me: so what are you writing about today?
him: visiting my uncle.
me: really? where are you? from your picture it looks like bars are around you and your uncle.
him: we're in jail. i visit my uncle in jail.
me: oh. my. (long pause.) ok, should we label your picture? what do you want to say?
him: i'll write uncle here. and then jail here. /j/ /l/. now i'll write my name here. see here i am behind these bars, and there's my uncle behind those bars.
me: wow. you did a great job listening to the sounds in jail. you didn't just stop with the /j/ sound. you listened to see what you'd hear next. so what's on the next page?
him: this is his girlfriend, the police found her and threw her in jail too. see, she's having a baby in her tummy. so i'm going to write baby right here so you'll know.
me: ok. wow. (another long pause.) great idea about writing baby right there, you're right, otherwise i wouldn't know she was having a baby. what other words can you put on this page?
him: ummmm.... maybe uncle girlfriend. /u-c-l/ /grlfndf/.
me: great job listening to those sounds! look at all the sounds you heard in 'girlfriend'. so what happens next?
him: (turns the page) this is my dad asking the police man to let my uncle out of jail. but the police man said no.
I always hit the point where i think i must sound like an idiot focusing on those sounds and on story sequence when the kiddo is telling me that he visits his uncle and his uncle's baby mama in jail. but it's his life, it's his schema, and it's his story to tell. we take what they bring into the classroom. this kiddo doesn't have a story about going to the pool or going to kings dominion. he has a story about jail, so that's what we're writing about.
two of my other children (in another class) wrote equally distressing stories. one was about watching an old woman get run over by a truck on halloween when he was suppose to be trick-or-treating. another was about the gruesome details of her cat getting run over by a car. sometimes i feel kind of evil taking advantage of these stories to capitalize on writing conferences, but these tend to be the most meaningful stories to the kids, and the ones where they are more likely to attend to your lesson. then i just want to take them all home and protect them from anything that doesn't involve lollipops and rainbows.