Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Weeks 1, 2, and 3: Forming the Short Story

Finally, I enter the wide world of blogging, and I couldn't think of a better way to be initiated into this medium than this. I feel extremely lucky to be teaching creative writing to Roland Park 8th graders, and look forward to sharing my experiences with you.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about myself. My name is Alex Morrison and I am a Senior writing seminars major at Johns Hopkins University. I am 21 years old (22 on October 17), have an older sister named Kelsey (her blog can be found at, and was born in UCSD Hospital in La Jolla, California. My family moved shortly after, and I grew up in Rye, New York. I have been interested in creative writing since elementary school, and was attracted to Johns Hopkins for its unique program in the field of writing. I am a lifelong Yankee fan (Game 1 of the ALDS is currently on my TV the background) and hope that as this blog progresses in the coming weeks, so to do the Yankees on their quest for a 28th World Championship.

Now to the teaching. I am in charge of two morning classes of 8th grade students. The earlier one (9:45) has five students, while the later one (10:55) has eight. The small number of students makes for an intimate environment that is more discussion than lecture, and even allows us to workshop student projects.

Before I began, I was informed that throughout the course of the year, my students would be learning about mood, characterization, and foreshadowing in their Language Arts classes. And the first week I decided to bring in Ernest Hemingway's short story "The End of Something" ( and read it to my students. We discussed how these elements, especially mood and foreshadowing, play a role in this story. I explained to my students how many times the best way to establish the mood of your story is through setting. We examined how Hemingway portrayed the town of Horton's Bay, and how its desolate and decaying descriptions foreshadow the eventual demise of Nick and Marjorie's relationship. It has been a long time since I was in eighth grade, and I wasn't sure whether or not my students would be able to pick up on some of the subtleties of the story, but of course they did so impressively. Both classes identified the mood of the story, how it plays into the story's plot and setting, and numerous examples of foreshadowing through dialogue. I then instructed everyone to do a free write where they focused on a setting in their lives that evokes within them a clear mood. I was utterly amazed with these samples of writing, and knew that it was going to be a great semester.

The second week I brought in another Hemingway story, "A Clean, Well Lighted Place" (, through which we further discussed mood, setting, and characterization through dialogue. However, the majority of the class we spent playing a writing game called Exquisite Corpse that was invented in the early 20th century by the Surrealists. In its simplest sense, Exquisite Corpse is is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed. In our version, each person had to write what they felt was the exact opposite of what the person before them wrote, which was the only sentence that he or she was permitted to see. Each student started an Exquisite Corpse with a sentence of their own so at all times every student had a piece of paper in his or her hand. After each student had contributed to each Exquisite Corpse about five times, the papers were unfurled and the students read what their sentence had become. I could tell that everyone really enjoyed this fun, and often revealing, game.

This past week, the third week, we spent most of the class writing. I explained the different types of conflict at the beginning of the period (Man Vs. Man, Man Vs. Society, Man Vs. Nature, Man Vs. Himself) and emphasized the importance of conflict because it is what gives a story its momentum. After talking a little bit about the conflicts we had encountered in the two stories we had read previously, I randomly handed a yellow and purple note card out to each of my students. The purple note card had on it a random setting, and the yellow one a unique character. After receiving their note cards, I instructed the students to write a short story using the particular setting and character that they had been designated, making sure to evoke mood and characterization. I think my favorite combination was the blind homeless man named Buggs on a cruise ship docked in the Bahamas. The students wrote all period, and next week we will share these pieces as well as talk about constructing effective dialogue.

I am looking forward to it, and GO YANKEES.



Kelsey said...

Great job, Alex! I look forward to keeping up with your teaching progress. And thanks for the shoutout for FollowThatNerd!

Jessica said...

So cool Alex!! Thanks for sharing!!!