a new concept in education ever transforming

San Diego Jewish Academy
High School Humanities
The 21 Club: Drink the Words

by Frank Barone and Gary Bradshaw

Scott, L. (1996). Promising Practices Unbearably Good, Teacher-Tested Ideas. The Greater San Diego Council of Teachers of English. San Diego. CA.

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Only so much do I know, as I have lived. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Frank Barone:

"Do we have to do the 21 Senses?"


"I though there were only five."


"Are they hard?"

"Not really. Maybe at first, but they get easier as you go along."

The 21 Senses became the identifying characteristic of creative writing students and established the criteria from which they would measure all their other writing. Completion of all 21 Senses meant that students could go on to write significantly better poetry, short stories, one-act plays, even more creative essays, because they had learned how to compose tightly written, detailed, "showing" paragraphs for each Sense.

Upon completing all the Senses the student becomes a member of the exclusive "21 Club." This accomplishment celebrates a rite of passage in the life of the student-writer and prepares him or her to approach poetry and short story writing without the weaknesses of abstraction and cliché usually found in teenage writing.

Gary Bradshaw

"It's okay to be frustrated. This is the first step: confusion, frustration, an some anger. Even with the directions you still feel uncomfortable about tackling this assignment. Now is the time to experiment. Mistakes are okay. Just try writing a Sense or two."

The assignment, certainly not an easy one, compelled students to compose twenty-one tightly written, "showing" paragraphs. They had to eliminate verbs of being from their writing, a task many found difficult. One boy humorously reported, "Helping verbs have become a new paranoia for me."

I especially like the verb tense he used in making his statement. His comment suggested that he would continue to work at eliminating passive verbs. The impact of the writing project would reach into his future writing. This, quite simply, made the course of instruction a success.

The students wrote, shared their paragraphs, revised them, submitted them, and often rewrote them again and sometimes again and again. The first five Senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing) proved easier than the remaining sixteen. In the end, each student selected from his own writing a favorite Sense from the 21 he had written.

Models for the 21 Senses | Top

The following examples show some of our models for each of the Senses.

Note: We actually show more than 21 senses, which means that you may improvise, if you dare.

Sense of Sight

Below the tree's green-yellow leaves, shafts of light slant toward the ground. Dust particles, like muted diamonds, swim, circling upward. These glowing bits of dust spin dizzily up the streams of light until they climb, swirling into the tree's canopy of green, yellow, and heavy shade.

Sense of Hearing

He slammed the door shut and kicked the trash can across the room. It banged into the desk and clattered along the wall. In a few dying spins it groaned and sighed, and in a few seconds rattled to a stop. He eased his body into a chair and felt the leather wheeze against his body. Then he closed his eyes and waited for the click of the door handle.

Sense of Touch - Nicole Mournian, '98

Moist air flew through the open window in his bedroom, drizzling in from a gray sky that was daring to rain. As she lay napping at his side he slowly ran his fingers through her soft, short, citrussy smelling hair, marveling at the texture so soft, and the color (a near perfect shade of red-brown).

He especially loved the feel of the edge of her white forehead meeting that hair. With great care he lifted her hand one after the other to meet his cold lips where he placed a clumsy and naive kiss on her pretty fishlike fingers.

Sense of Taste

As their lips kissed, her peppermint lip gloss startled him. Its tart sweetness tickled his taste buds. Involuntarily, he bit his tongue; the salty taste of his own blood shocked him. Almost pushing her away, recoiling, the throb of pain, sweetness of peppermint, and the saltiness of blood swirled together, nauseating him.

Sense of Smell - Nicole Mournian, '98 | Top

In the passenger seat of his car my nose reveled in the soft mixture of our scents. I could pick out my own violet oil perfume from my wrist and neck, shower fresh deodorant and, surf laundry detergent, his spicy male deodorant and a soft sweat smell of wet clothes, skin and hair. Totally warranted by the fact that he was a rock star who had just finished a concerts.

"I smell huh?"

"No. I mean yes, but not bad. It's a good smell."

"Don't lie."

"I swear. See, I'll prove it." I slowly lowered my head and sniffed the intimate warmth of his arm pit. My heart fluttered with girlish excitement.

"Beautiful, you smell manly."

