September 27 2010
A good writer listens well and asks questions that will help him or her to understand and clarify. Here a couple of quotations that I try to live by:

You are not really listening if you aren’t willing to be changed by what you hear.

Listening requires us to do only that—one cannot truly listen and be doing something else at the same time.

To often, we listen to our friends, teachers, family etc while doing something else, or while thinking about what WE WANT TO SAY. I am quite guilty of doing both. But I try, every day, to do this a little better. I am always amazed about how just listening to someone else encourages them to tell me more--and I get to learn more. Asking questions that show I've really been listening really makes the other person feel like they've been heard. In the months ahead, you'll use the same principles when reading a classmate's writing or when interviewing someone you don't know about their concerns.

Empathic listening and questioning takes practice--so in class we did just that. First we read Fifth Grade Autobiography by Rita Dove. She describes a photograph in the poem. After the exercise, we talked about what happened. Some students said that when they were listening completely it was like they could see the photograph. Other students said that they'd never been listened to so attentively. Still other students said that it was hard work but fun.

With Your Partner--

  • Sit, directly facing each other
  • Take turns speaking and listening
  • Ask questions only during the question round
From your memory, describe a photograph that you really like from your own life. Give as many details as you can and say why you like the photo and how you feel about it.

The Speaker: Look directly at your partner. If you finish speaking before time is up, just sit quietly.
The Listener: While the speaker is talking, listen only. Don’t comment or ask questions. Look directly at your partner.

During the question round:


1. Make sure you heard your partner right--

So, what I heard you saying is…

2. Ask a question of your partner that will get them to expand on what they said.
 Do you think…

 Do you feel…

 Do you hope…

    Speaker: Answer the questions as best you can.
Assignment: Find the photograph and bring it in to class.

Write a paragraph about the picture—is it the same as you remembered? If not, why do you think that is? How is it different? How do you feel when you look at the picture now?

Fifth Grade Autobiography by Rita Dove

I was four in this photograph fishing

with my grandparents at a lake in Michigan.

My brother squats in poison ivy.

His Davy Crockett cap

sits squared on his head so the raccoon tail

flounces down the back of his sailor suit.

My grandfather sits to the far right

in a folding chair,

and I know his left hand is on

the tobacco in his pants pocket

because I used to wrap it for him

every Christmas. Grandmother's hips

bulge from the brush, she's leaning

into the ice chest, sun through the trees

printing her dress with soft

luminous paws.

I am staring jealously at my brother;

the day before he rode his first horse, alone.

I was strapped in a basket

behind my grandfather.

He smelled of lemons. He's died--

but I remember his hands.




Thumbs up! Ms. Kyles class divided into small groups and were given the instruction to arrange themselves by their thumbs. What? Yep. By their thumbs. After a few minutes to talk and come to an agreement about how they would do this, the students presented their "arrangement" by group.  A couple lined up according to length of thumb, one group divided into two because half their group had thumbs which curved at the end, while the others were straight. Another group looked at the lines on the top of their thumbs and still another considered the color of their nails.
     The students then sat down to talk about the process and make some observations about what it takes to have a successful group process.

1. Each person gets to talk.
2. Make sure everyone is invited to speak--invited SINCERELY.
3. Listen to everyone's ideas and include in discussion.
4. Explore ideas by looking at birthdays and seasons.
    (The class came up with these words to replace the traditional pros and cons. The offered words that had positive meanings and words represented change, rather than "bad." After a vote, the group chose birthdays and seasons.)

We'll continue to explore community agreements.

The students were then asked to examine their thumbs closely, from all angles, and do a quick sketch. A good writer takes notice very ACTIVELY. Lots of times, we assume we know something well, even something so close to us as our thumbs. The students looked at their thumbs and used their other senses as well. Even tasting!
Assignment: Pretend your thumb can speak. What story would it tell about you and what voice would it use to tell the story. Write a paragraph ( or more).
  Community is... a garden of friendship and power

 swaying across the soft and moist world.

Community is... a garden of friends,

Community is... a strong punch!

Community is... ants, helping anyone

and playing with family.

Community is... friendly, chocolate, cable

friends, smooth and sleep.


Community is... the favorite word

of Mr. Grimy who went to sleep

on a smushy electricity plant and

poured frappucino on his face.

Community is... playing in the garden.

Community is... chickens choke

Poseidon extra smooth in France.

Community is... sticky and people had to work hard.

But something working

in a community can be grimy but you do it anyway

to save the world.

Community is... smushy, soft dance, savers are people

such as spiderman.

Community is... hens in a coop that are laying eggs.

Community is... people helping France fly

frappucino and chocolate run!!!!

Community is... where Octopus chases Thor

to France with his strong power.


Community is... squishy and slimy

calming down with chocolate, grimy, frappucino

Community is... slimy chickens that Thor

smoothed out with a caffeine choked hawk

In the city while prancing open mushy chocolate

watching cable.

Community is... sticky electricity

swaying and bouncing towards the lumpy

Smushy city springing  toward the diving goo

with its grimy strut.

Community is... slimy caffeine

flying into chocolate that’s inside a frappucino.

Community is... diving with friends

Friends is also playing and dancing together.

Community is... a big garden, city, family, dancing

and playing together.

Community is... bumpy people eating chocolate in France.

 Community is... cars and flying, thanings

Ants, hawk.

Community is... play together

Doctor sway


The end.