The problem most students seem to have is that they see nature as “Other.” Nature is a tourist destination, a place on a map, something saved by buying and selling crunchy candy. They rarely understand that they themselves might actually be part of it.
— Christian McEwen & Mark Statman
The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing is a collection of twenty-nine essays by nature writers, poets, fiction writers and educators. More than simply a collection of essays about nature, The Alphabet of the Trees is a wonderful collection of ideas for the classroom and the field.
In their respective essays, contributors share their experiences teaching students how to write about nature. Contributors provide clear instruction, examples of student work and plenty of inspiration to last an entire school year.
McEwen & Statman (2000) published this book for teachers because they wanted to change how the subject of nature is approached in the classroom. They explain that they want nature to be more than a collection of facts. Their book has so many wonderful ideas and so many different ideas, it is impossible to summarize them. Instead of attempting a blanket summary, I would like to offer a glimpse into the type of nature writing activities contributors share with teachers. Listed below is the name of each contributor and the lessons and inspiration they invite teachers to bring into their classrooms.
Nature Writing Activities:
- Gary Snyder – The power of language and observation.
- Matthew Sharpe – Ideas about how to lead a conversation about nature in an urban classroom.
- Susan Karwoska – Using children’s literature to explore nature in the city.
- Joseph Bruchac – Teaching the value of listening to connect with, and write about, nature.
- Sam Swope – How to write about common objects in many different ways.
- Eleanor J. Bader – How to write an advocacy essay.
- Kim Stafford – Recording the thoughts and words of children.
- John Tallmadge – Looking for wildness in the city.
- Mary Oliver – How to keep a notebook of felt experiences.
- Barbara Bash – Field sketchbooks in the city.
- Sarah Juniper Rabkin – Seeing through the eyes of a scientific illustrator.
- Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth – Nature journaling with school groups.
- Christian McEwen – Using the five senses to write about nature. Also, how to set up an ode to nature or any topic.
- Suzanne Rogier Marshall – How to transition from looking to writing.
- Holly Masturzo – How to encourage observation through discovery.
- Ann H. Zwinger – How to write a natural history essay.
- Carolyn Duckworth – Tools for exploring an animal and an issue.
- Mary Edwards Wertsch – How to write nature poems (specifically question poems).
- Michael Morse – Writing about nature using the senses and observing transformations in nature.
- Penny Harter – Lessons that address how to write about animals (grades 4-12).
- William J. Higginson – How to write haiku and linked poems (includes renku topics and guidelines for teachers)
- Cynde Gregory – A garden writing exercise that is a good lead-in to a unit about plants.
- Jordan Clary – Using nature imagery in poetry.
- Jack Collom – A wonderful collection of writing ideas for poetry.
- Terry Hermsen – An exercise in creative memory (poems to help humans recall what they have forgotten about Earth, Wind, Air and Fire.
- Margot Fortunator Galt – Nature as teacher and guide (circle poems, writing about landscapes, seasons).
- Janine Pommy Vega – How to help students speak for something in nature (persona poems).
- Barry Gilmore – Exercises in naming things, observing and describing.
- Carol F. Peck – An idea to incorporate writing with social studies curricula.
Contributors each include a list of resources at the close of their essays. Editors McEwen & Statman reorganize these resources and provide teachers with a rich bibliography of nonfiction books, fiction books, books about poetry and books for children. They also provide a list of resource organizations and a short biography of each contributor.
The ideas in this collection can be used in many ways beyond the traditional classroom. Outdoor educators, naturalists and interpreters will also enjoy this book.
The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing is available at www.christianmcewen.com.
- Christian McEwen’s book about her uncle, botanical artist Rory McEwen, will be released in the US next week. Learn more about Music Hiding in the Air. This book will be available for purchase through Christian’s website.
- Learn the art of letter writing with Christian McEwen and Barbara Bash! Find out more about The Art of Letter Writing: Voice, Calligraphy and Spirit.