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Thinking About Their Lives in 3 Words

Thinking About Their Lives in 3 Words

Written by Keia Pannell
November 08, 2011

On a Saturday morning about a year ago I was only half paying attention to Good Moring America’s weekend morning news program. They announced that after the break they would be back with “Your Three Words.” I wondered what that was about. The idea seemed interesting and fun. When they returned they told us about the music and then aired the segment. What I saw immediately put a smile on my face. There were images of people, little kids, old people, animals, babies, – everyone telling us what was important in their lives at this moment in the simplicity of 3 words. There were posters of people celebrating being cancer free, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, retirements; there were people celebrating graduations at all levels. I immediately began thinking about what I would say. I wanted to do it. Send in a video and tell the world my three words. I tried to put something together but it wasn’t coming together as easily as I had hoped, but I wasn’t giving up. Then it gave me another idea. I could take this to school. This would be a great lesson to talk about word choice and make it relevant to the students. I began developing a plan.

At the time we were in 1st period tutoring mode at my school. The students I had were 10th graders who had already taken the writing test. So, it was a challenge for me to make writing meaningful for them. When they walked into my classroom that Tuesday was I so excited to share with them what we were going to do. Of course they weren’t convinced that anything we were doing was fun, but I think they were pleasantly surprised. The segment was new to them so I showed them videos of previous segments from ABC’s website. Once I told them we were going to record it they got a little excited. Since I had them twice that week I figured we would work on the words on Tuesday and record on Thursday. We talked a little bit more about the words they had to choose. Many were concerned they could only write 3 words. That is when I reviewed with them word choice. After a few more questions I let them work. I walked around and some students knew right away what they were going to write and others struggled. I stressed that it had to be something relevant to their lives at this moment.

Can We Write Anything?

“Can we write anything?” This question stuck with me for days after the assignment. I began to wonder why it was repeatedly asked by my students. Didn’t they understand the freedom they were given? Then it dawned on me that the idea of literally writing anything in school was a foreign concept to them. They were always met with restrictions or parameters on most writing assignments. This led me to think that maybe I could bring this idea to a larger audience, address the idea of authentic writing and thus put an end to the question, “Can we write anything?”

I had to put my thoughts aside for a while because it was video day. We went outside and I called the groups or individual students over one at a time and using a flip camera simply recorded them. After the video was put together I presented it to them and that was the cool part. They liked seeing themselves on “TV” and it was important that they chose words that were relevant to them. What was interesting to me was that they were writing and didn’t even realize that they were writing. It solidified for me that if you give students choice and only a few parameters that good writing can happen. A few students asked if they could get a copy of the video to show other people. They were proud of what they had done. That assignment took about 90 minutes total but I think it is something they will remember for much longer.

More than I Could Ever Imagine

As it turned out inspiration comes in many forms. I was asked to do a week long summer workshop with Cindy Urbanski for teachers. The workshop focused primarily on the writing workshop and thus, authentic writing. In co-leading this workshop I realized that my off the cuff assignment as well as many others is the type we need in order to help students see that writing can be authentic and fun.

Publishing was the theme for UNCC’s NWP spring conference and this seemed to work well. It was suggested that me and two other SI participants, Steve and Dana, work together and do a session. We did a session and I showed how this assignment made the writing real for students. The inspiration did not stop there. We also did a session at the NCETA Conference with this publishing strand. I was proud of the work my students and I thought it was a great way to highlight writing. Lil attended the NCETA conference and my session. She liked the idea of the “Three Words.” Lil was in the NCETA session and it sparked an idea for her too. She thought the idea was interesting and she wanted to know the details. Over the course of the next year I heard Lil say she saw me do this cool thing with “3 words.” Then this past summer during SI, Lil, the participants and Sally did one of their own. She said, “Keia, we used your 3 words idea for summer institute.” I thought that was pretty neat. Two years later it still seems to spark an interest for others. At one of our NWP professional development meetings this year, Lil was looped the video on the computer. I finally got a chance to see how she used it in summer institute. My reaction was the same it put a smile on my face and I was fascinated to see how people viewed their lives in just 3 words.

Want to know more about the people and ideas behind this resource? Click the image below to link to Digital Is (K)not, a resource to tie resources together, created by the UNC Charlotte Writing Project.

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