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Walk Like a Writer

What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them. —Ferris Jabr in The New Yorker

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I power walk for exercise. I walk to unwind after a stressful day.  But the walks I treasure most are the ones where I amble in an attempt to discover the world around me.  Some might call me a flâneuse. Regardless of what I am, I like walking, often without a purpose, just to see what I see.

One of my favorite things about teaching in Manhattan was taking walks with my students. Once parents granted permission for their children to leave the building with me, I was able to take students on walks around the neighborhood. Sometimes we walked with a purpose in mind (e.g., to visit Museum Mile), while other times we headed to Central Park with our writer’s notebooks, paying careful attention to the world around us.

I wish I’d had Ask Me by Bernard Waber and Suzy Lee back when I was teaching. This newly-released book from Waber (who passed away in 2013) resonated with me immediately. It’s about a father and a daughter who walk through their neighborhood.  The little girl implores her father to ask her questions, which he does dutifully without losing patience (even when she when she questions him incessantly). They take in the world around them — watching geese fly, observing butterflies fluttering, eating ice cream cones, tramping through leaves, and resting in piles of leaves — while having a conversation.

There are no quotation marks in this plotless book. Instead the text changes color when the speaker changes. And while I wouldn’t use this book when I conferred with young writers, I think it is an excellent read aloud to inspire young writers.  First, it shows the power of a special relationship where the child feels safe to ask any kind of question. Some children have this at home. For those who don’t, Ask Me can be the way to help your students understand you will be that safe person to whom they can ask questions. Second, reading Ask Me sets the stage for any kind of neighborhood walk/writerly exploration you’d like to do with your students.  It shows the power of conversation and close observation while illustrating how silence can be savored. Third, the book shows the power of close observation, discovery, and wonder. All three of these things are important for writers if they’re going to write with precision. (See the links at the bottom of this post that deal with the power of walking and writing.)

Here’s a look at a few page spreads from ASK ME by Bernard Waber (Boston: HMH, 2015):

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I encourage you to venture outdoors with your students once you have your rules and routines established. Read Ask Me. For your first walk, you might engage in a back and forth conversation with your students, allowing them to ask questions while you relish the world around you.  On the next walk, you and your students can bring your writer’s notebooks so you can sketch and write about things that catch your attention while you’re out for your walk. Be sure to make time to share at the end of the walk!

More on Walking…

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Ask Me by Bernard Waber and Suzy Lee.  Many thanks to HMHCo for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Ask Me, please leave a comment about this post by Tuesday, September 15th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Wednesday, September 16th.
    • NOTE: Anyone may leave a comment, but only people with USA mailing addresses are eligible to receive a copy of this book.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at HMHCo will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – ASK ME. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed. Thanks to everyone who left a comment on this post. Heather’s commenter number was selected so she’ll receive a copy of Ask Me. Here’s what she wrote:

I think it is a great idea to go for a walk outside.  I remember my college professor, for a creative writing class, having us go to difference places to observe.  The movement is also good for all students.  It would be great for students to try to focus on their different senses to capture the moment.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

87 thoughts on “Walk Like a Writer Leave a comment

  1. Our school is piloting a monthly “all-school writing prompt” to build community since we are a PS-12 gr all in one building. Our theme for October is about connecting with nature so I especially appreciated the additional links that you posted and have already forwarded them on to the head of the department to use for planning that month’s prompt and lesson. After watching Anderson Cooper’s segment on mindfulness last year, several colleagues have taken to “walking meetings” where they walk around the building or outside on the campus. While being on a device takes away from the “mindfulness” of the exchange, having a phone or iPad to carry with us on our walks allows us to be up and active and still record notes, make to-do lists and even send emails.

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  2. I just started to use Twitter to be in touch with teachers. I am a new teacher with Special Education students and am always inspired by art and books that “speak” to me as if I were the child hesitating to read or write. This is an amazing book that has many facets to teaching. Even if I don’t win a copy I am thrilled to have read your post. I will get this book. Thank you. Sherry

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  3. Taking something familiar like a walk and approaching it in a different way or considering it from a different charcater’s point of view might be the springboard that helps the elementary students in my school feel like they have something worth writing about. Plus my colleagues in my Writer’s Camp for teachers would love to see this at Show and Tell!

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  4. The pictures are so bright and fun. I love the idea of how the two share different kinds of questions which is always hard for little ones to tell the difference between telling a story and asking a question in class discussions.

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  5. Still waiting for some cooler weather before we head outside, but I love the idea of combining walking and writing. Makes me think of Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook; in it he says writers are like anyone else except for one difference: we all notice things around us, but writers react. This is such a great way to encourage students to live “a writing kind of life.”
    Ask Me sounds like a wonderful book; can’t wait to check it out.
    Thanks for this great post, Stacey.

