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Aug 01

Home -- Setting Tone

Sometimes the setting of your community story can establish the tone of the piece.

Sometimes the setting of your community story can establish the tone of the piece.

This challenge has two parts. First a quick write. And then RESPOND again with something more relevant to your community story efforts. The point is this: setting can often set the tone for a story, particularly if you use sensory detail, that is how a place sounds, or looks, or feels or smells.

  1. Look at the pictures above. Choose one that grabs you (or amuses you). Look at the details and imagine what it's like to live there. Imagine. Now, in 7 minutes and writing as quickly as you can, write about living in this house or coming upon this. How weird it is. How inconvenient it is. How cool it is. But try to use the house to set the tone. If you want to make the house spooky, go for it; if you want to make-believe you are a high flyer and have a mansion, fashion your story around that aspect. But set the tone. Go wild. Make up a story.
    1. Comment on several classmates' posts and see how they handled it. 
  2. The second part of this is to write about your own home. Click the RESPOND button on this challenge a second time and describe the setting of your home. Set the tone with specific detail; your home figures into your sense of community, help us, the readers, understand what your home is like. Incorporate photos into your post.
    1. Comment on several classmates' posts and see how they handled it. 

Credits: The original photographer and copyright of the photos in this slideshow are extremely difficult to determine since many have been appropriated and put on pinterest.com and twitter.com; using google image search yields, in most cases, more than 20 million results; blocking pinterest and other sites still did not yield the origin in most cases. Since these photos are being used on a limited basis for educational purposes, YWP would ask that none be made public and that they remain in use only in these private classrooms. That said, a few origins were discovered: luxury house with a pool: http://www.highcorkett.com/30-pelican-point-new-luxury-listing/. House with tree roots: cover art of Bon Jovi album, This House Not for Sale, a black and white image by photographer Jerry UelsmannUpside down house Via curious-places. Wreck of a house, clip art from https://scoopposts.info


Oscar creeped towards the creepy house. It was clear that Stackpole and McGee had been there, and that it had been abandoned only recently. The 'roots' were huge for a tree, and had been undoubtedly been chopped decades ago. It could of very well been built from the wood of it's bases former occupant. Oscar shuffeled into the abandoned fort, and what was inside discusted him.  Wooden chairs wit some legs missing and a stone table laid crumpled in a corner. The whole shack reeked of rotten eggs, and the creaky floorboards and walls felt as if they had been greased an hour ago. Oscar manuevered the rickety wooden staircase, for some of the stairs were missing. When he finally got upstairs, the view was no better. The windows were shattered beyond repair, and the shutters were riddled with holes, and a couple of them were hanging on one hinge, or fallen off altogether! Geez! Was there a raid here or something? Oscar thought. Little holes and broken windows? Good grief!  There was a bucket in the corner of the room filled with- eew! thats what the smell was! that's disgusting! Oscar fled the house afterwards, for the smell of human waste was unbearable.
Aug 01

I am the one

Finish this sentence, "I am the one who .... "

Finish this sentence, "I am the one who .... "  Take seven minutes. Only. Write as fast as you can.

This is a free write designed to show your writing style and reveal a little something about yourself. Take a moment to think about how you would start off and then get going. Go as fast as you can, don't worry about how it sounds or what you are saying, just go. In a word, don't edit yourself. At least not yet. Feel free to have lots of sentences that begin "I am the one who..." or have one long, run-on sentence that seemingly goes forever, or soemthing in between. Think about what you love to do, what you are good at doing, about your sense of humor, your creativity, about what you do to help others. Slide in a quick story if you can, but just keep on going. Below are a couple of exemplars from a middle school class.

When you are finished, save and read some of your classmates' posts and give them some comments with some specific things you noticed about their works.

Courtesy of MylesD of Richmond Middle School: I am the one who sizzles with power, bringing entire landscapes down in my eternal anger. I am the one who sits quietly in class, occasionaly glancing at the clock. I am the one who controls the sea, writhing in agony beneath the smooth scaled depths. I am the one who draws a picture on my single sheet of lined paper. I am the one who throws lightning at mountains that scrape the top of the ground. I am the one who likes to gaze at the stars. I am the one who makes vines grow with my feet, and makes petals shrivel with my touch. And I am the one who walks the thin line between fantasy and reality, treading careful toe over careful toe in a neverending battle with insanity. 

Courtesy of MollyC from Richmond Middle School: I am the one who is ambidextrous and will annoy the heck out of you. I am the one that does my best work when I'm walking barefoot outside. I am the one who will talk your ear off and then not speak for the next day. I am the one that can speak one line of about ten weird languages. I am the one that stretched three times over the summer and can now do a full split. I am the one who got bit in the eye by a cat when I was five, but still loves them to death. I am the one that started a flash mob. I am the one who pet-sit a parrot that saved a man from going to work on September 11, 2001. I am the one that's from a super Jewish family from New Jersey and a super country hippie family from California. I am the one that wanders off on family trips and always gets lost. I am the one that was born with bright blonde hair that's now faded to brown. I am the one that is obsessed with trash TV. I am the one that started my own duct tape wallet company in sixth grade and sold to my friends and teachers. I am the one whose mom is a cancer survivor. I am the one that wrote songs for an all-girls singing group in third grade. I am the one that's shy and awkward until you get to know me. I am the one that wrote a letter to Barack Obama in third grade and got a signed letter back. I am the one that won a contest for my lemon squares in fifth grade. I'm weird. I know it. But I'm just me.

(Photo credit: Dmitri Kessel, Life magazine)

If you would like to expand on this, here is an idea.
  • Story Formation: Take one of the things that you've posted in the initial response and write a story about how or why you are that way. A curve: Write it in the third person point of view, as if writing a story about someone else.
  • My Community Story: Take one of the things that you've posted in the initial response and show how this relates to how you connect with your community. Write the story behind your statement that "I am the one who ..."
Aug 01
Grace's picture

Details: Concrete vs. Abstract

We want our writing to feel genuine, and to connect with our readers to the point where they can visualize our words in their heads. A great way to learn to connect to readers through writing is by understanding the difference between concrete and abstract details. A concrete detail/image, most of the time, will engage your reader, and make them have that visual and deep reaction to your writing. 

Concrete vs Abstract. A concrete detail/image is one that is grounded in tangible ideas, examples, and descriptions. An abstract detail/image has language and examples that are conceptual and have multiple interpretations. 

        Concrete: The plant just barely brushed the bottom of my knee; its flower was broad as my face, and its stem as thick as my pinky. 

Aug 01

History through Photos I

Historic photos offer an intriguing way to dive into history, a way to imagine a narrative -- and support it with research.

BEFORE you listen to the audio, write for seven minutes in response to this photo. Imagine yourself as the person in the photo, or one of the children or the photographer. Tell the story. Tell the backstory. Look at details; where might this be? What's going on? 

After you finish. Take a look at some of your classmate's responses. Give one of them -- someone who hasn't gotten a response -- a comment. 

ONCE you have done that, listen to the recording. The woman speaking is Florence Leona Owens Thompson, 1903-1983. She is the woman pictured in this 1936 iconic photograph by Dorothea Lange. Lange was working for the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration documenting the Great Depression and happened upon Thompson, a migrant worker with seven children. Lange took six photographs without getting the woman's name and left. Both Lange and Thompson came to dislike the photograph for different reasons: Lange felt it became a symbol and no longer felt it was her work; Thompson said she felt ashamed -- but determined never to be that poor again. 

There is much more to Florence Thompson's story and to the story of this photograph (if you wish to find out more, see: https://mycommunity.ywpvt.org/node/285) which, among other things, was a catalyst for the writer John Steinbeck to write Grapes of Wrath a story focusing on the plight of migrant workers in the Depression.   The intention of this challenge, though, is to help you feel -- and understand -- the potential for narrative within historical research and interviews.

Potential follow-up projects:
  • Go to your local Historical Society and explore their archive of photographs. Do any particularly move you, interest you? If so, use that as a jumping off point for finding out about the people, situation or time period within the photograph. See what records your Historical Society has. Check with the library. Are their any living witnesses? Or elders who may have memories of their ancestors' stories.
  • Go to a relative or an elder in your community and ask if they'd be willing to share an old photo and tell stories about the photo and the times depicted in the photo.
  • Explore a particular historic event in your community -- something that happened that was significant such as a natural disaster or war or major achievement or change. Look for photos -- and even old audio recordings. 

In all of these, combine what you find -- photos and sound -- with text to create a compelling story. 

[Photo Credit: Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress]

Jul 28


Write about that one influential teacher you had. 

Write about a positive memory you have with a teacher who made a difference in your life. Exercise your narrative skills, and reflect on lessons that have helped you grow. 

Teachers are part of your school community. Think back to all of your years at school. Who was the one teacher who really made a difference in your life? Did they encouraged your to do you best, gave you life changing advice, or helped shape your life in some way? 

Think about one specific memory you have with that teacher. Write the true story of that moment — what they did, and what you learned from it. 

Comment on the works of your peers. 

[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Kevin Huang, 2016]

A person

Community means people. Think of some memorable people. Draw up a list of people who are significant in your community. Pick one to tell a story about.

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All responses to A person

Jul 25
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A place

Think of a place in your community. Tell a story about an object in the community. If you can, snag a picture of your own or from the Internet (with credit, of course).

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All responses to A place

Jul 25
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La Fritanga

This was a response of a 4th grader.

It exists everywhere
Its under your shoe and it walks next to you
I am hispanic, how about you?
We all breathe and speak, all the same 
Lets be at hand and appreciate, Diversity 

Workshop Description:

This workshop contains a variety of challenges designed to help get students started in the My Community storytelling project. The challenges focus on defining their communities, finding ideas, developing framing questions, thinking of anecdotes about people or place or things, in a word, trying to find those ideas that create enthusiasm. 

Responses should be quick. There doesn't need to be a lot of thought involved. The ideas with digital media should also be done quickly. The aim is to get as many ideas as possible. 

Jul 24

My Life

Be brief. Be bold. Your life in five sentences.

Be brief. Be bold. Your life in five sentences.

Explain/describe your entire life in just five sentences. Think of specific moments and turning points — major events and experiences, encounters with important people in your life — that have shaped who you are and what you love.

[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Kevin Huang, 2015]

Jul 24


Ask a family member for a childhood memory. Create the first story of a family collection.

Ask a parent, guardian, or sibling about a childhood memory they have never told you before. Tell their story.
Share the story with the subject of the story and ask for feedback. Is anything missing? Is it clear? Does it accurately reflect the memory?
Revise where needed and ask a second reader (a teacher, a classmate, a relative) to look at it. More comments? More revisions.
The goal is to make it the best story you can with the material you're given and the comments you receive.
This story might start your family on a quest to create a family archive of stories from the past -- your history.

[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Ashley Gehsmann, 2015]