Adult Ed
Writer's Block: Key questions to ask before composing


Introductory Activities
Learning Activities
Culminating Activity
Cross-curricular Extensions
Community Connections

Introductory Activities

Step 1 What is the meaning of this? Cliché analysis The statement "the grass is always greener on the other side" is a cliché that many people can relate to for one reason or another. Lead a class discussion on the meaning of certain clichés or mottos. Direct students to write the statement on the front side of an index card and develop a short (3-5 sentences) reaction to it on the reverse side of the index card. (Sample sayings: "A stitch in time saves nine"; "A hard head makes a soft bottom"; "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em"; "Success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.")

Step 2 Why do we write? Finding reasons to express yourself Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify two reasons why writing is important. Log onto the Video on Demand website and access the "Wrinkle free world of English composition" media clip. Ask students to PLAY the clip from the beginning and PAUSE the clip when they hear the explanation given in the video about why we write. (Student responses may vary however they should convey a clear understanding that writing is a type of self-expression that helps writers "make sense of their own experiences, thoughts and research.")

RESUME play by clicking on the right-faced triangle. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking students to record the five characteristics of a well-written essay or composition. STOP when narrator reviews what Standard English means.

Tip: The five characteristics of a well-written composition are: 1. Statement of main points with evidence (thesis); 2. Clear organization (for example a five paragraph essay has-introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs to support the thesis, and a conclusion statement); 3. Fair treatment of other points of view; 4. Proper citations; 5. Standard English is used.

Step 3 3. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to state the difference between formal and informal writing styles and provide at least two examples of each. If students need to review, PLAY the video clip again from the beginning.

Tip: Formal writing styles emphasize accurate content and information; it is appropriate for communication in a business setting and may be either academic or professional. The GED essay, a letter to a college recruiter, a complaint to a company for inadequate service, a personal statement for a job or college application, and a research paper are all examples of formal writing. Informal writing, like spoken language, may contain contractions, colloquial language and slang but is designed for communication between close friends, family or casual colleagues working on the same level. Examples of informal writing are letters to a pen pal, invitations to a party or small notes that you might pass to a friend during a quiet meeting.

Step 4 Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them in which category would they place fictional writing. Log onto the Wuthering Heights website and allow students to read an excerpt. Point out to students the power of quotes as a tool for organization and clarity. If students need to review the writing process or organization, access the video clip again and PLAY the entire video, 26 minutes.

Tip: Fictional writing can be both! Fictional writing that is formal is usually described as narrative writing for assignments. Less formal fictional writing is designed usually for entertainment and is rarely read but may be intended to be spoken.

Step 5 At the beginning of Emily Brontë's classic love story, she places a date at the beginning of the chapter (like a stamp) to provide a context for future readers. Emily Brontë's choice of words also paints a picture for the reader. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to find the line "Heathcliff's countenance relaxed into a grin." Lead a role-play exercise among students to demonstrate what that may have looked like.

Learning Activities

Step 1 What do you write about? Poll the class to find out what the last book was that they read. Also ask students to list the name of the last television show or movie they saw that was based on a movie. Ask students who their favorite author is or what their favorite book title is. Record the top five authors and titles on the board. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking students to consider why certain writers are so popular. Log onto the Video on Demand site and access the "Enduring popularity of the works of C.S. Lewis" video clip. PLAY the clip and lead a discussion about the influence culture has on media and media has on culture.

Tip: Discussion might center on the circuitous relationship that exists between the media and culture-they influence each other. Universality is the principle that makes literature appealing; when a writer explores universal themes rather than controversial issues, the writer is most likely writing to the majority of people. Knowing one's audience is an important aspect of writing.

Step 2 Who said that? Ask students who said, "I have a dream." Most students will recognize the phrase as part of Martin Luther King's famous 1963 speech. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify who said, "What was new was false." Log onto the Familiar Quotations page of and look up the famous phrase. When students find the author of the phrase, lead a discussion about similar sayings and or possible origins for the author's words. (The author is Samuel Johnson, search result 30 of 35).

Culminating Activity

Step 1 How do they do it? How do I start? There are two clichés that are appropriate responses to these questions "Mimicry is the highest form of flattery" and "don't reinvent the wheel, just give credit to the wheel engineer"

Step 2 Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify two strategies used by W.E.B. DuBois to focus his writing of Souls of Black Folk. Log onto the "Of our spiritual strivings" website. You may want to point out to students that DuBois uses the words of a poem to preface-set the tone-of the text that follows. Log onto the second site and click on The Philadelphia Negro to display the table of contents from this volume. The table of contents of most books serves as a preliminary outline for the reader. It also serves as the skeleton upon which a writer adds text. W.E.B. Dubois used it masterfully to paint a picture of Black America in the twentieth century-their history and their future. You may want to mention to students that although the two styles are very different it is clear how useful each style is at bringing clarity of thought to a writer and to a reader.

Step 3 Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking students to identify other word strategies that a writer might use to guide their thoughts as they write. Log onto the Emile Durkheim page and read his essay on social fact.

Tip: Students should realize that starting a composition with a question or using questions as an essay title is a clever way to focus readers on their relationship to the subject being addressed while at the same time guiding the writer in the development of ideas about the text. Other examples of this technique are Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How do I love thee?", and Martin Luther King's "Where do we go from here?" Students may also notice repetition of a phrase or question as a matter of style and point of emphasis used to focus readers and most likely writers.

Step 4 Direct students to think of their favorite motto, poem, song or a probing question for which that have an opinion. Assign a one-page response to the statement that explains the relevance of the words to themselves. Students can then use the assignment as a starting point in a longer paper or composition.


Cross-Curricular Extensions

Draw some of the characters in a piece of fiction from the descriptions provided in the text. In Wuthering Heights, a man, Joseph, is described as "an elderly, nay, an old man: very old, perhaps, though hale and sinewy." Ask the students, "What does Joseph look like? If you can't draw very well, find examples of what characters might look like from magazines, cartoons or digital images available online."

Social Studies
Collect speeches from various sources and analyze them for key elements in the writer's block: identify the speaker's intended audience, identify the writer's style (formal or informal), research the chronology of the speech and consider why the speech may have been given. Access the Who am I? quote of Malcolm X to see how a question can guide an entire, thought-induced soliloquy that encompasses more than just a response to a question but a passion that only escapes after being prodded through questions.

Community connections
Organize a study group of learners (GED, ESL, traditional) to watch Episodes 6 (Writing Style & Word Choice) & 7 (Effective Sentences) of GED Connection, Writing. Listen to the expert opinions of the professors and professional writers interviewed in the show. Notice the different careers of the guests being interviewed-some are in the entertainment industry, some are in academic settings yet they all realize the importance of writing.

GED Connection Essay Quiz (Registration required)
Use the companion website for GED Connection ITV programming to practice taking sections of the GED. Pair up with a classmate and peer review writing samples online and work together to take the online quizzes. Be prepared to take notes because not only are answers provided but so are their explanations!