Truthfully, one of the fun parts of being a teacher is watching your students squirm from the torture you put them through. I've gotta find amusement somewhere in my day, right? And it's easy to do when you're an English teacher. All I have to say is, "Get out a piece of paper and something to write with" and the moans are instantly audible.
Before you think I hate kids, let me say, part of the amusement is what they can do if they try. There's truly an element of "I'm doing this for your own good" involved. They whine, complain, make faces, and sit for a couple minutes staring at their pen and paper. Then, some start trying the given exercise. They often ask me for help, but that's a slippery slope. Help once and they're all begging you every step of the way. A generation raised with Google does not truly know how to help themselves. The struggle to create is what makes or breaks them and the ones who try often find satisfaction, even if it wasn't a complete success.
My instrument of torture? Writing challenges. Plain old writing prompts are torture for me as much as them sometimes, although those definitely have their time and place. Writing challenges are a different story. They can sound easy at first or possibly seem fun, have you hit a wall and give up, only to get mad at giving up and start it again. Watching each other move forward goads students to personally keep trying (as well as me walking around instigating students who seem to really give up). They "cheat," helping each other here and there and I pretend not to notice. After all, what they are really doing is teaching each other and it's a proven fact that two heads are better than one, especially when all involved in the collaboration are engaged.
I have a couple favorites.
1. Write a 3/4 page story, that makes absolute plot and grammatical sense, without using the letter "e" a single time. Possible? Oh yes, I did this one myself. I wrote about looking for and getting a job...pretty snazzy piece, beings the words "teacher" and "educator" both have "e" in them. The key is vocabulary...looking for words that share the same meaning, but don't have an "e".
Oh, oh...see that? It's not just random torture, I have an objective. Vocabulary building...using a thesaurus. Say what?
2. To be or not to be? Sorry Hamlet, NOT to be is the correct answer here. Write a one page summary, review, or analysis of a short story we've read without using a single "to be" verb. Who needs pesky verbs like is or are anyway? Not to mention: am, was, were, be, became, have, has, had, do, does, did, could, should, would...you get the point. The key to this exercise is using stronger action verbs and precise nouns. The books you love because of the wonderful writing, even though the plot may kinda suck, deal largely with this skill. And students don't even have completely eliminate to be verbs to...uh...be successful. Eliminating any number of weak verbs improves their writing. Namely, my arch writing nemesis, passive voice.
So, yea, torture is fun AND educational. Who knew?
Anyone have any teachers who had such torture techniques/writing challenges? I'm all ears!