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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Notable Sentences...for Imitation and Creation

I preach great writing all day long, but it's great to stumble onto it when you're reading a classroom novel with students.

In Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins, for example, we read a description of a tsunami pounding the island of San Nicolas. As one wave recedes and a larger wave advances, we read this description:

Like two giants they crashed against each other. They rose high in the air, bending first one way and then the other. There was a roar as if great spears were breaking in battle and in the red light of the sun the spray that flew around them looked like blood.

Slowly the second wave forced the first one backward, rolled slowly over it, and then as the victor drags the vanquished, moved in toward the island.

The wave struck the cliff. It sent long tongues streaming around me so that I could neither see nor hear. The tongues of water licked into all the crevices, dragged at my hand and at my bare feet gripping the ledge. They rose high above me on the face of the rock, up and up, and then spent themselves against the sky and fell back, hissing past me to join the water rushing on toward the cove.

What's interesting to me is that in the first two paragraphs of this selection from Chapter 27, weather is described in terms of giant warriors locked in combat. How many of us have read war novels where the armies and the conflicts were described in terms of fierce storms? Why are these two phenomena so often metaphorically linked?

In addition to the metaphors, of course, we also have the somewhat serpentine alliteration and onomatopoeia of the third paragraph, suggesting that the wave itself has morphed into a new entity, more fitting for the hunt for prey. Wouldn't you love to have descriptions like that right at your fingertips? I know I've got a bunch of examples highlighted and underlined in different texts, but I like to present students with some new exemplars as well. That action alone often prompts my students to ask to read the book from which the figurative language was selected.

Enter the Great Sentences blog. Created in truly old-school blog style, this wonderful site features a collaborative effort to collect and categorize great sentence examples from real literature. Subtitled "Notable Sentences... for Imitation and Creation," this site allows visitors to post their submissions to the site as comments. The Metaphor link, for example, has 77 comments (including the one I just added!).

According to creator Lauren Wolter:
This blog is a resource for teachers who wish to view grammar as something to be explored and not just corrected. Sometimes even teachers who want to set aside tired, old daily language practices have trouble doing so due to the seeming abundance of those deplorable, error-filled sentences and the apparent lack of stimulating, "explore-able" model sentences. As you read adult, young adult, and children's books, please share the noteworthy sentences you find, so that we may build a useful resource together.
How to use this site?
  • To find great examples for yourself, not only of figurative language, but even parts of speech used beautifully in literature.
  • To allow your students a web-interaction experience, as they post their own discoveries in language.
  • To turn your students on to new books. Several examples, I noticed, are from Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, one of my daughter's favorite books. Another student may not know that book, but would be led to read it because of the beautiful sentences posted here.
Check the site out, and add to the wealth!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Game Day: Meet the People Who Make It Happen

I am not a sports fanatic, not by any measure. But there's one sports statistic I know by heart:

Less than one percent of high school athletes go pro.

I don't mean to be a buzz kill, nor do I mean to discourage participation in sports. My own daughters are avid athletes in several sports, and you can't argue with the physical, emotional, and social benefits of organized recreation.

But what hope is there for the 99% of those students who love sports, continue to play them through high school and even college, but don't make the cut for the pros? And what of those students who have an interest in sports, but never had the talent or opportunity or desire to play?

Those questions are answered compellingly in Game Day: Meet the People Who Make It Happen, by Kevin Sylvester. This Annick Press title spotlights twenty sports related careers by profiling professionals in the fields of auto mechanics, journalism, music, medicine, choreography, and more.

Scott Lowell, for example, is a doping control officer for the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). To state his role more clearly, Scott keeps sports clean by watching by watching athletes pee. In his own words:

I have a list of athletes who live or train near my house. I get a note via our secure website saying, "You have two days to test a particular athlete," and I have to track them down and get them to provide a sample for me...

It can be tough for them. Sometimes I knock at their door at five in the morning and they have to give a sample for me. Sometimes I show up at their training site and they have just been working out for two hours. It's not easy to pee when you're dehydrated and exhausted.

Patrick Reynolds was a stock car racer until his passion for engines and performance took him from behind the wheel to under the hood of some of the fastest cars in America. When his money ran out and his own driving career was put on hold, Patrick decided to take his experience and knowledge of engines and find work as a race car mechanic. But he soon discovered it wasn't easy:

I knocked on every garage door, resume in hand. It helped that I had been a driver, and they could tell that I knew what I was talking about, but there was a lot of competition. This was the big time...

I had common sense and experience, but I really could have used a better understanding of geometry. So many of the newer crew members have a degree in engineering or computers, and that's how they are finding their way into the modern NASCAR world. It gets the doors opened for them ahead of guys like me.

Game Day blends narratives, interview segments, photos, and informational text boxes to create a reading experience that is equal parts instructional and entertaining. You can get a sense of its format from this sample page about horse trainer Ian Black.

I can see this chapter book being used in a number of ways:
  • As pure pleasure reading, for students who are interested in exploring the wide range of sports occupations;
  • As a read-aloud, for teachers to incorporate career awareness into reading, math, social studies, and science classes;
  • As a nonfiction classroom text, for vocational students whose reading interests may lean more toward fact than fantasy;
  • As a transitional text, for students who tend to skim rather than read in depth (skimming leads to more careful reading when the topic interests the reader); and
  • As a an entertaining, inspiring, and informative pick-me-up-and-just-read-me-now title.
Do the twenty people profiled in Game Day earn the same six- or seven-figure salaries as the athletes they work with? No. But there's more reward than money, as pointed out by journalist Mary Ormsby:

I have often thought about quitting sports reporting altogether, but then I'll see a young person shooting for the moon, trying to achieve something. In our world it's amazing to see young people with hope and excitement for life. I get a little teary-eyed sometimes. Then I know it's a privilege to do what I do.

Athletes aren't the only ones with a passion for the game.