intergenerational communication

We are all stories


As we talked about in our previous blog, there are two categories of writing, expository and narrative. We took a big picture view of expository writing. Now we’ll look at the big picture of narrative writing.

Narrative writing is typically easier to read. Unlike expository, with its many different structures, all narratives have the one basic structure. There will always be the following in a narrative.

  • Characters – who is in the story
  • Setting – time and place of the story
  • Plot/Problem – events that revolve around a conflict
  • Theme – lesson(s) learned from the story

Another reason narrative writing is easier to read is because we all live narrative lives. We are all stories. We are characters that live in a certain time and location. We all have conflicts, which cause problems in our day-to-day lives. We learn lessons from dealing with the problems, not always good lessons, but we always learn something. It is called ‘experience’.

Although narratives have one basic structure (blueprint), there are different genres or types of narratives (buildings.)

  1. Fiction: imaginative or made up writing
  2. Narrative nonfiction: factual matter is presented using the narrative structure
  3. Folklore: stories once passed down orally
  4. Poetry: stories that are told using poetic devices.
  5. Drama: a play or script

Again, for those of you who teach, have, or are around young children (grandma and grandpa) – This is for you, too!!!

 Let’s look at an example. After reading or telling the story of “Little Red Riding Hood”, ask your little one the following questions.

Characters: Who is in the story?

– Little red riding hood, the big bad wolf, grandma, woodcutter

Setting (place): Where are they?

– In the forest and at Grandma’s house

Setting (time): When did the story happen?

– Once upon a time…

Problem/Conflict: What happens to Little Red Riding Hood?

– the wolf wants the basket of food that Mary is bringing to her ill grandma and Mary doesn’t want to give it to him.

Theme (lesson or moral) – don’t talk to strangers…don’t walk by yourself…

As you can see, even the simplest stories have this basic structure. Helping young children to discover this basic structure in the first stories they hear/read will help them when they tell/write their own stories. When they move into more complex stories with multiple story lines, identifying these pieces makes comprehension and retention easier much easier.

Keep in mind; these two blogs about expository and narrative are the big picture, like a view of the earth from outer space. We will travel closer and learn more details.

There is a very important lesson to learn here. When teaching a concept, in this case, learning to become a better reader and writer by understanding text structure, always start with the big picture. Then as you get into more detailed information, show your learner where these details fit into the big picture. This anchors the details. It lays out the relationship between details and the big picture.

As the lessons continue, and there are more and more pieces of information, return often to the big picture to show where the new information fits. Each lesson should begin by returning to the big picture – the picture on the box cover of a 1000 piece puzzle – if you will.

This is an outline of the big picture.

  1. Expository and Narrative Text Structure
    1. Expository
      1. Many Structures / Blueprints (roads, airplanes, new companies, etc.)
        1. Compare-Contrast
        2. Cause-Effect
        3. Sequence
        4. Chronological
        5. Problem-Solution
        6. Descriptive
      2. Narrative
        1. One Structure / Blueprint
          1. Character, Setting, Plot, Theme
        2. Genres – types of buildings (house, apartment, offices, etc.)
          1. Fiction
          2. Narrative nonfiction
          3. Folklore
          4. Poetry
          5. Drama

We will continue learning the elements of text structure – the puzzle pieces – but will keep that big picture on the puzzle box in view at all times.


intergenerational communication

Why didn’t they teach me that???


“Why did you fail your science test? Didn’t you read the book?” Mom asks accusingly.

“I DID read it! I didn’t understand it!” Johnny answers honestly.

And the tension builds… Sound familiar?

Early in my career, I joined the Great Valley Writing Project. I learned more from that Project than any other training I ever had. It helped me not only as a teacher but also as a learner.

Now I had been through the California teaching credential program, had a Master’s degree, and been teaching for 6 or 7 years already.   What I learned at that GVWP conference, I had never heard before. It wasn’t really new information. Rather it was a way to categorize a lot of knowledge I already had. You know, that moment when, all of a sudden, it all fits!

