Writing from an outline

Literally. 😉

This week, my book rapping students in Stage 1 were writing their responses to a rap point which required them to create an elderly character for the retirement home, which next to the house of young main character, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (see the Mem Fox & Julie Vivas picture book of the same name). The students must collaborate on a jointly-constructed text, drawing upon Mem’s writing style, to introduce a brand new resident of the retirement home.

Last year, the Early Stage 1 students really got the hang of character generation for our wiki fables, which we developed during Circle time and then visual arts activities. Wanting to replicate that success, I suddenly had a vision of the students sitting around a long sheet of coloured Brennex paper, with a young volunteer stretched out upon it, while I traced their outline with a Texta. Perhaps the students would be already sparking ideas off each other as I drew?

And it worked! While I made the life-size silhouette (x 3 – which we will decorate later), I quizzed the three groups about what their resident likes to do best, former careers, physical appearance, etc. Keeping in mind the need for these students to use current experiences, I used orange Brennex paper for the first silhouette (it was our school’s International Harmony Day celebration the next day) and suddenly – so obviously, much to the students’ and my delight – Mrs Harmony Day was born! We ended up with a whole A3 page of brainstormed suggestions and, at our next meeting, the students helped me reassemble them into a descriptive narrative which answered the Rap Point:

“One day a new lady came to live in the old people’s home. Her name was Mrs Harmony Day. Her favourite colour was orange. She wore orange clothes and her hair was orange and styled in a bob.

“Mrs Day liked reading. She used to be a skipping champion, and she was also a racing car driver. She still has her old racing car and she uses it to go shopping to buy rings and necklaces. She has a treadmill to keep fit. She loves tearing out recipes in old magazines.

“Wilfrid asked her, ‘What’s a memory?’

“Mrs Day said, ‘Something that’s orange, my dear, something that’s orange.’

“Wilfrid took an orange from the fruit bowl to show Miss Nancy. The orange reminded her of happy memories with her family, squeezing orange juice on an old fashioned orange squeezer.”

I make a point of jotting down the students’ banter for use in writing up our rap responses. When I write fiction texts myself, they are always much too wordy and complex. I just love the natural language of young students, and I find that their scribed sentences have an economy of words and a unique spontaneity that sounds just like a picture book.

The second group came for their lesson to find I’d rolled out green Brennex paper – I’d just grabbed a colour that seemed plentiful – and the procedure was repeated. This time, a boy was the tallest (to make the silhouette), and suddenly the green colour had them discussing St Patrick’s Day, which had obviously been mentioned in their home classes during the week.

The vacation for Good Friday and Easter Monday has prevented us from constructing our final draft but so far, the students have decided that their resident is Mr Patrick St Green. The list of Mr St Green’s likes, dislikes, hobbies and his old job has been compiled – they are great, but you’ll have to wait! (A few students thought he might be a friend of still-faceless Mrs Harmony Day, whom they saw pinned to a noticeboard in the school library.)

Then the Language Support class came to the library, with friends from the hearing support class. Three time’s the charm, so the tallest boy rolled himself onto some purple Brennex paper and I drew his outline to make a new resident of the old people’s home. This group is much harder to draw ideas from, but they still managed some great one-liners!

“One day, Wilfrid Gordon’s other grandfather, Mr Peter Laurie Bilby Partridge, came to live at the nursing home. He has four names just like Wilfrid. Grandpa Peter is a happy fellow who loves wearing purple. He likes eating ice cream, red apples and Tiny Teddy biscuits. Maybe that is why he is a bit too fat.

“Grandpa Peter used to be an author who wrote children’s books. When he wasn’t writing books, he drove an ice cream truck. Grandpa Peter goes to bed a lot, and he sometimes likes to swim in the pool.

“Wilfrid asked Grandpa Peter, ‘What’s a memory?’

“Peter Laurie Bilby Partridge said, ‘Something as cold as ice cream, Wilfrid, something as cold as ice cream!’

“Wilfrid showed Miss Nancy a photo of Grandpa Peter’s blue and white ice cream truck and she remembered hearing music playing as an ice cream van came by on very hot days.”

Next week, I’m hoping to photocopy some large elderly faces so the students can select an appropriate face for their new resident. We’ll probably add some wool hair, as well.

This book rap has been exhilarating!