Paper is one of my favorite love languages. It’s different from clay or LEGO or watercolor or wire. If you’ve been around for a bit, then you know how much I adore making writing with natural elements too, but paper?

Let me tell you why paper is so special to me.

First, it’s everywhere, and it’s free. It’s also incredibly dynamic. We can crumple, tear, fold, and stain it. Paper has texture, and when I make things with it, it’s almost chameleon-like, except for when I don’t want it to be. Then, it offers crisp contrast. It’s availability makes it wonderful to experiment with. I always have an abundant supply.

Making and remaking with paper is also far easier than it is with many other materials.

It’s forgiving. It’s lasting, too.

And hey: Are you as passionate about ephemera as I am? Once, I was asked what I would grab if my home were about to be destroyed and I could only carry one box away. Nearly everything I’d carry was made from paper.

So, this is what drew me to Art Journaling magazine years and years and years ago. I never miss an issue, and I look forward to the release of each new one, because this means I can cut the previous issue apart and offer its contents to the writers I happen to be working with that season.

This is assemblage. 

Assemblage would make an excellent inquiry experience, don’t you think?

It elevates the writing process as well. Here’s how:

  • When we invite writers to use assemble diverse materials in order to express themselves, those materials often change and refine their original ideas in ways they didn’t expect.
  • Those materials enable them to construct and share ideas that they may not yet have the print power for, too. And then, they can audio record them, listen, and transcribe.
  • Loose parts play invites plenty of talk. When writers speak their ideas aloud, they remember them better–especially those sophisticated vocabulary words that might be new to them.
  • While we privilege the use of written words in school, we know that writing is and always has been a far more multimodal endeavor. The linguistic choices we make have always had social and cultural consequences. The linguistic choices we impose on others? Yeah, same. And we writing teachers have hard and uncomfortable work to do here.
  • Assemblage invites and almost requires metaphorical thinking. This elevates the complexity of the entire learning experience and the work that emerges from it is often richer, too.
  • When we make writing we invite writers to explore, experiment with, and sharpen skills that will serve them well outside of the world of academia–where writing has always been far bigger than print.

I could go on, and if you’ve been here a while, then you know that I have in the past. 

But, I have an idea I’d like to share with you at the end of this strange and often textureless year: Why not invite your students to practice a bit of assemblage themselves? Why not have them create a layered storyboard instead of an essay this week? Think about the critical elements that you’d like them to include in a composition that is made with letters and words and paragraphs. I wonder: How might they include them in a composition that looks more like what you see below instead?

If you’d like a bit of guidance, I created a thick, downloadable and image rich how-to for you. You’ll find it in my Sunday newsletter if you’re already subscribed. And if you’d like to be, you can jump on my list and grab the how-to right here and right now. 

Need a walk-through and a bit of context? I’m sharing that in the video below.


I’d love to see how you use or adapt this.

Come find me if you do.

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