Sense of Exhausion - Meari Keating, 00

A trial of clothing, a half brushed set of teeth,
an overdose of nyquil, a set of eyes barely able to see,
a pair of hands barely able to see, a pair of hands groping
in the dark looking for the bed. A bed hard but welcomed,
A pillow long and ununiform in composition,
A blanket with history, a history book on the floor,
a chemistry book on the floor, an algebra book on the floor,
a report on the floor, a test on the floor,
but once this head hits that pillow all is forgotten
for another three to four hours

Sense of the Specific - Tyler Huff, 00

(This Sense shows the specific detail that makes one object different from other objects of the same kind.)

Keep'n It Real Seventeen foot long, convertible '73 Cadillac, an off white coat with red string details on both sides curling up at the end, a gas-guzzling beast of an engine roars at fifteen miles an hour. Two vibrating faded cheetah skin seats covers and shaggy maroon carpet with brown swirls. All the metal inside is gold chromed and on the end of the gear stick sits a shiny, glass diamond. The icing in the cake the antenna-pink and shaped like a flamingo.

Sense of the General | Top

(This Sense gives three or four examples that lead the writer to make a general conclusion.)

At the DMV counter, the youth banged his fist down and emitted a long, "Shhhh."

The lady behind the counter shook her head and repeated, "I cannot process your application until your parole officer files a fitness report on you."

Behind me, I notice, stands a youth wearing a blue denim jacket. I barely see, when he turns sideways, the words "Hells Angels" scrawled across his back. Suddenly, I am convinced I am standing in a line for juvenile delinquents.

Sense of Knowledge - Natasha McCray, '98

The implied use of the information that one has somehow gained, whether by choice or by force shall spark a desire to form one's idea of revelation or complete comprehension.

Sense of People - Kelly Hall, '98

His voice thunders vibrating the choppy waves of the pool. One more repeated mistake. Harsh cussing and words of frustration appear threatening. A man of victory, dedication, and caring. No over-exaggerated knee problems, or half-assed efforts. His teachings carry on through life. Respect the coach who respects the committed.

Sense of Skepticism

( This Sense poses a serious, universal question that challenges the status quo.)

In September she found the beach more alluring on Fridays than the classroom. On Mondays with skin tinged red and hair sun lightened, she sat in class borrowing a neighbor's notebook an hastily scribbling across a page. By November, Friday holidays had grown to two-to-three-day absences per week. Zeroes piled up in the grade book beside her name, becoming so heavy that even Hercules could not lift them. Then in late January, shocking me almost speechless, she asked, "What do I have to do to get a decent grade?" Do such students really believe, after a semester of no work, that they can even pass?

Sense of History - Jessica Luedtke, '98 | Top

(This Sense goes back into the past to describe an event that happened before the Writer's birth.)

As I walk through the house, it is hard to imagine that almost 300 years ago my ancestors walked these hallways, opened these doors, handled this black leather fire bucket with gold lettering that I hold in my hands. Centuries before I was born they lived here, cooking over that same fireplace, playing with the doll lying in the cradle. Children, now long dead and buried, ran and played in the field outside, now a park. On Sundays they walked half a mile down that same road, then unpaved, to the church, which has been rebuilt, but stands in the original location. The townspeople listen, rapt, as my ancestor preaches a fire and brimstone sermon. The great trees have seen this all, and are still here to see me, visiting the ghosts of the past at my ancestor's house.

Sense of Implication

(This Sense leads the reader to draw a conclusion almost as if the reader knows what the next sentence would be after he finishes reading.)

I visited the ophthalmologist yesterday. A bacterial infection has inflamed my upper right eyelid. His examination showed a growth underneath the lid, discharging pus and distorting my vision. He prescribed drops. He wants me to return in a week. If the drops don't reduce the growth, I know what the next step will be.

Sense of Problem - Katie DeLegrave, '99

Going on my seventh pint of Guinness, I sat laughing at everything and nothing. As I necked the last bit, the room began spinning. When I focused on one person they would suddenly become two. I felt a wave of nausea. I sat on the barstool, realizing that across the crowded pub lay the toilet.

Sense of Solution - Tyler Huff, '00

Can't Convince Me I approached him slowly until he saw me coming, upon which I walked towards him at a regular pace. He said, "Yes?" I replied "Do I have to go to the demonstration this weekend?" He looked into my eyes as his eyebrows V'ed. Slowly he walked up to me and placed his hand on my shoulder. Ever so powerfully he gently squeezed the muscle below my neck. Then he asked me, "Do you want to go?" My face said no before I did, which resulted in a squeezing pain above my shoulder that made me squeal, "Yes!" The pain stopped, he smiled and padded me on the back. He said, "Good," and walked into his office.

Sense of Self | Top

I hurt. My left knee has swelled.

