Take the Next Turn

A while back, a big hunk of con­crete cracked off of the front edge of a step lead­ing to my ter­raced yard. I knew that it was too cold for any kind of con­crete repair to hold, but I want­ed to mark the poten­tial haz­ard so that peo­ple would notice it despite the snow and ice that are still a risk here in March. So I set a con­crete block over the hole, and then I adorned it with a blaze orange hat. Until I can get it fixed, you’re not like­ly to miss the prob­lem and hurt yourself.

I thought it was a prac­ti­cal tem­po­rary solu­tion. It wasn’t until my neigh­bors and our mail car­ri­er pro­vid­ed com­men­tary that I real­ized it might also be viewed as a lit­tle wacky. And I’ll just add that this isn’t the first time my untrained approach to home main­te­nance has caused more sea­soned handy peo­ple to laugh out loud.

One of the rea­sons I love work­ing with kid writ­ers is that they don’t yet have a pre-pro­grammed set of writ­ing fix­es; the go-to solu­tions that more sea­soned writ­ers habit­u­al­ly fall back on aren’t yet built-in for them. If a stu­dent writer doesn’t know how to patch the big crack in their sto­ry, they throw in some­thing wacky. Or they take words and phras­es that a grown-up might take for grant­ed, and set them on their ears. Some­times this turns out to be fun­ny, but it can also be fresh and exciting.

One of my all-time favorites is a scene where a stu­dent writer had her main char­ac­ter suc­cess­ful­ly cross­ing a riv­er only to be con­front­ed by a threat­en­ing “herd of tur­tles.” “Herd” is not the prop­er col­lec­tive word for tur­tles; it should be “bale.” But I would argue that “herd of tur­tles” cre­ates a great visu­al for the read­er and it’s a lot more fun to read. To me, this is a case where wacky wins out.

As a writ­ing warm-up, why not ask your stu­dents to cre­ate a fresh new spin on a tired old way of say­ing some­thing? Brain­storm com­mon idioms with your class­room (use a Google search for a starter list if you’d like), and then ask stu­dents to invent new pos­si­bil­i­ties that paint more vivid pic­tures or fall more trip­ping­ly off their tongues.

In oth­er words, ask them to turn a “turn of phrase.”

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