Friday, January 08, 2010

Assignment from Above

I doubt if John’s students know how lucky they are to have him for a teacher. The stuff he helps them grasp early on are the kind of things writers struggle years before they finally figure it out for themselves. So if you are one of John’s students, sit down and write a thank you note to your parental units who are funding your education, an education you’ll probably end up wasting when you drop out during grad school to move to Alaska to work in a fish cannery because the girl/guy of your dreams went and dumped you for a drummer in a ska band. At least you’ll be able to write entertaining “send money” letters

Back to assignments. Some of you may know that in an ancient former life, I was a high school history teacher. During that time I gave many writing assignments, some of which were actually completed, but my favorite assignments were the ones in which I added a fun and/or cruel caveat. Say, for example, I was asking students to pontificate on the long-term social and political implications of the invention of the zipper. It’s a daunting assignment on it’s own, yes, but I would toss in a little something something to make it more fun. Well, fun for me.

“Children,” I would say, their bright, apple-cheeked faces tuned towards me in rapt attention, “in writing tonight’s 300-word assignment, you are forbidden to use any word that has two or more syllables.”

There would be a few moments of confusion, the more clever of the lot catching on before the others, then the truth would dawn on all of them and they would realize the difficulty of the task. Some would sob quietly in their hankies, some would babble like biblical tongue-talkers, but most would just sit in stunned silence, wondering, in the vernacular of their peers, WTF.

As I said, much fun.

Other devious additions to otherwise meaningless assignments included writing short answers without the benefit of using words that contain the letter e, or ensuring that every answer have exactly 31 words, or—may favorite—answer all questions in limerick form.

What’s that? Sounds simple? Even enjoyable? A clever challenge you wish you were offered?

Consider yourself assigned.

All responses to this post must be 5-line limericks. And it’s 10% of your grade this quarter.

(And no Men from Nantucket, Rick)


Rick Blechta said...

Actually, Charles, I was thinking of one I know that uses the word "flamingo"...

Rick Blechta said...

Okay, here goes...

Our Charles sure likes
to pontificate,
So much so, he should get a certificate.
It will begin with “Hyar, hyar”,
And include a gold star,
It might stop him from being
so profligate.

NL Gassert said...

One of the best writing classes I ever took was actually a public relations class. The professor always asked for 100-word answers. It didn’t matter how complicated (or banal) the question was; you were only allowed 100 words to answer. And, yes, he counted!

I learned a lot about concise writing and the importance of word choice in that class.

Alan Orloff said...

There once was a blogger named Chuck,
Who wanted to rise from the muck,
He called for comments to rhyme,
But time after time after time,
It's on the fifth line where we all get stuck.

John said...


Thanks for the kind words. I had my students write three-page essays in an hour this week; I might need to have them read your post. (: