Top 10 Things to Do with a Banned Text

Banned Book Week 2010 Poster from the American Library AssociationHow will you discuss Banned Books Week (BBW) this year? It’s easy to find ideas for displays and activities for libraries. The problem is that most of them are too general or would be difficult to use in the writing classroom.

To solve that problem, I began brainstorming ways that students can think critically about censorship. The result is this collection of projects that focus primarily on argument and persuasion. When possible, I tried to think of options that allow students to speak their own minds, for or against limiting access to a text.

So here are the top ten things to do with a banned book—other than read it, of course!

  1. [Mock Trial] Put the author of the banned book on trial (or a character from the text). Let Gustave Flaubert’s experience with Madame Bovary be your inspiration. You can adapt Mock Trial resources and the ALA’s suggestions for conducting a challenge hearing for the project.
  2. [PSA] Make a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that supports the text and the freedom to read (or BBW). You can create a video, audio, or slide show PSA. There are audio examples at the ALA site. Your announcement can focus on BBW as a whole or might be a campaign for the freedom to read a particular text.
  3. [Character Diary] Write a diary entry from the perspective of a character from a banned text. The character may be one whose actions are cited when people talk about banning the book or someone else in the text. There’s a List of Ten Character Diary Prompts you can use if you want to extend this activity.
    Adapt this writing prompt for students: Someone wrote the story of your life, and the book has been banned from _____ because of _____. Write your reaction as a diary entry—Are you shocked? pleased? upset? Do you think the banning was fair?
  4. [Warning] Create a warning label for a banned text. Examine that appearance and wording of warnings that are added to movie and television shows, cigarettes, and prescription drug commercials and ads. Have students then create a label that would be placed on the cover of the text. The label can be realistic or satirical. Here’s an example for Huck Finn and some additional tips on designing warning labels you can use to supplement discussion.
    Introduce the Warning Label Generator to add some play to the project. The images may not match properly, but the tool is fun. And if students think no one would ever put a warning on a book, you can share “Ratings, warning labels don’t belong on books.”
  5. [Testimonial] Write a testimonial letter or blog entry that explains why you support (or don’t) a banned text. Your goal is to convince readers to read (or not read) the text. Alternately, you can argue that the text be kept (or not kept) in the school or public library or read by students in a particular class.
    Your testimonial needs to personal, based on your experiences and beliefs. This is your chance to make a personal statement about why the text should (or shouldn’t) be read.
  6. [Language of Persuasion] Choose a statement for or against banned text, and examine how the language contributes to the argument. These questions can guide your analysis:

    • How are specific examples from the text used? When and to what effect?
    • What about euphemisms — how do the authors sugarcoat or generalize their messages with their word choice?
    • What about their sense of audience? Do they understand their readers? How can you tell?

    After you’ve examined the language, compose a blog entry, podcast, or video presentation that analyzes the authors’ language, explaining what you can conclude about their goals, their sense of audience, and their ideas on the issues.

  7. [A Fable] Have each student brainstorm a list of things that might happen if a text is banned from a library or classroom. You can focus on a specific text or just banned books in general. Next, students share their lists with the class, and identify the items that recur and those that seem particularly significant or surprising. Ask each student to choose an item to focus on, and write a fable that tells the story of the banned text and ends with or discusses the item chosen from the class lists. The moral of the fable will be related to whether books should (or shouldn’t) be banned.
  8. [Biggest Myth] What is the biggest myth that you’ve heard in the media about a banned book? Write a letter to the editor, to the television show, or to the general public that explains why you disagree with the coverage they have given to the myth you’ve identified.
    In your letter, describe the myth that you’ve heard and read, explain why you believe the assertion is untrue, and suggest reasons that the myth has developed. Identify and share more realistic explanations. Persuade your readers to change the way that they talk about the banned text.
  9. [Investigative Report] Describe the book banning in the form of an investigative report—the kind of piece you’d hear on 60 Minutes, Dateline, or 20/20. Start with a question or issue that the banning focuses on, explain all of the facts and details that you uncover in relationship to the issue, and conclude with the insights you gain as a result of your investigation.
    Like an investigative report on TV, your report should stir your reader to some kind of implicit action as a part of the conclusion — the point might be to stir the reader’s emotions, to inspire the reader to challenge the banning, or to suggest that the reader take an active role in how books are chosen for the library or classroom.
  10. [Censor It] Identify passages from a banned text that have been cited for using inappropriate language. Have students work in small groups to rewrite the sections. Ideally each group should have a different section of text to work with. Collect the two versions of the passages. Share the rewritten version of each passage with the whole class first, and then reveal the original version. Talk about what is lost (or not) in the censored versions.
    Use the activity to talk about how rewriting, expurgation, and omission are used as a way to talk about banned texts. Class discussion can include:

