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December Drabble-A-Day

calvin snow

New traditions

I’m not sure when I did my first December Drabble-A-Day unit. “Unit” even sounds too mechanical and factory-ordered. I do need to thank one of my PSWP writing buddies, Aimee, who first introduced me to the word ‘drabble.’

calvin writing

So here’s how it works:

Whatever writing concept you want to teach, make a series of mini-lessons based on that particular concept.

  • Example: Creating Sensory Images–consider a series of images that deal with our senses of touch, taste, sight, sound, smell, and perhaps a sixth sense of anticipation or intuition. Have writers craft a story based on that one sense.Rock umbrella
    • Example: Topic and Image Combinations–very broad-based ideas
    • Example: Traditional Writing Prompts
      Use RAFTS–Role, Audience, Form, Topic, and Strong Verb constructs, or see if you can find some clever ones from Writing Prompts tumblr or WriteAbout.
    • Example: Punctuation–drabbles are a perfect time to practice perfecting the semi-colon, colons, ellipses, em dashes, etc. to help support meaning and nuance.
  • Collect a hefty amount of images from a variety of photographers, subjects, and levels of abstraction.
  • Have students take their own images, too.
Taken at the University of Washington campus and text added using WordSwag.
Taken at the University of Washington campus and text added using WordSwag.
  • Keep track of writing excerpts that may illustrate a particular writing concept you wish our young authors would like to try. A Kindle is a great tool for this.

This excerpt from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars serves to demonstrate writer’s craft in terms of using humor to deflect a serious topic:

Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death. Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.) But my mom believed I required treatment, so she took me to see my Regular Doctor Jim, who agreed that I was veritably swimming in a paralyzing and totally clinical depression, and that therefore my meds should be adjusted and also I should attend a weekly Support Group.

Green, John (2012-01-10). The Fault in Our Stars (pp. 3-4). Dutton Juvenile. Kindle Edition.

 So you have all of these things: ideas, prompts, concepts, excerpts, images, etc. Map out two paths: first, choice. Make sure to give students choice with prompts that serve the purpose. Then, provide time and space to write and participate in writer’s workshop with trustworthy partners.

The boon

The students write nine of ten drabble choices: because it’s December, and December is for giving (and forgiving), the tenth drabble is a gift exchange. Every student chooses their best/favorite one, and shares it with their classmates. The students end up with a suite of drabbles in a portfolio, much like a printer’s suite of prints from shared artists. There is a student writer’s reflection cover sheet as well, for each student to reflect on which drabbles they enjoyed writing, what was challenging, and how well they attempted the concept(s) presented.
Ultimately, writers enjoy choice built on structure and support, and love sharing their work, too. If you would like guidelines for writing workshop protocols, those are relatively simple. Everyone writes. Every one listens first. Then, every one gives feedback that’s safe, constructive, and non judgmental. Ah, if only all our lives were as such. Happy Writing!
If you need help in using mentor texts, consider picking up a copy of The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham.
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