Friday, February 02, 2007

TOADS in Writing Classes

I sprung a little surprise in my classes this week--plopped a live European Green Toad on the seminar table. He's a sweet little creature that I've become a bit attached to.

Here's the reason: when I teach characterization in first person I sum up the methods as: the character's Thoughts, the character's choices of what to notice or Observe, Action, Dialogue, and Sensations.

These add up to the acronym: TOADS. Very handy, I think.

The weather has been cold here, though, and I've only seen a few tiny frogs on one warmer day recently and they moved far too fast for me to catch. So I bought Toadsie at Pet Smart. And he, like me, is now guest faculty.

After I'd put him on the table--followed by a wide range of reactions from class members--I asked the students to write about a character surprised by a toad and show the response through the character's bodily sensations, actions, etc.

The idea is to help people to monitor what bodies actually do in response to emotion. So that they have a vocabulary for such moments in their writing and don't have to resort to cliches, like "my heart was in my throat."

I was pleased with the way the classes went. In the group today, several students read their reactions, which were all strikingly different in both language and content, which makes for distinct characters. Plus, the class was kinda fun. At least nobody was phobic or allergic.

18 comments:

26571004 said...
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billie said...

Peggy, what a wonderful way to teach. I want to see a photo of your toad!

billie

Peggy said...

I forgot to shoot a picture of Toadsie before I returned him to Petsmart. I now feel relieved of a great responsibility--keeping him at the right temperature and humidity and supplied with live crickets. He's back with people who can give him a proper home.

Wish I'd shot the picture, though. He's an exceptionally handsome toad--with large, irregular green dots all over.

billie said...

I thought he was your new pet - I had images of him sitting on your desk while you work... :)

billie

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amey said...

Peggy, the frog idea is a completely and utterly wonderful teaching device. It does the trick of anchoring your acronym, but much more, as you say, it points to the way we want real life in whatever way (for instance my teacher Michael Martone constructed (on the page) a mayonaise pipeline for his fake tour book on Indiana) to make its way into our writing.

Re prior discussion of Duke lacrosse scandal. I agree on both counts: probably not "guilty," but "guilty"-- if you read the very exhaustive article in the New York Times a while back, what is agreed by all parties to have happened is fairly terrifying, and not something that an institution should want to be associated with. A friend of mine who teaches there feels that the head of athletics at Duke is the real person who should have lost his job over this, as there are issues with the culture of sports that have long needed adressing. Of course, this is also nationwide and worldwide. But everyone needs to start with where they are.

Yrs in that effort --

Peggy said...

I didn't see the NY Times piece. I'll check it out.

I wish I'd seen the mayonaise pipeline, though. That sounds fairly unforgettable.

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