Yesterday, a new friend who teaches high school English asks for my opinion on what I wish incoming college freshmen knew better.
I recently complained–like I do every May–that teaching wears me down, that maybe I’ll retire, that I’ve lost my love of it. And then someone asks me about teaching, and I start clapping and doing little hops. I begin a lecture on what college freshmen need to know.
Yes, I talked all about vivid verbs. I talked about grammar and sentence variation and style. Analysis, I’ve found, isn’t really the problem. Most of my students come to college with great critical thinking skills.
But it’s almost as if nobody has ever given them the time to develop any kind of written voice.
My advice? Let them write and write and write. Make them use colons, dashes, and parentheses. Make them use three word sentences. See what happens. Don’t let them use the same verb twice; this will infuriate them, and then they will thank you profusely.
Invite them to fall in love with the semicolon. Challenge them to pick three grand ideas they believe are worth fighting for, and then have them write about these things. Make them write, not for just five paragraphs, but for 15, and see if they can keep developing more and more complexity and more and more questions.
This summer, have them write one story, one poem, one song, and one rant.
Here’s a prompt for a short story:
You’re stuck in traffic behind a car that has a square package visible from the back window. It’s elaborately and beautifully wrapped. As the minutes drag on, you begin to obsess over the contents of this package. What is inside of it? Where is it going? What happens if you follow the car to its destination and inquire what’s in the package?