“I rented a canoe on Saturday – it was quite an oar deal!”
The students’ task was to describe the source of humor in a series of five puns. Then they developed their own set of puns. Despite the cheesiness of the examples, secondary students seem to enjoy the activity. In a way it was more authentic writing than many of their other assignments. After all, even though there is not a large population of people who make their living as comedy writers, there are a host of trainers, such a defensive driving instructors, who insert their own comedy into their courses.
This exercise in humor might be expanded with a realistic assignment in writing. Students prepare a humorous training script for a job that they choose because they understand it. The job may be boring – such as working is a school cafeteria – the training script should not be.
Then I might share the kind of writing that we frequently read or hear – advertisements. For example, a few years ago my family vacationed on Lake of the Arbuckles in Oklahoma. We stayed at a particular cabin because we like the way it was described in the advertisement. After I read it, I ask the class to imagine that they are renting out their house or apartment to vacationers. The assignment – write their own advertisement to describe their place. (Some people in our area actually did this for Superbowl XLV at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington.) I tell them to portray their place in an honest manner and still provide incentive for someone to stay there, such as something unique about the house decor, or nearby sites a tourist might want to see.
Finally, I tell them a write short narrative based on real life, such as illustrated by the photo above. The cabin where we stayed had its own canoe. My son, an ex-Boy Scout, was eager to try it out and his little sister insisted on accompanying him. As an experienced helmsman, my son sat in the back and gave his sister instructions – rowing requires coordination between the people in the canoe. However, she frequently confused her left and right. They ended up almost stuck on a bank more than once. My son explained “After a while I realized it didn’t matter what I said, I just had to row twice as hard as her to get the canoe going in the right direction.”
This kind of short narrative – humorous, dramatic or touching – is found in many print and on-line magazines. For years short contributions from readers have been a staple in the Reader’s Digest. Recently the Smithsonian sponsored a series in which people described their home towns. I have students select a publication and write two or more short narratives that could be submitted, based on what is required. When these assignments are all done, I encourage students to submit their best work for publication. Noodle Tools and Reach Every Child are sites to search for possible publishers for young authors.
1) Make sure that the parents give written permission for their child to publish the writing.
2) Never pay to have work published. Many literature collections and magazines will not pay for contributions, but other more competitive publishers offer small amounts. After all getting paid for work is what many of us assume defines authentic work.