Kelly Gallagher stresses balance in his book, Readicide. We, as teachers, try our best not to tear apart texts for students. We want to study author’s craft, but if we overanalyze and nitpick at every detail, it becomes terribly boring for students (and us!). So where is the balance? How do we help students come to appreciate the minute details of an author’s writing without committing this act of readicide? Gallagher also discusses the “reading flow.” It is important for teachers to understand when to stop students and when to allow them to find the flow—to get into the groove of reading. It makes sense, thinking of my own reading habits. If I was forced to stop at every page (or even every ten pages) to analyze an author’s writing, I would throw the book at the wall.
How do you help your students achieve reading flow?
As a teacher, what works best for me (and this may not work best for you), is to analyze the first few pages of a text. I have my students do a close reading, and we try to examine elements like voice, writing style, form, and manipulation of language, among others. Then, I let them explore. I try to assign them enough reading so they can hit the flow but not too much reading that they don’t do the assignment. For me, this is the most effective way to help students find this “reading flow” that Gallagher discusses. Once I have helped my students grapple with and (hopefully) appreciate the language of an author, I set them free from the nest. This approach doesn’t work well with every text. For example, much more complex texts may require more analysis and comprehension techniques before I can set my students free.
But how do we find the flow for writing? Recently, I read a section of Murray’s Write to Learn. He made me think more about how this “reading flow” concept might be applied to writing. From my experience, my students feel like stuttering cars when they begin to write. Often, they can’t even get their cars to start. Some of the techniques that Murray offers are interesting when I look at them through the lens of the writing flow.
We need our students to connect to their writing. One way to start is by having students write down their territories. Murray starts this in a brainstorming list, where students make a list of topics. He suggests connect elements on their lists to try to find ideas for writing. Murray also describes other methods that won’t be new to most teachers like freewriting about topics or brainstorming in the form of a map or tree. With the map, students can show the way their thoughts emerge from and digress to each other. With the tree, students can brainstorm about a more focused topic. Murray also suggests interviewing ourselves.
How do you help your students achieve writing flow?
One technique I have found to be useful to help students start writing short stories is by providing the first sentence for them. I write a series of evocative sentences like “He was a most peculiar boy.” Or, “As his name was called, he knew his life would drastically change.” Or, “She woke up barefoot, lost, and with something unusual beside her.” My students brainstorm the second sentence for a dozen or so of these sentence starters. Then, I set them free to expand one of the starters a bit further. We don’t look at grammar, and instead, we focus on just keeping the flow. I remind them that authors often discuss how their first draft is terrible, and this is okay. We are getting ideas onto paper and finding our flow. We’ll worry about the revision and editing later, right?
How do we get our students to hit this reading and/or writing flow?
Do any activities work well for you?