I have to admit, I’m writing this post because I’m having a hard time finding exactly what I want for my students to read in order to help them complete an assignment called crot writing - something that was introduced to me by a teacher who I greatly admire named Cindy Guillean. I’m also writing it for myself, and for other teachers, so we have a resource to work from.
What exactly is a crot? I’m glad you asked! Crot is an obsolete word that means “bit” or “fragment.” Do yourself a favor, though, and don’t Google crot. Google doesn’t recognize that word. More on crots, verbless sentences, and fragments, also known as Grammar B.
Some fantastic examples of crot writing are “The Unauthorized Biography of Me” by Sherman Alexie, and this piece titled “Basha Leah.” Actually, I read The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan this summer, and while it isn’t technically crot writing, the poetic form (rather than paragraphs and traditional dialogue you find in a novel) makes it crot-like. There’s an entire section devoted to one character’s thoughts, told through song lyrics. Zines are sort of like crots too…each page is a new space. And here’s Peter Elbow talking about collage writing, which is essentially another word for crot.
Why write a crot essay? Because sometimes linear essays that flow from one paragraph to the next with perfect transitions and a thesis statement don’t capture the meaning that a writer wants to convey. Example: imagine your favorite TV series. Single out one episode, and try to imagine it being told to you in a traditional essay format. You would lose so much of the story! Try again: imagine a song that you love. Now imagine that song translated into a five paragraph essay. Boring, and totally inappropriate. This, of course, leads us to a conversation on genre, and how certain modes of communication are better suited to specific purposes, but we’ll get there eventually. Not now.
Another helpful tool for doing crot writing is to think about Geoffrey Sirc’s “small t truths.” Box-logic. Annotation and collection. Or, collection and annotation. Crot writing doesn’t ask you to come up with the Truth. Instead, it asks you to come up with several truths and mash them together. If it helps you to think visually, look at these Joseph Cornell boxes. Each material, each piece, tells a story. I’m asking you to do it with words (although you can make a box too, if you want).
I’m asking my ENGL 120 students this semester to write a literacy narrative through a series of crots. We’ll do several activities leading up to the crot essay, including a Biopoem, drawing our iconic selves, creating a literacy timeline, and writing a personal language exploration. The crots we write will be based on My Life in Seven Stories, an activity I discovered through EMU’s National Day on Writing 2009 website. I’ve modified it to be “My (Literacy) Life in Seven Stories,” and rather than listing seven titles, we’ll select seven points or themes that we want to expand on, in whatever form seems to fit best (charts and graphs, lyrics, a poem, a list, a letter, dialogue, etc.). I plan to give my students several prompts to get them thinking, for free writes, in addition to spending time writing about the points we’ve selected:
- Describe a reading or writing ritual that you have.
- Write 5 lines, each beginning with the word “once.”
- Write about someone in your life that you associate with reading and/or writing. Be as descriptive as possible. Where do you imagine them sitting? Who are they talking to? What are they feeling? Where are you in relation to that person?
- Reflect on the relationship between literacies in and out of school.
- Inventory the reading materials in the living room or kitchen where you lived when you were 12 years old. Who was reading or writing there? What was read or written there?
- What does it mean to be a literate individual? Where does this definition come from and what impact does it have on your education? How does it impact your personal life?
- Find song lyrics that are meaningful to you. Write them down. Then write about why those words are significant.
Their final project, a literacy narrative, will be submitted as a crot essay. Students will choose seven(ish) vignettes and piece them together, including repetends between each section. Repetends are words or phrases inserted between selections to give a sense of coherence (these don’t have to be exactly the same each time, but they could be; they could be song lyrics shared one line at a time, quotations, or single words). Students will participate in reader response and will submit their final drafts along with a reflection letter as part of an Invention Portfolio turned in through Google Drive.