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The Watermelon Writing Method

November 1, 2020

Another Way for week of October 30, 2020

How First Graders Learn to Write Stories

Last week I told you our watermelon-raising fiasco. This week I’ll tell you what I learned from my oldest grandson’s first grade teacher about using watermelons to help you shape or write a good story.

We were visiting Sam’s family and both parents were busy. So I was eager to sit alongside Sam and watch his teacher on Zoom describe their morning writing exercise. She said to picture a big watermelon, but when writing a story, don’t pick a big topic like a whole watermelon. Instead, just think of one little seed or detail of that story.

As a writer, I knew this truth, that the best way to connect with readers is not to tell everything you know (indeed, impossible) but to boil it down to one small aspect or seed of a story.

But, I had never heard of the watermelon writing method. I quickly discovered that this was not an invention of this particular teacher but apparently by Lucy Calkins, a somewhat well-known teacher who published a book The Art of Teaching Writing back in 1994 and a proponent of the Writing Workshop approach to teaching writing. Today a website “Teachers Pay Teachers” is an online marketplace where teachers can buy and sell their original educational materials, certainly a wonderful aid in this pandemic time.

Sam on right, eager younger brother Owen on left. “Red Panda” showing between them.

So Sam had just celebrated his birthday the night before. Rather than describe the whole celebration (which was quite simple), he narrowed his final focus to just one gift he got to pick out at their nearby zoo, a stuffed animal he named “Red Panda.”

“I felt excited and happy. Red Panda was happy I got it [at] the zoo.”

The teacher also had them make simple stick figure illustrations to help prod their thinking about what to put in the story. He did a fine job of writing and illustrating it. It is no prize winner, but a great start in first grade! My own brain was percolating with how I could better use this watermelon and seed technique in my own writing. (I was not supposed to over-help him, so I did not correct spelling or suggest sentences.)

A few years ago, our great niece Jade wrote and published a story about her grandmother (my oldest sister) falling through a chair at a campout. Jade didn’t try to describe the whole campout, but got some great detail into just that surprising incident (my sister wasn’t hurt). The teacher sent off her students’ books to an online book printer, and I purchased a copy. My favorite line from her book is “I could feel the hot fire on my face and cheeks.” Nice!

Writing down seeds of stories or experiences is not just for grade schoolers. I’m happy that my middle sister had the foresight to buy a journal type book a few years back for my mother to write down memories and stories from her own growing up days and raising our family. Each spread or page has a prompt or question which helps frame a “seed” story.

Thinking about writing one’s life story is daunting and while some do an autobiography or memoir—even such longer stories or books benefit from taking key experiences or memories and writing those with vivid detail, rather than writing every single time you got up and washed your face … etc. I’m exaggerating there, no one writes like that but it is always tempting to write too much. Including yours truly in these columns.

If this idea intrigues you, maybe try jotting down some of your own stories. There are many prompts online if you Google “writing prompts.” Here are a few ideas from Carol Baxter, a writer at

·       What do you wish you could have asked your parents?

·       What is the most surprising gift you ever received? Explain the circumstances around receiving this gift.

·       Write of one specific time when you felt hopeless and alone. What helped you through the experience?

So grab a notebook or page on your computer and … go! Or maybe, painting a picture from your life grabs you more. Here’s our Sam as artist!

Sam enjoys painting with watercolors.


For pre-made simple booklets your children or grandchildren might enjoy writing their stories, there are a variety available online. Another daughter ordered a pack of 10 on Amazon for less than $10. Christmas is coming!

Also, see a sample hardback journal here (not the one my mother is using.)

Comments or your own stories? Send to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. This is a lovely story with many layers and lessons. Sam is well on his way to writerly wisdom.

    Years ago I heard another version of the watermelon story, something told with bricks and mortar. “Don’t describe the whole wall”…said the author, “just one brick.” I like the multi-sensory approach here too: eating, writing, and then painting, sure to fix the ideas in heart and mind. Well done, Melodie!

    • Glad you enjoyed the layers and lessons. I’m thinking you are probably happy to be on the other side of your own memoir, Mennonite Daughter, which has so many layers. I like the illustration you shared as well. Blessings to you, Marian.

  2. My mother responded by mail to the three questions in the post:

    What do you wish you could have asked your parents?
    Mom said “I wonder what my dad thought when his father had to send his children to live with relatives, because their mother was dead. Dad was taken in by a family whose raised him in a Christian home.”

    What is the most surprising gift you ever received? Explain the circumstances around receiving this gift.
    Mom said: “I received a doll cab (which wasn’t cheap,) a stroller for a doll.

    Write of one specific time when you felt hopeless and alone. What helped you through the experience?
    Mom said: After Covid 19 hit us, so many things to give up. No more freedom. Virus was boss and still is. But God is in control. I cope thru prayers and writing letters to family and friends.

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