Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sample Narrative Essay: Spelling Bee

A few weeks ago I came home from work and did not, like I normally do, immediately change my clothes.  I was still in my work clothes when my husband got home from work.
"You wore that to work?" he asked.
"Yes.  Do you like it?" I asked in return.
"It's a maternity shirt, I think," he said carefully.

Let it be known that I am not nor ever have been nor plan to be in a state of M-A-T-E-R-N-I-T-Y.

A few weeks before that a student announced to the me and the rest of the class that she knew I would be in class that day because she saw me walking across campus, and she knew without a doubt it was me walking across campus because of my pants.
"No one else wears pants like that, anymore," she said.

I have heard, too, that I am a very approachable professor because I "don't dress like the other female English professors."  I have a multitude of examples.  Suffice it to say, I have a very complicated relationship with my clothes: But this is not a new thing,  I realized earlier this week.  The root of my problem taps as deep as a First Grade spelling bee. "A-S-S," I spelled out for a student earlier this week who almost used the word "ass" but did not want to swear in class.  "A-S-S," I spelled,  and as I did so I was  transported immediately back to the St. Clair County Regional Spelling Bee, 1981.

I was in the First Grade, and I wanted to be anywhere but at that spelling bee.  It wasn't that I wasn't proud of being the best First Grade speller in the entire elementary school, but that my mother had forced me to wear the most dreadful clothing I had ever seen in my life.  It was ugly, outdated, scratchy, and utterly embarrassing.  The dress was pink, faded flower pink with a smokey yellow tinge coating its pleated overlay; a nicotine tinge.  It had a frayed satin belt U-N-T-I-E-D in what was supposed to be a bow behind my back.  It was something once loved by someone else years and years prior, and it looked to have been worn for a semi-formal occasion.  The tights were white, yet too small, and the crotch sagged, chaffing the insides of my thighs.  The shoes, however, were casual, too big, and they were burgundy with B-O-O-G-E-R-Y, rubber soles. My hair was down, which meant it was snarly and stuck under my armpits.  An unhappier child you have never seen, so to top off the look were streaks running from eyes to chin where the tears had cut through the tomboy dust on my cheeks.

I had to sit on stage like that, in front of people who were going to judge me and my hand-me-down, mismatched clothes. The other kids looked nice . . . until they looked at me and made faces, however.  None of them would talk to me.  They laughed and pointed.  It was mortifying, devastating, and demoralizing.  I sat in the back row and hoped the adjudicators would never call my name.

But they did.

And the word was "as." Could they have made it any easier?  Did they feel bad for me or something?

"Use that in a sentence, please." I said to buy more time as I considered my options.  I wanted to sink into the stage floor, but that was not an option.

"She ran as quickly as a cheetah," the adjudicator read from the card. I wanted to run away as quickly as a cheetah, but that was not an option, either.

I thought of the one option that would allow me to go home early, though.

"As," I said. I tried to conjure enough saliva to do what needed to be done next.
"A-S-S," I spelled.

A few people laughed.  I was off the stage before they even had to ask me to leave the stage. We were in the car shortly after that, and no one spoke.  As I recall, that dress and those shoes never saw the light of day, again.  I never competed in a spelling bee, again, either.

Was there a better option?  Did I really need to throw the game to save face?  In the moment, I sure as H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks thought I did.  But would I do it the same today?  Probably not.  I'd probably note the people laughing at the way I dressed and outspell them all, anyway, paying particular attention to enunciate any bad words that appeared within another word while looking at the laughers.


But I'd still feel bad about them laughing at me, and my complicated relationship with my clothes would get ever still more complicated.  It's human nature, I think, and until we all get back to the fig leaf or go naked, it's a complication that will persist.

Want to read more about my complicated relationship with my clothes? Try

Project 333 Math: Making my Own Rules
Stitch Fix Review: Styling at 40

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Monday, January 23, 2017

What's a Poster Presentation?

A poster presentation is generally a quick, visual and verbal presentation that uses a poster as a visual aid. While the visual aid, the poster, can usually stand alone to explain the presenter's research using text and images, a short speech will help answer any additional questions a viewer may have.  

What's the Purpose of a Poster Presentation

Poster presentations allow for viewers, generally conference attendees, to gather as much information about current research in their fields as possible in a short amount of time.  This method of "quick introduction" can help spur additional research, partnerships, sponsorships, and scholarship.

How to Plan the Poster Part of a Poster Presentation

A poster should introduce the most pertinent parts of a scholar's research.  Remember, it should be able to stand alone as an explanation of a scholar's current research.  The poster should be designed with viewers in mind, viewers who will be standing 4 - 6 feet from the poster. For example, all fonts should be large enough to be easy-to-read, and images should be clearly labelled, crisp, and interesting in color or texture.  The poster should include white space, and information within the text and as part of images should be grammatically correct and placed in a logical order. Headings for each section of the poster are also helpful for viewers.

A poster should include, at minimum

  • A Descriptive Title and Contact Information
  • The Research Question or Hypothesis
  • An Explanation of Research Methods, Materials, Approaches, and Process
  • The Informative Results of the Investigation

Additional information might include an overview, summary, abstract, bibliography, a list of partners or assistants, or additional research information.

