Most of the students are already dreading their “special” assignment. As they walk dawdling into the room and see the prompt “Write about someone who was a good influence on you” the moans begin to crescendo. Many students quickly run out of different ways to say their selected individual is a really great friend or always there for me. Then, they turn in a repetitive fifty word essay. Others blatantly admit, “There is no one I admire.”
It doesn’t matter how this prompt is worded: Describe a person you admire, Write about someone you look up to. Students still struggle to write cohesive and interesting essays about positive role models. So I try to help, “Tell me about the person you hate the least.” Then, I tried turning this around. “Tell me about the person you hate the most.” Interesting responses. Evidently this was much easier to write. However, I must admit that I have to lay down some ground rules for this assignment to prevent any possible fallout.
- Any references to real people and places need to be altered for the protection of the students themselves.
- The composition is considered fiction even though it is based on real events. (Students write the standard disclaimer at the beginning.)
- The composition needs to describe events so the reader can understand the student’s attitude toward the character (not just a torrent of name calling).
- Use of profanity is limited to what is acceptable for a school paper (which also makes it difficult to fill the paper with name calling).
- The composition must include an incident or description that also shows something good about the character. (Think about something the character does that you wish you could do, or something that makes you sympathetic to the character.)
Students struggle the most with the third and fifth requirements. I’m not surprised. The challenges of relating events in way than elicits feeling and creating characters with some amount of depth exist for writers at almost all levels. Students will need to return to their initial rough draft to expand and refine in order to meet this challenge. After they become at least somewhat comfortable with this kind of writing they should be able to transfer lessons learned to the ubiquitous “Write about the person you admire the most” prompt. Of course, that would be so much easier if there were more admirable people in this world.