My 7th graders are writing short stories. This morning, they came in with their first drafts. I wanted to show them how to look deeply and critically at each other’s descriptions, so I had them do a quick exercise about writing the setting of the classroom. We wrote for five minutes and then shared our descriptions, pulling out the beautiful lines and details we’d written. Some students wrote about how the room smells like smoke and ashes, others said that they noticed how the sunlight glared off the whiteboard at the front of the room and lit up the space, and others noticed the clicking of pens and sniffling of noses.
In the same way as they’d described the classroom, I’d told them, they could describe people. I let them describe me because I didn’t mind being observed and was the only other “character” in the room that was there in front of them that was constant for everyone. Needless to say, they were all eager to share aloud their observations of their teacher.
What followed, after energetic hands shot themselves into the air to share, was a collection of admiration, insight, and humor. Students described me as wearing a shirt like a disco ball (indeed, my black shirt has sequins all over it today), smelling like roses in springtime, and having a voice like a thousand dying birds, or 100 singing elephants. I suppose it depends on my mood for the day how I sound. One of the funniest descriptions I read was that I smelled “like sweet peanut butter.” (Which here in Brazil is a delicacy, might I remind you, so it’s that much more special.)
And another one I heard was from a boy whose descriptive ability floored me today. He wrote, “her hair is the color of the moon and the sun, each making shadow for the other.” He was describing an eclipse, how it’s both light and dark, how my hair these days is becoming more blonde because of sun, but still dark beneath.
It was really a fun exercise. If I can get my hands on more of those paragraphs, I’ll get them up here for you to read.