We’re so glad you’re part of our Writing Fellow team! Deep couldn’t function without volunteer staff like you. Thank you for bringing Deep to middle schoolers all over Savannah.
Browse this site for ideas and resources to support your workshop throughout the semester!
Many of you have probably heard of the deaths of John Cooksey and Ricky Boyd. The news story is here. John Cooksey was a 12-year-old at Oglethorpe Charter School, one of our Young Author Project sites, and Ricky Boyd used to ride the school bus with one of our Block by Block high school writers. Though neither of them were in Deep, their deaths are affecting the young people in our programs, and the people (young AND old) of Savannah. At Deep, we believe in being responsive to what’s happening in our young people’s lives. We’ve compiled a short list of ways we can respond to death and grief with writing. We encourage you to ask Deep staff to support you while planning/in a workshop like this to ensure we’re supporting our young people in trauma-informed ways. —Megan
Points to consider:
It is extremely important to emphasize self-care when writing about grief, death, and loss. Sometimes a burst of 15 minutes is all a writer can handle, and that is okay. This work is difficult and important for making something coherent out of the chaos. Cookies and decompression spaces (coloring, fidget toys, space to “just be”) are always welcome.
Often our narratives begin in chaos. They become healing, powerful narratives when we organize them.
Writers are observers. Writing allows us to get a little distance from the present moment. As we observe, we build resilience as we reframe and examine our story to begin making sense.
Below are example writing prompts:
- Write a letter. (to the person who died, the murderer, the victim’s mother, someone you’ve lost, someone you know)
- Describe the moment you heard the news, and how you felt then and feel now. What is the same; what is different? Link your feelings to the event, and use your five senses to describe this in detail. (Making the moment concrete helps the writer make sense of it. It’s okay if the feeling is one of nothingness. Write about that. There are no wrong answers for grief, shock, and loss.)
- What has kept you going (sustained you) through this time? (Though many of our feelings are negative during times of pain and grief, it is especially important to call out moments of positive emotion, however small, which can link us to hope. It could be as simple as “My friend shared her chips with me that day.”, an example of someone reaching out.)
- Using fiction, re-write the story in your own way. Anything is possible—Dumbledore, superheroes, time travel, advanced science, etc.
- Write an elegy. Get specific. (An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead. The three stages of an elegy are: 1) the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then 2) praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally 3) consolation and solace.)
Contact Deep staff if any of your writers express intent to harm themselves or others, or exhibit symptoms of depression or anxiety. We can connect them to professional services to keep them safe and help them process their feelings
How to comment on writing re: death/grief and be supportive in workshop: Helpful/unhelpful things to say to the bereaved, active listening. Select resources gathered from bereavement services at Full Circle center for Grief and Loss, compiled by Megan
Further reading: Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise DeSalvo. Available at Live Oak Public Library and on Amazon.
Middle school can sometimes feel like a battleground. Some of our young people are the targets of bullying every single day; others only witness it second-hand, feeling powerless to address it. Some of our Deep youth may even be perpetrators, through words or fists. Regardless, bullying is a topic that’s real and relevant to all of our young people, and a Deep workshop can be a great place to talk about it.
- Avoid preaching. Our kids have already heard their teachers and administrators give speeches about the evils of bullying. They know it’s wrong without your having to jump on a soapbox.
- Use readings. The easiest way into a discussion of bullying is to foreground it in a reading about bullying. Try some of the ones below, which will resonate with the kids in your workshop going through similar experiences. Use a few of your discussion questions to address the bullying in the piece.
- Chuckie by Victor LaValle (good for Revealing Details, Figurative Language, and Tension weeks)
- Indian Education by Sherman Alexie (good for Form week)
- Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake (good for Tension and Mood weeks)
- Kiara Robertson’s story (good for Tension week)
- “Becoming Joey” by Paul Gorski (good for Revealing Details week)
- I Will Be Chosen by Ramesh Kathanadhi (good for Form and Tension weeks)
- “Whale” by the Boston slam team (good for Figurative Language and Form weeks)
- Hold space. Kids who have experienced bullying often struggle to talk about it. Instead of pushing, try using targeted writing prompts to give them the chance to tell their stories in a safe way. Here are just a couple of options, but feel free to create your own.
- Write about a time you or someone you know experienced bullying. How did you feel? What were you thinking at the time?
- Has someone ever made you feel bad about yourself? Imagine you could go back in time to that moment. What do you wish you could have said in response?
- Mentor. Support their bravery in your commenting, and remember to include these points:
- What you experienced wasn’t your fault.
- It was unfair that this person behaved this way to you.
- You deserve respect.
- Thank you for sharing. This is very brave.
- You are a great writer.
- Reclaim the power. One of the reasons I love “Whale” by the Boston Brave New Voices slam team is that the poets, who were both called “whale” because of their size, reclaim that animal as a strong, fierce avatar able to crush their bullies. Figurative language can be a great tool to reclaim the power in bullying.
- Follow up. Sometimes you’ll learn about a bullying situation that gives you concern for a young person’s safety. If something is raising red flags about suicide, self harm, extreme depression, or the young person hurting others or being hurt, talk to Deep staff immediately.
