During this season of peace and good will, I am reminded of the power of words, not just to assert but to connect, not just to hurt but to heal.
Do you ever provide a prompt that evolves into a powerful writing experience for your students—you can tell by that hushed, charged feeling in the room—but for which you never see the pieces? Sometimes the piece that allows students to move to a new level of awareness, risk, and connection with their writing may well be the one that the teacher does not review.
This exercise was inspired by This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by acclaimed poet Joyce Sidman. This is a lovely book to keep in the classroom—or to give as a gift. The book is divided into two parts. In the first section a person apologizes to a specific other for a transgression (breaking a glass keepsake, eating all the brownies, saying something unkind); and in the second section, the person addressed has a chance to respond.
*Talk about some of the poems with students, asking them to mention ways in which others were hurt. Ask them to imagine how the hurt person might react to the poem-apology and then read and discuss the corresponding poem of forgiveness in part two.
*Ask students to close their eyes and think about a time when they hurt someone or something.
*Have them write a letter to the person in which they tell what they did and apologize. First assure students that this piece of writing will not be looked at by you (teacher) or shared with others. They might wish to share it with the person to whom it is addressed—but that is up to them.
*On certain days, allow the page to be a safe place for students to write out their feelings and secrets without worries that this will be reviewed or graded. You might set aside a time, perhaps monthly or biweekly, for such writing explorations.
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