No high school creative writing textbook exists as far as I know. That means for the past eight years, I’ve had to create my own curriculum, scavenge it online, borrow it from colleagues on Twitter, etc. One lesson I have to teach my students is how to write dialogue. Some tend to avoid it in their fiction pieces completely if they don’t know how to punctuate it. Even after having read lots of books, some students don’t seem to know the rules, so I teach those to my students. I also give them four different versions of a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and they have to decide which one was published. It really freaks them out to learn that McCarthy doesn’t use quotation marks for dialogue or apostrophes for contractions with the word not. Ha!
I’m not sure where I got the dialogue activity I’m about to discuss. It might have been from a workshop from an Oklahoma Writing Project conference. Maybe I invented it myself. But after students have learned the rules of punctuating / formatting dialogue, they need a chance to practice it. I provide a list of pairs, and students work together to write a scene with some dialogue.
- cop and speeding teen
- parent and teen with broken curfew
- boyfriend and girlfriend break up
- shy boy asking girl to dance
- a friend confronts a gossiping friend
- exes assigned as lab partners
- coach chews out a football player
- jock asks a girl to dance who hates him
- annoying boss and teen worker
- teacher and texting teen who gets caught
See any trends in that list of choices? Look again, especially at 3, 4, and 8. They all deal with straight couples.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been learning more about how to be mindful of any LGBT students I might have in class. I’ve mainly educated myself by reading articles from Teaching Tolerance, including this one: “Why Heteronormativy is Harmful.”
Heteronormative is defined as “of, relating to, or based on the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality.” This definition comes from a great article from Teen Vogue about the dangers of heteronormativity, which I also suggest reading.
So when I got out my old, tried and true dialogue pairs writing activity and looked at it, I kind of gasped. I was perpetuating heteronormativy. If I was really going to take the advice of these articles, not only would I make the couples neutral, I would take it a step further and include an LGBT couple of some kind. Teaching in Oklahoma, I decided not to push the limits, but I did need to revise the three couples.
The writing activity still engaged my students with my newly revised couples, and I felt better not perpetuating heteronormativity. Throughout this school year, I’ll be more careful about the language I use when speaking and in the handouts and activities I provide. I want any students who are LGBT to feel like my classroom is an inclusive and safe environment for them.