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A Kid's "Book of Experiences" with Themes for Future Writing

Posted by on in Teens and Tweens
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Jeffrey Pflaum, blogger on BAM, is also hosting CREATIVELY SPEAKING on the network's new show, PULSE (category: "Classroom Innovation").  Please check out the 12-minute podcasts on creativity, creative and critical thinking, EI, social-and-emotional learning, and more.


A Kid's "Book of Experiences" with Themes for Future Writing

I have written several blog posts on my “Contemplation Writing Project,” where you play music, from rock to classical and everything else in-between, for 10 minutes while kids close their eyes, listen to the sounds, contemplate their inner experiences, and write about whatever happened in the mind and imagination during that time.  This is followed up by a discussion of the students’ experiences via reading aloud their contemplations (anonymously) along with an inquiry technique (questions-and-answers).


When I first started my project with below-average fifth and sixth grade students in a tough inner-city school, I asked them to write one-, two-, or three-sentence contemplations describing what they experienced inside themselves.  Eventually, I increased the length to a paragraph; however, both writing lengths produced good results.


It was the shorter contemplations I compiled in “A Book of Experiences” that got my attention recently.  I thought the shorter works sounded more like fictional and non-fictional tweets of 140 characters or less.  Now I feel that, due to scheduling limitations, the contemplation period should be compressed from 30 to 15 minutes: 5 minutes for listening to music, 5 minutes for writing the contemplations, and 5 minutes for discussion.  Using this approach, I believe that educators, from elementary through high school, in inner-city, urban, suburban, and rural areas, would be able to fit it into their programs, and would also appreciate an original, creative, entertaining, and progressive form of social, emotional, and academic writing and learning.


To give you a better idea of what I am talking about, I will present sample fifth-grade student contemplations from “A Book of Experiences.”  Each child had a “chapter” of his/her contemplations in the book (approximately 100 per student).  In addition, I am including in the post a final chapter from the book titled, “A Penny For Your Thought,” where the kids wrote down thoughts occurring to them throughout the school day on 3” x 5” index cards.


In a brief introduction we discussed the quotation's meaning and how it is used today.  Once they understood it, I chimed to the class, “a penny for your thought,” and handed out real pennies for each thought expressed orally by the students.  The class brainstormed thoughts for 10 minutes via this fun, novel, motivational strategy.


I set up a “Penny-For-Your-Thought Box” with index cards that they could go to during the day and write down a thought in a “quick blast” (anonymously) and drop it inside.  Their thoughts were read aloud and discussed for a few minutes later in the week as a valuable downtime lesson.  Examples of their “penny thoughts” will follow the student contemplations.


Sample Student Contemplations

  • The song made my heart stop.  I thought I was out of breath.  Then my heartbeat came back.  Boy, something scared me.

  • I thought of this morning in my house.  My big cousin came and started to hit me with a pen.  I got so mad I punched her in the ribs and she cried like a baby.

  • I felt like an airplane in the sky just flying all over and feeling the air hitting against my hair.
  • I thought I was a skunk and everybody used to run away from me.  One day I shook my own tail and I ran away from myself.

  • I remembered the time my brother and I were little.  We were throwing oranges and my mother caught us and she did not do anything.

  • I became a bottle and everyone tried to break me, but it didn’t work.

  • I wish I could be Spiderman or Hulk so all the kids would look up to me.  But being myself I have more fun.

  • Sometimes I don’t know whether I’m in a dream or real life.  Like I could be in bed sleeping right now or daydreaming about today.

  • April 30th is my birthday.  I can’t wait.  Even if I’m not having a party.  I’d rather have love than a party.

  • Today I get the results of my x-rays.  I wonder what’s wrong in my stomach.  I hope and pray it’s not too bad.

  • I went to church four days in a row and felt good, real good.  I was mad because my cousins also came and they were making fun of my religion.

  • I thought I was God.  People pray to me but can’t see me.  I live in a sky house.  I can hold the Earth in my hand, make it rain, and let the sun out.

  • When I hear the music, my body feels like it is flying to the sun.  And my head feels broken apart like I was in outer space.