My lower back muscles have pulled out again. The vision in my right eye has grown weaker. A hazy film distorts my perception, especially when I get tired. But I played golf. Friday and Saturday I played golf and managed to enjoy myself.

I came to Oaks North Friday after school intending to tell my golfing buddies I couldn't play. But I am used to playing hurt, earlier as a young basketball player, and now as a middle-aged hacker.

Yesterday at Penasquitos I outplayed my partners, all younger than myself. I hope they have putting greens at retirement homes.

Sense of Reader

MEMO: To All Teachers

Sally Haines, one of our schools counselors, gave birth last night to an eight pound baby girl named Sara Anne. Sally requests that we postpone our visit until she and her baby have returned home.

Jake Barnes, Principal

Sense of Involvement

(This Sense creates a situation in which the writer or a character is emotionally touched by someone else's predicament and comes to the aid of that person.)

As my son breaks through an opening, dribbling, pushing the soccer ball forward, an opponent slide-crashes, cleats up into him from behind. My son cartwheels forward. No referee's whistle sounds. Suddenly, he shrieks, clutching his Achilles tendon. In anger I yell, "Blow your damn whistle, ref, when there's a vicious foul."

Sense of Curiosity - Caitlin Kuhwald, '98

I swirled shifting nervously in my blue plastic chair.

"So uh... what did you do this summer?" I scratched the back of my neck, like a nervous tick and sniffed my nose.

"Well a lot of stuff really... I'll tell you when there's more time." He didn't look at me, staring ferociously at the computer screen.

I wanted to scream... I had stupidly, stubbornly not called him all summer. I felt jealous and left out not being involved in his life. I had no idea what was going on with him anymore. I felt some sort of ornate loneliness.

Sense of Balance - Natasha McCray, '98 | Top

to complete the realm of being, as it exists, it is seemingly necessary to create one's own point of perfection...visually, mentally, rationally, spiritually, and physically...in order to moderate the self.

Sense of Language

"Hi, Gerry. How was your game?"

"Totally bogus. I took a nine on Number 5. I teed it up and dunking it into the lake. Then I shanked my drive into the trees on the right. The ball landed up against a tree, and I couldn't get relief so I took a swipe at it and whiffed. I punched it out with a seven iron short of the green, and then hit a wedge into the sand trap. I blasted out long but hit a good approach and sank a two-footer for nine. After that it was bogie, bogie, double bogie, bogie and a big fat 42."

"Some days are like that, Gerry."

"Right. I've got a starting time for a foursome at three. See you tomorrow."

Sense of Form - Nicole Mournian, '98

(This Sense puts words in some specific shape or form.)

road trips, full of
easy conversation
you and me, alone
in a car, going
100 miles an hour.
like a bullet
to orange county.
homemade tapes
with nervous glances
unsure seat posture
palms and a slow
drive home...

Sense of Irony

I had difficulty working with my father. I could never match his high standards. Whatever I did either displeased him or received suggestions on how to do it right. He demanded perfection, or so it seemed to this teenager. The other day I angrily criticized my fourteen-year-old son for not using his paintbrush properly. His response showed me how I felt about my own father when my son said, "I'm sorry I can't be as perfect as you."

Sense of Detachment - Tyler Huff, '00 | Top

(This Sense creates a situation in which the writer or a character sees a problem. The problem moves him, but he cannot offer relief.)

Only 12 Hours and 28 Minutes to Go Imagine if you will a fourteen hour flight, Japan to United States. Now picture yourself in the back row of a massive international jetliner. Feel a burning in your eyes and a constant, full skull-headache. Due to the blanket of smoke that has engulfed you. I'm not talking about the kind of smoke one encounters from someone smoking at a coffee house with their legs crossed holding the cigarette between the ring finger and pinkie. Nor do I write of the damp haze smoke one would come across at a three in the morning bar party. I am telling you of an inescapable cloud all over your body down your shirt, in your lungs, all over your skin choking your ever breath. But, that's OK, there's only 12 hours and 26 minutes to go.

Sense of Belief - Natasha McCray, '98

a philosophical process in which one may, perhaps, discover a credence or give credit to some type of force or unity and perhaps be more at peace with themselves.

Site Map | 21 Club Feedback | 21 Club Rubric | Sense Web | One True Sentence | Show, Not Tell | On-Line Resources | Glossary | Quotes | WordList | Grading Philosophy | Co-Teachers - Doug and Melissa | Gallery

E-Mail Doug at mrdoug@aznet.net or Melissa at mmckinstry@sdja.com