Five Ws and an H: An Exercise to Help Students Explore Their Identities as Writers | Emma Bolden

WHAT: The journalist’s six cornerstone questions.  An idea I had one day: what if those questions were flipped inward and then outward?  What if I had my students ask themselves how those six questions relate to their lives as writers?  An exercise.  An inquiry.  A way for students to explore who they are as artists.  A way for a teaching artist to introduce herself to her students.  A way for students to learn about each other.  A way for students to learn about themselves.

HOW:  List the six questions on the board: who, what, where, why, when, and how.  Explain that you’re not going to explain much more than that: each question can mean different things to different students, and that’s fine.  The answer to where could be a physical space, like a desk, or a psychological space, like in anger.  The answer to how can describe the physical act – with a super fine Uni-Ball pen in an unlined Moleskine – or the metaphysical act – by leafing through the card catalog of memory and image that is my mind.  The question can mean what the student needs it to mean.  So can the answer.

WHEN: The first day of class, in lieu of or as a supplement to introductions.  The last day of class, as a way for students to reflect upon their growth over the course of the semester.  Outside of class, hopefully, and years after the class is over, even more hopefully: over coffee, after dinner, after waking up in the middle of the night, as a way to gauge one’s development as an artist after one is no longer a student.

WHO: The students stepping into a writing class for a first time who needs to realize that they’re already writers.  The graduating students who need to remember why they started writing.  The teacher who needs to reflect upon who she is as an artist.  The artist who needs to reflect upon who she is as a teacher.

WHERE: In the classroom, that generic space in which every teacher, professor, class, student must learn how to speak and write and learn.  Posted on student blogs or class blogs.  Printed and push-pinned to a cork board behind a writing desk.  Taped to the wall of a studio.  Folded and tucked into a pocket, a wallet.  Posted on Post-Its in a dorm room.

WHY:  Because, first and foremost, asking oneself six questions about one’s life as a writer means first making a very important statement: I am a writer.  Because making this statement provides a student with confidence, with encouragement.  Because, in a writing class, students are required to risk and push themselves and share what they might prefer keep secret, which requires confidence and encouragement.  Because even the most experienced writer needs to take stock of their process and product from time to time.  Because knowing yourself is vital to expressing yourself.  Because you can’t have answers if you don’t ask questions.

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