Framed by Flash:Eliminate Fluff and Teach Transfer

As the summer rolls on, it gets closer to time when us teachers need to start thinking about the start of the next semester. Here are some thoughts on how to use Flash Fiction and Flash CNF in your classroom.

Framed by Flash: Eliminate Fluff and Teach Transfer

By Sara Codair

Flash fiction and micro essays can teach students to write tight prose where every word carries meaning, they can eliminate the presence of “fluff” or “bullshit,” and they teach students to be ruthless editors.

Last year, one of my colleagues showed me an assignment for having her students write 100-word essays. Thinking it would be a great way to lessen the onslaught of questions like “is my paper long enough?” or “How many words should it be?” I followed the outlined steps myself, promptly adapting and expanding it to better suit my courses and teaching styles.

Now, I frame my first-year composition courses with flash fiction.

We start the semester by reading a selection of essays and stories from 100wordstory.org. The students analyze the pieces both for meaning and structure, noting how they were put together and how the smaller pieces contribute to the meaning.

Next, they write their own 100-word essay or story. At first, they complain about having to hit exactly 100 words.

“Can’t it be like, 102?” they ask.

“Exactly 100,” I say with a smirk.

“I can’t even go one over?”

I shake my head.

Then they do it, revising, editing and incorporating feedback until they have a polished piece that is exactly 100 words. They write a reflection about the skills they used and the value of concise language, and then they move onto to longer, more traditional college essays.

They remember the process and strategies they used in their flash, and through both discussion and trial and error, they learn to apply them to longer essays. The result? Their essays are tight, concise, and contain minimal fluff. They also practice the art of transferring skills from one task to another.

That it isn’t the end of flash in my classroom. After they finish their long research paper, we return to flash. By now, they’ve gotten a good handle on their writing process, so we focus on analysis and editing.

I’ll give students a 500-word story from the Mash Stories Shortlist, usually one that has a strong message, and have them analyze it. I’ve used my own piece, “Above the Influence” and a 2nd place winner, “Playback” by Conor Yunits.

Students examine the language, structure, plot and imagery and use that to make an argument about the meaning of the piece. Next, they write their own piece.

It reinforces the skills they started with earlier in the semester and practiced throughout, but since it’s a shorter piece, they can more or less zoom in and really focus on skills. And since they have used and adapted the same methods for different genres of writing, they have practiced transferring a skill from one genre to the next, and hopefully, they will be able to continue this act of transfer as they progress through their college careers.

 

 

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