Look at Me Lines

By Jessica Salfia

On April 20-21, 2018 WVCTE co-hosted along with NWP@WVU our first annual WVELA conference. This event featured some incredible teachers, speakers, presenters, and writers who inspired the ELA teachers of West Virginia all weekend. (And don’t worry–a blog post laden with ALL the #WVELA18 reflections and feels is cooking as we speak. Look for it next week).

Among the brilliant writers who shared their work with us at this conference was Robert Gipe. Gipe is the director of the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College in Cumberland, Kentucky, and is the author of Trampoline and Weedeater. I have written about Trampoline on this blog before.  You can find that post here.

Both Trampoline and Weedeater are illustrated novels, and Gipe treated the crowd to a reading from both works and a discussion of his writing process. During the Q&A portion of his presentation a teacher in the crowd asked him how he decided which lines to illustrate.

He responded:

“When I was a kid and my dad was talking to us, when he got to something real important, he would say ‘look at me.’ That part of the talk was the thing he wanted us to really remember. It was line he really wanted us paying attention to. When I wrote the books, I went through and circled what I thought were the ‘look at me lines’ and then illustrated them so that it was like that character was saying that line right to the reader.” 

I loved this idea–that a writer or character would ask a reader to “look at me” with language. This is also an essential skill that we want our students to possess as writers– to make a reader “look at them” so to speak.  And when a teacher loves an idea, it usually becomes a lesson.

Last week in my creative writing class, we read “All of Us Animals” by Annie Frazier. You can read this story HERE.

I first came across this story on my Twitter feed, and as soon as I read it I loved it and I knew my students would love it, especially my creative writing students.  I had them read the story as writers annotating for structure and writers moves, identifying how Frazier seems to blend fantasy and reality to create the extended metaphor of the girls becoming feral creatures or pack animals.

**Side note: This story also elicited a rich conversation about harassment, the #metoo movement, and when and if it’s “ok” to “hoot and holler” at someone you find attractive.

Then, I asked the students to read read chapter 1 of  Gipe’s Trampoline and specifically to pay attention to which lines get illustrated.  You can read chapter 1 of Trampoline online HERE. 

(Trampoline, pg. 61)

I told them Gipe’s “look at me” story, and we discussed the importance of “look at me lines” in great storytelling.  The students did some small group Socratic discussion regarding the lines Gipe illustrated in Trampoline and which lines they saw as “look at me” lines in chapter 1 that maybe didn’t get illustrated.

Next, I asked the students to go back to Frazier’s story, identify two “look at me lines” and illustrate them.  The goal here was not necessarily to create beautiful illustrations, but to pick out the line from the story that stood up and shouted at the reader–the line that said “look at me.”

Here are some of their choices for “look at me” lines from Annie Frazier’s “All of Us Animals”:

Once they finished their illustrations, the students then shared out which lines from Frazier’s story they thought were the “look at me” lines and why. They had to read the line out loud (even if someone had chosen the same line), and explain their illustration.

The cool part about this was seeing the same line identified several times as a look at me line, but also seeing the wide variety of “look at me lines” the students identified.

Finally, they had to pick one of the lines they identified in Frazier’s story and write a flash fiction story of their own that contained Frazier’s “look at me” line.

This activity created some truly great conversations and generated some terrific writing in from my students.  Let us know if you decide to try “look at me lines” in your classroom!

WVCTE is wondering…

What are some great texts you could use with this lesson? How else could you identify “look at me lines?” 

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