  • I don’t want to do contemplation.  I want to play 7-Up.  Oh boy!  Oh boy!  I have to do contemplation.  Oh boy!  Oh boy!  I want to play.

  • I imagined I could beat somebody up in a fight.  I thought I was big, but when I looked at myself, I was not so big.  I was little…

  • It was funny thinking today.  I imagined my brother got sick and I stayed home with him.  It was sad, but it’s all in your mind…

  • I thought I was a father.  I felt happy and funny.  I was a good father.

  • I remembered my friend, he was my best friend, but he moved away somewhere and I don’t know the name of the place.  Can’t see him anymore.

  • At lunchtime I had a headache because it was noisy and they were throwing food all around the cafeteria and now I can’t think.

  • This is a very good thing.  It is very good.  I felt sad while the record was on.  I remembered my grandfather when he died.

  • I felt like something would happen in the school.  I was scared to death.  I thought of this while going to school this morning.  That’s why I wrote it.

  • I saw a little cat on the way to school.  I wanted to take it, but the cat ran in the street and almost got hit by a car.  I got scared…

  • This afternoon I was playing jump rope and I always made out.  I said to myself, “I am a loser.”  I tried and tried but I always lose.

  • I saw a dog inside my head and it was running after me and I was hitting him in the mouth.

  • Today I saw the sun, a beautiful sun, coming from behind a hill.  It was so lovely that I didn’t know what to write.

  • Today while doing my work, my mom came to see the teacher.  I was so scared because everyone looked at me, asking me why my mother came up.

  • I felt like an old man sitting alone at a lunch counter.

  • While I was going to the store for my aunt, I saw a guy curse out another guy and said in my mind that they were going to fight.

  • I felt relaxed and comfortable in my bed.  Nobody’s in my house.  Me by myself no noise and resting.

  • I had a lot of thoughts in my mind.  I liked one of them.  I was sitting on my couch eating a big pizza pie and watching TV.

  • I thought about last night.  I woke up 4 times because I had 4 bad dreams.  I would like to remember what they were to get them out of my mind.


Now try to picture the contemplations as Tweets written on computers or paper and reflect on how effective this “5-5-5 Contemplation Writing Project” might be in your classroom.  The contemplations can be sparks for longer, future fiction and non-fiction student pieces.  Check out the possible writing themes I extracted from the student Contemplation Writings:

  • “Breathless”
  • Heartbeat
  • I Woke Up This Morning
  • Running Away from Myself
  • Yes, I Remember
  • Try to Break Me
  • Being Myself
  • Daydreaming
  • Is It Real or Fake?
  • I Can’t Wait
  • Hoping and Praying
  • I Live in a Sky House
  • Let the Sun Come Out
  • Flying to the Sun
  • Outer Space
  • Thinking Today
  • It’s All in Your Mind
  • Death in the Family
  • I Get Scared
  • I Am a Loser
  • An Old Man
  • Talking in My Mind
  • Self-Talk
  • Last Night
  • Get It Out of My Mind
  • Everyone Loves Me
  • Pain
  • In Your Face
  • The Fight
  • Blood Bros
  • Failure
  • Mad At Myself
  • I Had to Cry
  • Kitty
  • Disappearing Acts
  • What to Do?
  • Nobody Home
  • Pray for Me
  • A Feeling of Love
  • I Think I Can
  • What?
  • Dumbo the Student
  • Rainbow World
  • Quote of the Day
  • What Did You Say?
  • Say What?
  • Suddenly
  • The Wind
  • Love Me, Please
  • I Love This World
  • Eternal Love
  • The Competition
  • Champ
  • Are You Mocking Me?
  • Dumped
  • Paper Doll
  • The End of Me
  • House of Clouds
  • Cloud World
  • Baby, Baby
  • Write Till Your Hand Comes Off
  • Pizza Pie
  • Zero Thoughts
  • Bad Dreams
  • No Mind
  • Does It Matter?


These can be used as potential themes and titles for stories, fables, fairy tales, tall tales, myths, and poetry.  Ask the class to expand their contemplations into longer pieces. The best part is: the short contemplation prompts are organic and natural because they come from the students themselves, their own experiences.  Again, this activity can be done on paper or on the computer.


