Know, feel and imagine

Author Deborah Wiles enlightens students and teachers

Author Deborah Wiles listens as one student speaks about his story. Wiles visited St. George's on Friday, Feb. 3, to give two writing workshops to second through fifth grade students from the Germantown and Memphis campuses.

What you know, what you feel and what you can imagine: Contrary to the popular argument where students and adults alike insist they have nothing to write about, author Deborah Wiles reminded students that stories come from these three places, reminding them they all have stories deep inside of them.

Ms. Wiles has been teaching writing in schools across the country for the last 20 years, and, personally, she has written fiction and nonfiction books, many of which appear in libraries on all three St. George’s campuses. In addition, some of her books, including “Love, Ruby Lavender” and “Freedom Summer,” are read as a part of the elementary school curriculum.

Ms. Wiles has visited St. George’s a few times in the past, and after learning she would be in Memphis as a keynote speaker for Kappa Kappa Gamma’s Literacy is Key luncheon, Germantown campus librarian Mrs. Jennifer Winstead worked to secure Ms. Wiles for a writing workshop for her students.

“I think the workshop went really well. I took eight pages of notes and I saw students and teachers writing writing writing in their notebooks,” Mrs. Winstead said. “I think that Deborah breaks [the writing process] down in a way that helps students say, ‘hey, I can do this’ and ‘I have a story tell.'”

Ms. Wiles visited the St. George’s Germantown campus on Friday, Feb. 3, and led two writing workshops, where she would teach second through fifth grade students from the Germantown and Memphis campuses. During these workshops, Ms. Wiles worked with students to help them brainstorm and write their own stories based on personal experiences.

“We are stories,” Ms. Wiles said to fourth and fifth grade students. “Every minute we live is our story. Everything that happens to us is our story.” It was on this principle that Ms. Wiles brought out students’ stories.

Most prompts began with “A Time That,” and then included an action or an emotion that the students would then write about. For example, Ms. Wiles would ask students to write about “the time that you were confused or scared,” as this thinking inspired her to write “Freedom Summer,” a fiction book about “the time [she] went to Mississippi and everything was closed,” as she remembered it.

“Writers pay attention, ask questions and make connections,” Ms. Wiles said of the three things writers do. Students not only practiced finding inspiration for their writing but how to write as well.

The workshop itself was interactive and involved Ms. Wiles teaching by using examples. In most instances she would give an example from her life, such as showing a picture of her house and describing it, then she would call on students and ask for their personal examples and, after students understood, they would talk about that writing lesson and begin to write themselves, being kept involved the entire time.

Overall, students and teachers alike seemed to learn from Ms. Wiles and enjoyed the workshop.

“I learned that it’s really easy to learn how to write if you have the right teacher,” fifth grade student Julianne Hurley said.

“I learned a lot from Deborah Wiles. he inspired me. She made me laugh. She even made me cry,” Ms. Kim Finch said. “Her stories are our stories. What a wonderful way to get to know a person.”