The first name was chosen by a third grader at Drums Elementry last week when we could remember the name I gave my turtle puppet last year.
This morning one of last year’s students remembered.
“Your turtle’s name is Sprout,” she quietly informed. It must have come to her after our first session last week and she’d been waiting days until this morning to see me again so she could reveal it.
Of course! His name is Sprout.
I meant to look it up but it was an unusually busy week.
Sprout was named last year or maybe the previous fall when the students (then in second grade) and I began our study of storytelling by using superhero stories from comic books, tv, and movies as examples of how stories work.
It’s an especially fitting name now that we’ll be creating four new stories in which each of the student’s characters is inspired by the function different parts of speech play in a sentence. You know, Nouns are matter-of-fact, they know the names of things. They are good at trivia. Adjectives are sensitive with highly-attuned senses. They give vivid descriptions. Verbs are active and adverbs tell them how to act. Conjunctions bring people together or provide alternatives. They are natural mediators. Pronouns are shape-shifters, adapting and filling in for others as needed.
The topic of the plays will have something to do with plants, so Sprout will have to make an appearance. Perhaps he can cameo as a deus ex machina, of sorts. A mystical character that can step in like a higher power and intervene if the story gets stuck. I delight knowing there will be a moment in the future I get to teach them what a deus ex machina is and how it functions in a story.
At the rate they are going, they may not need an intervention. I almost cried as they showed how well they had absorbed the lessons of the previous year.
Within minutes, they named their characters, gave them traits based on the parts of speech as described to them, and began drawing pictures to show what they look like. One student’s character is a cactus and looks suitably spiny. Another student ran over to tell me that he was going to be the villain in their story. “Great! I told him. Your character can cause problems.”
I shared his announcement with the room.
“Your characters don’t need to be superheroes,” I told them, “but some of them will be heroes in that they are solving problems in the play. Other characters will be causing the problems.”
One group quickly selected the rainforest as the setting for their play. I told them to do research. Find out what the threats are to plants in the rainforest. “It’s people,” a student responded without hesitation.
The energy and enthusiasm of third grade is astonishing. I wish I could siphon some off the top and pump it into my morning college classes.
On the 50-minute drive home, listening to Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, I bookmarked a passage from chapter five to write down when I got home.
“A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, ‘Do you think I could be a writer?’
‘Well, the writer said, I don’t know. Do you like sentences?’
The writer could see the student’s amazement.
‘Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am 20 years old and do I like sentences?’
If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter, he said, ‘I like the smell of the paint.'”