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  6. Each fall we walk the halls and gather school words in our writing notebooks. We use the words we gather to create small poems with All the Small Poems (and 14 more) by Valerie Worth as our mentor text. Ask me would be a wonderful continuation of our small poems adventure. Thank you for sponsoring the giveaway and the interesting post!

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  7. Thank you Stacey for all of you back to school posts! I got this book from the library last week and plan to use it with my class. I love taking walks with my 3rd graders. Another book I use is “Step Gently Out,” by Helen Frost. Thank you for adding my name to the drawing.

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  8. I like the idea of encouraging students to ask questions and being that adult, or at least one of them, that listens to children’s ‘wonderings’ and validates them with a response.

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  9. Hi Stacey, This post comes at the perfect time! I love the idea of a neighborhood walk to ask questions and observe. We also do monthly tree observations and record “noticings” in a tree journal with a photograph of the tree each month so we can observe the changes. I liked reading the comments from everyone else too! Thanks!

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  10. This is amazing, and it reflects my philosophy on the value of walking. My sons were fortunate enough to have a grandfather who took them on walks just like the one described in Ask Me, and I’m so grateful for that! Thank you for this post!

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  11. I think this is a wonderful idea. Too many times, our students are stuck using the computer. They don’t experience what is around them. I think this is a great idea! I would love to try this with my students. I can’t wait to try and read this book to my students! I hope my principal will allow this. Ask Me sounds awesome! I love the illustrations.

    Have a wonderful weekend! I

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  12. Our theme this year at school is “Growing Thinkers”, and encouraging them to ask questions to further their thinking. This would be a great read in our school to help our students with their thinking!

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  13. I’d love to use this book to inspire questioning. Our school has already had a walking and writing experience with a poet, but it focused on silence as a way to sharpen observation. Being open to receive and share questions is an important aspect for our class culture, too!

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  14. Stacey, this post resonates with me on so many levels. I am a lover of words (and walks) and I adore Bernard Waber; Ira Sleeps Over is my favorite. But it was the word flâneuse that struck me…Hermes uses it in their shoes ad campaign that I have glanced at a million times without taking the time to look up.Thanks to you, it’s crystal clear! Cannot wait to get my hands on Ask Me.

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  15. We have basically a crosswalk by our school that cut houses on a block–more like an alley. The people along this alley have gardens, plants that change throughout the year and a variety of trees. When I was a classroom teacher, I would take my students on a nature walk once a week, and we’d record in our journals sketches and notes about what we saw. When we came back to our classroom, we’d write about the weather, what we noticed had changed since last walk, and any feelings we had. It really was a great experience.

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  16. Thank you for this post. I am a 2nd grade teacher in VA. This year, I am attempting to infuse more writing into the day by introducing my students to journaling. I have not “journaled” in the past. So, this will be new for me too. ;))

    This post has given me another idea to help my students generate writing topics! Thank you again!!

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  17. My school is near a park on one side & a beach after a short walk, inspiration for writing comes forth as we are writing in our notebooks in these two settings.

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  18. Wonderful idea. I am doing a poetry unit to start my year off. We talk about using your senses to create the poem. A walk would be a perfect opportunity for my writers to get ideas! Thank you!

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  19. Child and adult; leaves and the wind; watching and listening; the mood and the tone–thank you for reminding us all of the importance of this synergy and time to observe. I appreciate the links as well…and the peeks into the book!

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  20. In 1962, Bernard Waber wrote a book called The House on E. 88th Street. My Aunt Jeanette gave it to me for my 6th birthday. I still have it. I loved it and asked to have it read to me incessantly. I read it to my kids at school, my own girls, and now my granddaughter. I also loved Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, and of course the IRA books. Bernard Waber is part of my earliest and happiest reading life. What a wonderful gift his books have been in my 57 years. Love and thanks to you, Bernard Waber!

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  21. I have taken my fifth graders for a walk around our school campus for years as a way of collecting observations. We record these in our Writer’s Notebook and revisit then when we are looking for writing ideas. This book sounds like the perfect read-aloud in preparation for such an activity.

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  22. This reminds me of the National Writing Project’s Writing Marathon!! Walking and writing; a winning combo. Can’t wait to have a writing/walking marathon with my kids. Thanks for sharing.

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  23. My classroom is a classroom of wonder this year. It’s so important for all of us to ask questions and this book seems like a great inspiration.

