Six Ways To Be A Better Writing Teacher

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I have been able to attend several writing conferences through my work over the years. One that had profound impact on me was the writers at work hosted by Ruth Culham in Sun Valley Idaho. I did not know the landscape could be so beautiful in a place I associate with potatoes. This education celebrity met with her small circle of authors every year to plan workshops for the year. Then she opened it up to other educators. The travel there had been adventurous for me with a small plane flying through a thunderstorm. It reminded me of the first time I was on a plane when I was 6 years old.

One of the speakers was Ralph Fletcher. He talked about how all teacher needed to be a writer with a lowercase w. The only difference between a writer with a capital and lowercase w is that capital w writers get paid. If you write, you are a writer.

As teachers, we need our students to learn to write in order to express themselves. I have found through my coaching and my own education experience that writing scares the hell out of most people. There is not a lot of instruction in writing in teacher prep courses. Why would you expect your students to do something that you are unwilling to do?

My Action List:

  1. Bradbury Challenge
  2. Unpack the Text
  3. Learn Through Your Ears
  4. Write in the Edges
  5. Challenges
  6. Join a group of creatives or writers

Bradbury Challenge

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Ray Bradbury said read one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights.

This is his formula for an MFA. It works.

It is impossible to not be a better writer if you follow this formula. Read what you like from authors you like. It does not have to be any way connected to the grade level you teach.

recommendations:

Essays: Natalie Goldberg, Ray Bradbury, Zadie Smith, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay

Short stories: Nancy Stohlman, Kathy Fish, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link

Poems: Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye

Unpack The Text

When you read a piece you particularly write then study it. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What works in this piece and how does it make me feel?
  2. How did the author achieve this feeling in me?
  3. What are my favorite lines?
  4. What can I try in my own writing that the author does?

Action: Write something inspired by the text you studied.

Learn Through Your Ears

One of the ways I take advantage of extra time is to listen to podcasts. I love writing podcasts in particular. I listen to podcasts mostly in the car and during workouts. There is a rotation but I always learn something.

Favorite Podcasts:

  1. Why is This Good? Naples Writers’ Workshop
  2. How Do You Write? Rachael Herron
  3. The Writers Well Podcast J Thorn and Rachael Herron
  4. How Writers Write
  5. Stop Writing Alone Nicole Rivera
  6. Qwerty Marion Roach Smith
  7. Fierce Womxn Writing
  8. Good Life Project
  9. Any podcast with Karissa Kouchis as a guest.

I also like audio courses. I have been listening to Tony Robbins and his Personal Power 30 day program and his Beautiful State training.

Listen to what fuels you and write down the memories and stories that come to mind as you listen. Write about those ideas.

Write in the Edges

I learned a long time ago that if I want to make sure I do something, I have to schedule it.

Write now, open your planner/schedule and plan a 10 minute writing time for the next 7 days.

During that time write:

  1. A memory
  2. Whatever comes to mind
  3. The story about one of your notes
  4. A reflection of a favorite line from something you read
  5. A new story based on a title of something you have read
  6. Morning Pages
  7. Anything in response to a journal prompt
  8. How you are feeling in that moment

My advice is also to carry a notebook and write down ideas that strike you, an overhead conversation, an interesting detail, a 5 senses description of where you are throughout the day. I strive for at least 10 snippets a day.

If you don’t like the notebook use a note taking app on your phone. I am partial to Google Keep. It backs itself up (I lost a whole note app full of gems I can never get back – a whole other story.) You can share notes and also easily make it a Google Doc. You can also use voice to text in this app which works for me when walking or driving. If you run and try to talk there are weird connections of words the device will pick up!

Challenges

Challenges give me a structure and a schedule. There are small challenges and large ones but I gravitate to 30 day or 100 challenges. Some examples are: Storyaday May and September, NANOWRIMO, #the100dayproject, Five Minute Friday (FMF), and Two Writing Teachers blogging.

Storyaday: This challenge is hosted by Julie Duffy and it is just what it sounds like: one story a day for the month of May and/or September. I have challneged my middle school students to do this challenge as well.

NANOWRIMO: National Novel Writing month. This challenge is to write a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November.

