This is a speaking and writing exercise that follows certain prescribed steps that build on each other. Applicable across a wide variety of disciplines and classroom contexts, Pointing:
- Gives students varied opportunities to speak in class. Pointing and saying back is a very non-threatening way for students to begin to use and hear their own voices in the classroom.
- Reading one's writing out loud can be a little more daunting but if you emphasize the extemporaneity of the writing, they may feel less threatened to produce something eloquent.
- Gives students the chance to hear their own words in new ways. Their words are their own words but they are given a kind of communal respect.
- Emphasizes the value of collaboration and community in terms of creativity.
- Introduces freewriting, demonstrating through this practice that it can be a place to begin any kind of critical thinking or writing process.
This exercise necessitates an evocative and short text (or section of text) that you can read out loud to the class in about five minutes. The best kind of reading is generally a fictional or creative non-fictional narrative—something that will be easy for your students to listen to and to follow on the page, without getting hung up on concepts. This does not mean that the piece has to be simplistic; but neither should it explicate esoteric theories. It is also a good idea to select a text that is related conceptually to the content of your course.
Guide your students through the following steps:
1. Hand out a copy of the section from which you will read.
2. Tell your students that as you read the section out loud, they should listen and follow along on the page underlining words or phrases that particularly strike them for their meaning, their metaphors or images they conjure up, or merely, for their sound. Assure them that they will not need to analyze or defend their choices at this point. They will just need to identify them.
3. After you have finished reading, allot about five minutes for you and your students to "say back" the words or phrases that they have underlined. They should neither raise their hands, nor speak all at once. The class should sit in relative silence except when someone is reading a word or a phrase, as the spirit hits him or her. Students should not preface or explain their choices. Each student can speak more than once. Ask students to listen and to hear the uniqueness, the power, and the beauty of the words as they are spoken. Tell them to let the voices and the words wash over them. (This step and the previous are the process of "pointing.")
4. After the class falls into silence, give some time for discussion, posing questions as such:
- Now that you've heard the language of the story tell me about your responses to the story:
- Did you like it? Find it funny? Depressing?
- Did you hear it in a different way after "pointing"?
- What does this passage seem to be about?
- What are the various themes you can find in the passage?
- What questions does it raise?
- What kind of narrator is this? What kind of narration is this?
5. Shape the discussion questions in such a way that you can touch on the specific themes of the passage and the ways in which it relates to your course.
6. After discussing for about ten to fifteen minutes (depending on the length of your class time) ask students to take a word or phrase (or someone else's that they heard) and use it as a "prompt": That is, they should use it as a starting point for a five-minute freewrite in which they put their pen to paper and just keep writing anything that comes to mind. It is useful to make this a "directed freewrite" (that is loosely structured around the theme of the course, for example) but also to encourage students to let themselves go.
7. Give them the following directions:
Don't worry about coherence.
Don't pick up your pen.
Start with the phrase or word you have chosen and make it your own.
Shape it into your own experience, tell a story, respond to the reading, anything.
After we are finished, you will be invited to read what you wrote, but no pressure. (Unless no one reads).
8. Ask several students to read their freewrites out loud. As the others are listening to the freewrites they should again write down words and phrases that strike them. Emphasize that it is crucial that they write a number of words and phrases for each piece, as they will be working with these words and phrases later.
9. After a number of people have read their freewrites out loud (about 5-7 seems to work well), ask students to look at the words and phrases they have collected and recorded and to make a poem out of them. They need not use all of them but they can ONLY use these words and phrases—no changing the syntax or diction.
10. Give them 5-10 minutes to do this and then ask for volunteers to read their poems out loud.
11. Be sure to discuss how the process felt to them after all volunteers have read. What was it like for them to hear their own words in others' poems? What was the writing like?