Word documents.

1 comment

1. David Lam says:

[8/10/2011 - 11:13 pm]

Yes! I totally remember this from within the first week or so in the semester at Silver Creek. You are the coolest English teacher there! Mr. Seal, if you can remember, I was in your English 3 class for 2008-2009 and wrote my Zombie survival paper on using a skateboard!!!! Yes, you have the best prompts ever.

Anyways, I hope you’re doing great and happy with teaching. I stumbled upon this site by googling your name, literally, because I had nostalgia for the first 2 songs you gave us to analyze during the first week or so. “I’m not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance” and another one that’s like…. aliens or something. But the video has bright flashy images. Yes, I am craving that song. And when I archived the pages of the year I was in your class, lo and behold, I saw OFOCN and instantly knew it was your class!

So, my writing skills have improved very very much into the college level. I am attending De Anza college right now, and will stop by to visit when school starts. By the way, I am the asian guy that got a lot of piercings the year after your class. And if you remember, you said, “What are you going to pierce next? Your elbow?” Hahaha, yes I have pretty good memory, and now must search for the song. Well take care, Mr. Seal, and you can contact me at

Thanks for being a great teacher!