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Rebecca Scurlock's "Reflections"

Discussion
Nov 15, 2013
Posted by: A.B.Graves

Let’s make this interesting

One of the things I’m trying to teach my students this semester is voice and style. This was a concept that I was never introduced to until my upper-level English classes in college. Obviously, I had not nearly enough time to develop a voice good enough to be heard in my creative writing class. Now, nearly four years later, I know a bit more about voice, and I realize how important it is in producing captivating writing.

I tell my students during every writing assignment to include details in their writing so that the reader will be ushered into the author’s mind. “No one wants to read a boring essay,” I tell them, “so we need to make this interesting.”

Mentor Texts

The only mentor texts I have provided for my students thus far are short journal-style entries I have written myself. My personal favorite is the one where I wrote about a fortune teller at the “local county fair,” and I spent an entire page doing what my most boisterous student calls “beating around the bush.” I included similes like, “The small electric candles flickered like real flames.” I included descriptive language like, “The heavy curtain fell heavily behind me, cutting off the light of the fair outside, transporting me to another world.” After I proudly read what I had spent the better part of twenty minutes constructing, I set my students to work. After twenty minutes of what I assumed was time well-spent in carefully crafting their own little masterpieces, I asked for a few students to share what they wrote. A few bold students read their journals aloud, and I wasn’t sure whether to be proud or worried that they included descriptive language. Their similes were things like, “We ran like the wind.” Their descriptive language was, “The beautiful woman that ran quickly by.” While I was proud of their attempts, I was at a loss for how to teach them.

Now I know.

“Reflections” by Rebecca Scurlock is a grade-appropriate memoir that will provide a good example of detail and descriptive language for my students. The fourteen-year-old includes a plethora of “beating around the bush” that gives her memoir voice. I feel her sorrow or excitement without her having to detail those emotions. That is what I want my students to be able to do: share feelings and emotions through description of the senses. In order to grasp this concept more fully, we will annotate this new mentor text with a few things in mind.

Annotation

We will search for the following:

  1. Background details
  2. Metaphors
  3. Similes
  4. Analogies
  5. Sensory details
  6. Personification
  7. Word choice

We will not do this in one sitting; that would be overwhelming. Instead, we will spend various class periods studying and practicing each detail.

Not only will we examine what Rebecca does correctly, but we will also examine what could have been done better. I want my students to understand that even though this girl is a talented writer, no one is perfect. I want my students to understand that they are capable of this kind of writing, as long as they work hard.