April 12, 2016

Monday, January 26, 2009

Writing Exercise: A Tasty Treat

Recommended for: All ages, all genres
On Poetry Friday, I shared Laura Purdie's Salas' poem "Come in, Come in!" about a snake enjoying its dinner.
Food is evocative. Eating involves all five senses (taste, smell, touch, hearing, seeing). But food also connects us to memory. That's what makes food such a good writing prompt.
Writing Exercise: Food Glorious Food!
Step 1: Wake up your senses.
Take an object. "Experience" it with all five senses. I use baby powder with students (more on that later). Yes, we taste a tiny bit. If it wasn't safe, we wouldn't use it on babies.
Step 2: Write about it.
For each of your five senses, write a simile. Example..."The baby powder tastes like Violet Gum." The kind my English grandmother chewed. I'm suddenly awash in her smell, how her hugs felt, the soft curls of her hair.
Now, we're getting somewhere.
Step 3: Read a model poem.
You can find wonderful food poems for kids in, "Food Fight" (ed. Rosen, sadly out of print but you can still find it). However -- we're going a little deeper in this prompt.
Just as the taste of baby powder grabbed my hand and took me for a jog down memory lane, we're trying to connect a food to something more. A memorable incident. A person.
My favorite model poem for this exercise is by Sandra Cisneros:
Good Hotdogs
for Kiki
Fifty cents apiece To eat our lunch We'd run Straight from school Instead of home Two blocks Then the store That smelled like steam You ordered Because you had the money Two hotdogs and two pops for here Everything on the hotdogs Except pickle lily Dash those hotdogs Into buns and splash on All that good stuff Yellow mustard and onions And french fries piled on top all Rolled up in a piece of wax Paper for us to hold hot In our hands
Read the rest of the model poem here.
Kids as young as third grade love hunting through the poem for clues about who Cisneros means by "us." The last lines of the poem "you humming and me swinging my legs" sends the reader off with a tactile image of contentedness.
Step 4: Write!
Write about a favorite (or hated) food. Use all five senses. Include who you were with, where you were and what was going on around you.
A memorable moment for me: at a third grade Poets' Tea, one student read a poem about his grandmother making oatmeal for his breakfast. Grandma, Mom, teachers -- we all started tearing up. Turns out, Grandma wasn't much into cooking. Our young poet captured making oatmeal as an act of love.
Another student (different school) wrote about eating cake at her birthday party and learning for the first time that a favorite friend was her cousin.
And one I've saved for years: a boy writing about rough-housing with his cousins at a family reunion, only to be drawn to the kitchen by a delicious smell. When they opened the pot on the stove, the family was cooking a goat's head. (He said the meat was as good as it smelled.)
Have fun playing with your food!


laurasalas said...

Ooh, love this lesson plan, Laura. And great stories. I love doing author visits and young authors conferences, but I never have time to do more in-depth projects like this. Maybe if I'm ever a visiting author working with a smaller group of kids.

How long does this entire lesson take for you? Do you break it into different sessions? Sounds like you get some really heartfelt, deep responses. Lovely!

Thanks for sharing!

Author Amok said...

Hi, Laura!

I try to make all of the poetry sessions 45 minutes to an hour. That's what most schools can fit into L.A. blocks.

Some kids really run with the food memory idea. Others come up with sensory lists like: Pizza is spicy, red and cheesy, gooey, so hot it burns my mouth. That's okay, too, but I love those food memories!