Tag Archive for Mother Tongue

Non-Fiction: Letters of Note & Letter Writing

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In February of 2011 Catherine Field wrote an op-ed for The New York Times that argued the attributes of letter writing.  Using her mother-in-law as an example, Field suggested that while email provides immediacy, letters establish intimacy.  While true, consider the last time you actually received a letter.  Not just a birthday card but an actual letter.

Time taken on letter writing seems non-existent, yet we see evidence of correspondence everywhere.  President Obama reads 10 letters each day, often answering two or three of those in his own hand.  Carolyn Hax, a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post, responds to a variety of correspondence on a daily basis.   Most major publications allow for “letters to the editor” regardless of their format.  Still, how many of your students actually know how to craft a letter or even an email in a way that is both engaging and appropriate?

We’ve spent this entire week discussing how to use Letters of Note as a “textual” resource.  But the site itself is evidence that fan letters do get answered.  The exercise today uses the resources from of Letters of Note and the Maria Popova’s post on Brain Pickings, a resource we’ve highlighted in the past, about a high school student’s Symbolism Survey.

  1. Have students read Popova’s overview as well as original story from The Paris Review that provides a bit more background.
  2. Have students discuss what would motivate an author or any celebrity to respond to a “fan.”  Have them examine letters from fans at Letters of Note.  I’ve included a moving example below from a parent to Patrick Stewart in regards to her son’s love of Star Trek before Duchenne muscular dystrophy ended his life.
  1. Ask that students review responses to fan letters from Letters of Note. You will want to select examples in advance as some of them have language inappropriate for school.  I’ve included some examples below.  Consider having them SOAPSTone, etc.

Letter Project to a Living Author or Journalist

You might then assign students the task of constructing their own letter based on those characteristics necessary to engage a person in the public eye.  A person they believe has little chance of responding to them.  Now, that could honestly be anyone but you might want to theme your focus.  You could set limits making it a living author or writer you’ve studied.  Have them write to columnists at The New York Times or The Washington Post.  Consider having them write to Brian Williams or Anderson Cooper.  Think about having them write to David Sedaris, Jonathan Safran Foer, Amy Tan, Ian McEwan, Khaled Hosseini, Sara Gruen, Aravind Adiga, or any author represented in your course.  You might even have them write a documentary filmmaker if you’ve used any in class.  The end goal is to have students practice voice and to get a response. They should come up with a way to do this without many limits/parameters.  A “fictionalized” conversation with Hemingway simply won’t do.  They need to struggle with the idea that this could actually be read and that filling in space won’t suffice.  Finally, have them give you a copy and have them mail one.  I’d even suggest displaying the best ones with the student’s permission of course.

Non-Fiction to Pair with Coming of Age: Role of Parenting

Image from Eva Maria

I love my niece and nephew and my friend’s children, but the more I’m around them the more I realize how incredibly tough it is to be a parent.  It is, without a doubt, the hardest job imaginable.  Not only is there no instruction manua,l but, as literature has shown us, parents screwing up is the primary reason the memoir genre even exists–ahem, Augusten Burroughs and Jeannette Walls.  In fact, so much of who we are as adults is shaped by the way in which we are raised.  Therefore, when looking for pieces of non-fiction to pair with coming-of-age novels, consider providing texts that explore the role of parenting.  These could bring about discussions hypothesizing the way in which our character’s personalities are shaped.

Welcome to the Age of Overparenting,” is an article that appeared in Boston Magazine that describes the consequences of being too protective as a parent and provides suggestions on how to parent.  Have your students read the article and identify the qualities that lead to and the effects of overparenting.  Then, have them evaluate the role of parenting as possible interpretative motivations for the actions of the characters in the following pieces of literature:  David Copperfield, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Hamlet, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Jane Eyre.  Even a text that is antithetical, like To Kill a Mockingbird, would work well with this article.

In a different activity, have the students compare and contrast the methods of parenting in “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” by Amy Chua, and “No More Mrs Nice Mom,” by Judith Warner.  These texts in particular would be great pieces to study alongside “Mother Tongue,” by Amy Tan, another piece of non-fiction.  While all are explicitly cultural-based and would work well with similar-focused novels like House on Mango Street and Song of Solomon, the interpretation deduced from these articles could be used in conjunction with the above texts as well.

Twitter: Memoirs & Personal Narratives

Every Fall students accost me in the classroom, on the way to lunch and even exiting the bathroom.  They clutch college application essays that they beg me to read.  I’m usually not the first teacher they approach.  They want as many opinions as possible.  They’re terrified their writing is not any good.  Often, it is not.

It worries me that for some the personal statement is the first meaningful personal writing they’ve been asked to do.  It worries me, as well, that they struggle to understand that the essays we read by Amy Tan, David Sedaris, Joan Didion, George Orwell, Dave Barry, and Garrison Kellior are supposed to be professional “models” for them as to mimic.

In light of the Common Core Standards for Writing, everyone from 6-12 is expected to have varying exposure, practice and expectation when it comes to constructing personal narratives.  Some colleges even ask that students construct an application essay that begins in the middle of their imagined autobiography. Twitter is the perfect avenue for narrative writing and opening line practice because it is only 140 characters.  Often the more “space” the more unwieldy.  Consider working on these skills with any personal essays, narrative non-fiction, or memoir units you already employ.  Here is a short list of texts with which this type of an assignment might be paired.

“Why I Write,” Joan Didion

“Why I Write,” George Orwell

“Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan

Lost in the Kitchen,” Dave Barry

Into Thin Air, John Kraukauer

Hope in the Unseen, Ron Suskind

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

Night, Elie Wiesel

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl

Regardless of the type of memoir or narrative have students complete a style analysis for these authors and/or themselves. Then, task them with writing the opening line(s) to their own story—in 140 characters.  Everything must be grammatically perfect.  No abbreviations or missing punctuation marks.

Tweet Exercise-Revise, Rewrite, Reconsider 

Ask that students take their original tweet and follow the steps below.

Tweet #1: Have students use the 140 characters however they desire.

Tweet #2: Take the content of tweet #1 and revise it creating two engaging sentences.   You must use a punctuation mark (-, :, ; ) of interest.

Introduce students to 6 Word Memoirs.  While you’ll have to pick and choose the “memoirs” you think best, consider having them listen to NPR’s story about the purpose behind the project. Use this as the final step before Tweet #3. 

Tweet #3: Take the content of the tweet #2 and make it three sentences.  The first of those sentences must follow the format of Smith Magazine’s 6 Word Memoir.  The other two must further the engagement you’ve created with your audience as a result of sentence #1.

 

Tomorrow: Twitter as Research Tool