Monumental Creative Writing

Creative writing has become one of my very favorite parts of an RPM lesson. I end almost every lesson with an open ended writing prompt. When I compose the creative writing question, I often have an idea of what my own response would be or how I think my clients might reply. I am always wrong! My kids constantly surprise me taking their writing in a completely different direction with ideas so much more beautiful and complex than anything I had imagined!

My clients’ unique personalities truly shine through their writing (spelled out on the letter board). Ethan, almost 12, is one of my very talented RPM kiddos. Ethan is incredibly smart, sublimely sweet and funny! When we reach the end of the lesson and I say, “Ethan, let’s do a little creative writing,” his eyes light up and he gives me a little smirk that tells me that he is ready to wow me! Wait until you see what Ethan dreamed up at the end of this lesson on the Leaning Tower of Pisa! (Note: the lesson I presented is in regular font, Ethan’s responses are in all caps and my questions or comments are in italics).



The Leaning Tower of Pisa

In 1173 the citizens of Pisa, Italy set out to create a special campanile to stand on Pisa’s Cathedral Square. Campanile means bell tower. They wanted a round tower that stood higher than any tower in Italy; one that showed off their wealth and success. The tower was to be built in a Romanesque style featuring round arches and a heavy or dark appearance. The original planned height of the tower was 100 meters, or 328 feet.

What is a campanile? A BELL TOWER

Why would citizens want to build the tallest tower in the country? SHOW OFF THEIR WEALTH

How many feet are in 1 meter?  3.28

What do you think happened to the Tower of Pisa? SINK INTO THE GROUND

If you want to build a tall tower, you must first make sure that you have a solid foundation. Bonanno Pisano, the first of three architects of this tower, did not ensure that the foundation was strong enough to bear the entire building’s weight. An architect is someone who is trained to plan, design and oversee construction of a building. As workers reached completion of the third level, the entire building began to sink into the ground. The tower then sank 4 meters, or approximately 13 feet, into the ground.

Who plans and designs buildings? ARCHITECT

What supports a building? FOUNDATION

The citizens of Pisa were shocked and took a 100 year break from building the tower.  A new architect, Giovanni di Simone, then built the next four floors. Di Simone also attempted to balance the tilt of the tower, but was not successful. In fact, the tower began to lean further and further to one side! With this, the town took another 100 year break; employing its third and final architect Tommaso Pisano, to construct a belfry to complete the building. A belfry is a small enclosure at the top of a tower that houses bells for ringing.

What happened after the tower sank the first time? THEY TOOK A HUNDRED YEAR BREAK. One hundred years, what do you think about that? SEEMS PRETTY LONG

What happened when Giovanni di Simone worked on the tower? IT SANK MORE

What did Tommaso Pisano do? HE BUILT A BELL TOWER

What is a bell tower called? BELFRY

The tower has continued to lean over to one side over the centuries, and was closed to visitors in 1990. Several attempts have been made to straighten the tower including 800 tons of lead weights applied to the base and a ring of concrete poured at the foundation.  Sometimes the simplest solution is the best! Eventually a team removed 50 cubic meters, or 1766 cubic feet, of dirt from underneath the bottom plate of one side of the tower. This brought the Leaning Tower of Pisa 44 centimeters, or 17 inches, closer to being straight. The Leaning Tower of Pisa currently stands over 54 meters as of today!

After several attempts, what straightened the tower the most? REMOVING DIRT

CREATIVE WRITING:  Imagine you are an architect charged with building a monument in your hometown. What steps would you take to build a safe, strong monument that family and friends throughout the community could enjoy for years to come? Why is your work important to the community; both present and future?


Beautiful Ethan! THIS is why I love the creative writing component of RPM so much! I would visit the Friendship Monument. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a monument that celebrates all children and banishes fear of autism?!!

If you are using RPM with your child or client, I strongly encourage you to include a creative writing component in your lessons. Creative writing presumes competence! When you ask a student to engage in creative writing the message you send is “I believe that you have something important/special/interesting to say!” Even if you are just beginning and at the choice level of communication you can still do this. Using the lesson above, your creative writing portion could go something like this…”Tell me about your monument.  Would it be big or small (offer ripped paper choices for each question)? Would it be inside or outdoors? Would it be a statue or a painting? Would it feature people/animals or something else?” If your child is responding well to 2 choices, the “something else” choice is a nice way to really expand the options. You can go on and on in this fashion assembling the choices to create a story. Similarly, if your child is at the single word level on the letter board, you can ask these kind of questions verbally and have the student spell the responses – creative writing does not have to take place in full sentences!

Have fun with creative writing and the joy of expression! Feel free to try out this lesson with your child or client. I would be delighted to have you post your student’s creative writing in the comments section – great creative writing deserves an audience!  ~Elizabeth


6 thoughts on “Monumental Creative Writing

  1. Thank -you for this great inspiration! We’re just getting started, but it hit me right away that we could do this alongside the fact that his favorite auntie is visiting us this week. Now I just have to stop worrying that I’m going to do it “wrong”….

  2. Yes! You don’t need to worry about doing this “wrong” – everyone has a different rhythm and style of prompting in RPM – just like we do in our own speech. One of my very fluent kids was really struggling when using the letter board with his mom. When I asked him why, he told me, “Mom is too nervous on the letter board. She is too worried about doing it right.” When I asked what advice he had for her, he spelled, “Tell her, just be yourself and enjoy the process”!

    This is an amazing journey you are starting! I can’t wait to hear how it goes for you! ~Elizabeth

  3. Thank you for your wonderful blog! I struggle with coming up with lesson plans for my 11 year old daughter. Can you share how you create your lessons? Thanks!

    • Hi Suzanne. I appreciate your kind words! I will write a blog about how I plan my lessons. In the meantime, I will give you the short formula. I research a topic of interest and try to capture 4-5 paragraphs worth of content for an hour long session. After I have accrued the information for the lesson, I think of questions that address the content (generally 1 question per every couple of lines of content). I structure the questions from very concrete to more open ended and abstract as the lesson progresses. Choice of questions depends a lot on where your child is in their RPM use (are you using choices, are responses in single words, sentences or paragraphs…). I see 20+ clients per week and often use the same lesson with different clients but vary my questions and the amount of content depending upon where the client is in their RPM skills – lessons can be quite flexible! If a question is too difficult, rephrase it in a different way making it more closed-ended (where there is only one correct response). I like to end with creative writing that lets the child integrate what they have learned in the lesson!

      This is just my quick response for the basic structure of a lesson. Don’t be too hard on yourself, lesson planning is tricky and it takes some time to get used to it! My lessons often take on a life of their own and I tweak them constantly during a session! I love your question and have put it on my blog to do list!! ~Elizabeth

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