The next exercise, “A Penny For Your Thought,” is where children write thoughts on index cards when they come up during the school day.  Check out these pennies-for-your-thoughts samples: The sample student thoughts will be followed by themes, ideas, and main ideas I extracted from their upcoming writings.


The Final Chapter: “A Penny For Your Thought”


  • I was thinking it was 3:00 P.M.  Time to go home.

  • Today I was mad because I went home for lunch and no one was home.  I went home for nothing.


  • While we were in music, a girl from 6-2 was crying because she did not want to do the work that they gave her.


  • Today I had a very hard day.  I had an earache and a bad one.  I told the teacher and he said to go to the bathroom.  Maybe that would help.


  • I thought I was a fat man.  I always bumped into things.  One day I sat in a chair and it broke and I bounced all over the place.


  • I felt angry because I woke up late for school.  I was sleepy and having a nice dream and my mother woke me up.


  • Today when Marisol told me that her uncle died I said I am sorry that he died.


  • I thought I was Fonzie and all the girls loved me.


  • I imagined Ralph got out of the class and all the girls were happy because he is a pain.


  • My brother had a fight with a guy who had a knife.  I saw my brother with blood on him.


  • I remembered when I was doing my homework.  I made a mistake and was so mad that I wanted to cry.  I failed to succeed.


  • I thought there would be no more school no more teachers and no more work.


  • I wish I had a little puppy.


  • I thought I was shrinking like an ant.


  • I remembered when I tried to catch a bird because it couldn’t fly and I jumped and fell and the bird flew away.

  • Today I feel like going home because the teacher is out and I don’t like the substitute.  I don’t know what to do.

  • I imagined being in a waterbed with nobody bothering me.

  • I thought I was dead and they were praying for me.


  • I thought about the class.  They are always fighting and they always get mad at each other and I wish they would stop.


  • I thought I was a feeling of love and an expression of love.

  • I had a thought that I was going to be the dumbest girl in the class because I always think I can’t do things or write things.  But now I know I could do things.

  • I thought I could walk on a rainbow.


  • Little dog little I go to a little dog named Mr. Pflaum.

  • I draw a little monkey that looks just like __________, the monkey girl.  Just kitten.

  • I thought I jumped off the roof and suddenly the wind pushed me out into the air and I flew like Superman, but I didn’t have a cape.

  • When we do quotations it makes me feel good.

  • I thought I was a flower, but I was not.  I became sad.  I want people to like me.

  • My thought was about love and like I said in reading: “I love everybody in the world!”

  • I was thinking of love and that it would keep my marriage together forever, forever, and forever.

  • The guys were making fun of the girls today.

  • My sister was crying because her guy left her.  I felt sad for her.

  • I thought I was a doll made out of paper and they threw me in the basket and that was the end of me.

  • In gym I thought we were going to lose, but we won two games and 4-2 was mad.

  • I imagined I was asleep and in another world and there was no one there but God and I.

  • I imagined what it would be like to live in a cloud.  It would be my house made of clouds.

  • I thought I was going to pass the reading test.


  • I thought I was a very little baby put in front of a door.


  • I will write poems until I die.


  • I thought about going swimming, but I don’t know how to swim.  I think I’m never going to swim.


  • I had a good day in my dream and it was about today, but it was not true and I am mad.


  • I thought today was a beautiful day to go to school.


  • I thought I was an ant and somebody stepped on me.


  • I thought I would never finish the reading test, but I did and now I’m scared.


  • I thought I was a penny and I felt mad because I wasn’t worth anything.


  • Today I scared Angel and he started crying because he thought I would beat him up.


  • I imagined being a cow and I ate the farmer’s hair and Mr. Pflaum’s hair, too.


  • I thought about being friends with the whole wide world and never fighting with them and never arguing with them


  • I’m scared about tomorrow, I will act in a play and I’m really scared.


  • My sister and I talk like babies and my mother’s getting mad at us.


  • My brother and I had a fight.  He almost sat on me and I thought I would die.


  • My dog was in my bed and when I looked, he had my shoe and broke it.


  • I imagined I was in a house of crazy people.  If you go in my house, you come out crazy and hurt.


  • I was thinking about gym.  I fell and looked like Stupidman.


