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One fun, failproof way to get students to write

The following post is by NCTE member Caroline Brewer

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Teachers learn how to use the limbo to get students to “jump in” and write.

“Come to the edge.”
“We can’t. We’re afraid.”
“Come to the edge.”
“We can’t. We will fall!”
“Come to the edge.”
And they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.
– Come to the Edge by Christopher Logue*

How to get students to “come to the edge” or “jump in” and write was the first issue addressed during a recent #NCTEchat.

Now that back-to-school season is here, let’s explore one fun, failproof strategy for motivating students of any age, grade level, or so-called ability to “jump in” and write: Connect to real-life experiences. Field trips (or just a walk through or outside the school), interviews with authors or people in the community, music, movies, books, video and other games, sports, dancing, making art, and current affairs are great options.

To help students feel at ease with “coming to the edge” to write, I invite them to write after we dance the limbo. Dancing the limbo, interestingly, is similar to writing. Scary, at first. Full of concerns you’ll be humiliated in the middle. Inspiring as you observe your peers’ success. Exhilarating after you conquer the beast!

The following practices help. I first engage students in a discussion of what they know about the limbo and share its fascinating history, which includes the Caribbean, funerals, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Chubby Checker, and Catholicism.

We abide by the rule that every person who isn’t trying to wriggle under the stick must be clapping and chanting encouragement to the one who is, such as “Go, Lindsay! Go, Lindsay!”

By the time Checker has rhythmically declared, “Don’t move that limbo bar/You’ll be a limbo star/How low can you go?” every student has danced under the stick. Each one is smiling, breathless, and full of ideas about how to tell his limbo tale.

They reach the understanding, as a quilter recently advised some teachers and me, that “the only kind of magic is in doing it.”

*Logue, C. (1969). Come to the edge. In New numbers (pp. 65–66). London: Jonathan Cape.


CarolineHeadshot122011Caroline Brewer is a children’s book author, education consultant, and author of books on education, including the forthcoming Let’s Teach Writing! Follow her on Facebook www.facebook.com/happyteachertraining andTwitter @BrewerCaroline