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  24. Oh I have tears in my eyes! When I was a kid, my dad and I loved to take walks together. He quit smoking when I was in my early teens and we took walks to help him through that. I always think of my dad and our talks on those walks. Thank you for the post! For me, it’s personal!!! I LOVE this book and it’s on my to buy list. Thank yoU!!!!

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  25. Thank you for sharing this wonderful book! It reminds me of the long walks I took with my beloved grandma. We would observe the world around us and collect leaves, flowers, and other objects to take home. Some of those objects can be found today in the family Bible. I would love to share this book with my class. What a gift to give young minds the opportunity to slow down and see the world around them.

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  26. Beautiful book to pair with a walk around the neighborhood to inspire writers. I also like to use Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street before going on observation walks around the school or outside. There are stories everywhere! : )

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  27. Stacey- Thanks so much for this thoughtful post. I always get the best ideas and find solutions to tough problems when I walk. I’m going to bookmark this so I can go back and read all the links!

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  28. This post is incredible, Stacey! What’s missing in so many lives today is our connection to nature and the world outside our doors. Waber and Lee have captured something very special here. The dad who pays attention and gives time, the wondering, curious questions…just beautiful. Thanks for the inspiration to get out and about with our notebooks!

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  29. I love the idea of walking to observe and then write. I think this will help students reflect on their lives around them. Thanks for this idea.

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  30. I love to walk and notice things. It is surprising what we can see when we slow down. I would love to incorporate a walk into writing workshop. Can’t wail to read this book!

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  31. For many years I took my English Language Learners for walks outside the school. They carried their notebooks, or a graphic organizer of the senses, to record what they saw, heard, felt, etc. It was a wonderful way to teach them vocabulary they were lacking such as bark and branches and tree trunk, breezy, calm and gusty…you get the idea. I was always amazed how they lacked the most basic vocabulary because no one else had ever taken them for a walk and done the same, or could speak English well enough to do so. The books looks very enticing…. Thanks for getting everyone out walking. It’s such an important thing to do!

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  32. This reminds me of the “mindful walking” form of meditation that encourages one to slow down. It’s amazing how many different sounds and smells and sensations one can feel when just slowing down to notice. Thank you for the great inspiration, as always!

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  33. I love this idea! I have taken my students outside and we have sat and observed and written. I never thought about walking and observing! I especially love the idea of pairing it with the book. I am a Bernard Waber fan from way back: Lyle, Lyle Crocodile!

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  34. I am excited about this book and this post!!!
    I run in the park at night and experience all of these things and this post reminded me a walk and think and observe would be a great thing to share with students and colleagues.

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  35. I think it is a great idea to go for a walk outside. I remember my college professor, for a creative writing class, having us go to difference places to observe. The movement is also good for all students. It would be great for students to try to focus on their different senses to capture the moment.

    Like

    • I loved the articles on walking you included. Thank you!
      My grandfather, an inventor, was the storied master of the purposeless walk in our family. I’m certain he walked to sort out ideas, eliminate the household noises in his head. My father said it wasn’t unusual for him to set off on a fifteen mile stroll on a Sunday. The family dog who followed would tucker out after seven, and Grandpa would have to find a phone booth where he could call to have someone drive out to fetch the sprawled-out hound, so he could continue his walk.

      Liked by 1 person

  36. Thank you for the chance to win this book – I just started using Writer’s Workshop and the book would be a wonderful jump start to our writing adventure this year!

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  37. Walking outdoors is something I always incorporate in my poetry unit. Now I’m thinking I should do it more often simply for inspiration. Thank you for your ideas.

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  38. I use to take my classroom out to walk and write it was such a great experience. One rainy day we did it in the school building. We walked, watched and then sat quietly in the hall and wrote about what we saw and hear! Walking is the best. Thanks for the articles and I will need to find a copy of this book to share with teachers I know.

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  39. This looks like a beautiful book – and a wonderful way for me to connect with my students from a very small First Nations Reserve with a close knit community. They are located on the most gorgeous island off another island that is a wonderful setting for noticing small details and getting inspiration!

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  40. Just shared the idea of taking students for walks with their Writer’s Notebooks with our teachers at our first day in service. Challenged them to write down sensory details – what do you hear, smell, feel – not just what you see. Have to get the book Ask Me!!!

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  41. I just bought Ask Me recently and I work at a school with a nature trail and loads of outdoor spaces for learning and playing. Thanks for the idea about combining the two. I suspect we’ll be heading out soon!

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  42. I love the idea of a neighborhood walk as a way to gather writing inspiration. I think I will do it in the fall, focusing on our 5 senses! Can’t wait to read Ask Me to my kiddos.

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