This piece, by John Maguire, nails it. Learning to think concretely and write about objects makes writing much better.
As a college writing instructor, I have seen many students show up in a freshman comp class believing they can’t write, and their opinion is valid. They don’t realize that it’s because they lack certain skills that were common among college freshmen 40 years ago….
Like the teachers at New Dorp, I believe in conscious skill instruction and over the years have made my own list of missing skills. One is the skill of giving specific concrete examples in an essay. One might naturally assume that giving good concrete examples is unteachable, that it’s just an aspect of a student’s thinking, and that a student with good mind will use good examples in his or her essays. But it’s much more useful to regard the giving of examples as a skill, because then you can find ways to train for it.I’m going to explain one way to do it.
How should one train students to give good, vivid examples in their writing? Should you tell them, Be more specific? I used to do that but I don’t any more, because it’s too vague, not operational. Today I give students a shortcut. I say, “Write physically. Write with physical objects. Put physical objects in your essay.”