Storm is an intro to writing

November 01, 2012|Lisa Prejean

My students' writing assignment this week so closely paralleled real life that it would be difficult to duplicate the impact in any other way.

After viewing a photo of a roaring fire, the students were told to assume they were journalists reporting on a natural disaster that occurred in a nearby town. They were to tell readers why the disaster occurred and what happened as a result. They were told to create a plausible account of the event shown in the photograph.

When I planned this lesson, little did I know that what has been called "the storm of the century" would pound the East Coast with rain, snow, high winds, fallen trees and power outages. One neighborhood was devastated by roaring fires that consumed entire blocks.

It was just too eerie to fathom.

Who needs to celebrate Halloween when life is stranger than fiction? 

What a way to introduce a unit on cause-and-effect writing. Perhaps the students won't forget how to write a cause-and-effect essay, which is also called a causal analysis.

A cause-and-effect essay has two components, as indicated by the essay's name. The causes include why an event or phenomenon happens. The effects include what happens because of the event or phenomenon.

This week, there was a main cause: A hurricane made its way up the Atlantic coast and collided with two other weather systems, turning the storm into one of the most fearsome on record in the U.S.

There were numerous effects: Airlines canceled thousands of flights. Amtrak suspended train service. Major cities shut down subways. People were stranded. Roads were flooded. Power was lost. Generators, water and batteries were in demand.

Perhaps I could have my students write about how the storm affected their families.

Their stories probably would vary greatly.

One of my daughter's friends didn't lose power, had no trees down and went shopping when school was canceled. (My daughter wanted to go to her house. Imagine that.)

One of my son's friends posted on Facebook how the storm was a blessing because it gave high school seniors extra time to meet Nov. 1 college admission deadlines. They were frantically trying to get everything filed online before a power outage. (I guess this will prepare them for college life. Not that I ever procrastinated in college ....)

At our home, the high winds caused two large trees to be uprooted from the yard. Thankfully, the trees did not land on our house. We lost power around 10:30 Monday night and were without service until lunchtime the next day. Thanks to a generator at my parents' house, we were able to keep warm and have our morning coffee. We'll have lots of firewood from the downed trees, and we had quality family time during the outage.

This storm caused many families to have a story to tell. Many of those stories included only minor inconveniences, such as the ones we encountered.

Still, they have stories to tell, and it is important for my students to learn how to convey those experiences so that those who can help will respond appropriately.

After all, if we know the causes and the effects, we can reach out to those in need.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send email to

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