Although not known as the artist in my family (one brother is an architect, and my sister designs stained glass and beads, among other things), I have managed to learn one artistic concept that helps me when teaching: “negative space.” This is how it works: if you’re trying to draw a chair, instead of drawing the chair, you draw the space around the chair. It’s weird, I know, but it works.
This concept came in handy recently as I was working with a class on how to write effective quote sandwiches. As noted in the previous post, quote sandwiches provide a claim/argument with context, evidence, and explanation.
While talking with the students, I realized that they didn’t know what “context” meant. It was too abstract, too fuzzy. Every time I said, “You need to put the quote in context,” they stared at me blankly. It was like I was saying, “You need to put the quote in blahdeeblah.” It meant nothing to them.
So I tried some negative space jujitsu on them, and said, “If I walked in here and said, ‘She was upset that he didn’t answer her question about that thing,’ how would you respond?”
They immediately rattled off a list of questions: “Who is ‘she’? Who is ‘he’? What was the question? What were they talking about? Why was she upset?”
To which I replied: “Exactly. You wanted more CONTEXT. It’s the same way with a quote sandwich: you have to anticipate the reader’s questions and answer them with context.”
To which they responded: “Oooooooooohhhhh.” And we went back to the drawing board. So to speak.