Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fun Writing Activities for Writing Club

Last semester I organized a creative writing club. Once a week for 1.5 hours we would write and read to each other.

Here is a list of all of the activities that we did in the club. Almost all of the activities I found off the Internet. In this posting I am just compiling them and am in no way taking credit for thinking up these ideas. All of these writing exercises were quite successful and the students enjoyed them.

Short Story
Metaphor Poem
Emotion Poem
Random Words Epigraph
6-Word Memories and Poems I
6-Word Memories and Poems II

(If you can't read the blogs, just tell me and I will cut and paste the blogs and send them to you.)

A. Dreams of _______
(Idea written by Jennifer inspired from "The Dreams of Domenica Santolina Doone" from the book Bloomability by Sharon Creech.)
1. Think of the different parts of who you are.
For example, Jennifer is
American, Chinese, teacher, alone, a girl, an athlete, a world traveler, a friend, an ex-gf, lover of food, crier, lover, hater.....
2. Pick one aspect of you for example lover and write a short piece titled the Dreams of a Lover.

B. 6-Word Feelings
1. List different emotions
2. Pick one emotion
3. Write 6 word sentence about that emotion answering the questions
What colors describe it?
What type of room, place, setting?
How does the body feel?
What do you taste?

C. Five-line Poem
Line 1: involves an emotion
Line 2: involves the emotion as a color
Line 3: ________ happens when ______
Line 4: ______ sounds like _____
Line 5: Repeats original emotion

D. Free-writing
Pick one and write for 10 minutes
At first, I wasn't worried....
I wish I were there now.
Did you see that?
The doctor said, "You have one month to live."

E. 5-10 word stories

Each person begins with 5-word prompt then adds exactly 5 words of their own.
Once upon a time there....
The mystery began when the....
In a kingdom far away....
Once, long ago, a tiny....

F. Write about a photograph

G. Dialogues
(Idea presented by Cheryl, teacher at Number 2 middle school)
Complete the dialogues
1. At a party with a boyfriend
A. Hey beautiful want to dance?
2. At a party with girlfriends, a nerdy boy asks
A. Hey, umm.... do you want to dance?
3. An old man in a shop ready to close the shop but there is a young mother still in the shop. Shopkeeper is angry and ready to leave the shop.
Write a dialogue between the two people.
4. The shopkeeper is angry and ready to close but there is a big man still shopping.
Write a dialogue between the two people.
5. Pick one of the following and write a very short story about the situation including a dialogue.
a. Boyfriend and girlfriend breakup
b. 2 old friends in a supermarket
c. 2 people have an accident in the street

H. Pass the story to the next student

Each student picks one writing prompt. Writes 1-2 sentences and then passes the story to the next student.
She couldn't believe they were open so...
It was cold sitting there, but...
I didn't want to stop there, but it seemed...
Plotting her evil plan, the little girl....
He couldn't believe she said it, and yet...
She didn't care if the whole school knew so...
She peered through the opening and...
It was maybe the biggest one she'd ever seen and she...

Saturday, February 27, 2010


For the senior English short stories class with a theme of human behavior we are starting with birth, poems from Sharon Creech's heartbeat.

Having a baby seems like such an important moment in a person's life. Being born is a memory that is long gone but revived somehow when you have your own.

I wonder how different it is having a baby in different countries. I never did get to ask questions about it in Africa where most of my friends were men and students. I bet the West African PC health volunteers know more about it. I have only experienced an American family having a baby by being the outsider, the friend who takes care of the other children while the mom and dad go off to have the baby.

The poems in the book are from the viewpoint of the big sister as she watches her family have a baby. I wonder how similar or how different her viewpoint is from the way a Chinese family will have a baby.

My observations of watching my friends have babies is similar to the protagonist in Creech's book.