#the100dayproject: A creative challenge that starts at the beginning of April. The artist creates something every day. In 2020, I wrote a random sentence every day and am creating a short story based on these sentences. Some people do post it note drawings, or doodles, or paintings, or 100 word essays, or poems. It is up to you!

FMF: Hosted by Kate Motaung Kate posts a word on Friday with a great visual. You write with this word for five minutes.

Two Writing Teachers Blog: Every Tuesday, teacher writers post on their own blogs and link up on the TWT blog. In March there is a daily blog challenge where there is support and lots of comments.

Join A Group

There are lots of groups to choose from. Lots of time if you take a class or workshop you can find people you want to continue to talk to after the course is over. There are many writing groups online that are more public like Twitter and Instagram.

There are communities you can join such as Storyaday Superstars, Ninja Writers, Sarah Selecky Writing School, Teachwrite, and Jackie Aston. Almost every author you follow has a connection to a community somewhere. I found Storyaday by Googling several years ago. Find your people!

The point is you want to find a group that is nourishing to you. Some are paid, some are free but you may have to try a few before you find the one where you fit.

Connection

After you try one or all six of these ideas, your brain will start to make connections to how this translates to your classroom. It can even be one of the things you write about during your scheduled 10 minutes.

If you write, you are a writer.

Your students will listen to you more as a model of being a writer rather than being someone who just talks about writing. There must be action.

Next Right Step

Make a change in your writing life today. Write something. Buy a notebook and a pen you like.

Your students will thank you.

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My 5 Favorite Newsletters

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1

Half Baked Harvest

https://www.halfbakedharvest.com/nine-favorite-things-150/

One of my favorite messages on Sundays are the Nine Favorite Things post from Half Baked Harvest. The photography is beautiful as well as the recipes. Fair warning: Scrolling through will make you hungry.

2

Writers Write - Daily Writing Links

A daily newsletter with interesting content. There are writing tips, vocabulary words and a writing prompt every day.

3

Every two weeks a new post comes out from Sarah. Always interesting and well written.

https://www.sarahseleckywritingschool.com/letters/

4

This newsletter is always full of great thoughts and links.

5

This newsletter is one I refresh my inbox hoping it will show up to read it. It is always honest and worth the read every week.

https://mailchi.mp/5f7876dd1f84/sundaynightnewsletter

+1

Of course, there is my own! If you like my writing and want to know the latest news from me please sign up for my newsletter! Usually, it comes out on Fridays and whenever there are special announcements!

Fire #SOL20

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It is summer. It is the season for heat. Wisconsin has been providing temperatures in the 90’s the last couple of weeks. It doesn’t stop me from action whether that be writing or running.

What is getting you fired up?

As always, I am doing a lot of things at once. It is how I work. After much deliberation to what the right time was I put together a collection of my short stories for Amazon. You can find that here.

Why Is Life So Hard?: A Short Story Collection by [Tammy L.  Breitweiser]

I am fired up about my health. I am eating healthier, following a plan that works for me and settling into a lifestyle rather than a diet.

I am fired about about school in the fall. I am learning about what e-learning should look like (just in case) and working on activities and units for my K kids.

I am fired about writing. Daily writing and working with my communities is exciting. I am listening to podcasts, rereading Big Magic, and taking notes on my walks and runs. I am finding new podcasts.

One I will recommend is Cutting Chai Stories. You can find that here.

Cutting Chai Stories

You can now listen to my podcast on Spotify too.

With my coaching program, I am doing lots of work around identity. This is working for me in a career sense and also a writing sense. Lots of exploration for me and thinking.

Lots of exciting things happening in this season of summer. I am trying to get as much joy as possible!

What is firing you up?

Monday Morning

A Story and a Prompt for You!

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It’s Monday. It’s summer. There is a laid back feeling even in the times of the Corona virus.

Yesterday was filled with writing, running, a coach session, and great conversations. It was also a reminder that I am too hard on myself and I am impatient.

One of the takeaways from my coaching session yesterday was that I light up when I talk about the workshops that I teach and the adventures with my kids. I will be sharing more about those two areas of my life in my newsletter and this blog in the coming weeks.

If you still need to sign up for my newsletter, you can click here!

