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?
MY MONUMENT WILL BE FOR KIDS WITH AUTISM. THE MONUMENT WILL REMAKE GOING CHILDREN TO SCHOOL. THE MONUMENT WILL SHOW CHILDREN WHO HAVE AUTISM PLAYING ALONG SIDE WITH CHILDREN WHO DON’T HAVE AUTISM. I WOULD PLACE THE MONUMENT IN A PARK WHERE CHILDREN COULD PLAY NEAR IT. RESIDENTS EVERYWHERE WOULD VISIT THE PARK. NO ONE WOULD BE AFRAID OF AUTISM ANYMORE.. what would you call your monument? FRIENDSHIP MONUMENT.
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