How to Plan the Presentation Part of a Poster Presentation

The speech portion of the poster presentation should be short and to the point.  The time limit for such a speech is generally between one and two minutes.  Interested parties may wish to ask additional questions about the scholar's research: Anticipating those questions and preparing articulate answers shows professionalism.

A short speech should include an attention-getter, which in this case could be asking a viewer if he or she would like to know more about the research. From there, the scholar can present his or her thesis before transitioning into each main idea presented on the poster, giving examples or pointing out evidence in an appropriate order.  The scholar may wish to reiterate the thesis in the conclusion of the speech or use an additional conclusion technique for impact. Furthermore, the speaker should enunciate and speak with an appropriate volume and tone.


A poster presentation is both a visual and audible presentation of a scholar's current research.  Both the poster and the speech must be prepared with unity, coherence, and clarity. When designing a poster presentation, a scholar must remember to be concise: Poster presentations should be pleasant and interesting for viewers.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Playwriting and Screenwriting: Exercises and Prompts to Get Started

An empty chair sits on an otherwise empty stage in an empty theater.
Theater by  Hernán Piñera. Used with Creative Commons License.

When playwrights and screenwriters develop new scripts, they must consider all of the elements of drama: plot, character, setting, dialogue, movement, and theme.  

New writers, those who are just learning the craft or writing in the genre for the first time, may need some assistance pulling all of the various elements together to create a cohesive product. In order to assist these learners, faculty can present any number of  exercises and prompts to help student writers learn how to synthesize their creative ideas.

Knock Knock Script Prompt

One quick prompt for getting students started is based on the popular form of the knock-knock joke. This prompt helps students make decisions by providing two built-in characters, a bit of conflict (one character wants to come in), and an inciting incident. What the students must provide is, at minimum, characterization (names, actions, language, and motivations of each character), dialogue based on the characterization, rising action, and a resolution.  In doing this, a clear setting and theme may emerge, or students may be asked to revise their exercises to include those elements that are unclear or missing.

Comic Strip Script

The Comic Strip Script exercise, although difficult to ennunciate, makes for an excellent exercise in writing stage directions.   The comic provides plot, character, setting, dialogue, movement, and theme. What the student must provide is the complete script, sans images, in the appropriate screenwriting or playwriting format.  This requires clearly articulated stage directions to describe the actions, transitional actions, and actions of closure between panels. As an added lesson in Reader-Response Theory, students can compare interpretations of the given comic strip at the end of the exercise to demonstrate how differently people perceive the same work.

Swaperoo Script

This exercise requires some knowledge of famous characters and a bit of  playfulness. The students will swap one character for another.  For example, the students could write a scene from Hamlet that answers the question, "What if Xena were swapped for Hamlet?"  "What if Kermit were swapped for Bob Cratchit?" has already been done, but there are a multitude of additional options: Bugs Bunny for Mary Poppins, Tony Stark for Oedipus, Dexter for Snow White.   It's a great exercise for helping students understand how each of the elements of drama must interact with one another to create a whole.  When a character is swapped, everything changes.

Collecting Dialogue

One very popular exercise is eavesdropping on unsuspecting others in order to steal the dialogue. This is a great way to study the way people speak at a particular time and in a particular place.  What makes this ever more interesting, as I learned in a workshop with playwright Mac Wellman at Naropa University in 2006, is having students write this dialogue as one long paragraph. The paragraph is then passed to another student to bifurcate the lines, and passed to a third student to add stage directions.  With groups of four, the fourth student can add a title, additional character and location descriptions, and format the final script.  By the time the short script makes it back to the original eavesdropper, the words may be unrecognizable, and therefore, eye opening.  

Insight and Theme

Students can base scripts on real life.  One way to help students write about their own lives is to ask them to write narrative essays about a time they learned a valuable life lesson.  Most students are familiar with how to write an essay, so it's a great way to get them thinking about insightful thesis statements.  Those thesis statements and the narrative sequence of events they tell in the body of their essays become the basis of their plays entitled Insight.  To add a step, ask students to incorporate a narrative frame or first person narrator, much like in The Glass Menagerie, who breaks the fourth wall. In this exercise, theme and the idea of "the trustworthy narrator" are emphasized.

Design and Build

Designing a Set Helps Emphasize the Importance of Setting
Many beginning playwrights, especially those within English departments, have never studied theatre as an art form.  To get students thinking specifically about setting, students should design a set for one of their own plays or one of a classmate's plays.  These make for excellent presentations and can be as simple as 2D drawings of theoretical stage spaces, or as complex as 3D models with realistic budget projections for an existing stage. The same assignment can be used to emphasize characterization by asking students to design costumes and make-up, planning for any required backstage changes.  Although these can be fun and enlightening assignments, especially important are the students' arguments for each of their choices. 
When new writers are faced with writer's block or decision paralysis about their scripts, get them moving in the right direction by helping them get started.  These six script starters can help those students learn to synthesize and negotiate the elements of drama: plot, character, setting, dialogue, movement, and theme.

Want to read more about theatre and drama? Try

Origins of the Term "Deus Ex Machina"
The Medieval Morality Play
What's a Dramaturg Do?

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.