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.

Below is the poem Fifth Grade Autobiography by Rita Dove. She describes a photograph in the poem, with very specific and clear details--all chosen to create a feeling about a particular point in time. After we talk about the poem a bit, it will be your turn to describe a photograph to a partner--think of one that is about a specific time in your life--a birthday party? Going swimming? First day of school? Think of all the details in the photograph--and all the memories you associate with it. Then, we'll practice  Empathic (trying to put yourself in the other person's place or point of view)  listening and questioning.

Divide into pairs...
  • Sit, directly facing each other
  • Take turns speaking and listening
  • Ask questions only during the question round
The Speaker:
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, when it was taken, talk about any memory you have about the photo or any stories that you were told about it.

  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…

What memories came up for you?

    Speaker: Answer the questions as best you can.
Switch roles and repeat the process...

 Using the memories that the photograph prompted, write a personal reflection story. Use as many specific details as you can. Just like your thumb story, focus in on details, the setting, the characters, the time. Your reflection will have a  beginning, middle, and end--in this cas
(If you want to--you can write this as a story poem).

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.

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