The woman starts feeling sick and then learns she is pregnant. A baby shower is thrown. The family talks to the baby while it is growing in mommy's tummy and a room is prepared for the new addition. Doctor's are visited, ultrasounds are taken, heartbeats are heard, and classes and books are used to prepare for the birth. The time comes, a babysitter is called to watch the other children or the grandpa who needs looking after. Then dad drives the mom to the hospital or to a birthing center and hours later a baby is born. The baby is taken home soon after and everyone wonders about the fragility of life and the preciousness of it as we peer at the little toes and fingers and the yawning mouth.

I guess I am feeling a bit excited now for my first day of class to hear my students' reactions to the poems and to learn about how their families had their babies.

PS. I wonder does everyone have a birth story? Does your family tell you stories about when you were born? Or is the memory of one's birth silently kept by mothers and fathers?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Teaching Schedule

For the past 3 semesters, I have had a random schedule of teaching 10-12 hours a week, sometimes even just 4 hours a week for half a semester when the seniors were doing their teaching practice. I never taught five days a week.

This semester I have 16 hours a week and will be teaching five days a week. My 4 freshmen listening classes have been combined into two, so instead of having 30 students per class, now I will have 60 students per class. I will be teaching 3 senior classes of English Short Stories. I have killed so many trees lately since they have no book and I have to prepare a book for them.

It will be a busy semester. My sitemate and I received grant money to do secondary projects: English Club for Women, English Club for Knitters, Writing Club, Book Club, Reading Competition, Yoga Club, Cooking Club and buy books to stock the Tree House English Community Center. Plus if I want to continue learning Chinese, then I will have to make time for Chinese corner and lessons.

Yep, busy, busy semester.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What is Love?

"Love is when you care for somebody and you be willing to go out of your way and do anything for that person, and if they have problems that you can help them out any way you know how. If they sick that you can bring them medicine, or give them a helping hand. That's what love is...simply caring for others." -Riding the Bus With My Sister

What is a Relationship?

A relationship is
finding the balance of love,
realizing that not everyone shows love the same way
realizing that not everyone cares the same way
realizing that not everyone needs the same care
A relationship is
being different from each other
and learning how to live with those differences
in a peaceful way,

Coz sometimes just loving and caring for someone isn't enough.

-Dr. Jen

Monday, February 22, 2010


Wanna know something that is absolutely fantastic about living in China?

I can walk to the corner grocery store and buy 4 servings of freshly made, handmade noodles for a total of $0.30.  Then I can go home, make a spaghetti sauce filled with fresh ingredients including freshly made sausage, boil the water for the noodles and voila.

Incredible deliciousness!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What is too much homework?

I never remember ever complaining that I was given too much homework, well except maybe in high school. In high school, boy, I was really busy extra-curricular activities and homework galore. In college, I studied a lot and did most of my homework in the wee hours of the morning. I was not a night owl but an early bird.

As a teacher in China, I wonder, what is too much homework? At my Chinese college, the electricity is turned off at around 11 pm and there aren't any 24 hour libraries. Students live in dorms with 7 other roommates, not the best place to study. So I wonder, because of the study and living environment, how much homework is too much homework? I don't really give my students a lot of homework; however, this semester with my freshmen listening class I want to give a weekly listening homework assignment. Because the access to computers and Internet is limited, the homework will be pair-work, 3 parts, focused on learning new vocabulary, dictation, and listening to texts about news.

Part 1
Using the 10 new vocabulary words in the textbook, write a question and an answer with the vocabulary words. (Last semester, I had the students just write sentences with the words; however, they just copied sentences out of their dictionaries.)

For part 2 and 3 I will give every student a different, short text about current news events. Every week they will use the text for their homework and then switch texts with a fellow student the following week.

Part 2
Write three questions about your text. Next read the text to a fellow student and ask your questions. The student who is listening should take notes, answer the questions and write a short summary about what they heard.

Part 3
Using your given text, do a 1-5 sentence dictation with a fellow student.

Is this too much homework?

The disadvantage of this homework assignment is that students will not be listening to native speakers but to each other.

