Thinking Places: A Playful Activity for Personal Narratives – NVWP Summer ISI – Day 2

Welcome to the Northern Virginia Writing Project’s 2016 Invitational Summer Institute! I’ll be blogging the demonstration lessons and the various activities occurring during our four-week duration. Find out more about the NVWP and the National Writing Project.



Lauren Kennedy is going to walk us through her creative building activity to inspire personal connection in narrative writing. We’re going to use materials (shoeboxes, glue, various craft supplies) to create a model of our own personal thinking places. This is a perfect way to start out the year. It also draws on a number of reading techniques such as visualization and highlighting specific details.

She tells us how the twin phrases “Reading is listening” and “Writing is speaking” guide her literacy classrooms. This lesson is meant to be playful and fun. It’s a project-based learning experience designed to inspire creativity and freedom of expression. The older students get, Lauren says, the fewer opportunities they have to play with glitter, markers, colored pencils, and etc.

Quickwrite: What does creativity mean to you? What’s your own creative process (even beyond writing)? What’s your approach to creating works of creativity?

I’ve never really considered myself a very creative person. This obviously has to do with my personal definition of creativity, a definition no doubt constructed and reinforced in specific cultural ways throughout my upbringing. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about my personal definition of creativity. This type of open-ended definitional question flummoxes me. So I’m going to bypass that part and try to answer the other sections.

I’ve played guitar on and off for 20 years, and my favorite thing to do with the instrument is to play songs written by other people. Although I enjoy a quick sketch now and then, (My mom insists I have some latent, untapped visual talent. I am skeptical), I don’t spend any time on it. I guess writing and word-smithing would be where I get my creative expression going. In retrospect this answer probably would have been better suited starting at this point (rather than all the hemming and hawing above).

We share out. Some of us mention the desire to work within rigid structures. I can cosign on that with feral intensity. Others discuss the value of age/experience/maturity when it comes to being able to let go and take risks with our creative outlets. Someone else chimes in to say that everyone is a creator; we all actively pursue our own creative endeavors, regardless of whether or not it’s stereotypically creative.

Teachers are idea hoarders, Lauren says. To use more current nomenclature, we’re preternatural makers.

Here’s Lauren’s process:


Q: She asks us what we enjoy thinking about.
A: Anything and everything related to education!

Q: List the different ways you express your own creativity:
A: Writing is pretty much the main way I use cultural symbols to create and express. Someone else says ‘lesson planning’ so I’m going to add that one in as well. The most difficult part about writing, for me, is composing works of fiction. My brain struggles to invent worlds, and therefore I don’t write fiction as much.

We share out about our experiences with personal creativity. This type of discussion always reminds me of the importance and relevance of social constructivism. Everyone’s answers spark more answers inside my own brain. Our voices come together, intertwine, and feed off of each other to create connections that previously didn’t exist. People are so great. Also, I need more hobbies.

When introducing the project to her 2nd grade students, Lauren spends time up front to talk about different planning mechanisms and show off some exemplars. This project has two components: a model of our thinking place and a short, descriptive paper to explain the model. Her students used Google Docs for the rubrics and the planning.

Lauren wisely devotes most of her presentation time to the process leading up to it. The examples of student work (pictured at the top of this post) are amazing. This demo lesson is a great corollary to Sarah’s. While her presentation dealt with the real processes and routines we set up as writers, this presentation approaches it from the virtual realm. Students construct virtual spaces inside their brains to help them function creatively. What do we need to be creative? What objects and environmental attributes induce feelings of equanimity and safety within us?

We’re all excited to begin making our creative spaces after we return from lunch.



    • Peter Anderson

      Fantastic, Matt! Please keep me updated on how it goes. Acoustic is a great place to start, although it is a bit tougher on the fingertips than electric (in the beginning, at least).


  1. Pingback: Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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