This exercise is part of a yearly Frog Hollow tradition: Spy School. Technically, I’m not supposed to tell you anything about Spy School (what Spy School?) on strict decoded orders from a mysterious character named Agent Secretface. So we’ll just say I was telling you about our Observational Writing Day. How does that sound?
Anyhow, we do many observational writing exercises on Observational Writing Day, culminating in some, shall we say, Observing People in Public Places and writing it down. Did you know we saw 14 people in hats outside the Asian Art Museum last week? Some of them even seemed to know each other. None of them were children. Very suspicious, if you ask me.
To warm up for all of that, we do an exercise called Eat the Evidence. I adapted this one from Don’t Forget to Write, a great book put out by the national 826 people. How it works is that everyone gets a strawberry (or an orange, or an almond, or any other fairly-homogeneous, affordable, edible object). Each person has the job of figuring out what makes their strawberry unique. Does it have a dent? A torn stem? Is it large? Small? Light? Dark?
When the students are absolutely sure they can pick their strawberries out of a line-up, they give them to me and I put them on top of a sticky note (with their name on the other side) in a big grid of other strawberries on sticky notes. I usually add some extras to make it harder, because these kids are good. Then they each get a turn to find their object. If they’re right, they get to eat it. If not, it goes back into the grid and they wait for everyone else to guess and then take a second turn.
It’s rare for many people to need second turns though, because when a person’s spy, I mean observational, skills are activated, it is amazing what they notice. And of course, much of being a good writer (not to mention a fully alive human being) is learning to really look and to really see and to find the mysteries, stories, and threads of meaning in what you observe. So we stare at strawberries and people wearing hats, because, as Agent Secretface told us, anything can be a clue.
Want to spy out Frog Hollow? Come to our open house, 7-8 pm, June 12th, 1919 E Prospect St, Seattle, 98112. I’ll be there to answer any questions you might have, except for about the identity of Agent Secretface.