Let me explain what I mean. Teaching kids to read was obviously a very important part of my job. I was, at that time, teaching 5th grade in a self-contained classroom. That meant I was teaching all of the basic subject areas – science, social studies, language arts, and math to the same kids. I observed that reading in content areas, like science and history, was much more difficult for my students than reading a short story.

There are many reasons for that, the main one being student interest. OK. I got that. But just because they weren’t interested didn’t mean they didn’t have to learn it. So what could I do to help them become better readers in areas they had little interest in? I really struggled with that. Then, at this conference, I learned the secret!

What did I learn? Not all reading is equal! Duh… But hold on!

Different reading techniques are required for different reading structures. WHAT??? Reading is reading…isn’t it? Yes and no. The structure of texts differs according to the purpose of it’s content.

How many of you know that the structure of most writing, with the exception of poetry, falls into two categories? Do you know what the categories are? Do you know what the structures are? Would it be helpful to know?

(For those of you who teach or have young children – This is for you, too!!! These are patterns of thought that should be encouraged at a very young age. As a matter of fact, I used picture books to teach the text structure concept to my 7th and 8th graders.)

As I said, all writing falls into two categories: Expository (typically non-fiction) and Narrative (typically fiction).

The first category we’ll look at is expository. Expository writing exposes, uncovers or explains. It is typically used in content textbooks such as science, history, chemistry, physics, etc. There are many different structures of expository writing, which makes it more difficult to read. Knowing what the structures are and learning to recognize them in the text improved my student’s reading comprehension immeasurably. By the way, this is not just statistical blah, blah, blah.

I saw many, many students move from being reading haters to reading lovers and everything in between.

Just as a contractor can build more efficiently and effectively knowing how to read the blueprints of a building’s structure so a reader can learn more efficiently and effectively by knowing the blueprint of the text’s structure.

Following is a list of text structures (blueprints) although it is not exhaustive.  Notice that the questions I pose can be for very young children.

  • Compare-Contrast Structure – examines the similarities and differences between two or more people, events, concepts, ideas, etc

“How is a kitty like a puppy?” (compare)

“How is kitty different than a puppy?” (contrast)

  • Cause-Effect Structure – examines the causal relationship between a specific event, idea, or concept and the events, ideas, or concept that follow.

“If you tell a lie, (cause) what happens?” (effect)

Sequence – Information is given in order of steps to accomplish something.

“How do you build a snowman?”

  • Chronological – Information is given following the order of time.

“Make a timeline of the birthdays in your family throughout the year.”             (chronological)

  • Problem-Solution – The writing sets up a problem or problems, explains the solution, and then discusses possible effects of the solution.

“How can you solve the problem of your messy room?”

  • Descriptive – Information given with the purpose of creating a visual or mental picture.

“Tell me about the colors and shapes in the picture that you drew.”

Wow! That’s a lot if stuff! And we haven’t even looked at Narrative. That will be the next blog.

I need a break!!! My husband just walked in from the grocery store…I hope he bought some cookies!!!











abuse · intergenerational communication

Then…how do you know he loves you?


Good question!  One we should definitely take time to talk about with our kids – boys and girls.

A number of years back a friend of mine, a continuation high teacher, told me this story about a student of hers. She said that she had been concerned about the student because she had some marks on her that showed the possibility of abuse. The was also in a very codependent relationship with another male student.  There is more that I could elaborate on but the following exchange is really all we need to hear.

While talking, her student asked my friend if she was married. My friend told her that she was.

The next question the girl asked was shocking to my friend. “Does he hit you?”

“Of course not.” my friend responded.

“Then how do you know he loves you?”

WOW! This girl had associated abuse with love. Please think about how that happens. For most of us – that’s shocking. For some, however, that’s how they know they are ‘loved’.

How sad!

There are so many roads I could go on from here. I’m not taking any of them. Let this little story take you on your own road. How do you know what love is? What was love when you were 13, 18, 25, 40…?

Please, share this story with others? How was love defined for you as a child? How are you defining love for your children, grandchildren and others in your sphere of influence?

Love Hurts

Why does love hurt?

Like an arrow through your heart?

Why can’t love enlighten

Like a flashlight in the dark?   

student poem



intergenerational communication

Is It Fair To Make Me Share?


         One thing I learned about junior high kids is that they are keenly tuned in to ‘what is fair’. While they don’t always act ‘fair’ themselves, they are very critical of anyone else not acting ‘fair’. Come to think about it, that’s not exclusive to junior high kids.

A few years back the idea of ‘distribution of wealth’ became a popular political football.   Some kids thought it was “fair”. Why should some people have so much money and others not have enough to live on? Others thought everyone should get what they worked for.

I decided the best way for the kids to understand the principle was to apply it to the classroom. The ‘wealth’ to be distributed was their grades. If your grade was 92 and another student’s was 56, then you would owe 18 points to the student with 56. Both would receive a grade of 74 for the assignment.

The next assignment I returned had two grades. The top grade was their personal grade; the other was a ‘distributed’ grade. The grades looked like this: 98/67 or 43/67.  The class average grade was the one everyone would receive.

Positive and negative reactions lined up just as I expected. The high scoring students were upset. The low scoring students and especially the ones that did not do the assignment were quite happy.

The next day, when a spelling/vocabulary assignment was given, the first question a student asked was how the assignment would be graded. I said that we would be ‘distributing the wealth.’

It was usual for 4–6 kids out of 32 not to do the assignment. This time 12 did not turn in the assignment and the average grade had dropped to around 50. I asked the kids to write in their learning logs what they thought of ‘distribution of wealth’ after our experiment.  The responses went something like this;

“I didn’t try too hard ‘cuz I knew I would get someone’s points.”

“I didn’t do it. I don’t want someone else getting my points that I earned.”

“I sometimes don’t do my work so getting points from students that get good grades seemed like a cool idea.”

A few days later, I gave the kids a chance for extra credit by doing a project on a novel we were studying.

Mark, a top student, asked, “If I do the extra credit work, will you take some of my points and give them to another student?

“What if I said, ‘yes’, some of your points would be given to other students?”

“Then I’m not going to do it!” he said.

“What if I said, ‘no’, you keep all your points?”

“Then I’ll do it,”

There were two results that every student realized after our little experiment in ‘distribution of wealth’.  First, the effort that students put into their assignments dropped noticeably.  Second, the brightest refused to go above and beyond.

Lesson learned! Everybody loses!!!



intergenerational communication



“The wonderful gift I would like to receive this year for a Merry Christmas is actually not for me, but for others. It does have a cost still though. The cost is a change in the way people treat others. Instead of being rude and inconsiderate to people that they might think are weird or “different”, I wish people would be kind and accept them for who they are and maybe even realize that sometimes different is good. If people do that, the nice and heartwarming gift they will get back is a friendship – a new person to party with, do each other’s hair, share secrets, and more with.”

This wise young writer got it. The solution is so simple. So what’s the problem?


We are all familiar with it. Sadly, from time to time we hear about the effects of bullying after a tragic event – often a school shooting. The root cause of all of these tragedies is a sense of not belonging.

I remember…I went to a small Jr. high school in a small town. There was the “popular” group – girls, as is usually the case, although not always. There was one girl, Anita (not her real name) that was “the most popular” girl. She had her following; mostly her cousins and I desperately wanted to be part of the group. Through snide remarks, whisperings, and other shuns, I knew I wasn’t. I didn’t belong and they made sure I knew it. I remember…

Based on the memory of my pain, I wanted to come up with an activity that would help move my students from knowing what needs to be done to doing it. As my wise young writer had written,

The cost is a change in the way people treat others.”

The first thing I did was to bring the subject out in the open. During the class discussion, the kids came up with the idea of interviewing other students in class that they didn’t know well, or maybe didn’t even like.

I asked them if they wanted to choose or if they wanted me to assign the interview pairs. Interestingly, all of my classes wanted me to assign the pairs.  During the interviews we all agreed that we would put into practice the next piece of advise from my wise young writer.

Instead of being rude and inconsiderate to people that they might think are weird or “different”, I wish people would be kind and accept them for who they are and maybe even realize that sometimes different is good.”

The day of the interviews had arrived. As students came into class, I could detect a tone of anticipation, nervousness…We had already brainstormed some questions that would be good starters for the interview:

  • Where were you born?
  • What’s your favorite food, sport, movie, TV program, etc.?
  • What do you want to do when you are grown up?

Just some basic, generic questions that would get the conversations started.  The students got settled for their interviews. In no time, you could see the reserved manners change to lighter, more comfortable, engaging conversation.

The overall response to the assignment was really positive. They didn’t all become great friends but there was much more interaction between all of the kids as time went on.

My Friend

 Call me tomorrow to say hello

Or come to me by the weeping willow

Today I think I’ll play by the lake

And maybe a sand castle I’ll make

Yesterday I flew my kite high, really high

I lost sight of it beyond the clouds in the sky

But tomorrow, my friend, I’ll play with you

Or today you may join me in everything I do.  

(poem written by student)

Probably the best validation was from one of the lunch duty aides.  She commented that the junior high kids really seemed to be behaving better in the cafeteria. She asked me if I had noticed any difference.

I smiled and said, “I guess they’re finally growing up.”

intergenerational communication

   Not So Different After All

 “Lost or found, memories live on”.

This line from one of my student’s poem is true for us all. It reminded me of a mother who came in to talk to me – actually yell at me – about the failing grades that I was “giving” her son and that it was my fault he would not graduate. (My class was not the only one he was failing.)

The first trimester report cards had been passed out and his report card indicated that he would not have the grades he needed to graduate.   The school secretary called me to “warn” me she was on her way to my classroom.  I nervously waited for her to arrive. Her pounding on the door to let me know she was there.

From the way she walked in the room, to her refusal to sit when I offered her a chair, I knew this would not be pleasant. I don’t remember the exact words of our conversation, but it went something like this

“Please, sit down.” I said as I gestured to a chair across from my desk.

“I’m not here for a friendly visit. I’m here to find out why you’re picking on my son.”

“OK. Let’s look at his grades and last report card to see what’s going on.”  I told her that the record book showed that he had not turned in 11 out of 20 assignments and the ones he did turn in were incomplete.

That’s when she let me have it. “Do you think all I have to do is monitor the assignments that you give him? I have two other children to worry about. I work two jobs and don’t have the luxury that you have in your nice clothes and respectable job and regular hours. It’s all I can do to buy food and clothes for them…I can’t even always do that. You think you are so much better than me because I’m not the perfect parent that I’m sure you are!”

The tirade continued along the same lines for a few a little longer. Realizing that she needed to vent, I kept my mouth shut.

She said she needed a cigarette. As she fumbled for a cigarette, I told her I was sorry but she could not smoke on the school grounds. That started another tirade about how  everybody at school was so special that they couldn’t be around cigarettes.

Well, that was certainly not the hill I was willing to die on…I kept my mouth shut.

Then…she looked up from fumbling in her purse for cigarettes. I saw her eyes welling up with tears. At this point, she slumped into the chair and sobbed, “I can’t do it any more. I can’t do it any more. I can’t do…”

Everything changed at that moment. All agendas and preconceived judgments, both hers and mine, were gone. Without thinking I went around my desk and sat next to her. I took her hands in mine, leaned over and held her. She did not resist. We just sat there holding each other – I have no idea how long.


I am alone in this nightmare

No one to hold me, no one to care

No one to talk to, no one to share

Please hold me someone

Please someone care.

(Poem written by a student)

And then I told her my story. Yes, I was sitting in a classroom as the teacher. But it had not always been so. I told her that I walk the same path that she walks; I was a divorced, single parent, I knew the hopelessness, the depression, the difficulties. And even though it looked to her like I had it all together, I certainly did not!

Silence…She looked at me and mumbled, “Thank-you.”

We went on to come up with a plan for her son to follow that would allow him to pass my class and get the units he needed for graduation. I met with the two other teachers whose classes he was also failing and they agreed to make a plan for him. I’ll admit I broke some of my ironclad rules about not accepting missing or late assignments. I did not, however, lower the bar on grading his work. He and his mom needed to feel the authentic reward of hard work. To lower my standards for his assignments would be an insult to him and his mother.

Well, he managed to fulfill the requirements that we laid out for him. He certainly did not graduate at the top of his class – but he did graduate. His mother stepped up a bit by signing assignments… sometimes.

The next time I saw her was at his graduation. We looked at each other for a moment. She walked up to me, and quietly said, “Thank-you.”

It doesn’t get better than that!



intergenerational communication

Cell Phones and Emma

I decided I needed a break from writing so I clicked over to my Facebook page. The first entry I saw was this.

“CNN recently interviewed Dr. Jean Twenge, author of iGen and her interview worried me –Dr. Twenge started doing research 25 years ago on generational differences, but when 2011 -2012 hit, she saw something that would scare her to the core.   This is the year when those having iPhones went over the 50% mark.

  • This was the year that more kids started to say that they felt “sad, hopeless, useless… that they couldn’t do anything right (depression).”
  • They felt left-out and lonely.
  • There is a 50% increase in a clinical level depression between 2011-2015.
  • A substantial increase in suicide rate.”

I taught through those years. I can verify by anecdotal evidence that this is absolutely true.

It was the early 2000’s. Kids were just beginning to get their own cell phones and, of course, bringing them to school and, of course, using them at school, which was, of course, against the rules. (Kind of like Mary’s little lamb.)

I must tell you – cell phones were the bane of my existence as a Jr. high teacher. This story is one of the reasons why.

There was a young girl in my class. I’ll call her Emma. Emma was very needy. She had already had some drug issues and was failing all of her classes. She did not have a father in her life but did have a mother that found refuge in many men; a far too common recipe for disaster.

Emma had potential; she loved to write but was too undisciplined to finish and turn in assignments. Her only reason for attending school was wrapped up in her boyfriend. He was her only solace. School was their meeting place.

You see, a friend of Emma liked Emma’s boyfriend. Sue – not her real name – decided to go into the bathroom at recess, take off her top and bra and take some “selfies”. (I don’t even think that term had been coined at that time) Anyway, during the next class period, she sent these pictures to Emma’s boyfriend, who promptly decided to dump Emma and ask Sue to be his girlfriend.

OK, typical Jr. high drama. I get it, but there is more.

At lunchtime, John – not his real name – tells Emma he has changed his mind and his girlfriend. Emma, in her fragile emotional state was unable to handle this.

Meanwhile, I’m in the teacher’s lounge eating lunch and the bells go off. I rush outside to find Emma laying on a bench with yard duty aides around her calling for help. Emma had taken a knife (yeah – I know, they’re not allowed at school like cell phones and Mary’s little lamb) and cut her wrists. The police and ambulance came and took her to the hospital. She was physically OK but in deep emotional pain.

Emma came back to school a few days later, still troubled and very embarrassed. She was sent to counseling and put in a special class for emotionally disturbed students.

By the way, this did not solve her problems.



intergenerational communication

Junior High Pressure


Do you remember your Junior high years? My Junior high years could be summarized in one word – PRESSURE

  • Academic pressure – Will my grades allow me to take the classes I need to have in high school?
  • Peer pressure – Do I fit in? What is it that I want to fit in to?
  • Parent pressure – Why can’t I talk to my parents? I don’t want to talk to my parents!
  • Media (Self-image) pressure – Am I cute enough, sexy enough to be on the cover of a Hollywood magazine?
  • Time pressure – school, sports, chores, hanging out with my friends? How do I fit it all in?

It is not my intention to get into psychological, physiological or hormonal changes that form the basis of these pressures.

Rather, I want to share the voice of these young people who are dealing with them. I want to share their words that come from their gut, heart, and soul, their feelings, their observations and the humor many of them use to make sense of it all.

Their journey is taking them into uncharted territory and frankly, many are not interested in listening to those who have traveled before them. (Of course, that was not my problem. I was always willing to listen.)

Some are entering this territory with the armor of support from parents and a loving, healthy childhood that has instilled in them a sense of security.

Listen to the voice of a child with this armor.

I don’t really need a gift because I have everything a child could hope for: loving parents, a bed to sleep in, warmth for my body, and food in my stomach. Some kids out there would pray to have those four simple things. This technology now has corrupted our minds into thinking we need all those expensive things when in fact we don’t.

The gift I would love to give is things to the homeless. My family and I want to go out this year for Christmas and provide them with clothes and blankets so that they don’t freeze in these cold winter nights.

Others – too many others – are entering into this new territory with no armor at all, resulting from a childhood that has instilled in them a sense of fear and insecurity.

Listen to the voice of a child without this armor.

A gift I would like to receive would be love. I would like love because I want to know that someone cares. Another reason I chose love is because I could talk to someone who would listen and not ignore me. This is why I chose love as my gift to receive for Christmas.

Most of us know young people who are on this part of life’s journey.

Will their armor withstand the journey?

How might you strengthen their armor?



intergenerational communication

Present Meets the Past


I’m from the teaching era that required students to write their assignments in cursive. (I still believe they should, but that’s a topic for later blogs.) You know, the era when, if you wanted to say something, you wrote a book and tried to get someone to publish it. So “blogging” for me is definitely a step outside of my comfort zone. But how do you grow if you don’t stretch? Please, join me in my stretch.

When asked what I did for a living, my response usually received one of two reactions: either a hand on the shoulder along with a look that said, “I’m sorry” or a step back with a look that said, “What is wrong with you?”

Indeed, my profession deserved both responses. I often felt that way myself. You see, I was a Jr. High teacher…Yes, Jr. High…“Middle School” as it is more commonly referred to now. Ages 13 – 15…puberty. Actually, it is a very easy age group to teach. I mean, at what other age are you going to have students that know everything… you know, that age when they have all the answers!

All of life is a journey. My journey has been divided into four chronological periods. First, childhood and growing up; second, looking ahead and preparing for my future; third, living and accumulating experiences and lessons; and now, retirement and time to reflect.

Within each period there has been a blending and sometimes tension between my personal life and my professional life. Indeed, there were many times when I felt as if I were living two lives – my personal life which was sometimes a train wreck and my professional life which was successful and fulfilling. God has blessed me in the last 20 years of uniting these two into a life of wholeness. Until I truly experienced being “whole”, I did not realize how compartmentalized my life was. (I suspect this may be true for many of us)

I’m writing now out of the fourth part of my journey: retirement and reflection. It was initiated a few months ago when I was going through some of my students’ work that had been kept in my file cabinet. The work included the fruit of two assignments – a poetry unit and a journal response.

The poetry was the result of a six-week unit. The final project was a poetry book that the students were to write and illustrate. Their poetry needed to represent the various forms of poetry that we studied.

The prose responses are from students to the following prompt given to them at Christmas time: Write about what you would like to give and receive for Christmas but your gifts may not cost any money.

I’m retired now after a 33-year career of teaching. And yes, retirement is a very good part of teaching. But as I reread and reflected on this student writing, I realized that the greatest treasure of teaching is the memories I have and the blessing of having participated in the lives of many young people for a time in their lives.

This realization came in the form of a poem that had been written by a 14-year-old boy in my class over 18 years ago.


Lost or found, memories live on

Sometimes forgotten,

Sometimes remembered

Do with them what you wish

For they are yours to possess


Whether you cherish them or hate them

They are yours as they come with experience

They are not to be taken for granted

Lost or found, memories live on.


The irony of a student’s writing written under my tutelage at the beginning of his life’s journey has given direction and focus to me at this point in my life’s journey!

And that is what this blog is all about – the two-way street of ‘lessons learned’; those I taught to my students and those my students taught to me.