Rules to Live By: A Lesson in Argument Writing from Two Young Writers
Updated: Feb 26
I happened to catch a brief segment of The Today Show this morning and couldn’t help thinking about how writing empowers people by giving them a voice—even young people. The segment was about a Walmart cart pusher finding a notebook that was written by two young girls and then misplaced in the Walmart parking lot. The young man was so impressed by the notebook that he found a way to locate the authors and return it to them. The notebook was called “Rules to Live By” and included over 150 rules. Some of the rules were funny ones like, “Don’t bite the dentist.” Others were more serious like, “Don’t text and drive at the same time.” When asked by Matt Lauer how the girls determined which rules to add to the book, they explained that they just paid attention to everyday things that happened to them.
I don’t know if these girls realize it, but they are living what Ralph Fletcher calls a “writerly life”. In A Writer’s Notebook Fletcher says, “Writers are like other people, except for at least one important difference. Other people have daily thoughts and feelings, notice this sky or that smell, but they don’t do much about it. All those thoughts, feelings, sensations, and opinions pass through them like the air they breathe. Not writers. Writers react.” And writers record their reactions in notebooks. Some of their thoughts may turn into poems or short stories or essays.
As I work with writing teachers, a common question often surfaces: “What do you do about students who won’t write?” My observation of reluctant writers is that many of them just don’t know what to write about. We have to help students see that there are many writing topics hiding in their everyday lives.
A colleague and I have recently been reviewing some Michigan Common Core opinion/argument writing units and planning some training modules around them. We have been asking ourselves what is most challenging for grades 3-5 students who are writing personal, persuasive, and literary essay. The first challenge is definitely helping students select a thesis or claim, a big idea which they would like to advance in their writing. I’m thinking that Isabelle and Isabella, the young authors of “Rules to Live By” would have no trouble finding a thesis for one of these essays. That’s because they have already spent lots of time just noticing.
I invite you view the inspiring video clip here. How about taking it a step further and showing it to your students and inviting them to start doing some noticing and writing of their own?