The advantage of this homework assignment is that the students will practice listening at a speed that they can understand which hopefully will lead to being able to understand native speakers. Also, students will be able to listen to new vocabulary and cultural references that occur in news broadcasts and hopefully will use the information in discussions in English with their fellow classmates.

The listening portion of the national English exam, the TEM4 has about 5 news broadcasts and a very long dictation. I believe that two problems students have with listening are new vocabulary and cultural references. Will this homework assignment help with that?

Friday, February 19, 2010

My First Sweater: Finished

It took one month for me to finally finish my very first knitted sweater. I probably could have finished it faster if it hadn't been so cold in the places where we were traveling. One might assume that knitting warms up fingers. Actually when it is cold, I just want to snuggle into a ball under heavy blankets with only my nose peeking out. I spent many nights and mornings like that. Knitting was done in sporadic moments of sunshine.

I am quite pleased with my knitted sweater. It fits great. I like it a lot.
There were only a few problems.

1. The collar looks a bit funky because I started the ribbed collar right after I cast on. This was a mistake. Note to self: Next time do the ribbed collar at the end by picking up stitches.
2. There is some uneven knitting where the double pointed needles met. Trying to prevent ladders, I would tug on the second stitch to tighten everything up. Instead a new problem cropped up where I got a very visible line of very loose stitches. Also, the decreases were very visible. I wonder are there invisible decreases?I have enough yarn left-over to knit another blue sweater. I plan on using size 0-2 needles. It is the Chinese way. The yarn is meant for tiny metal needles. I am in China. I should make a Chinese sweater using the techniques that the women here are using.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Home Sweet Home

I have arrived home to a city under attack by tiny cannons shooting off blasts into the air and long string of exploding mines where when one sets off a chain reaction of 5 minute explosions.

Unlike during the trip, I haven't seen four year old boys with their lighters running in opposite directions of lit fuses.

At least I have a never-ending cup of tea and an automatic washer.  No longer will my fingers turn into fat sausages from the freezing cold of hand washed laundry in buckets of ice water.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bus Ride on the Tibetan Plateau

February 8, 2010
With the blast of a Tibetan musical wail, with cigarette smoke in the air, and while wearing 4 layers of clothing, our bus took off from *Shangri-La to travel across the Tibetan plateau through the mountains that separate the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan to arrive 8 hours later in Xiang Cheng.  Our  bus windows rattled the whole way crescending into an extreme forte as we hit the high pass traveling 4 hours on a dirt rocky road with a panorama view of rocky grey mountain peaks (10-14,000 ft) at eye level through the windows.
We traveled from grassy yellow plains littered with log cabins and two story massive Tibetan wooden houses that had hundred year old tree trunks as columns like the old Southern plantations through the usually closed snowy mountain pass of evergreens arriving in the high desert of California surrounded by hills with scattered green bushes or maybe arriving into Mexico or South America with white washed 3-story mesa houses made out of mud and men and women wearing cowboy-hats and long skirts with colorful aprons. 
Had we left China?  Maybe we had because there was a distinct language barrier, a mixture of Tibetan and the Sichuan dialect rendering my Chinese pretty useless.
* Shangri-La's original name is Zhong Dian.  In 2002 the Chinese government approved a name change, to boost tourism?

Warm and Please Help: Suggest a Short Story

Last night was the first night in two weeks that I did not have to sleep with all of my clothes, a hat, and a scarf.  I am back on the heated side of the Yangtze River in Xian and will be heading back to site tomorrow to get started lesson planning for a short story class that has no textbook. 
The theme of the class will be human behavior.  How does culture influence human behavior and how does culture influence how we understand stories?  How much of human behavior is universal versus cultural?  We will read stories starting with the beginning of life proceeding through the life cycle ending with old age.  If you have any stories that you think will be interesting for my Chinese students and that are in the free domain please send me a link.  Thanks!