    • Radio versions of songs that get air play versus original versions with explicit lyrics.
    • Beeping out words in audio and video broadcasts.
    • Blocking images with a black box or blurred area in television broadcasts.
    • Adding a “clean” voiceover for inappropriate words said in a movie played on television (e.g., “shoot” for “shit”).
    • Cutting scenes and events from a movie before playing it on broadcast television.
    • The name of the CBS sitcom referred to as “Stuff My Dad Says” when spoken and often shown in print as $#*! My Dad Says. (The show based on the Twitter feed Shit My Dad Says and the related book Sh*t My Dad Says.)

For some specific lesson plans, see ReadWriteThink’s calendar entry for Banned Books Week. Check out my Bedford Bits post for Persuasion, Argument, and Book Banning in 10 Steps.


List of Ten: Fun with Crayons

Crayon Lineup by laffy4kI’m a sucker for office supplies. Snoop around my desk, and you’ll find colored pencils, a rainbow of Sharpies, and a full range of notebooks and pads of paper.

It’s no surprise then that I was excited when I found a link to a Vintage Crayons, Paints, & Art Supplies Flickr set on a friend’s Twitter feed (John D. Lemke aka @lumpy).

Sadly that collection is limited by copyright restrictions, but you can find plenty of other images, like the illustration on this post. Just search for Creative Commons-licensed content for the keyword crayons.

Once you have found a collection of images you like, students can use one of the topics below to inspire a project such as an essay, a Powerpoint presentation, or a YouTube video.