  • Today I’m going to the doctor and I don’t want to go because I hate doctors.


  • My brother and father had a fight and he told my brother that he’s big so he could get out  and live his life the way he wants.


  • My father said, “_______, you are not my daughter.”  I said, “I know.  You’re so ugly next to me.”  He got mad at me for the whole day.


  • I wish I wasn’t born because I don’t understand my life.  I tell it to my friend and she says her life is the same thing.  I wish I were with God.

  • I thought about all the work that we have done.  I am proud of my work because I wanted to learn.

  • I wished I passed to the 6th grade because I know how it feels to be left back.


  • I was thinking about contemplation.  It’s good and it’s funny to me.  Contemplation isimportant to my life.


I think you can see how the “pennies-for-thoughts” would work as potential prompts for longer writing, whether it’s a fiction or non-fiction narrative.  “Pennies” can be expanded into creative writing, essays, short stories, poetry, and prose poems.  I re-read the “pennies” and found the following possible themes and titles kids can use for future writing:


  • The Last Angry Kid
  • A Hard Day
  • Fat Man
  • NICE Dreams
  • The Pain in the Class
  • “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”
  • Lonely Hearts
  • Winners and Losers
  • The Reading Test
  • Good Day, Daydream
  • A Beautiful Day to Go to School
  • Dial 1-800-IMAGINE
  • Baby Talk
  • House of Crazy People
  • Fathers and Sons
  • Fathers and Daughters
  • Understanding My Life
  • Contemplation
  • Worthless
  • It Never Ends
  • One Penny
  • Beat Him Up
  • Imaginary Thoughts
  • Peace on Earth
  • Who's Scared?
  • Don't Get Mad, Get Glad
  • House of Hurt
  • Stupidman
  • This Is My life
  • Get Out
  • What I Want
  • Who Are You?
  • I Know
  • Trust Me
  • Ugly
  • My God
  • Wishing and Hoping
  • The Left Back Feeling


Let your kids select their favorite music and they will enjoy writing their contemplations, short or long, and learn something in the process about themselves, their feelings, thoughts, memories, dreams, daydreams, reflections, and reality.  Save one or two 15-minute time lessons each week, or assign a Contemplation Writing prompt or spark for homework, and your classroom atmosphere as well as the inner lives of your students, will change for the better.


For more information and references about “The Contemplation Writing Project,” go to these resources:


(1)  BAM posts titled, “Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs,” Parts 1 and 2, (2/21/12 and 3/1/12), at www.bamradionetwork.com.  Also, on the BAM Radio Network, is the post titled “Contemplation Writing Leads to Poetry Writing” (7/16/12).


(2)  Edutopia blog post titled, “Using ‘Music Writing’ to Trigger Creativity, Awareness and Motivation” (4/12/12), at: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/music-writing-trigger-creativity-jeffrey-pflaum.  A follow-up piece, titled “Build Reading and Writing Skills with Music” (6/6/12), can be found at: http://edutopia.org/blog/reading-skills-music-writing-jeffrey-pflaum.


(3)  Recent interviews about the project: “Harvesting Happiness” with Lisa Cypers Kamen at: http://toginet.com/shows/harvestinghappiness/#jeffreypflaum.  A second interview was on “Connect With Julianna” with Julianna Lyddon (Toginet Radio): http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 or http://bit.ly/t5FA0W.


(4)  Newspaper article by Phil Corso in The Bayside Times/Times Ledger titled, “Bayside man uses melody to move minds in classroom” (9/21/12).


(5)  Author’s website at www.JeffreyPflaum.com has articles titled “Contemplation Writing” (1992) and “Here and Now: Nine Meditative Writing Ideas” (1994) published by Teachers & Writers Magazine (NYC).  “’Contemplation’ strikes emotional chords with kids” (1998), published by The New York Teacher Newspaper/City Edition, can be found at the site.  There is an unpublished article, “Reflection Writing,” which shows a practical application of the Contemplation Music Writing process.  Samples of longer student contemplations and potential writing themes/titles are there as well.

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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe.

Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”).

One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM.

Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record."

Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum.

Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul. Also, he is a contributing writer for EDUCATION VIEWS at: www.educatnviews.org/author/jeffreypflaum/

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