In my classes this week I tried out two ways of distilling the text. The first is what’s known as a Literary 3X3, which is a technique I hadn’t heard of until a few weeks ago. The Literary 3X3 asks students to write three sentences of three words each that capture the essence of a text. There are rules. Students should try to use abstract nouns, no proper nouns, no “to be” verbs, no articles, no repeated words, no pronouns, no cliches.

We wrote one about Septimus Warren Smith’s story in Mrs. Dalloway.

Septimus Warren Smith 3X3

Isn’t it great? They wrote the second line first, then the last line. I suggested they back up and write about what came before the other two lines and write a first line. They were so happy with their first line they clapped after they were finished.

One student said, “It’s like a poem!” Another added, “Yeah, like a haiku, but… not.” Man, my students make me laugh.

Another way we distilled a text this week was an adaptation of a Text Rendering Protocol.  We had read Margaret Atwood’s poem “Half-Hanged Mary” after finishing The Crucible. Students shared the line that they felt captured something essential about the poem. Then I asked each student to give me one word from the poem that captured something essential. As they shared, I typed their responses into Wordle. Here is what my D period American Lit came up with:

Half-Hanged MaryThe students said “Woah!” I asked, “What do you think? Does this capture what the poem is about?” They agreed that it did.

Here is what my F period American Lit class (smaller group) came up with:

Half-Hanged Mary

What I love about these activities is that it’s actually quite hard to reduce a text down to three sentences or down to a single word, and yet, the results were great.

As my D period students were filing out the door, one of them asked me about the Wordle: “Did you PLAN that?”

I loved that question. I had to admit truthfully that they could have said different words, but that yes, the idea is that these sorts of activities will yield results like this. Still, I love it that he has an idea I’m totally messing with their minds.

Spring break starts.
Exhausted teacher relaxes.
June watches nearby.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

14 thoughts on “Distillation”

  1. I love wordles. Your passion for finding new strategies is very evident in this post. Sometimes 3×3 is much more powerful than 5 paragraphs. Nice Work.

  2. I loved both ideas! Both are great ways for students to think about the central idea. You took something quite difficult, and you made it fun. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Oh man! This makes me miss my high school lit class. I wish I could sit in on your class a bit. I love the creativity–and the celebration.

  4. Your 3X3 at the end is fabulous, Dana. Getting such fabulous work from kids on a Friday before spring break is a miracle and speaks to how fabulous you are!

    1. Well, to be fair, two of the examples are from Wednesday and Thursday, but yeah, one was on a Friday. My AP had a Socratic seminar today. They do good work.

  5. I love these kinds of activities. The three sentence distillation and one word sound a lot like a thinking routine called Sentence-Phrase-Word. I think the word is the last thing that you do, but either way these come straight from a text. I don’t do Wordles nearly enough. Thanks for sharing this. I might try the sentence distillation with my kiddos this week!

    1. I just clicked on the hyperlink above and realized that the Text Rendering Protocol is the sentence-phrase-word routine I was referring to in my comment.

      1. Some of us were trained in Critical Friends Protocols last summer, and this activity in particular lends itself to the classroom as well.

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