A special program was proving its worth before it even concluded for some students at Zebulon Middle School last week.
Seventh-graders spent several days identifying emotions experienced by characters in books they are reading in their English classes.
They used guides on different elements of speech to help them pinpoint what a character was going through at any given point in the storyline, and to explore the different words they could use to describe those feelings. They even put themselves in the characters’ shoes, representative of the situations facing the characters.
The goal of the program was for the students to learn how to recognize and comprehend writing techniques and apply them to form their own realistic fiction.
“The big gist of it is, we have a need for our kids to get their scores up in literacy,” said ZMS dance teacher Letisa Vereen. “We’re trying to help them with inference. We’re getting them to get into the writing and to understand you can write about anything that you want to do.”
Vereen applied for the United Arts Council grant that paid for teaching artist and Story Tapestries founder Arianna Ross to spend eight days leading her “Discover the Power of the Written Word” program at the school.
Matter of understanding
Students in Veronica Williams’ English class spent Tuesday morning examining characters in “The Hunger Games.”
“We use ‘Hunger Games’ as a way for them to understand the main ideas, the important pieces,” Ross said. “When you’re in the seventh grade, one of the biggest reading features that kids have the hardest time comprehending is connecting character to the main idea. It’s really about building vocabulary and reading comprehension, and part of reading comprehension is being able to write what you can read.”
Emory Etim, a student in Williams’ class, said the experience helped him make a connection between emotions and words that he can now call on more easily in his writing.
“It’s a good way for me to explore,” Etim said. “I’m exploring different words and trying to see how they work in my mind. It’s going to teach me how to think outside the box and go the extra mile.”
Aimee Belt’s English students had already gone through the storytelling exploration portion of the program and were working on editing their own stories on Tuesday.
It was the seventh-graders’ final project in a unit on adversity, in which they identified a defining moment in their lives and words to communicate how they overcame their hardships.
Belt said she was looking for contextual evidence that what her students learned, experienced or could relate to from the fictional characters transferred into their writing.
She and other teachers were amazed at the response the program evoked from some of the students.
“It’s not, ‘Oh, I got a bad grade.’ Some have found this has been a way for them to confront experiences they’ve had but haven’t dealt with,” Belt said. “It helped them describe what was in their mind and think it through before they had to write it down. (It’s) not only great from the writing and reading perspective, but from the social and emotional perspective.”
The program also included a theatrical performance by students, professional development training for the entire ZMS staff, and a chance for parents to observe the classes and hear the stories written and read by the students.