Reading as Writers

One of the stated goals of the sophmore English course at Punahou is to give the students practice in learning to read as writers. Students are asked to consider elements of craft in writing. One way of proceeding is to ask students to consider the question "What would I have to do in order to write something like this?"

The first step in this particular exercise was to model the process for students. I went to a web site which included first chapters of a variety of books and selected one to use as a model. I then went through the series of steps listed in the student handout below, and produced a packet of materials including the original text, the "recipe" I derived from it, the piece of writing I did following my own "recipe," and the reflection paper I wrote at the end.

To start off the classroom lesson, I gave each student a copy of this packet, and walked them through it, using overhead transparencies. I showed them what I had done, and how I had done it. I then gave them the following handout which is shown below.

Sample Student Response I

Sample Student Response II

 


Reading as Writers Exercise


We will be spending several days of the next cycle practicing the art of reading as writers. I will model for you in class of one approach to doing this assignment. You will be responsible for the next set of steps, which are outlined below.

1) Go to the following web site, which consists of the first chapters of several hundred books - fiction, nonfiction, and poetry - published in the last several years. Browse through the chapters until you find a writer whose style and approach interests you.
URL: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/first-index.html

2) Print out one page of text that you will use for the purposes of this exercise (you will hand it in with the work you will do later). You may wish to print directly from the site, or you may prefer to highlight and copy a passage which you can then paste into your word processing program and reformat as you wish. If you cut and paste, be sure to include the title, author, and url for the site somewhere on the page.

3) Using the material on the page, practice reading as a writer as demonstrated in class. Go through the piece carefully, making notes on what the writer has done. These notes might address such questions as: What does the writer do first? What next? What after that? What kinds of sentences does the writer use? What kinds of vocabulary? How many parts does the piece have? How are they related? How are those relationships signaled? How are the paragraphs organized? Pay particular attention to anything that strikes you as being something you are generally not in the habit of doing yourself, a writing move or a writing technique that you think is unusual for you.

4) Consider the question “What would I have to do to write something that was like this?” It may be helpful to use the analogy of creating a recipe for yourself. Use your notes to create the recipe: First I will do such and such, and then I will do so and so, and finally I will do a third thing, all the while keeping in mind this other thing effect I want to create...

5) Write a one page piece on a subject of your own choice which follows the recipe you have created, mirroring in whatever ways you think are worth noting the features of the piece you are using as a model.

6) Write a reflection on the process. How did it go? What did you notice? What have you learned from this writer? How is the writing you produced different from what how you usually write?

On the day specified, hand in a packet containing a) the original piece, b) your notes (including the recipe you came up with), c) your own piece and d) your reflection paper.

This is a writing exercise. Like all exercises, it involves a certain amount of artificiality; the idea is to work certain “mental muscles” to make them stronger. Among the muscles at work here are the ones which have to do with careful observation and thoughtful planning, and a certain kind of self-consciousness in process. You will not always want to read this way, or to write this way. But this is an exercise which can be repeated over and over again, and every piece of writing you choose to read as a writer will, if you go through the process carefully, teach you something new both about reading and about writing.