Sending a Message – Exercise

Many people decry teens’ abilities to communicate (ie write) properly due to poor habits formed by constantly “chatting” via computers, cell phones, etc. This prompt aims to get budding writers to consider tone, details, dialogue, tags, etc., to determine what information is communicated and how well.

Materials needed:

at least 20 lines of an online chat or text messages wherein sender and receiver have at least 10 lines each in conversation you wouldn’t mind sharing with two other people, two other people (either in person or on the phone)

Steps:

1. Select the chat. Do not think too hard, but be careful to respect people’s privacy.

2. Have the two volunteers read the conversation aloud (either in front of you or on a three-way call). Do not give them context or preamble.

3. As they’re reading, mark the times when you think they’ve read something wrong, if it sounds too flat, if they have trouble understanding the words, etc.

4. Once they’re done reading, ask the volunteers what they thought the gist of the conversation was and what they thought the tone of each “speaker” was.

5. Now go back and re-write the conversation so that it communicates what you know in your heart and head was truly going on. Was your friend speaking ironically? Hilariously? Somberly? Discover ways to convey both your tone and that of your friend. Maybe give the situation context – set up the scene, introduce characters, etc.

6. Correct spelling and grammar errors.

7. Then have your volunteers read your practically-a-short-story conversation and your friend as well. Is everyone on the same page?

Online language (TM Britt Leigh, I think)) is a unique, oftentimes endearing way of communicating with people. It can give rise to new words, expressions, friends-only codes. But many times, brief is misconstrued as brusque, punctuation marks are used inappropriately as the only ways to indicate a joke, etc. Ideally this exercise will capture the conversation more accurately, and more broadly. Perhaps it could engender a whole new fiction!

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