Salt and the stagecoach


Western Stagecoach 08. Robin HallCC BY

The third graders were having a hard time.

“We’re writing pourquoi tales in this unit,” explained their teacher, “which have to be based on the students’ research of frogs. We practiced writing one together and now they have to write their own, but they keep coming up with stuff that doesn’t quite work. I’ll end up with twenty stories about ‘Why Frogs Have Eyes’ or something.”

She sighed.

So, as extra practice,  I agreed to come help the children write pourquoi stories on topics of their choosing. I modeled writing one of my own composition, “Why People Wear Shoes,” incorporating their artistic contributions along the way (my main character meets a talking owl and the kids said it needed to be huge so that my character could ride on its back, which greatly enhanced the story).

Then we brainstormed ideas that they might write about:

Why there are stars

Why there are oceans

Why the ocean is salty

Why zebras have stripes

Why there are colors (challenging!)

Or anything else in the universe that might make a sensible pourquoi.

“Remember,” I told them, as they settled on their ideas and started to write, “you can have fun with this. You can make animals can talk, you can make mysterious things happen, but your stories have to clearly explain why or how something is the way it is.”

When I returned the next day, the teacher said, “You’ve got to hear this!” She asked a boy to read his draft to the class. A quiet boy who hadn’t seemed especially interested in writing.

I sat down and listened. He’d chosen “Why the Ocean Water is Salty.” A man working in the mountains delivered salt to people in a stagecoach. Thieves threw a stick of dynamite into it, which frightened the horses. They drove over a cliff into the sea, where the dynamite went off, dispersing “billions of salt” throughout the water.

Oh, and the driver survives, retires, and decides he’ll just fish and hunt for the rest of his life.

He finished reading. His classmates applauded enthusiastically.

Must have been a full minute before I thought to close my gaping mouth.

“Amazing!” I finally managed to say. “What made you think of a stagecoach?”

“Well, first I wrote that the man was breaking up rocks on the mountain and hit one accidentally with his foot. It rolled down a cliff and knocked other rocks in, but then I thought, that doesn’t make sense. Rocks won’t make the ocean salty. So I thought about a stagecoach with salt in it. Then I needed something to explode in the water . . .”

—Makes perfect sense to me.

The moral of the story:

We can show them the stagecoach

but if we never let them load it as they please, 

they’ll drive only so far.

Set the wheels in motion,

hand over the reins,

jump out of the way.

See what astonishing routes they take.

15 thoughts on “Salt and the stagecoach

  1. “Remember, you can have fun with this” those inspire possibility and play in writing! They invite writers to think for themselves! I love the though process the writer went through! So often, when kids think there is a right or wrong they get stuck! When “having fun” is encouraged, kids (and adults) can explore where their minds take them which is exactly what this writer did! Inspirational slice! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so love the joy on their faces when they realize what they can actually do. If writing is never a pleasurable experience, they’ll only try to get it over with as soon as they can. Thank you, Dawn!


  2. The way you wrote the ending had me imagining jumping out of the way of an oncoming stagecoach driven by your student. That’s exactly what it’s like to teach writing! And as a coaching move, I love how you had him explain his revisions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You inspired the students to write, and then a student inspired you to write. A lovely circle! I’m smiling over the use of a stagecoach in both pieces; such an unusual choice of a vehicle for ideas (pun intended)!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amen! Another great story. I love the full writing circle, and how the boy came up with the idea of a stagecoach.The moral of the story is brilliant. BTW, I love pourquoi tales. My first encounter with one was when I was very little and went to the mountains to see snow for the first time. I was very excited but got my feet frozen immediately, and something that I imagined to be soft, and white as cotton balls, ended up to be very painful. To console me, my dad, who at that time called me “little dove”, told me the story of why doves have red feet. It was the first story of millions that my dad told me of the adventures of the little dove and her friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never heard of a pourquoi. That sounds like a fun and engaging creative writing activity. I might try something like that with my high school students. We do creative journaling on Fridays, and I am always looking for fun new ideas. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such important words: “Remember … you can have fun with this.” When I finished your slice, I thought, This is why we teach. For those moments that leave us with a “gaping mouth.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ye! Reading and writing have to be fun. kelly Gallagher would have approved of this writing assignment. Open enough to encourage individuality and some critical thinking.. I love sea salt.. I wonder if I will now think of a stagecoach when use it.

    Liked by 1 person

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