Volunteer Experiences: Overcoming Obstacles


Sculpting Creative and Thoughtful Individuals

Being careful with word choice is necessary, no matter which situation you are in. Talking to your coworkers, children, or superiors, choosing accurate language and mindful vocabulary needs to become second nature. I learned this lesson the hard way when I implemented an activity in the IYWP after school program last week.

At Mark Twain elementary school, I wanted to use a lesson plan the kids would find enjoyable, would spark their creativity, and would yield lasting, interesting, and all-new products. After learning about “Wreck This Journal,” I thought it would be cool to ‘wreck’ cheap, used children’s book by ripping out and rearranging pages, crossing out and adding in words and pictures, and overall altering the books. I knew this would be something kids would find exciting because it’s something they are often told NOT to do: “Don’t write in the book; Don’t doodle on your pages; Don’t be reckless with this book.” In fact, one child I worked with was hesitant to put his name on the ‘author’ page of one of the books. He had been taught to respect books, which is great. “But that’s the whole point of this project!” I explained to him. “It’s our book, and I want you to help me rewrite it,” I said as I handed him the pen.

This did excite the kiddos. There were even two girls who were reluctant to come into the room because they didn’t want to be doing ‘school stuff.’ “This is the opposite of school stuff,” I coaxed. “We are ‘unwriting’ books, tearing them up, DESTROYING THEM.”

Yes, yes, this did excite them. They agreed to come in the room… and started ripping the books to shreds.

With wide eyes, I watched as bits and pieces of the room fell to bits and pieces.

Two boys across the space were also tearing their books up into unrecognizable tatters, mixing their two books together with enthusiasm.

While I was glad they were enthusiastic, I was not so prepared to handle the situation.

In the small amount of time remaining, I encouraged the guys to find what they could salvage and create a story from it. This, they were still not so interested in. They knew it would be hard work to find whole pages from their destruction, and they didn’t want hard work.

However, some of the students did find the activity meaningful. They carefully located which words in the sentence of the book were meaningful and changed them. Next, they re-illustrated the page to match their new story.

When it came time to host the next group of students, I was more careful with my wording:

“We are going to recreate the books: you can take pages out, and rearrange them, cross out words and write in the books, but you have to be making a new story.”

This still intrigued them: they were getting to do something new and dangerous. However, by being careful in my word choice, no one’s book was turned into gerbil bedding.

This translates to the home: telling a child to hurry through a chore may influence them to do it so quickly that they may make an even bigger mess. Instead, we can reiterate that while we want them to be quick, we want them to be thorough and careful—that those factors are equally, if not more, important.

Words like destroy, demolish, wreck, and mutilate are similar to, but have different connotations, than rewrite, recreate, rearrange, and regenerate. The two different sets of words produced very dissimilar results. We as leaders, teachers, influencers, or parents need to be mindful in our word choice to get the effect we want from a lesson or activity. Using vocabulary that is thoughtful and provoking, but not too exaggerated, is necessary to produce the outcome we are looking for, be it a clean room or recreated children’s story.

~ Chelsea Essing


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