This week we are taking the kids canoeing on the Wisconsin River. We have tried to go before but have run into obstacles like a too high river in Indiana. Hopefully, no issues this time.

One of the best parts of the adventures with the kids are the crazy things they say that I write down. Every Christmas, we make a photo album of the year’s adventures. These are not always trips either. We play games and create things inside the house as well. The book is also filled with fun things everyone has said. Often you will hear someone say, “Put that in the notes!”

While in the car last week my youngest said randomly from the backseat, “It illegal to die in some places.” Which, of course, was met with, “WHAT?” In fact, this is true, and he learned it on YouTube. Someplace they were running out of graves and made it illegal to die, at least on the books. Then he called the graves, “grave houses.” This comment led to a discussion of how in New Orleans they bury people above ground.

I have a writing prompt for you today.

I have a book I ordered during the lockdown called Now Write! Fiction Writing Exercises From Today’s Best Writers and Teachers. I finally cracked it open last night and dove into an exercise. Every couple of pages there is a new prompt. I did one pertaining to surrealism by Laurie Foos. It is noted you can do this exercise with a group, or alone.

If you do the prompt on your own, you are not allowed to look ahead!

Choose a verb that ends in -ing, then a body part, and an inanimate object.

Go ahead…I’ll wait. Now write them down before you read on!

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Now, put your words into this sentence: After a long day of verbing, he/she discovered that his/her body part had grown insert inanimate object.

I had fun with mine and after a long day of transcribing my character had a mirror that had grown out of his arm. It led to a weird little story about being to infinitely able to see into illusions and dreams.

I have published my book on Amazon. You can check that out here.

Holiday Weekend Coffee Share

A Cup of Coffee and a Conversation

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Welcome back to the weekend! It is the 4th of July weekend. For some reason, the 4th always brings back strong memories. I remember the year it was cold and we wore sweatshirts and jeans and were still freezing. I remember being very young and feeling the powder from the fireworks fall into my eyes. I remember the ones where I stayed inside and watched the fireworks through the picture window (Which I prefer). I remember the one where I lit my first roman candle.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you we finally got the boat here. It is such a relief and was such a long day. While we were coming through Illinois there was a rainstorm like I haven’t seen in years. It was so much water I am certain rainstorm isn’t even the word. The universe dumped buckets of water on us. I was thankful to get home after 8 hours.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I spent one day dealing with paperwork and trying to get loose ends tied up. I hit some obstacles along the way but put a plan is in place. Now I have to wait for others to do their part.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you my Back to Zero program is right on track. I am fasting, logging my food, and exercising every day. I am seeing progress in myself and in the way my clothes fit.

If we were having coffee I would tell you the 100 day project is coming to an end soon. Sunday is day 90. I can hardly believe it. Now the real work begins with the next step. I will read the sentences in the order I wrote them out loud and then will hear what story emerges. Then I begin the work of chunking and changing the order to make a short story. My writing prep course is also ending on the 10th. Endings mean the opportunity for new beginnings.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I had a dynamic conversation with a writing friend this week. I was so glad we made the time to chat. I think we learned some great information from each other and our friendship was strengthened after realizing even more how much we are aligned.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I went to have a medium do a spirit guide reading on me. It was interesting and thought-provoking. There were a lot of general statements but a couple of the statements resonated me with and gave me chills.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I finished Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid in less than 24 hours. It was such a good read and so well written!

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I visited a botanical garden which was beautiful. We saw a baby deer tiptoeing through the plants and nestle down in front of a tree. It was magical.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I have BIG NEWS! I finally made the decision to publish my first short story collection. You can check that out here.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you episode 9 of my podcast is live as well. If you would like to listen to The Accidental Inspirationalist you can click here.

I wish all of you safety, some fun, and remembrance on the holiday!

Library

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I miss the library. The holds I can place on whatever strikes my fancy. The book tasting and feasting of current obsessions. The comfort of the paper within this glass and concrete building itself. To walk the writing section and be thrilled to what I see on the shelves. The pined after short story collection that was waiting for me the day I wandered in A gift I still have because the books are sheltering in place and are practicing social distancing too. I miss the weight of the stack in my bag and my hands. The ever-changing stack next to my bed.

