Dialogue : What Do You Think You're Doing?

What Do You Think You're Doing? was devised initially for work in youth clubs, where the two players would interrogate each other, taking down the evidence.
A short list of useful questions was provided, but they could ask many others - so long as it was strictly turn and turn about. For work in schools the questions have been limited to those that will provide basic notes towards a poem. It has proved sensible to read the questions to classes, both to explain where necessary (e.g. `mentally' means inside your head, `touching' includes leaning or lying on something) and in order to keep everyone together so that neither speed nor slowness lead to difficulty.

First of all the players have to decide on something they were doing. They can be helped in this by being dealt two cards - one from a pack of places (shop, street, etc) and one from a pack of actions (stand, walk, etc). Then they are invited to think of an incident from their own life that fits the action and place specified on the cards. For example, SCHOOL and RUN could be "running in the corridor, late for lessons". Or they can simply be asked to think of an action and then one place and time in which they performed it. Then they are asked to remember the incident and, as far as possible, a moment within it, a "snapshot". Then on a small piece of paper they write down what the incident was, what they were doing; sign the paper and fold it up. The cards, if used, are best collected at this point.

Next, in pairs or a group, they answer the questions. They are told that they must tell the truth but can avoid revealing what they were doing; that a material can stand for an object (i.e. glass for window) and that answers are best expressed in sentence form. If played in pairs, the players alternate, asking the questions in any order they please and recording the exact words of the other player. In a group, they are asked the questions as listed and sign their own sheet when completed. The players then exchange sheets. It is helpful to ask for the time of day to be expressed by reference to event rather than clocktime, for example: "when the milkman comes" rather than 7 a.m.; and ask for actual thoughts to be recorded among the mental feelings and direct speech among the noises.

In both versions, the players now attempt to deduce what the other player was doing from the available evidence, they can guess, probe and banter before the answer paper is unfolded. Then they all get their own evidence returned to them. They are asked to look at their answers, to enlarge the descriptions, to say what, for instance, the sounds and smells were like, what their fuller feelings were, what other small details they can remember. It is worth pointing out to the players that, even though they may have worked out what each other was doing, they still have very little idea of what it was really like to be the other person, and that as they expand their notes they should be looking for ways, through precise words, small detail, comparative and descriptive language, to explain their own experience to the reader.

These notes then, with whatever arises from discussion, will help the player recall enough of the event to start shaping the poem. Some may choose to use little more than cryptic bare details, and should carefully select the significant details; others will want to expand to full narrative and may need to beware of rambling too far beyond the focus of the incident. Small groups of older players can work in pairs, interrogating each other, asking questions in any order, and recording the exact words of the other player as if taking evidence. This is best done on a seperate sheet of paper to allow for supplementary questions.

This game and Where We're At can be adapted to focus on specific activities - sports for example.
Sport can be the subject of odes and epics, especially for the youth - but try to encourage wit and interesting rhyme, especially in rappers. It is usually best to insist on an element of personal experience. An alternative would be to read poems about sport and afterwards ask children to write about a game or sporting activity they'd played in or watched. But ask them not to write generally or about the whole game but to select a specific incident or moment and concentrate on it in detail, to describe feeling, action, and "landscape" precisely.

For further information on this sort of game click on games listed under DIALOGUE in the INDEX side bar.

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Windows Workshops Dave Calder, The Windows Project ,1997,1998,1999,2009