Author Lester Laminack taught a course I took at Teachers College during the 2006 Summer Institute on the Teaching of Writing. He said, “There’s only a letter or two that separates the word craft from cr*p.” He paused. “Therefore, an overuse of craft is crap!” Everyone in the room busted out laughing when they heard this.
This statement has been ruminating inside of me for months. I’ve tried to impart this concept to my students as I teach them writing by telling them that “an overabundance of craft is garbage,” but it doesn’t have the same sassy ring to it. Therefore, I’ve missed the mark and my point hasn’t been made.
I read a story to my students today that had a lot of repetition. One of my girls with a dark, bushy ponytail and big, brown eyes looked up at me innocently and asked, “When is it too much repetition? When do you get to the point that someone just doesn’t care.” I thought, now’s my chance to teach them about the overuse of craft. But will I get in trouble? Hmmmmm… June 21st seemed like a good date to find out (after all school ends next week).
Therefore, I looked at my ponytailed student and said, “I’m going to teach you something, but it’s going to require me to say a bad word.”
She looked perplexed. She was mute. She didn’t know what to say. She just stared at me.
However, the rest of the class was roaring! Kids who were half-asleep during my read aloud perked up when they heard that I was going to curse. They’d never heard this before (I don’t even let them say “shut up” to each other in the classroom) and were excited.
I decided to spell it out for them. I put the word craft on the white board. Then I told them what I was about to tell them came from Lester, who they know since I won 3rd place in his 100th Day Contest. And then, I went in for the kill. I said, “And Lester told us that anytime you use to much craft it’s not good since it detracts from your story. The exact thing he said is that ‘An overuse of craft is–” I paused. Am I really going to do this?
Just as I was about to chicken-out, one of the more outspoken students in my class yelled out, “CR*P!” (She said the whole word, but this is a G-rated Blog, so forgive me if I don’t spell it out for you!)
“THANK YOU!” I retorted.
The class laughed hysterically, again.
We continued the conversation. I demonstrated by saying something that I think Lester had imparted in me. It’s essentially this:
When you open a door you don’t take in the color of it and every little detail. Instead you just open the door.
So I marched over to the door and said, “I’m going to come in and do an overuse of craft thing. Watch. ‘I turned the solid, brass handle of the big, blue door. The door had tons of holes sprinkled from top to bottom for the teacher whose room this is seems to have taken a staple gun to it many times. I shifted my weight on to my right foot and walked into the room.”
The class stared at me. I said, “You don’t think like that. You just turn the handle and open the door! Don’t overuse details by adding adjectives like that folks!”
Long story short: They got it. I saw lots of editing marks on the final drafts I looked at today.
Realize I never said the word cr*p. I mouthed it and a couple of kids said it, but the words never audibly passed by lips! However, I truly believe this is one lesson that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. (And we can blame the ponytailed student for all of this, right?!!?!)
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).