Language Arts Fireworks!
If only every classroom had the kind of playful enthusiasm that Ralph Fletcher envisions and encourages in his wonderful book, Pyrotechnics on the Page. We’d have discovery of puns, idioms, and allusion sitting side by side with invented words and hyperbole, sparking the creative side of young writers. We’d no doubt have more engaged writers to boot.
Instead, we seem to have a rapidly increasing number of classrooms where writing is little more than test prep drilling, and where imaginative exploration increasingly has little opportunity to flourish. We’re creating a generation of test-takers, not writers.
In some ways, Fletcher’s book about the love of language, driven by his advice on how to nurture the natural ways that young children play around with words and phrases, should be required reading for all teachers.
If nothing else, Pyrotechnics on the Page is a refreshing view of just how malleable our language is, and how teaching students to tap into the “playful craft,” as the subtitle suggests, can open up doors for even the most reluctant writers (and Fletcher points out that boys, in particular, can be drawn in to writing when the writing is playful and fun.)
More about the book
Pyrotechnics on the Page is a combination of stories about the oddness of language from Fletcher’s own life (family and school), observations about the value of play in the Language Arts setting, and a series of what Fletcher has long called “craft lessons” that will help any teacher bring elements of figurative language and humor into the classroom.
He wisely divides up the craft lessons into grade spans, adapting the ideas for younger grades as well as older grades. An entire section of questions and answers provides Fletcher with a forum for countering skepticism about the nature of balancing skills and creative writing in the classroom.
I felt a natural connection to Fletcher’s theme here. We’ve just finished up our own unit around figurative language, which ranges from writing tongue twisters for alliteration, to acting out the literal translations of idioms, to writing exaggerated stories and writing poems about feelings, using sensory details.
We are also now in our ninth year of inventing words, which get compiled into what we call our “crazy collaborative dictionary” of made-up words. Our dictionary is a wiki site, and there are now hundreds of words on it, along with podcasts, as current sixth grade students “collaborate” with past students on a living document of nutty, weird words. Fletcher reminds us that inventing words is something that happens naturally in the English Language, and that such activities nurture both the creative and the critical thinking processes of young learners.
If there is a single take-away from Fletcher’s work in Pyrotechnics on the Page, it is that we must remember the art of play. He notes, “It’s up to us to create conditions where students will want to play with language.“
Kevin Hodgson is a sixth grade teacher in Southampton, Massachusetts, and is the technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Kevin blogs regularly at Kevin’s Meandering Mind and tweets more often than is healthy under his @dogtrax handle.