Putting the Free in Free Write


On January 23, 2018, students at PS 279 Captain Manuel Rivera Jr. studied poet Sandra Cisneros with CWP Teaching Artists Pamella Allen and Jessie Paddock. The residency focuses on promoting community awareness through the creative process and self-reflection, and the TAs used Cisneros short story “My Name” from her book The House On Mango Street to enhance their curriculum.

Sandra Cisneros is a poet, short story writer, novelist, essayist, whose work explores the lives of the working-class. Her classic, coming-of-age novel, The House on Mango Street, has sold over six million copies, been translated into over twenty languages, and is required reading in elementary, high school, and universities across the nation.

The TAs introduced Cisneros to the class and read “My Name” with them. While the students listened, the TA instructed them to pay attention to language and sentences that stood out. Students used the opportunity to circle words or lines they found meaningful or experienced a strong reaction. The TAs used these guiding questions to help the students:

  1. What’s the first thing you notice about this piece of writing?
  2. What lines stood out?
  3. Were there any lines or phrases that were easy to picture in your head (introduce “delicious details”)?
  4. Anything else you notice about what the poem makes you think of or remember?
  5. Is there any part of the poem that was easy to relate to or reminded you of an experience you’ve had?

After the reading, the students were asked to use the information they jotted down to answer the blank prompts above. These prompts then fed into a free write exercise, and this is what one of the TAs said about the experience:

“We are proud of this work because during the first lesson with a singular focus on individual writing, Cephas and Lindsay dove right in. Lindsay put the “free” in “free write” by not only writing consistently during the allotted time frame, but allowing herself to be vulnerable, honest and unfiltered. Cephas, too, was both focused and thoughtful when answering prompts about his name and its origins. Both students showed a willingness to push themselves and a strong intrapersonal awareness.”