Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writing Lesson 10: Look Around

The 10th writing lesson focused on organizing by space, which mostly means describing places.  The previous paragraph-writing exercises had organized details mostly chronologically, but in this lesson the students had to think spatially.

When writing a description of a space/place, you can organize your details from left to right, right to left, bottom to top, top to bottom, edges to center, center to edges, near to far, or far to near.  Probably other ways, too, but that's enough to cover most situations.

For my examples, I used four pictures and a video.  First was a picture of a group of friends (Me, Smith, Lokey, and Kim in the corn maze from October 2009 if anyone's interested); my example paragraph described the scene from left to right.

The second example was a picture of a dining room from a home interior website; in this case, I wrote a description from the outside in--describing first the walls and windows, then the furniture along the wall, then the rug in the center of the floor, then the table and chairs in the center of the rug, and finally the odd vases in the center of the table.

The third example was a paragraph I found online from a 1957 book, Talents and Geniuses, by Gilbert Highet--it was a description of a filthy subway station.  I found a photo of a station in New York City that matched the description pretty well.  His description was a perfect example for top-to-bottom organization: first the glaring light bulbs, the paint peeling on the ceiling, the crusted white tiles on the walls, the gum spots on the pavement, the gleaming steel rails, the sludge of debris below the tracks.

My next example was a photo I took during my trip to Anhui Province during the October holiday; standing in one of the large public squares of the little town of Jiuhuajie, the scene unfolds in layers: the ponds in the foreground, then the arc of buildings, then a lower ridge with temples silhouetted above it, then the higher, more distant ridge pale against the evening light.  So, organized by distance.

My last example was a video.  My senior year of college, I bought a new comforter for my bed, and as I usually feel the need to do with any new purchases, I had to show Mom.  (By the way, Mom, I bought a new purse the other day--it's gray suede and has striped fur on the side! Remind me to send you a picture!) But instead of taking a picture that time, I took a quick video standing in the middle of my dorm room and turning in a circle.  Somehow the video has survived the intervening seven years (has it really been that long??).  It provided an interesting way to describe a place--left to right while spinning.  Also, college students here are usually really curious about what college life is like for American students; the video was a great jumping-off point for a discussion of the differences in university life on either side of the Pacific.

For the rest of the class period, I put up a photo of a room from an interior-design google search, or rather, Bing search, as google often doesn't work well here (I'm going through Google withdrawals! Bing just can't compare...and I NEED my maps!!).  I used a different picture for each class; I'm finally learning to vary my journal assignments; now I'll only have to read twenty-something descriptions of each picture instead of seventy-something of the same one.


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