I have never understood why so many writing teachers tell their students they can only write “nice” things, like poems about sunsets or florid thank you notes. I don’t mind these assignments, exactly (and I certainly think there is value in thank you notes), but I can’t tell you how many times my students have almost ruined a truthful and hilarious essay by saying something like, “But I can’t write that! It isn’t nice.”
Well, news flash: life isn’t nice. In fact, life is kind of gross. Especially when you’re in middle school, and you haven’t yet figured out what to do with body hair or deodorant. As teachers, I think we have to embrace that grossness and give our students a safe place to talk about it.
My favorite lesson in the Cure for IDK repertoire is the love poems lesson–precisely because we encourage students to write about exactly the things that aren’t nice about their loved one. Encouraging students to look at the people they love from an unflattering angle consistently results in the most vibrant, truthful, specific, and detailed writing my students have ever done. In case you don’t believe me, here’s an example from 4th-grader Diamond Sledge about her older brother:
Your pimples rub against my face so roughly,
It feels like they are going to pop on my face,
And your stubble chin hairs feel like little ants biting me.
When will it stop?
When we sit on the couch together,
You have toenails that are 10 feet long
with bunions on them,
And enough dirt to fertilize a garden.
They scratch me so deep, it makes me want to scream.
Your big fat head gets in the way at the movies,
When you are in front of me,
Your stinking feet are always in the way when I am sleeping,
Your garbage-smelling breath always in my face when you talk
Your big frog-like eyes always staring me down in the face,
Your big fat crusted lips trying to kiss me all the time,
All you do when you talk is spit a pool in my face,
Even though I know you love me,
You have got to stop not taking showers!
Try giving your students an equally gross writing assignment, and let me know how it goes!
- Ten Words to Ban From Your Classroom (thatwritinglady.com)