I can breathe in the library. It was the first place I came when I drove into this new town. A place to gather and hold.

Reading and Publishing

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Welcome to Friday!

Today is an exciting one! Big things are happening and my story is published at Storgy! You can read it by clicking the link below.

Artist Folly by Tammy Breitweiser

Throughout the TwowritingTeachers.org challenge (and through the year on Tuesdays) I watch for certain posts to come to my inbox/feed. Here are some of the teachers I read every day:

https://litcoachlady.com/

All three write beautifully and have their own style. Another thing in common is they all are inspiring.

Who are your GO TO follows/reads?

Do You Have a Hunch?

db4de-slice-of-life_individual

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March Blog Challenge. If you would like more information about this challenge click here.

Several years ago I learned about the 36 questions to become closer to someone. In the New York Times, the article was titled The 36 Questions that Lead to Love. I am always fascinated by questions. As an introvert, I learned to have a question ready when attending a social event in case the conversation lulled. I prefer to have deeper conversations as opposed to surface level ones.

As part of the challenge this year, I will be answering some of the questions and then you have the opportunity to journal about the question, ask a person you want to be closer to, or answer in the comments.

This question always strikes me as odd because I do not have a hunch about how I will die. I hope that I live a long life. I take care of myself and eat well so I hope my body decides to stick around. I am always learning and keep my mind sharp too. I would be more upset if my mind starting going then my body honestly.

There are people who think about their death more than I. There are moments of course. There are plans. I want to be buried in a forest with a tree as a headstone, not in a traditional cemetery.

I read The Immortalists several years ago (highly recommended if you haven’t read it) and the children had learned the date of their death from a fortune teller. The story follows the lives of the 4 siblings and how this data informed how they lived their lives. It was fascinating and you cannot help but think how you would react.

The Immortalists by [Benjamin, Chloe]

In my life I have found that how I think I will react to a situation is sometimes different than when I am in the middle of it. I have learned to not make assumptions and judgements and be a little more graceful with myself and others.

Do you have a hunch about your death?

This might be a question to take to your journal!

https://mailchi.mp/5b56d4ab80fb/lifelonglearningPosted byTammyB

Reading is Controversial?

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Support me as a writer and please read this article here.

In the US Read Across America day is celebrated on March 2, Dr. Seuss’ birthday. As an elementary reading specialist, I took advantage of all of these special “holidays” created around reading to promote books and fun to my students. (Another one is read for the record day which began with Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar)

I used to facilitate a school wide rotation of Dr. Seuss centers. At the time, we had an early childhood vocational program that helped create centers for the event for several years.

I have dressed up as the Cat in the Hat more times than I can count. If I look hard enough, I can probably find the newspaper clippings proving it.

On Tuesday evening while in the car I was listening to the Creative Kindergarten podcast and she was talking about how Read Across America day has changed from a Dr. Seuss focus to a more diverse focus this year. NEA had gotten complaints in some fashion about the connection to this author.

I do not have an objection to it being changed to be more diverse. We need more diverse books in classrooms. As my friend Lisa Vahey says, we need to have books that are windows and doors. Children need to see themselves in the text and they also need to learn about people different from them.

Personally, I like to read to learn about how others think. I want to know how characters would handle a situation I have never been in. I feel it prepares me if I ever AM in that situation.

I have always thought about Dr. Seuss’ characters being universal especially the ones that are …animals? As I write this I struggle for a word that describes Sneeches and the Lorax accurately. Larger ideas can still be discussed when reading Dr. Seuss.

As a writer, I am fascinated that Green Eggs and Ham was a writing dare to Seuss. He was challenged to write a book with 50 words or less. I love a prompt of a list of words to construct a story and I am certain I have given that prompt to students.

All of this controversy makes me wonder about people. The conversation needs to be had and the addition of more authors and types of books is a step in the right direction. But does name calling need to occur? Does being nasty about it make it more memorable? That idea is NOT what we want to be modeling for children.

Let’s keep the fun and the wonder. Let’s keep the positive and forward moving parts and then add where we are lacking with respect and kindness to everyone whether you would eat green eggs and ham with Sam I am or not.