Punctuation Can Kill!

I had the best time last week speaking with a group of sixth graders. They were a delight, likely as a result of having a wonderful teacher who just IMG_3675happened to be my daughter.

It was career day and she asked me to come and speak to the kids about the author/writer’s life. It was daunting as they were also going to hear from a person who owned an Italian ice truck (how could I compete?), a chemical engineer, an anesthesiologist (who gave out masks and gloves!) and other impressive careers. Being a former teacher, I couldn’t stop myself from doing a lesson with them. We talked about the job of writing and what they might be able to do in the future as writers. I said writing is a skill that develops over time. In order to get better at it, you simply (Okay, it’s not really so simple but I didn’t want to scare the kids!) had to write and accept critique, in particular, from teachers. I encouraged them to see the grades they get in school as tools to help them improve. Those red marks or corrections on the papers they write? Rather than view them as “mistakes” they made and feel bad about them, view them as lessons in improving their writing and embrace them positively. They were pretty receptive and just a pleasure to work with.

I wanted to show them they were already writers. We talked about six-word stories, a wonderful project started several years ago. There have been quite a few books and articles composed of those. Legend has it Hemingway was challenged to tell a story in 6 words. He took the challenge and wrote: For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

We talked about the 6 word stories they might write and reviewed the power of punctuation by discussing the meaning of these sentences. We concluded, “Let’s eat Grandma,” meant Granny better start running while “Let’s eat, Grandma” meant Granny could sit and enjoy dinner. My daughter calls that lesson “Punctuation can kill.”

We watched a video of The Script/Will I. Am song, “Hall of Fame.” Then the kids wrote amazing 6-word stories about why they will be in a Hall of Fame when they grow up. (“I stood up, he backed down” was one of my favorites.)

I told them of the joys and sorrows of trying to earn a living being an author. But I also told them about the many ways writing can be used in all types of jobs from corporate communication to screenwriting to writing police reports or medical records and many more. Learning to write, I said,  can take them all the places they might some day wish to go.

And put them in the Writers Hall of Fame. What would you have told schoolchildren about your life as a writer?

8 Responses to “Punctuation Can Kill!

  • I remember using the “Grandma” quote in my college composition classes. The baby shoes ones is rather sinister. You are right – punctuation can kill.

    Here’s another one for the list: Woman without her man is a savage.

    • Love it, thanks! Hemingway did have dark tones, didn’t he? I asked the kids what they thought that story was about and they immediately went to the baby had died. Few words, big thoughts.

  • Lol, that ‘grandma’ quote has made it’s way around, and makes a great statement. How wonderful they had a chance to meet a real live author and let them know the possibilities are endless when becoming a writer. Lol, I hope you didn’t scare them off with the ‘financial rewards’. 🙂

  • Great post, Debby. It sounds like Career Day was a huge success. I was about that age when I realized I wanted to be a writer. Of course, I was shy and kept it a secret for years. Now I would tell kids: don’t do what I did. Let the world know you are a writer and then write fearlessly!

    • Oh, I wish I had heard you first. That would have been a good thing to tell them. Next time for sure!

  • What a lovely teaching Deborah! Thank you. You would have been an inspiration to them I am sure. Such nuances … I’m trying to think of a 6 word story: I’m feeling blue, colour me otherwise … I may use that as a blog post now that I think about it 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: