How is writing like sculpting?

What I loved about this activity is the fact that the students were enthusiastic to do the sculpting and were willing listeners as they worked.  To begin with, each student received a small container of Play-Doh.  The following questions were the focus of the lesson.

  1. What process does a writer go through to produce a final piece?
  2. How is a writer like a sculptor?

As the students began to work the Play-Doh in their hands, I reminded them that as clay is the material a sculptor uses, words are the material of writers.  It is important for writers to play with words, experiment with words, find out about words.  As they continued to stretch, press, and fold the Play-Doh, I spoke about the two parts of a writer or sculptor that have to work together to produce a final piece.  These two parts are the creator and the critic.

In the first stages of writing, the creator has a much bigger part.  The creator is the uncensored part of the writer or sculptor that envisions ideas, brainstorms possibilities, and thinks of all sorts of ways to do something.  The critic is the part that makes decisions, analyzes, revises, or edits.  If a writer hears that voice inside starting to judge while he or she is still in the prewriting stages and still just getting ideas for the writing, the writer needs to tell that critic voice to be quiet and wait his or her turn.

After having described the creator and the critic and allowing everyone time for work with the material, it was time to tell everyone what they would be creating.  First they were told that the something each was to create would be put on display for their classmates to see.  That helped establish who the audience for the sculpture would be.  Then they were told that the sculpture they were creating needed to serve a purpose.  Knowing why we are writing something helps us set a path and destination for our writing.  Their task was to create a pencil holder.  But before beginning, each was asked to set aside a small ball of Play-Doh (about the size of a pinky from the tip to the first knuckle).

Now they could begin the first of many ideas they would come up with.  This was not the time to pick a final design, but rather to experiment with lots of ideas.  While they worked I talked about what a writer’s purpose could be.  For instance, it could be to describe something, explain something, tell a story, get rid of anger or sadness.  It could be to persuade, give information, or maybe just find out what he or she thinks.  As a sculptor, their purpose was creating a pencil holder.  Then I ask them to mush up the Play-Doh again.  They moaned.  While I understood their disappointment, I wanted to prove that there were a thousand more ideas where that first one had come from.  That creator in each of us is always anxious to give more ideas.

As they began again, I spoke about how this could be considered presculpting in the same way we do prewriting.  In this stage the creator is at work and the critic is asleep.  To help them stay focused, I asked them to ask themselves, “What am I trying to accomplish?  How do I want my audience to feel?”  After a few minutes of watching them develop these new sculptures, I once more asked them to mush up their designs and begin a totally new one.

Before they began on this latest design, I announced that this would be their first draft.  We discussed as a class what the criteria for judging the pencil holder would be.  It was decided that the pencil holder needed to be interesting to look at and needed to securely hold the pencil.  At this point they let their critic help them decide whether or not to use one of the previous designs or to create a new one.  This time they had five minutes to finish this first draft.  Now it was time to stop and get some feedback.  Each asked a partner if it was clear where the pencil would go.

Now that we had gone through the stages of rehearsal (coming up with lots of ideas) and first draft (getting the essential meaning) it was time to revise.  Students were asked to look again at their piece.  They looked at it from the side, from the top, even from a distance.  They thought about what to refine.  Then they asked their partner and listened to ideas for improving their design.  A few moments were given for changes and revisions.

Next it was time for the final stage — editing.  I explained that at this point a writer looks closely at things like spelling, punctuation, grammar, and capitalization which make writing clear and readable.  For the sculpture, the editing came when each student traded the little ball of Play-Doh with someone else.  Then, with a new color, each added details to the sculpture.

As each finished, the pencil holders were given creative names and displayed on the front table.  We admired each pencil holder and complimented one another on design and creativity.

I found this activity at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) site.


Pencil Holders Extraordinaire