Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Line Lifts - A Great Strategy Still

Hey, Mr. Allen, listen to this… 
I love this line, listen…
Close your eyes for a minute.  Ready?  Listen to these words… 
Wow, Mr. Allen, listen…

     My students and I have been paying close attention to some of the fantastic lines we are noticing as readers.  We’re knee-deep in a study of how wise readers ask questions to better understand, remember, extend meaning, and make readers experiences memorable (Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop, p. 28).  As writers, we’re honing in on exquisite lines to nudge our writing work—a parallel notebook study of  “What does a wise writer do to nudge his/her writing?"  (One of the strategies we're playing around with is "lifting a line" to coax our own writing.  A strategy I first learned from Linda Reif and have loved since.)
 Questions abound!

     In Write from the Start, Donald Graves reminds us, "Whenever there's a connection made between old knowledge and new knowledge, that's where the new growth is.  Those are the green shoots out of the old stock, the shoots that will bear fruit.  But it takes a fair amount of pruning to get new growth.  The dead wood comes when children pay attention to what they think the teacher wants instead of what, in fact, they see."

     So as writers were working toward the "shoots that will bear fruit."  Helping see that we have a lot to learn from mentors.  A lot of young writers these days seem "prompt-bound" or "Is this good? bound" or "I don't know what to write-bound."  They've been stifled by outside forces of programs and perfection... of skill and drill types of writing.

     But if I can encourage my students to develop a sense of agency as writers... to open their notebooks and start writing from a great line that they've discovered, they'll have one more authentic tool to help them develop independence during those times when writing ideas aren't coming easy.  Giving them a chance to break chains that are, sadly, already cramping their young writing lives.  To encourage purpose.  To encourage play.  To encourage risk.  To encourage thought.  To encourage putting pencil to paper.

     I've shown them my own notebook with the lines I've borrowed... lines that are waiting for me when I'm stuck or need a jumping off point.  

  Helen Frost - Salt
"Fireflies light up the edge of the dark forest."
"Our fire will keep us warm inside while we tell winter stories."

Kate Banks - Max's Words
"I'm going to collect words."
"When Max put his words together, he had thoughts."

Ruth Ayres - Celebrating Writers:  From Possibilities Through Publication
"Sometimes leaving things unsaid is more difficult than knowing what to say."
"Sometimes rejoicing is quiet.  It's a nod of encouragement."

Barbara O'Connor - How to Steal a Dog
"I closed the notebook and watched the moths flutter around the streetlight outside the window.' 
"I pushed my face against the screen and peered inside.  My stomach did a flip-flop."

Gary Paulsen - Brian's Hunt
"A perfect day among many perfect days and the last thought he had before slipping into sleep was that he was in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time in his life."

Gari Meacham - Watershed Moments
"A true watershed isn't to be hoarded; rather, it is to be shared, to spread it's gift of insight from our life to the lives of those around us."

     So what?  Now I have a notebook nudge.  Parts that can lead to wholes.  If I'm sitting with my notebook, facing a blank page, I have some great lines from some of my favorite writers that might just lead me into a piece of my own.  Not stolen.  Just borrowed.  Lines that spark a memory.  Lines that encourage me to write.  Just a little "tidbit" borrowed from a mentor that invites me to move words across a blank page.  A tool for a specific time for a specific purpose that fits into the "big picture" of being a writer.  Practice.

     It's a simple strategy that can serve as a guide to more complex pieces, more personal pieces.  Teach.  Model.  Empower.  

Hey, Mr. Allen, listen to this… 
I love this line, listen…
Close your eyes for a minute.  Ready?  Listen to these words… 
Wow, Mr. Allen, listen…

Let the pruning begin...


  1. This is an inspirational post. I like how the student words at the beginning and end are hugging your thoughts.

  2. Well said! I love this for a zillion reasons, one of which is how you encourage students to love literature while daring greatly as writers.

  3. My teaching/writing life is always enriched when I visit your blog. Some of my favorite phrases...notebook nudge..great lines from favorite authors...not stolen...just borrowed and of course the words of your students! Thank you for writing.

  4. I love Mr. Allen's book Conferring and I use it as a go to when preparing to help teachers.
    C Nash

  5. Great post very touching :) keep it up the writing