Monday, November 8, 2010


by Mary Quattlebaum

How do you set the stage for in-class writing?  Might your students need a “transition” exercise or two to help calm and center them before writing?

Depending on your students’ age, you might face different challenges:  wiggly, easily distracted kids; sleepy high school and college students; tired, overly busy adults.  But they all have one thing in common:  the need to be able to focus and think clearly in order to write effectively. How might you help move them more quickly into the relaxed, focused state helpful for writing?

Over the years, I’ve found the following helpful—for students of all ages and for me as a writer.  I have to confess:  If I don’t take a few minutes to “transition” before writing, all that I produce initially, alas, is a list of all the things—grocery shop, walk dogs, pick up dry cleaning—that I still must to do.

The whole series below takes about 5 to 8 minutes.  You can pick and choose from the movements, perhaps discovering those most helpful to your students—and to you.

Ask students to:

*  Sit with both feet flat on the floor and gently close eyes.  Keep eyes closed throughout.

*  Focus on breathing, inhaling deeply and exhaling fully.  Students might picture their breath as one color when they inhale (for example, green) and as another color (for example, yellow) when they exhale.

*  Try to yawn or open their mouths wide a few times.

*  Shrug shoulders slowly up close to their ears and hold to count of 3.  Drop and repeat.

*  Let arms relax straight down at their sides.  Slowly lift arms in a graceful arc until finger tips are pointed to ceiling.  Stretch and breathe.  Lace fingers together and turn palms up to the ceiling and press up as if trying to push against ceiling with palms.  Bring arms slowly down again to sides.

*  Make hands into two tight fists and hold as tightly as possible for count of 3; gently shake out.  Stretch fingers as far and wide as possible and hold for count of 3; gently shake out.

*  Cross arms over chest and reach up to rub and massage ear lobes.  Uncross and relax arms.

*  Press feet slowly and firmly into floor while focusing on breathing. Students might pretend to be trees, sending out roots.  They might gently press down on knees to help “plant” their feet in the floor. Hold for slow count of 10.

*  Return to focus on breathing for several more breaths before asking students to open their eyes slowly and gently but to try to stay in quiet, focused space they created for themselves.

*  Time to write!

Added bonus:  These movements can be done outside class and at home and discreetly at work.  They can enhance focus and productivity no matter the assignment or intellectual task.

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