Using an Author's Clever Strategies in One's Own Writing

Lesson 3 for Three Lessons

Students will examine specific clever strategies of the author and incorporate them in their own writings.

About the Story

Each of this story's three sections focuses on a different lesson the author learned from serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. Morocco's population is almost 99 percent Muslim. Religion permeates every aspect of the culture. In exploring some of the cultural features that shape the people of Morocco, Storti focuses on experiences that made him aware of how people of a different cultural background can view the world in fundamentally different ways. He describes his growing realization that his own perspectives and tastes, which he had always taken for granted as being fairly universal, don't necessarily prevail in another culture.

Students will find more meaning in this story if they understand the importance of prayer in Muslim culture—and that central to Islam is the importance of the submission of one's will to the will of Allah. In submitting to the will of Allah, a Muslim expects to find peace. Moroccans and other Muslims commonly end statements with the term inshallah, meaning "God willing," because, for them, Allah controls their destiny.

Muslims pray five times a day. Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Muslims are called to prayer by a muezzin, or crier, who chants from the tower of a mosque. The chant is often sung through a loudspeaker so that it can be heard throughout an entire town or a large part of a city. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in a field, an office, a factory, or a university. Muslim children are taught to pray when they are 6 or 7, and are expected to pray by the time they are 10.

Wherever they are, Muslims face Mecca to pray. Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, is the birthplace of the prophet Mohammed and the holiest place on Earth to Muslims. Facing Mecca creates a sense of unity among Muslims by providing a spiritual and social focus.

About the Setting

Morocco, a monarchy on the northwest coast of Africa, has a population of some 30 million people, almost all of whom are Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. Arabic is the official language, though Berber is spoken in some areas, as well as French and Spanish. The chief cities all lie along the Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts: Rabat, the capital; Casablanca, to the south; and Tangiers, to the north.

Morocco is a land of contrasts—from the range of the High Atlas Mountains in the north, where the temperature may be extremely cold, to the Sahara in the south, where the temperature and humidity are characteristic of a hot desert.

The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco since shortly after the agency began. More than 4,000 Volunteers have served in the country since 1963—working and living in both large metropolitan cities and the smallest traditional communities. Author Craig Storti served in the coastal city of Safi, some 150 miles south of Casablanca.

Largely dependent upon tourism, Morocco also exports citrus fruits and has a sizable bauxite mining industry.

The current monarch, King Mohammed VI, is working hard to improve the quality of life in rural areas, raise the social and economic status of women, and relieve poverty.

Objectives

To learn how to model the structure of one's own writing on the structure used by an effective author

Vocabulary

  • Minaret: [min-uh-RET] A tower that is part of a mosque, with a balcony used by a muezzin to call Muslims to prayer
  • Mosque: [MAHSK] Muslim house of worship
  • Prayer call: A signal to Muslims to pray, issued by a muezzin
  • Cadence: A beat of sound; a rhythm
  • Muezzin: [myoo-EHZ-in] A crier who calls Muslims to prayer
  • Irrevocably: Unalterably; permanently; unable to be changed
  • Staging: A three-day orientation session in the United States for new Peace Corps
  • Eschew: [es-CHOO] To avoid
  • Unrelentingly: Unyieldingly
  • Auxiliary verb: A verb used to help form the tense or condition of another verb. For example: will do, have done, may happen 

Procedures

  1. Remind students that Storti's story comprises three mini-stories, loosely linked, each with its own point.
  2. Point out that as readers, students have a huge selection of things to choose from. So if a passage they pick up doesn't interest them right away, they can move on to something else. Therefore the lead—the first few words—of what they read is crucial to catching their attention. Writers use many different kinds of leads to capture attention. They may begin gently, soothingly. They may startle with an odd fact, an intriguing question, a disturbing detail, a clever expression, a funny quotation, or unexpected grammar. Ask students to look at Storti's lead. What is unusual about it? [Most obviously, it is only one word long. It has no stated verb. Everything else about it being September is simply understood. But there are no verbs in the second or third "sentences," either.] What is the effect of Storti's strategy? [Students might suggest that the author is painting a verbal picture, using words as mosaics.] Why does he do it? [It's punchy, direct, attention-grabbing.]
  3. In Storti's second "lesson," ask students to focus on the sentence: "And woke with the light." Where is the subject? [It's in the previous paragraph.] What is the effect of this foreshortened sentence? Why did Storti use it? Do students think that it works? If so, why?
  4. Ask students to look at the third lesson of Storti's, about the term inshallah. What is unusual about the lead: "The scene is a cafe in Tangiers. It is Saturday"? [Help students discover that the author has switched tenses. Whereas his first two lessons were written in the past tense, this one is suddenly in the present tense.] What is the effect of this strategy? [Does it make the scene more immediate? Does it startle or surprise the reader? Does it distinguish this lesson effectively from the other two? Could it relate to the fact that Storti learned this lesson only years after he learned the other two?]
  5. Have students revise their composition from the previous lesson, concentrating on their lead sentence or sentences. The job of the students' leads should be to ensure that readers stay with the passage. Encourage the students to emulate Storti's strategies in writing an arresting lead. When the students have completed their accounts, have them share their pieces in a class discussion, allowing them to critique each other's work constructively. Post the results on a bulletin board.

Frameworks & Standards

Enduring Understandings

  • Everyone has a culture. It shapes how we see the world, ourselves, and others.
  • Living and serving in another culture can teach important life lessons—if one is open to learning.
  • Living in another culture challenges us to understand the world from that culture's point of view.

Essential Questions

  • How do my cultural values and beliefs shape how I view individuals from other cultures?
  • What can I gain from being open to learning from people who are different from me?

Standards

English Standards: 1, 6
Social Studies Standards: I, IV, IX
National Geography Standards: 6, 10
For more information on the standards in Uncommon Journeys, see the Appendix (pdf—160 KB, linked above).

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