Running out of revision tactics? Try a trick from this list of revision tips and tricks we’ve compiled.
How’s that for personification? Show this to your group to spark a discussion around this figurative language concept.
Savannah recently survived Hurricane Matthew, a category 2 storm that left many of us without power and some of us flooded with trees through our roofs. It’s guaranteed that your kids have something to say about this storm that caused us all to wonder what would become of Savannah in the pitch-black, screaming night.
I encourage you to be responsive to this event and include it in your workshop next week.Your kids need to write and talk about it. Writing is a powerful way to process, and this can be a moment where your young writers can reclaim their sense of power in a wild week that made many feel helpless.
We’re in luck that we are either teaching figurative language (Weds, Thurs, Fri groups) or quick-draw drafting (Mon, Tues groups).
Some ideas for bringing this into your workshop:
- Read writing inspired by hurricanes or storms. Try one of these “Six Shorts to Read During a Hurricane” from The New Yorker or read Hatteras Calling by (Savannahian) Conrad Aiken. Another option comes from writing fellow Carter Boyd’s suggestion of 1 Dead in the Attic, a collection of essays by a New Orleans Times-Picayune journalist written in the months following Katrina.
- Remember to pick out craft as you discuss. Where do you see figurative language? Personification of the storm? Revealing, specific details?
- Writing prompt re: personification: Imagine Hurricane Matthew is a person at your door. Describe the scene. [What does he want? What does he sound/look/feel like? How do you feel? What do you do?]
- Writing prompt re: personal narrative: Tell your hurricane story.
- [What really happened to you? Your home? Your loved ones? Savannah?]
- Writing prompt re: rewriting the script: What could have happened during Hurricane Matthew? What do you wish happened? Anything is possible.
- Writing prompt re: personification: Imagine you are a hurricane. [Where would you go? What would you do? What could you see/eat/feel?]
- Writing prompt re: form–dramatic writing/dialogue: Pretend you are a weather caster reporting on the storm as it approaches, reaches Savannah, and leaves. Use dialogue and stage direction to show your experience.
Be sure to leave time for sharing at the end. This will be an important part of the process. Remember that everyone will have different experiences, and no one’s “wrong” in their perception of this storm. Their stories matter.
Want a way to talk about police brutality, gun violence, Black Live Matter with your workshop? Consider these poems (from poets like Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, and Jericho Brown) as starting points. Let the Deep staff know if you want us to help facilitate during a particular workshop. Writing is a powerful way to heal, speak out, and respond to the world around us. Deep staff is here to support these courageous conversations.
Thank you to writing fellows Ariel Felton and Nancy Fullbright for sharing this list of poems.
Today is about building trust, ownership, and community in our workshop. It’s about establishing who we are as humans/writers/a group and why we write. This is our chance to set the tone.
Write about yourself. [Who are you? Why do you write?]
Target exercise ideas
- To go deep, students have to get vulnerable, and that takes norming and boundaries. Do the target circle exercise together to establish the culture of your workshop—then use it in all the weeks that follow! Build on it, point back to it, use it as a reminder. Watch this how-to video from our former executive director, Jo Dasher:
- Another way to get ideas going for norming your workshop space is to let kids respond to scenarios, such as: “When we have an idea, but don’t feel comfortable sharing it out loud, we can”; “When someone says something that we appreciate, we can”. Find lots more options near the end of this resource library from Facing History and Ourselves.
- What do you want to know about your kids? Use today as way to find answers to these questions. What interests them? What do they want write about in Deep? Make these these ice-breakers. Get moving! Stand up and toss a squishy ball or stuffed animal to each person as they answer.
- Consider putting a writing quote on the board each week to get everyone’s head in a writing space.
- Why do you write? On slips of paper, each contribute a line that begins with “I write…”, shuffle papers and distribute anonymously, read as a group to form a collective whole.
- For reference, check out Cure for IDK, pg. 21, 161, 166.
Writing prompt ideas
- A: Write about your name like Esperanza did. Where did your name come from? How do you like to be called? Do you think it fits you? Why/not? If you could name yourself, what would you pick and why? What does it sound like?
- B: Why do you write? What do you want your writing to do for you? your readers? What do you want to get out of Deep? What do you hope Deep will be?
- C: Write a recipe for yourself. What “ingredients”(personality traits, favorite things, habits—good and bad–, family members, physical attributes, etc) are needed to make you? What should be avoided? Added? How will the maker know when it’s just right? Give specific instructions!
- Since this is your first week together, consider asking everyone share. You’ll probably have time for just one line from everyone. Share your own writing (done outside of workshop time), too, to show you have equal buy-in and are willing to take the same risk you’re asking your kids to take.
- If you run out of sharing time, start with it next week. Sharing is really important for building your group’s sense of community.
- Revealing details (formerly called “telling details” in the curriculum) are specific details that uncover something more than they say at face value. They reveal something about the character, place, or idea they’re describing. It’s not about an abundance of details. It’s about being choosy with your details to imply something more than meets the eye.You should be sure that your kids grasp this distinction before moving forward.
