Posted in outschool, Uncategorized

Write like the Dickens!

New Outschool Class

Yep, it wouldn’t be Christmas
without “A Christmas Carol”!

*$12 per learner, 55 min.
*2-9 students
*Live Zoom
*Begins 5/18/2020

When I was a kid, I wanted to write like Dickens or Samuel Johnson–someone who makes the reader sit up and pay attention. To be honest, I equated sentence length with writing skill, so I wanted to write longer and longer sentences that would AMAZE my readers. (It never happened.)

Over the years, and as I’ve taken creative writing classes, I’ve learned to appreciate short, punchy writing and Hemingway. I’ve worked to trim down my prose, and I think I’ve made headway.

I’m still glad, though, that I can add clauses on clauses, phrases to phrases. It’s fun. It adds to my repertoire. And re-reading Great Expectations lately, I was newly struck by Dickens, such a consummate craftsman with complete control over sentence parts.

How can I get that? How can the students I tutor get that? Many want writing practice. They want to sound good on paper, of course.

With that in mind, I designed a new class for Outschool called “Write like the Dickens.” This class will meet one time and carefully, consciously imitate Dickens together. We will break down his craft, defining terms like parallelism (unrelated to geometry), and balanced sentence, and use his sentences as templates to create our own masterpieces. We will work together at first, starting small, and then independently as we gain confidence.

I will guide students in composing long, complex sentences that will stretch their writing skills and help them appreciate the building blocks of memorable writing. We will share our results and analyze how we can incorporate a bit of Dickens into our own writing.

This is part of a 3-part series of one-time classes called “Write like [Author”s Name].” The series includes Dickens, Woolf, and Hemingway.The three authors can be taken in any order or singly. When all three are complete, the learner will have worked with three diverse styles that run the gamut from complex/ornate to consciously minimal (Dickens/ornate, Woolf/moderate, Hemingway/minimal).

Posted in Uncategorized

Monuments and Legacies

Since the world turned upside down and went Zoom-only, I have been meeting with small groups of teens for “Plunge into Poetry,” my Outschool poetry club. They are an adventurous crew and have faithfully followed my chosen titles. I’ve tried to both meet them where they are, analysis-wise, and stretch them.

On the stretch side, we looked at Shelley’s “Ozymandias” last week (text is below). Before you dive right in, though, it helps to understand Shelley’s inspiration.

The title of his poem refers to the ruins of an ancient monument to an Egyptian pharaoh, possibly known as Ramses II (of biblical infamy) and/or Ozymandias. He read about the statue–never saw it–and it may have looked like the painting below.

Especially notice the scale of the statue’s remains relative to the bystanders. Huge, huh!

I’m thinking Ozymandias/Ramses had no problems with self-esteem. And you?

With this image forefront in your mind, you can move on to the poem now. Access granted!


By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymanidas, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Our discussions this week took on the irony in Ozymandias’ claims as well as the different forms of creation in the poem (sculptor, storyteller, poet, etc.) and their relative power to leave a legacy (and what sort of legacy?).

The Poetry Foundation, which I have a new and profound respect for, has this amazing poetry prompt to connect “Ozymandias” to our lives:

Think of some of the monuments in your country. Why where they built? What do they symbolize? Now imagine those same monuments 500 years in the future. Write a poem that, like “Ozymandias,” describes the effects of time on both the monuments themselves, and the values they were meant to represent.

I gave my students a couple of national monuments to think about. I am from St. Louis and always immediately turn to the Gateway Arch and all it symbolizes. I wonder if it will fall into the Mississippi River at some future date–and how far out into the river would it go?

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

I’ve never seen Mt. Rushmore, though I have wanted to. It must be impressive in person. But then we start to verge into a tradition of outsized statues erected by autocratic leaders in honor of themselves (think Stalin, Mao Zedong). Yes or no?

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Now seems an opportune time to consider what we want our legacy to be and in what form we want to leave it. How can we come out of COVID-19 and pass on something worthy to the coming years?

Thanks much to the Poetry Foundation, which is celebrating National Poetry Month and has amazing materials for teaching and enjoying poetry (!

Posted in Uncategorized

Until I Was on Lockdown

Until I was on lockdown here outside Houston, I was posting about how to spend your time productively on all things English. I hoped that my friends in other areas of the world, like Korea, Doha, or Norway, might find some fruitful ideas in my blog.

Now I’m stuck at home, and I’m finding it harder and harder to tame my thoughts and force them into a tidy outline that leads to a coherent blog post.

I’m done waiting. It’s time to move ahead anyway!

Update on my projects: I’ve begun teaching poetry and the common app essay on Outschool (also a life skills class on telephone communcation, which I’ll start in May). I had applied and begun putting together courses before COVID-19, which has definitely pressed the accelerator on the process. I’ve met some lively, intelligent, upbeat students and been so appreciative of this new venture in a stressful time. It’s helped me focus on positive activities and moving forward each day!

Outschool, like many other platforms, is stepping up during current closures to provide free classes for learners age 14-18. You can read more about the program here:

Outschool has been running group classes for years on Zoom. Isn’t that great! All my kids’ teachers are having to scramble and learn in a rush.

In a stroke of luck, I visited a charity store in Austin right before it became a very bad idea. And I bought several used books–I have new stuff to peruse! I’ve chosen Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to kick me off. A friend is joining me. With 1070 pages, it’s sure to last.

It hasn’t grabbed me at the start, but I will continue. I got sidetracked by Liane Moriarity’s The Husband’s Secret from my elibrary. It gets my thumbs-up as a distraction!

Will keep me occupied!
Quick little distraction. Recommended.