Monday, March 7, 2011

Yellow Brick Road

The following little classroom snapshot is random and possibly not at all interesting, but I'm trying to be dedicated to writing often, if not especially well, so here goes...

I've started really working to integrate more writing into my classroom curriculum this year. There's a picture book I read to my students to inspire them to think about place, and there's a line that says, "Our stories live in all of the places to love." In one classroom lesson, I have my students brainstorm their favorite places, as specifically as possible. (So, not "the beach," but "the big flat white rock on the middle of the jetty of Plymouth Beach.") Then, I have them go through the list, and using an plastic overlay sheet, they jot a phrase to remind them of something that happened there. ("Where my dad slipped into the bay while we were fishing," or "where I lost my favorite ring.")

After that, I have them take the list and choose one particular place where many of their stories hide and create a map. One girl wrote about her summer camp, for example, and drew out a map of the place and labeled it with things like "where the horse sneezed on Katie" or "the tree that Jake and I ate lunch under every day." They all got the concept (rare to have 100% clarity on anything in 6th grade), and the results were very detailed, and have served as a springboard for lots of narrative writing in the past few weeks.

When my students draw, I draw. When they write, I write. Because I tend to tell them stories of my geeky, disenfranchised middle school existance (the moral of the story ALWAYS being "It Gets Better") I decided to make my "place" the auditorium of my middle school, where I performed both middle school musicals and a couple of high school ones as well, being a larger facility and one with removeable seating.

Here is my map:

Now, I draw as well as I dance...which is to say, like CRAP, but in case you can't read it, some of the captions include "stairs where the scenery collapsed under me while I was singing a solo" and "backstage, where Pauling caught me making fun of her to other people."

The kids all had to choose a spot from one of their story maps to work into a finished piece, and I let them vote on which story from my map I would write alongside them. One class voted for falling down the stairs (obviously) which is just a stupid embarrassing story, one that I still haven't managed to laugh about yet. (And the impetus for many sleepless nights worrying over my Noises Off set last month.) Another class voted for "upstairs dressing room where a boy asked me out for the first time."

Here's that story, and it's true, though two events were combined to make it more streamlined. In my story for the kids I used the real names, but here I have changed them, in case any of the people google themselves or something and find their way here.

On the Yellow Brick Road

“Did you really get a note from Billy Anderson?” Chris was leaning his shoulder against the dressing room door frame, hands in his pockets, cheeks flushed. Traces of eyeliner from the Scarecrow make-up just scrubbed off left waxy lines on his chin.

“News travels fast around here,” I stammered, stalling. Of every person in the whole cast, of the whole 8th grade, in fact, he was the last one I wanted to have this conversation with. I shoved my ruby slippers into my duffle bag, zipping it fiercely, trying not to meet his blue eyes.

“Yeah…well…Kristin Fairbanks.” Ah. The Town Crier. If she heard you sneeze on the bus, by first period five people asked how your cold was. In truth, it had only been that very afternoon at the start of dress rehearsal that Billy had pressed a carefully folded piece of wilted yellow school writing paper in my hand that said exactly this:

I like you. Do you like me?
If so, would you go out with me?
Check this box:

__Yes __No

I had made the mistake of opening it with Kristin Fairbanks sitting directly behind me as we listened to the opening rehearsal announcements. The hissing from behind me immediately spread like pancake sizzles, straight down the row until I watched with horror as Billy, in his lime-green Father of Munchkinland costume, received the news and dropped his head into his hands. Damage done in sixty seconds flat.

That had been hours before. We’d all been up and down the Yellow Brick Road for the past four hours, and I had yet to check a box, yet to even decide how I really felt about it. I had known Billy since we were four. He lived two blocks away. He had once hit me in the eye with a rock at a beach. We’d barely had a conversation since the fifth grade. But now he had asked me to be his “girlfriend,” whatever that was supposed to mean, when no one had ever asked me before. Was I ready?

And to further complicate matters was Chris, my best friend of the past two years, Daddy Warbucks to my Annie last winter, tall and gangly and tousle-haired…and the one I secretly wished to get a check-this-box kind of note from. We had spent every afternoon together that fall learning lines and choreography, doing our math homework together between scenes, and I had only just started to think of him as anything more than just a goofy, clumsy, science-nerdy sort of brother. I had tried to keep my feelings only in my diary, stuffed safely under my mattress, terrified that if he found out, all of our comfortable friendship would turn awkward and muddy. I felt just like Dorothy, stepping from a black and white girlhood into a Technicolor land, beautiful but startling, trying to gain my footing in sparkly new shoes.

“So?” he pressed. With my dresses hung on the rack and my bag all packed, there was no where else to look but into Chris’ eyes, which immediately darted from mine.

“Nothing yet,” I answered, with what I hoped was a casual shrug of my shoulder.

He stared down at his sneakers, the laces untied. “What are you going to say?” he muttered.

“I don’t know.” He looked up at me then, and there was a different expression there, an urgency and a flicker of determination I had never seen before, a look that sent the blood rushing to my cheeks.

“Say no.” A low tone, almost a whisper, but those two words contained a hundred others yet unsaid, expectant and hopeful. Our eyes held for just a moment longer before the Mayor of Munchkin City hollered up the stairs, “Kelly and Chris, Mr. Donnegan wants you for notes.” Kelly and Chris. Our names had been said together so many times before, but there was a new note in them now. He turned and fairly sprinted down the stairs as I gathered up my bag and followed him through the backstage and toward the closed mainstage curtain of the auditorium, where the rest of the cast had already gathered. Chris stopped, turned back to me, and smiled his old crooked, goofy grin, at once the best friend I had known and someone entirely new to me, just revealed. He held the curtain aside for me and I stepped through it, smiling back at him, knowing what my answer would be.


  1. Love it. Love you. Fun to see the auditorium, through your eyes. A great way to engage your students in writing. I may have to steal this idea for my boys some times.

  2. I love is, too. I may use it with my middle school and older clients.