Last week, I stopped by Holy Name Catholic School in Beech Grove, Indiana to speak to two 7th grade classes about writing. I was invited by the teacher after she read my Zack Jackson novels. I’ve never thought of myself as a teacher, or indeed, as one anyone would want to take writing advice from, so the invitation was surreal. I wracked my brain thinking of what I could tell them other than the standard advice to read a lot and write a lot.
In addition to that type of advice, I decided to talk about generating ideas. So, I explained how brainstorming worked, talked a bit about free writing, and other ways to generate ideas. I then led the class in a short exercise. I read to them a passage out of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; the description of the chocolate room. In the first class, we brainstormed together a new room for the factory (the Peppermint Room), talking about the entrance, the machines, the exits, the dangers, etc. In the second class, each row of students worked together to come up with a room, then wrote a short description based on their brainstorming. They came up with the Skittles Room, the Laffy Taffy Room, and two Cotton Candy Rooms. It was very interesting how two groups came up with different takes on the same room, and some of those kids were pretty damn sadistic when it came to deciding the fate of the child who misbehaved in the room. That’ll teach ’em to steal cotton candy from Willy Wonka!
As one might expect in a middle school classroom, some students were more interested in what I had to say than others. There were a few in each class who really seemed to get into it; those are the future writers with whom I was trying to connect. Hopefully, some of the students gained something from it.