Using Significant Objects in the Classroom

I’m starting to think about curriculum for the year (it’s better than just thinking about all the things that can go horribly, horribly wrong). While I know I want to run my class as a workshop, and I know I want to use mentor texts, there are a lot of things still up in the air. But I had an idea today that I think might be fun.

Recently a website called Significant Objects was featured on Daily Candy. The way it works is the people running the site buy some random tchotchke at a garage sale or thrift store. They send that object to a writer, who then writes a story about it (totally fictional, in no way supported by anything other than the writer’s imagination). The object and a copy of the story are then put up for sale on ebay, with all proceeds going to the writer.

The part that interests me is looking at how the objects inform the stories – they all play major roles, but some stories, like this one by Curtis Sittenfeld, use the item as an inspiration even to the characters, whereas others tell a story through the item itself.

I don’t think I’d want to do a whole genre study around these, but I could see doing a focus lesson on the concept and then having a binder with copies of some of these stories to use as mentor texts, as well as a bin of what would basically be random crap that kids could then write about. They could be incredibly creative but would have to have deeply studied an object and really thought about ways in which it could be used to be able to write something like this.

What do you think? Interesting concept with possible classroom usage, or would transferring it to a school setting be kind of lame?

(Read the story behind the pictured Significant Object here.)


Tracey said...

Cool idea! If you're worried about it, consider framing it as a writing exercise-- something students may or may not revise-- either way they can use the technique in later pieces.

Rachel said...

I like it! I would think about using it simply as a prompt. Or maybe a fun cooperative writing activity: break into groups & write together for one object...or maybe each person begins writing then passes it...just some other possibilities. Another neat thing about it is that you can also use it for sensory detail - something they can touch & experience in real ways may help that aspect of their writing. Anything that jump-starts their imagination in new ways is ok in my book!

Miss Eyre said...

I've also seen this work well with poetry, so if you don't want to design a whole unit around it, maybe you could try to integrate a couple of lessons with use of significant objects if you do a poetry genre study. "Ode to My Socks" by Pablo Neruda would be a great mentor text.

Left Coasting said...

I suspect the contrasts and differences that arise in the writings could be really fun for the kids.

They'd see the diversity of the world and its interpretations through another set of windows.

There would likely also be some similarities, where the kids might end up recognizing some kindred spirits.

The group-writing concept that Rachel talks about would also help expose differences and similarities.
Great idea!

teachin' said...

Thanks for the support, all! Miss Eyre, I LOVE those Neruda odes and already planned to do a mini unit with them, because they're so gorgeous and fascinating. Great minds, yo! :)

Tracey and Rachel, I think you're right - just use it as an exercise/prompt one day and then if kids like it, they can continue - if not, no worries, it's another entry for their notebook. And I, like Left Coasting, also like that collaboration idea.

Sounds like this is an idea to keep and try!

Mark Eisner said...

Such a great poem. Check out
about a documentary on Neruda and the bestselling edition of translations, "The Essential Neruda"

"The call for a more accessible collection of Neruda's important poems is answered with City Lights' The Essential Neruda, a 200-page edition that offers 50 of Neruda's key poems. The editors and translators know how to extract gold from a lifetime of prolific writing. If you want a handy Neruda companion and don't know where to begin, this is it."
– The Bloomsbury Review

"What better way to celebrate the hundred years of Neruda's glorious residence on our earth than this selection of crucial works - in both languages! - by one of the greatest poets of all time. A splendid way to begin a love affair with our Pablo or, having already succumbed to his infinite charms, revisit him passionately again and again and yet again."
– Ariel Dorfman, Pulitzer-prize winner author of "Death and the Maiden"

" ...The Essential Neruda will prove to be, for most readers, the best introduction to Neruda available in English. In fact, I can think of few other books that have given me so much delight so easily. At only 234 pages (bilingual), it somehow manages to convey the fullness of Neruda's poetic arc: Reading it is like reading the autobiography of a poetic sensibility (granted, the abridged version)."
– The Austin Chronicle


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I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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