- Unsure where to start? Appeal to the five senses.
- Avoid clichés, which are ideas that have been used so often they’ve lost their meaning.
- For reference, check out Cure for IDK, pg. 42, 32, 38, 161.
- Use revealing details to describe a [choose one to focus your lesson:] person or place.
Target exercise ideas
- The T-chart is a simple tool for explaining the difference between boring and vivid language. Watch this video about using a T-chart to explain the concept to your kids (brought to you by Deep’s founder, Catherine Killingsworth!)
- Sentence Shifter: Divide kids into small groups and give each of them the same boring sentence like “He kissed her.” then challenge them to re-work the sentence with individual vivid words you’ve prepared on index cards. It’s amazing how different the sentences can be! See how it works and get a sample list of words from Cure for IDK pg. 42.
- Tell your kids the story of dead words (Cure for IDK pg. 32.) Together, make a list of dead words at the board [NOTE: Kids love to get up and write on the white board together. Get everyone out of their seat and contributing to the board as a group, building off one another. This is called a “chalk talk.”] Once your list is complete, pick one of the dead words and unpack it as a group. “Love” is a good example. Is loving chocolate and loving your mom the same thing? Is the feeling the same? Why? How can you say what you really mean?
Something with vivid, specific description that, when viewed as a whole, gives us a fuller picture of the subject beyond simply face value.
Writing prompt ideas
- A: Write your own “raised by” piece! Borrow the structure from Kelly Norman Ellis. Make a list of qualities to help you get started: food, verbs, dialogue, physical appearance, attitude, relationship, hobbies, education, etc.) OK to make different stanzas for different people/things.
- B: Write a poem about where you’re from. Use the five senses to paint the scene. [Who else is there? What do you see? Smell? How does it make you feel? Does where you’re from have to be a geographic place? Can it be something more? ]
- C: Write about your walk/ride to school in the morning. What pieces of yourself do you leave at home? Why? Who do you become when you arrive at school? / Write about a time you felt pressured to deny who you really are, a time you tried to “dust away the stains of ancestry” like José?
- Try an Author’s Circle. Everyone sits/kneels on a circle on the floor. This activity is silent except for approved ways of showing appreciation, so be sure to norm how listeners will show their appreciation (snaps, claps at the end, nods, etc. It’s OK to get silly as long as your group can all agree on it!) Choose one writer who’s demonstrated a lot of promise today to share. All eyes are on the reader, giving them full attention. As the sharer reads, the rest of the group hears them. When finished, the reader may take a bow, if they wish, and listeners should nonverbally share their appreciation. As facilitator, be sure to acknowledge both the reader and listeners for keeping the space safe and honest.
- The difference between figurative language and literal language is that figurative language makes a comparison using unlike things that share qualities. Literal language means exactly what it says.
- This is a good place to push past cliché. Watch out for idioms (figures of speech), and try not to use them in the examples you give. Your kids will want to give you examples of simile and metaphor that are basic. Deep is a place for original language, not “fast as a cheetah” or “raining cats and dogs.” How can you make it your own and say it in a way that’s never been heard before? Show your writers that figurative language is much more than just idioms.
- Use figurative language to describe [choose one for your lesson:] a person, object, or idea.
Target exercise ideas
- Do this T-chart exercise with your kids in order to get this abstract concept across (brought to you by Deep’s founder, Catherine Killingsworth)
- Songs can work in your favor. Pick a couple popular songs right now and type up the lyrics without any figurative language, translating it into literal, then ask your kids to guess the song. For the reveal, play a segment of the song itself. Use these illustrations to spark discussion.
- Variation: Ask kids to choose their favorite song right now and find a figurative phrase in its lyrics. What is the artist really saying? What’s the meaning of this phrase? Get ready for some wobble moments, though, and don’t be afraid to point out when something is not actually a figurative phrase.
- Literal Charades: Pair kids up and give each youth a figurative phrase to act out, without words. Let the partner guess, then switch. Make the distinction between literal: acting out/meaning what you say and figurative language. Looking for some examples of figurative phrases? Check out this list.
- Idiom Remix: If your kids are stuck on idioms, remix them as a group. What does the idiom mean? Remix it in a new way that’s never been heard before.
- For reference, check out Cure for IDK pg. 46, 52, 62
Something with lots of figurative language and interesting, challenging comparisons.
Writing prompt ideas
- A [person]: Imagine someone you love experiencing an intense emotion, like Toni did with her dad. Describe their expressions using figurative language. Try weather, objects, animals, musical instruments, etc.
- B [object]: Choose a random object from a grab bag and personify it. Give it a voice, a life. What would it say if it could talk? What is it’s purpose? Its life goal? Biggest struggle?
- C [idea]: What weighs you down? Make a list and use comparisons to show us how heavily these things weigh on you. / What lifts you up? Make a list of things that make you happy, and compare them to objects that are lightweight.
- Headliners: Make sure all Deep authors know what it’s like to be heard by designating one author to “open” the workshop and another to “close” by reading one of their works-in-progress. Celebrate with a roar of snaps at the end of sharing.