  1. [Persuasion] Look at the vintage boxes in the image included on the Crayola entry on Wikipedia. You can also use more recent images of crayon boxes. Ask students to analyze the boxes for persuasive information. Point out the box that proclaims, “Not injurious to the hands and will not soil the clothes” as an example. There’s also an early advertisement you can analyze. Discuss how the boxes appeal to customers. How do they attempt to persuade customers to purchase a box of crayons?
  2. [Gender & Race] Ask students to look at how gender and race are represented in the images includes in the Vintage Crayons, Paints, & Art Supplies Flickr set. Crayon companies literally have all the colors of the rainbow to choose among. Are the images diverse? Do they accurately represent the people who will use the product? [You might begin this assignment by asking students to consider the Flesh crayon and the current Multicultural Crayons collection.]
  3. [Naming] Where do crayon names come from? Typically, the name seems to describe the color, but if you read the list of Crayola color names, you’ll quickly see that some are a bit unusual. Consider the Inchworm crayon. That’s hardly a name you’d expect. Review the list of Crayola color names, and choose one color to explore. Consider the connotations and denotations of the name, think about the alternatives that Crayola could have used, and draw some conclusions about their final choice. Your project will be an analysis of the name for that crayon—exploring the name, what it means to people, and why it was probably chosen.
  4. [Perception] Take a look at XKCD’s Color Survey Results and the related resources the results have inspired. Colors are deeply personal and quite objective. Discuss the role that gender plays in the analysis, and suggest what other personal characteristics might influence the names people choose for colors. If your resources allow, the raw data from the survey are linked from the XKCD site. Try your own analysis of the data and report what you discover.
  5. [Culture] Consider how cultural connotations of colors (alternative discussion) compare to the names Crayola has used to label various crayons. You can use Poynter’s Color, Contrast & Dimension in News Design to talk in more detail about how color works. Are there names on the list of Crayola color names that could be culturally insensitive? What alternate names would you suggest if the crayons were used by children in a different culture?
  6. [Color Bio] What if your life were a crayon box? Identify 8 to 12 significant events in your life. The times might be especially happy memories, things that changed your life, or milestones you achieved. Choose a crayon color to represent each event, and explain why the color is appropriate for the event. The project might be published as a kind of graphic life map.
  7. [Special Collections] Crayola has created special collections of crayons over the years. Some are named for the kinds of colors included, like Silver Swirls. Others are specific to an event or situation, however, like the State Crayon Collection (image 2 , image 3 ) or America’s Top 50 Crayons. Create your own special collection of crayons—choose a theme (e.g., the Mardi Gras collection, the Halloween collection, or Thomas Dale High School collection), and 8 to 12 crayon colors that you would include. Provide names and explanations for the colors that would be in your special collection. The Educational Chemistry Crayons are a great example of such a project.
  8. [Tell Your Story] Almost everyone has memories tied to crayons—whether coloring worksheets in preschool or filling in the images on a place mat at a restaurant. Write a personal memory about crayons. Brainstorm the things you remember when you think about crayons. Choose one or two, and tell us your crayon memory.
  9. [Coloring Pages] Take a look at a collection of Coloring Pages or Craft Projects on the Crayola Website. Choose 5 to 7 pages from a collection, and analyze the images and text that are included. How is Crayola presenting the issue or idea? What is included and what is not? The pages are obviously intended for children, but are there other aspects of the audience that your analysis reveals? [Expand this activity by including coloring pages from one of Crayola’s international sites, which include Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico, and Italy.]
  10. [Coloring a Place] Dump a collection of crayons in a bag (or names of colors on slips of paper). Each student pulls out a crayon (or a color) randomly. Have the student look up the color on the list of Crayola color names if you use slips of paper. Imagine that the color is the name of a place. Using the color of the crayon and the crayon’s name as inspiration, describe the place. What does it look like? What happens there? Who goes there? What sounds and smells are associated with the place? NOTE: If a student has trouble working with a color, just have him pull another one. The idea is for the color to be relatively random, but there’s no reason a student should be forced to stick with a color that he’s having trouble using as inspiration.

Most of these activities will work with any collection that is based on colors. You might use paint chips, for instance, or if students do scrapbooking, the names and colors of paper and ink used by Stampin’ Up would be work.

Check out the other Lists of Ten for writing activities, professional development ideas, and other classroom teaching tools.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by laffy4k]

Easy Supplemental Reading: 100 Best Magazine Articles

Stack of Magazines by theseanster93No matter what textbook I choose for class, there’s always a class or two where I wish I had a few more readings available. Nothing in the text seems quite right, so I end up searching for something online that will fill the gap.

For those class sessions, I now have a collection of 100 best magazine articles, gathered by Kevin Kelly, cofounder of Wired and author of the forthcoming What Technology Wants (Viking/Penguin, October 2010).

Links are included for most of the articles; however, many go to only abstracts or snippets. To access the full article, you’ll need to pay for the download. Of course, on a college campus, you’re bound to be able to find any of these articles at the library with the citations that are included.

If I were teaching a graduate course, I think I’d ask students to divide up the articles and create short abstracts and keywords for each. I’d definitely ask them to include an indication of whether the article was free, subscription-based, or one-time fee-based. Published as a class collection, the annotated entries would give every student a rich resource for the future.

