Last year, as I was reading Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, I came across a passage that struck me:
If you ask yourself, ‘What’s the best thing that happened today?’ it actually forces a certain kind of cheerful retrospection that pulls up from the recent past things to write about that you wouldn’t otherwise think about. If you ask yourself, ‘What happened today?’ it’s very likely that you’re going to remember the worst thing, because you’ve had to deal with it—you’ve had to rush somewhere or somebody said something mean to you—that’s what you’re going to remember. But if you ask what the best thing is, it’s going to be some particular slant of light, or some wonderful expression somebody had, or some particularly delicious salad. – Nicholson Baker
I started using this passage as a prompt for the writer’s notebook in my AP Lang class. As most 11th graders can attest, junior year can be a stressful time, especially in the spring with looming SATs, AP exams, and heavier course loads.
Ask any 11th grader how his day is going, and you’re more than likely to hear about the how he stayed up late to finish “gov” notes or had to study for a chem test. And though teachers may no longer have chem tests to study for, we have to answer emails, grade papers, sit in traffic, shuttle our kids from school to baseball, make dinner, do laundry, and so on.
When I read the passage above to my students, I asked them to take few moments to put aside their “default” answer—the one that includes complaining about the essay they have due next week—and to, instead, write about the “best thing” that’s happened in the last 24 hours.
Among their responses today:
- My mom cooked my favorite meal last night.
- I got to have lunch with friend I hadn’t talked to in a while.
- I got a Shamrock shake from McDonalds.
- I got to play with my dog.
- I missed my environmental science test yesterday because of the lockdown (we had a canine sniff in the morning).
- I had a good soccer practice.
- I told a joke yesterday and my friends laughed. 🙂
I had students write about their “best thing” regularly last year (2 to 3 times a week), and many students reported that they actually found themselves feeling happier… just be taking a few minutes to focus on something other than the obligations that can, sometimes, weigh us down.
I’m hopeful that this year’s students will find some happiness from their “best thing,” too.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.