Last week I made my ESL students write three paragraphs on a single topic to three different audiences with potentially three different purposes–to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. I gave them four possible topics with the option of picking their own. They moaned and groaned about how mean I was. You would have thought they were American students. The next day, I read some really entertaining paragraphs. The best was from a Chinese student who could not pick a topic. So he wrote about how hard it is to pick a topic. Unlike an American student doing this to be a wise-guy, Cyrus was really having a dilemma (a vocabulary word that we use a lot) and was pretty sure he’d be getting a bad grade on this assignment.
Cyrus’ first paragraph was addressed to me to persuade me not to ever again give an assignment where he can pick his own topic. Among his reasons was that it takes him forever to choose. (My comment back to him noted that I did not make him choose his own topic.) In his second paragraph he explained to fellow students that, even if he comes up with a topic, he doubts whether he can write a good paragraph about it. Ok, ok, he played the ol’ self-esteem card. By his third paragraph he was beside himself with frustration. There was no paragraph–just notes scribbled in the margin: “How can this topic be entertaining? I’ve spent hours on this assignment. I quit. I’m going to bed.”
At this point I was laughing out loud, having been entertained from the first paragraph. But now I’m facing a blog deadline and I…ahem…can’t settle on a topic. I started one post that potentially wanted to be meaningful with quotes from Martin Luther on Christmas, but–like Cyrus’ second paragraph–I did not think I could do the topic justice in a hurry. Then I started another one, inspired by a WordPress writing post about using different voices. So I though maybe a funny letter to Santa thing would be good. And it might–but the time thing was shutting down creativity and it was sounding really lame.
And then I realized I was being just like Cyrus. I’ve spent way too much time on this thing. I have some lesson plans to type up. And I’m going to bed. Some random day this week I may be posting a profound post with quotes from Martin Luther or an entertaining set of correspondances with Santa, but tonight, dear reader, you’re stuck with this.