The list of articles could also help me point undergrad writers to key articles for research projects. For instance, a student writing about online bullying would certainly want to look at Julian Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace,” and the list gives me both a link to the article and a citation to find a print copy at the library.

My favorite find on Kelly’s list is Tom Junod’s Can you say- Hero?” from the November 1998 Esquire. The creative nonfiction essay weaves several anecdotes about Mr. Rogers into a profile that casts everyone’s favorite childhood neighbor as hero.

Take a look at the list yourself. You’re bound to find something new or forgotten that will be worth a read. What’s your favorite on the list? Be sure to email Kevin Kelly, who is building a Top Ten list.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by theseanster93]

Research in Composition: 9 More Must-See Summer Texts

writing at a computerYou know how you feel when you turn something in just by the deadline, and then a few hours later find something else you wish you could have included? That’s how I feel this week.

Just after I published this week’s Inbox blog on
10 Things You’ll Want To Read This Summer, Risa Gorelick-Ollom announced that the Research Network Forum (RNF) eLectures from CCCC 2010 are online. Once you click the eLectures link, scroll down toward the end of the page for access to all of these great audio texts:

  • “Research in Composition is practical…” by Beth Hewett
  • “Research in Composition is collaborative…” by Frank P. Gaughan
  • “Research in Composition is plastic, moveable, and fluid…” by Ethna D. Lay
  • “Research in Composition…and the larger universe of research.” by Norbert Elliott
  • “Research in Composition pushes the envelope…” by Risa Gorelick and Lisa DeTora
  • “Connecting Composition Research to Community Politics….and still getting tenure.” by Stephen J. Parks
  • “Research in Composition…and Writing Centers.” by Michael A. Pemberton
  • “Research in Composition is rigorous and rhetorical…” by Rebecca J. Rickly
  • “Research in Composition…and computers.” by Janice Walker

Why do you have to scroll down to get to these important recordings? The page Gorelick-Ollom shared is more than just the RNF eLectures. In fact, there are currently 34 eLectures, beginning with Lester Faigley on “Rethinking Writing” from 2007. You’ll find recordings on inquiry, ePortfolios, assessment, service learning, revision, webzines, pop culture, and much more.

If you have some spare time this summer, you definitely want to spend part of it with the RNF eLectures and these other resources presented courtesy of Pearson Composition Professional Development. Oh, and if that’s not incentive enough, Gorelick-Ollom promises us that that the plenary videos from RNF 2010 will be online later next month.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by dbdbrobot]

Writing like a writing teacher

Perhaps this will interest no one other than me, but I think it’s a reminder of how we sometimes forget who we are and what we know. I struggled for weeks with the text I’m trying to write. I’m still trying to write it, and in many places it is crappy extraordinaire. I’ve just been unable to write anything useful and equally unable to figure out why I can’t write anything. I mean. Look, I’m a writer. It’s what I do. While I was stuck, I was writing lesson plans and Inbox entries and even a conference presentation—but I couldn’t write my manuscript.

I was sitting on the Selfes’ porch last Thursday, writing and rewriting the same damned pages. Gracie was lying nearby, but she wasn’t any help at all. Cindy was even sitting across from me for a while, writing like the writing fiend that she is. There’s something really odd about trying to write when your role model/idol is sitting across from you. But that’s a different entry.

The point was that I couldn’t write, and I had over the course of the weeks blamed a million things. The desk wasn’t comfortable in the apartment, so I rearranged things and even got a lightweight TV-type table to solve that problem. The chair wasn’t comfy, so I bought a folding chair that was better. Still stuck. I rearranged my writing and set up so that I was writing in the comfy stuffed “living room” chair. Still blocked. I tried writing in the CCLI. I tried writing at multiple machines, Mac and Windows, different locations. I still wrote crap or couldn’t write at all.

So here I was on the Selfes’ porch. I had a good chair and a large table. I had writing stuff all around me. I had doggies to pet. I had a great view of woods and wildlife. I was hoping for a moose, but one never showed up. Still, I was stuck writing crap. Okay, it was thickly humid and 90+ degrees and I was dripping like a popsicle in hell; but I knew that the heat wasn’t the problem. I hadn’t been able to write anywhere, after all.

Something about having Cindy sitting across from me made me think about the problem differently. I started quizzing myself. In my make-believe world, I imagined what it would be like if Cindy were to ask me how my writing was going and what I was accomplishing. I knew how to answer that question. My chapters just didn’t feel right. One section was all choppy lists. They read like things that I had written, since parts of them had grown out of Lists of Ten; but they didn’t fit together and try as I might, I couldn’t make them sound not like lists. The Intro sounded something like I would write for an Inbox message. The research section sounded something like a very extended Theory to Practice section from a lesson plan. That or like a self-contained article of its own. Nothing fit together, and none of it felt right.

Now, I realize that I was giving myself a writing conference. Or more accurately, I was making believe that Cindy was giving me one. But it wasn’t solving anything. All I was doing was thinking through the reasons that my text sucks big. Defeated, I started my inner voice of self-hatred and despair. I remember thinking, “You idiot. You’re a writing teacher and you can’t write. What the hell is wrong with you? This is totally wrong and you should be able to fix it. You are writing about writing, damn it. You’re supposed to know how to do this.”

In the middle of this tirade of self-hatred, I suddenly told myself to fucking stop it. The self-hatred wasn’t getting anywhere—but the writing teacher was. Again, I remember thinking, “Okay, you’re a writing teacher. If a student came to you and was this stuck, what would you ask the student to do? You’d tell the student to freewrite. To just journal away about the crap and the problem and whatnot.”

Naturally the evil voice of self-hatred perked back up. “That will accomplish nothing. You’ll waste writing time, and have useless text.” But somehow, I made all the voices just shut up. I shut them down, and I just wrote this:

I want this chapter to explain the basic parts of writing a good assignment. The point is to outline the basic things that a writer needs to do in order to get a good assignment. The tips that are included are all good by themselves, but they aren’t unified and there is no flow to the section. I could try to focus on a single lesson idea as it evolves, essentially writing down the process that I would follow to create the writing assignment itself. Perhaps the best thing is indeed to write a lesson plan and take notes on the process that I follow so that I can show that lesson as a case study of sorts—how it fits together, how the parts flow into one another and into the other parts of the curriculum, and how the piece is assessed.

I think that the problem so far in the text is that it’s all this distant, non-person voice. I mean it’s the voice of the Inbox and whatnot, but that voice isn’t allowed to have an “I” so the text is in some ways w/o its author.

I had to stop prematurely because the ECAC folks were arriving as I was writing the last bit. I didn’t have time to even reread or rethink it. I just hurriedly got the idea down. But the more I did think about it during the ECAC gathering, the more I realized that last idea was it. That was why I was blocked. Those last two sentences finally told me why I was stuck. I had hidden myself and tried to write a text where I didn’t exist. I’ve gotten so used to hiding myself in my Inbox writing, that I was trying to cut myself out of the book—and that’s why I’ve been stuck for 3 weeks. I was trying to silence my voice, and as a result, I couldn’t say anything.

Today, I’ve finally had a chance to go back to the bits that I’ve written over the last weeks, and it’s all so obvious. Every place the text is awkward or convulted, I was trying to write without letting myself into the text. Once I rewrote a bit, allowing myself first-person pronouns and giving myself permission to write about MY experience in addition to the general info and the research. It all works so much better.

I’d like to believe that the breakthrough was being on the Selfes’ porch, sitting across from Cindy. But really, I know that’s not it. The breakthrough came when I started thinking like a writing teacher and applying what I knew to where I was stuck. It wasn’t the desk, the chair, the heat, the books and articles that I did or didn’t have. It wasn’t any of those things. It was that I was trying to write with a voice that wasn’t mine.

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